Those are just a few variations of a question that I get often. People frequently look to me for recommendations before spending the money or time to install a particular piece of software.
Looking for recommendations and others experiences is a smart thing to do.
And, in fact, you'll see I have an entire class of article categorized as Recommendations. But because I take actual recommendations fairly seriously, I don't do them as often as I'd like.
So, how about I just tell you what I have installed on my machine?
Snapshots in time
My original goal with this list was that it would be somewhat "incomplete" from the beginning and that I would come back and update it from time to time.
That was six years ago and the article hasn't been touched since.
Whoops. So much for good intentions.
So consider this more of a "snapshot" of the tools that I use today.
Recommendations, or not?
I do think it's important to clarify something; my use of the word "recommendation."
I don't write recommendations for money or on request. I do get requests from various vendors, but for the most part, I ignore them. As outlined in a What does it mean when you recommend something?, I only explicitly recommend something after I've used it myself and built up some level of experience and trust in whatever it is, or on rare occasions, I'll recommend something that is in turn recommended by a trusted colleague.
Recommended or not, I may use "affiliate links" when they are available for a product that I link to. As discussed in Product Reviews, Recommendations and Affiliate Links Disclosure, my use of affiliate links is completely unrelated to whether I recommend a product or even mention a product.
I do, of course, take money for advertisements. As discussed in What's the difference between an ad and your recommendation?, ads should never be confused with any kind of recommendation or endorsement and that's true here and on any site on the web.
These are various tools that I not only use, but for which I've written formal recommendations.
Because there's really no useful order to this - there's no sense of importance or priority, for example - I'll just list them alphabetically by product name.
7-zip is what I almost exclusively to manage .zip archives, as well as its own more highly compressed .7z archives.
AutoHotkey lets you define powerful keyboard macros, macros that save me a lot of time when typing. It's a bit complex to program, but as I said, very powerful.
BoxCryptor is what I use to encrypt the contents of some of my folders in DropBox, keeping them secure from prying eyes even when stored online.
CCleaner I don't use often, but it's a tool that eventually gets installed on all my Windows machines for those scenarios when something's not quite right and some cleaning is required. When I'm going to run a registry cleaner (which is extremely rare), CCleaner's is now the one I use first.
CutePDF Writer is installed on all of my Windows machines as a key component of going as paperless as possible. I print to PDF whenever possible.
DBAN isn't "installed", per se, but Darik's Boot And Nuke is something I run always prior to decommissioning an otherwise working hard drive or entire machine.
Dropbox is how I keep a large amount of data synchronized between multiple machine, including my Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.
FastStone Image Viewer is my image viewer of choice and I use it frequently to view not only my large collection of photographs, but also the surprisingly large collection of images used on Ask Leo!
Foxit Reader is what I use instead of Adobe Reader to view PDFs.
ImgBurn burns all my CDs and DVDs and is occasionally used to create .iso file images from existing CDs or DVDs.
LastPass keeps track of all my passwords, securely, across all my computers and mobile devices.
Macrium Reflect backs up my primary desktop machine, performing a full backup once a month, and an incremental backup every night.
Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the first things that I install on my machines to scan for viruses and spyware.
Process Explorer is how I keep track of what's running on my machine, and is most often used to answer the question, "OK, what's slowing it down this time?"
Recuva is one of those tools that you never want to use; not because of the tool, but because of the situation that you find yourself in when you need it. I don't find myself there often, thankfully, but when I do, I turn to Recuva to recover deleted or other recoverable files first.
Revo Uninstaller is another tool whose use implies that something isn't working properly. When something won't uninstall or uninstall properly, I use Revo to clean it up.
SnagIt would be near the top of this list were it prioritized. I use SnagIt to create the screenshots you see here on Ask Leo!.
SpinRite is something that I don't use often, but is a tool I turn to first if I suspect that a hard disk is failing.
TeamViewer is a remote access solution that does the moral equivalent of Remote Desktop, only it's simpler to set up and works well across the internet.
Thunderbird is my email client of choice. It's so robust and powerful that it meets the needs of both light and power users. I use it all day every day.
TrueCrypt is how I keep my data, including my most sensitive personal data - secure.
WebDrive makes ftp and sftp connections appear as virtual drives on my machine, and it's one of the ways that I upload data to and manage the servers that house Ask Leo! and my other websites.
WinPatrol runs quietly in my notification area, alerting me to sensitive changes that are happening on my machine, and allowing me to block any that are unexpected or improper.
