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Movies, Craft Beer and Geek Stuff

Tech, Top 5s

5 utilities I cannot live without

We all have our own preferences when it comes to using our computers. Weather you’re a Windows, Mac or Linux user there will be applications and utilities that you use every day and probably take for granted. I’m not really talking about big money apps like Photoshop and Illustrator. I mean the little utilities and widgets that you have running in the background or browser plugins that you use in every day browsing. Well here are my top 5.

5. Plus! for Windows Live Messenger

Plus! is an add-on for Windows Live Messenger that adds various extra functionality to the world’s most popular IM service. I’ve used Plus! in various different forms for years now and find Messenger nearly impossible to work with without it installed. Grouping of chat windows into tabs is probably my favourite feature but it also has some cracking hidden gems like the built in “Boss Protection” where, with a quick key combination, you can hide all traces of Messenger from your screen. It even turns the system tray icon into the windows network drive icon. Better still, it lets contacts with open chats know that you’ve hidden messenger with a customisable auto message.

Other great features include the ability to have your most common contacts float on your desktop for quick chat and the ability to sign into multiple accounts at the same time. You can download Plus! for Windows here.

4. FireBug

FireBug is a plugin for Mozilla FireFox that provides a number of very powerful web design/development tools such as the ability to inspect source code, edit CSS on the fly and test scripts by outputting results to a log file. It is an absolute must have for any web professional. Such is it’s popularity that there have even been plugins released for the plugin itself such as YSlow, a utility that inspects loading times on any given site and points out areas where savings could be made.

Where I find FireBug most useful is when I’m looking at any pre-built content or templates with a view to customising them. I use the inspect function to hover over elements to discover what CSS will be necessary to modify them. It shows me class names and IDs as well as the level of nesting in a clear, easy to read way that allows me to quickly make any modifications.

You can get FireBug here.

3. Ubiquity

Ubiquity, again is a FireFox plugin that is still in very early stages but still manages to offer amazing functionality. What it basically does is communicates to a multitude of web services allowing you to carry out tasks using those services without leaving your browser. You can post tweets, add items to your google calendar, submit URLs to Digg and even create complex email mash-ups with maps, calendar appointments and restaurant reviews using google mail.

What makes Ubiquity so cool though, is the way you tell it to do these functions. You tell it to do whatever function you want in the most common language on the Internet; English. if I want to add a lunch meeting to my google calendar through Ubiquity all I need to do is hit my Ubiquity key combination (mine is ctrl + K but it can be whatever you like) and type:

“add Lunch meeting with Barry 2pm on Wednesday”

That will add the event into my google calendar at 2pm on the next occurring Wednesday. I can of course be more specific by including a date (mm/dd/yy) instead of the word “Wednesday”.

Of course that’s not all it can do, in fact, it has way more features than I’ve even started to use. See an introduction video and download the plugin here.

2. Twhirl

Twhirl is a desktop Twitter client for PC, Mac and Linux built using Adobe AIR. I’ve tried lots of twitter applications in the past (TweetDeck, Snitter etc..) but none gave me what I was looking for better than Twhirl. It’s quick, has low overheads and integrates well with things like TwitPic.

You can view your @replies and DMs separately if you wish. You can look-up and follow/unfollow users and it even automatically shortens long URLs with the tinyurl service.

A variety of skins are available and the app gets minimised to the system tray in Windows so it is really discreet. You can download Twhirl here.

1. RocketDock

I like to keep a tidy desktop. Most of the time I have no icons visible at all. But before I discovered RocketDock launching my apps involved either convoluted navigation of the start menu or making my taskbar huge by putting all my shortcuts on there. Now look!

Rocket dock is a beautiful OSX style dock for windows with some excellent functionality and customisation ability. It readily accepts transparent PNGs as icons so they all look slick as rick and you can even minimize apps to the dock, not something I have enabled personally. You can position the dock on any edge of your desktop and if you use multiple monitors it’s easy to tell it which one to live on, or indeed span across them all.

Icon size, zoom size, opacity and hover delays are all totally scalable and there are a bunch of downloadable skins out there. In fact, the only down side to using RocketDock is how frustrated you get when using a computer without it installed (I keep moving the mouse to the top of the screen waiting for the dock to pop down, d’oh!). Download RocketDock here.

There you have it. Hope these have helped you and you found something useful. Now, I want to hear your top 5.


1 comment

  1. Kym - April 28, 2009 11:46 am

    Rocket dock… I’m onto it.

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