Useful Apps for Better Productivity

Over the years I’ve found a number of applications that help save me time and effort and I find living without them a complete pain so they’re some of the first things installed on any new computer or after a reinstallation.  Even better, these are all completely free.

I thought I would highlight them in case they benefit others.

Text Editing

Notepad has been a great servant and is useful for jotting down quick ideas, using as a visual clipboard, using as a middle-man when trying to remove formatting on text the Windows seems determined to hang on to for no reason but you either have to have multiple copies open or end up with a really large document. 

There are plenty of alternatives out there and I’ve tried various applications but my (current) favourite is the awesome Notepad++.

Aside from a tabbed interface that means you can have multiple documents open it has line numbering, syntax highlighting, useful find and replace functions and host of other nifty features.  I use it every day.


I used to use AutoHotKey for everything, it’s very powerful, you can use it to do almost anything.  I had shortcuts to launch applications, replace text, open my optical drive, control iTunes and you can even build applications with it.

The only issue is that it means coding all of it by putting in the relevant commands in a script file and that gets old.  So, recently I have switch to two applications: Texter (for text replacement) and HotKeyz (for application launching, etc).

Ironically, Texter is written using AutoHotKey, but it adds a nice front end, some management and generally makes AHK easier to use for text replacement.  From email signatures to email addresses I use it so I can use small keywords to fill in often-used text.

HotKeyz allows you to assign hotkeys to trigger specific events (I mainly use it for launching applications, for example, I have Win + C to open Calculator).  Setup quick hotkey combinations for often used applications and save searching for them in the start menu.

Desktop Control

I like having my applications in a certain order on my taskbar, it means I find them faster when I’m switching between them, and being able to reorder at any time means that, if you’re switching between applications for some reason, you can just drag them to be next to each other.  For that reason, I use Taskbar Shuffle.

Password Management

We’re all getting bombarded with more and more passwords to remember.  Even if you can set them all to be the same (unlikely and not recommended) you have to remember the usernames, which is where the excellent KeePass comes in.  It’ll store all that info, and more, securely and there’s plenty of options for easily using them again.

Web Browser

IE has come on with version 8, but it’s still behind and Chrome is still lacking extension support so, for the time being at least, Firefox with add-ons rules the roost.

The add-ons I use are:

  • Tab Mix Plus — all the options that should be included in FF with regards to how tabs behave.
  • Context Search — Select a word or phrase on the page, right-click and pick any of the search options from the quick search box to use to search for the work.
  • Download Statusbar — a much better download manager.
  • Fetch Text URL — highlight an unlinked plain text URL and select to open in a new/same tab, which saves copying and pasting into the address bar.
  • Firebug (probably only for web developers) — web development helper.
  • Web Developer (again, probably only for web developers) — various tools for web development.

I’m also a big fan of Smart keywords, which are a quick way to search sites from the address bar (so I type ‘w my search phrase’ and it searches Wikipedia, no need to change to the quick search box and pick the right site from the dropdown).

Portable Versions

If you’re unable to install applications (at work, for example) then all of these have versions or options that allow them to be run without being installed so you could run them off a USB stick.  If they’re not available from the developer’s site you can usually find them at sites like and