LAST UPDATED: September 26, 2004
I’m picky about the tools I have installed on my computer. Every once in a while, I flip out and look to see if there’s something better out there than what I’m using. I’m fairly happy with what I’m using now, so here’s what I’m using right now on my Windows XP box.
My text editor of choice is still TextPad, currently version 4.3 on my boxen. It’s loaded with all the features that a 2000-era text editor would have: syntax highlight, multi-document management, and regular expression searching. It’s also got a useful binary view mode, which is useful when figuring out file types quickly (I just append “.bin” at the end of the filename). It’s still missing a few things that I’d like: function recognition, code folding, and maybe FTP connectivity. NotePadPro is perhaps more capable, and SciTE looks like a possible replacement. But TextPad doesn’t overload its toolbar with giant ugly buttons, and it loads and feels faster than just about any other full-featured text editor I’ve tried.
I use TheBat! 3.0. I’ve been using it since around 2001, when I first became incensed at total unimpressiveness of Eudora 4.x. Outlook and Outlook Express, with their dodgy record on reliability with large mailboxes and tendency to lock you in via broken data exchange, not to mention the continuing security problems…not even a consideration. I tried PegasusMail and some others that escape my memory, and it was TheBat that I stuck with. It’s fast, it has great backup and restore, and once configured to do away with its “stock ticker” thingy, it’s lean and mean. It also will show you meta information, such as full headers and email parts, much more readily than just about any email program I’ve used. And it takes pains to make itself less susceptable to evil executable attachments and HTML (it actually has its own HTML rendering engine, instead of using the Internet Explorer engine which seems to have a new exploit every week). As a result, the program isn’t as pretty compared to other mail clients, but it’s cleanly designed.
The earliest version of Stuffit for Windows was a simple shell extension. You double-clicked a file to expand it, which it would in same directory as the archive. To compress files, you selected them and right-clicked to choose “Stuff” or “Stuff with Options”. When it added ZIP compression, it became my current favorite archiving tool. I still use it in the way I describe. The current version I’m using, version 8.0, adds a lot of useless stuff like an archive browser with huge buttons and marginal additional utility. But it beats the shit out of WinZip and its wizard-driven ilk, and it doesn’t created corrupted archives or extra mystery folders as its early progeny did. Archiving with Stuffit, once you turn off all the new stuff, is fast and seamless. I’d just get the regular version…I don’t use any of the other features.
But what about corrupt archives? For years, I thought I had lost an important archive from 1996. But one day, having discovered a separate archive was also bad, I started to doubt the integrity of the unzipping software. Although the name of the archive format, “ZIP”, hasn’t changed, there have been internal changes. there was a chance, I thought, that modern Zip programs had forgotten how to unzip the old standards. There’s one last-ditch program called Info-Zip that might serve your needs, and recover partial archives. Apparently it was written by archive maintainers, who have to deal with ancient 80s-era zip files. So compatibility is very important to them, as you can imagine.
SynchronEx will let you compare the contents of two folders, and synchronize them so they are the same. The registered version can do one-way syncs (for backup) . Unlike most synchronizing programs, you can get the control you want by editing a script with a regular text editor. You execute the script by double-clicking or right clicking to do the sync. It will by default just pretend to run the sync to tell you what it would do…if that works, then you can choose to actually execute. The nice thing about SynchronEx over others is its transparency of operation and nearly-seamless integration into Windows Explorer. There’s no need to hunt around for a program. Just right-click and select SYNC and it goes. It will work across the network just fine too, so I use it for production backups to my file server. The first time you install it, you’ll wonder if it actually did anything, but read the information that pops up on the screen. While it’s initially kind of confusing, it’s well worth the effort to learn.