Also used & honorable mentions
This list of software includes some of the other tools that I use, perhaps daily, but that haven't written up a formal recommendation. Typically, the only reason for that is time and it in no way reflects negatively on the specific utility. While I don't consider my use of a particular piece of software an actual recommendation, being listed here does mean that I use and think well of it.
Once again, the order here doesn't imply anything other than my ability to alphabetize1.
Advanced Web Ranking tracks search engine ranking over time
Audacity is a free, open-source audio recording and editing software. I use this to record and edit my Answercasts.
Calibre is an ebook creation, conversion, and viewing application. I write all my books in HTML and use Calibre to convert to various output formats.
Chrome, from Google, is the web browser that I use the most these days.
Camtasia Studio allows you to record videos of your screen and the activity thereon, and is what I use to record many of the videos that you'll see here on Ask Leo! and that accompany my books.
CyberDuck is a graphical FTP/SFTP program originally created for the Mac. When I want to fire up something that's a little more Windows Explorer-like, this is what I'll use.
Cygwin is a collection of Unix/Linux command-line tools for Windows.
Defraggler is what I use when I want to explicitly defrag my hard disk. Most of the time, I'll let Windows do it automatically, but when I want to see what's happening, Defraggler does a better job of displaying what's going on.
DVDFab allows me to make backup copies of my DVDs.
Evernote is best thought of as a database into which you place notes. Notes can have attachments like PDF files and the like, but thinking of it as a database of notes that are automatically synchronized across multiple machines is perhaps the easiest way to visualize it. Evernote is a key component of my going as paperless as possible.
GNU Privacy Guard, or GPG as it's often referred to, is the open source and free equivalent to PGP - Pretty Good Privacy - used for high quality public key encryption.
HP16C is an emulator of the calculator long loved by techie types such as myself. It's biggest draw for the computer geek is that it can do everything in hex, octal, or even binary if you're so inclined.
ImageMagick is a powerful set of command-line tools for editing and manipulating images.
Microsoft Office is sometime I use regularly, mainly for Word and Excel, and even PowerPoint on occasion. I have Outlook installed and used it for many years, but I now refer to it primarily to answer questions.
Microsoft Visio is what I use to generate conceptional network and PC diagrams. I'm running Visio 2000 which, thankfully, works under Windows 7, 64-bit.
Firefox is no longer my primary browser, but I do keep it installed as it's exceptionally convenient to refer to when answering questions or when a website is giving me difficulty.
Parallels is the Virtual Machine technology that I use. I use it both on Windows, where I run additional copies of Windows7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux in virtual machines, but it's also the technology that I use to run Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro.
Photoshop is what I use for advanced image editing and photo manipulation.
PuTTY is a remote command line terminal program that I use frequently to get command-line access to my Linux servers.
QuickBooks is for my business books.
Quicken is for my personal accounting. (This is particularly painful because it was my primary competitor when I worked on Microsoft Money, now discontinued.)
Skype isn't used often, but it's typically running as a way for trusted contacts to get in touch with me via voice or video.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio is a more powerful video editing package than that which comes with Camtasia, above, and I use it for assorted video work. It's slowly being replaced with FinalCut Pro on my Mac.
TeraCopy is a copy accelerator for Windows when using Windows Explorer. Besides speeding up copy operations somewhat, it also does a better job of displaying progress and providing options when conflicts occur.
Trillian is my Instant Messaging program of choice. I have Windows Live, Yahoo IM, Google Chat, and AOL IM accounts and this allows me to interact with all of them in a single interface. (It would also handle the text-only portion of Skype and Facebook chat if I bothered to use that.)
Vim is a text editor. It's older than dirt, dating back to the origins of Unix itself. It's wonderfully arcane and powerful, and available on every platform that I care to edit text on. I write my articles and books using Vim.
VLC is my primary media player. It can play just about anything.
WinMerge is a program that allows you to compare two text files and highlights their differences.
World Of Warcraft. Yes, I admit it, I play WoW and have for several years now. It's great for stress reduction. My timing's erratic, but the BronzeBeard server is my home.
xplorer2 is a dual-pane replacement for Windows Explorer. I prefer its more detailed user interface and the dual pane approach. It has many more features that I know I'm overlooking.
I'm certain that I'm missing some items from the list, but it's a start.
As you can see, I've amassed quite the collection of tools and utilities that I rely on over time. Some I use daily (hourly even) and some only occasionally, but all are useful.
At least they're useful in some way to me.