Groundhog Day, laptop style


Well, it’s Reinstall Day… again… and that must mean that we’re up here at RetroHack rebuilding our Windows laptop. I usually rebuild at least five or six times a year to try out the latest and greatest versions of X, to repair a complete bork, or just because I am bored. This time, Windows 7’s performance had ground to a halt, and I could not figure out what the boggle was. None of the KBs were of any help. Explorer could not display the contents of a network share without literally taking almost a second per file to appear in the window, launching IE8 was a 30 second plus experience, and I frequently found myself typing faster than the system could display the characters. I’m pleased to see that it was not the hardware at fault, as I have already reinstalled the operating system and a couple of key programs, and all is swimmingly well at this time.

Since I have to now go find all my favourites, and install them (again) I thought this would make a great blog post (if only for myself) to list out my must-haves. You may have seen this post about eleven vital server-side apps…some of those will show up here. If we’ve blogged about them here before, I will link them. I’ll also make sure to provide links to the downloads, in case you’d like to check them out.



While an alternative to IE8 is not an immediate need, setting my homepage to Google was, and since the link to download and install Chrome was right there, I went ahead and did that first. I like IE8, but Chrome does seem to be faster, and since it uses the operating system’s settings for certain things, like certificates, I prefer this over Firefox or Safari. The lack of plugins and no Google Toolbar (guys, come one, really?) leaves a lot to be desired, but on a netbook, it is light, fast, and gets thejob done.


Dropbox has made an appearance already on RetroHack (here) and will probably do so again. The free account gives you 2GB of online storage, accessed over https, using either a web browser, or with a client that works on Windows, Linux, Mac, and even iPhone/iPod Touch clients. You can get more space if needed, starting at 50GB for $10 bucks a month, and you can share folders with others for an instant, private way to trade files. With automatic synch of diffs, the ability to pull back previous versions, and such cross-platform goodness, I have much love for Dropbox.


Simply the best all around media player out there. Not many bells or whistles, but I neither want, nor need skins, effects, and the like. VLC plays whatever media I want, in whatever format or codec I have, and it does it very well. And when I close it…it goes away. That, my friends, makes it full of win in my book.

Windows Live Writer, Messenger, Mail, and Call

You probably already know that I use Windows Live Writer for this blog. I also like Messenger when I need to use a webcam (calling home when I am on the road) and I’m looking more at using Mail instead of just the web interface. Call…not sure what if anything I will do with this, but I installed it anyway. This same link can get you the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Family Safety, and Toolbar, but I don’t use any of them, so I deselected them before starting the install.


As mentioned here, PSPad is my favourite text editor. It is definitely a must-have on any machine I use more than casually.


Can you imagine an internet without Flash? What if the .wmv format was the standard on YouTube? </shudders>


The best all around multi-protocol IM client, I’ve been using Pidgin since it was called GAIM. I also like to grab several of the plugins, including OTR, Guifications, and the PluginPack.


Another tool I can’t live without. It slices, it dices, it juliennes, and we don’t need no stinkin’ WinRAR.

PDF Stuff

PDFs are about as universally used a format as you can get. My personal fave pdf app? Foxit PDF Reader. While Adobe’s Acrobat has grown into bloatware, Foxit stays mean and slim, and has never failed to deliver the goods. I also use PDFCreator. It’s a quick, simple, printer driver that is easy to install. Set your default paper size and you can print to PDF like a champ. Just watch out for that Yahoo toolbar install…clear the checkbox and you’re good to go.


When trying to troubleshoot anything between systems, a trace if the best way to see what is happening, and WireShark is the best way to take that trace.

cmd-line tools

I put all of these together, because I keep them in a folder in my Dropbox and just add that to my path. These include the pstools, Microsoft’s err tool, the Win32 ports of dig, host, and whois, tcping, tracetcp, PuTTY, and a really simple little cmd file I use all the time to restart services. Save this as restart.cmd and you can bounce a service with single cmd.

@echo off
echo Beginning undocumented restart procedure 0xc0ffee.
echo Bouncing %1 service now.
echo Better hang on to something.
net stop %1 && net start %1
echo %1 bounced. Boingity boingity boing.

You have to have a little fun every once in a while, right? The above is especially amusing the first time you do it in front of someone who has never seen you do this before.

Enable the Telnet client

Control Panel, Programs and Features, Turn Windows features on or off, scroll down and check the Telnet client. You might also want the TFTP client if you deal with Cisco gear. It never hurts to have that to troubleshoot connections to your ACS or TFTP server if you archive configs, or do much with firmware updates.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Yes, this is rather far down on the list, and I feel some sense of shame in that…my problem was deciding between sticking with AVG, or trying MS Security Essentials again. Last time around MSE did not like Dropbox, so you can imagine which one I picked over those two. This time, I could find no posts to indicate that there were still problems, so MSE it is. I’ll rant///I mean post something if that proves to be an error.

Windows 7 RSAT Tools

Of course, after you download, and then install, you still have to go into Programs and Features and actually enable them. Seems a little more cumbersome than it should be. The Windows 7 version of these tools launches a help file automagickally on how to do this, or you can see this post for instructions on installing for Vista, which is almost the same.

Virtual CloneDrive

Virtual CloneDrive works and behaves just like a physical CD/DVD drive, however it exists only virtually. Image files (.iso, .img, etc.) generated by just about anything I have tried can be mounted onto a virtual drive from your hard-disk or from a network drive and used in the same manner as inserting them into a normal CD/DVD drive. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Office 2010

Okay, call me crazy, but (hey crazybutt!) I dig running beta software, and MS Office 2010 rocks. The home/small business beta includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote and is good enough for me, but if you need Access, Infopath, or others, choose the Enterprise beta. The click-to-run install is kinda cool…but they need to provide some visual indicator that it is actually doing anything. You’re best bet is to start the install and go to lunch.

That hits the highlights…there’s other stuff that I will add as needed, or that I use for now, like iTunes, RouterSim (working on that CCNP,) DiabloII and other stuff, but the above are the tools I use time and again. I know that if nothing else, having them all linked her will be very useful to me in, oh, probably two or three months.

I wanted to close with a video that’s in the spirit of this post. A few weeks back, Gabriel introduced me to Re-cut Trailers over at, and I just happened to stumble across one for Groundhog Day. Enjoy, and then check out his post for even more re-cut goodness. It’s an art that has become an instant favourite of mine, even if it did ruin Mary Poppins for me. Don’t drive angry.

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So what are your ‘must-have’ apps for your personal computer? Leave a comment and share the love.