Tool Time

So.. having installed Windows 7 beta twice and the release candidate three times, it feels like I’m turning bare Windows boxes into working developer workstations about once a week at the moment, so here’s the low-down of what I put onto a bare Windows install to get things real nice‘n’kentucky. Partly because it’s nice to share, but more because I’ll need a list to work from when Windows goes gold in October and I end up doing this all over again.

Microsoft Office 2007

Office 2007, because everyone else in the world uses it, and because Exchange calendaring is actually pretty good. I use completely separate accounts for work and personal mail – my work e-mail is all in our Exchange server at work, which means if need be I can share my work mailbox with my co-workers without sharing any personal stuff.

Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008

VS2008 and SQL2008 are kinda obvious – I can’t really imagine building .NET business apps without them. Unless you’re some sort of C# ninja who codes against MySQL and ProgreSQL libraries using vim.exe, in which case send me a picture – I’ll put you on a T-shirt.

Although I’m not a fan of Resharper, Coderush or any of the other ‘heavyweight’ refactoring add-ins, I do use a couple of little VS2008 utilities.

Show Me The Money

As well as the full Microsoft / MSDN licensing bundle, there’s a couple of high-end commercial apps that I absolutely swear by. They’re not open source – you can’t share, modify, hack or fork them – and when there’s so many great free apps around, paying hundreds of pounds for an application can be a bit of a shock, but they’re powerful, flexible, beautifully-crafted tools, and they are worth every single penny.

imageRed Gate SQL Toolbelt 

Red Gate’s database tools are fantastic. Awesomely powerful, intuitive, rock-solid, and polished – if you do anything at all with SQL Server databases, you need these tools. The SQL Toolbelt includes the whole lot for just under a grand (i.e. roughly the same as hiring a decent contract DBA for three days) and once you’ve used them, you’ll never want to build a project without them again.

imageAxure RP Pro

There are great tools out there for writing code, editing photos, writing documents and creating databases and debugging CSS, but for designing software, Axure RP blows everything else out of the water. It’s expressive, it’s intuitive, and the resulting interactive prototypes show people exactly what you’re planning to deliver - which is great, because you find out what you’ve got wrong after three hours instead of three weeks.

image SnagIt

Capture your screen, annotate it, scribble on it, move things around, snip and cut and paste and shuffle and reorganize – SnagIt is intuitive, powerful, and works extremely well. The latest version even supports basic video capture – and if you need more advanced video capture, Camtasia Studio from the same people, TechSmith,  is well worth a look.

image Beyond Compare

For when Subversion’s built-in diff doesn’t really cut it. Beyond Compare is the best file-compare utility out there, bar none. One little touch I really like – their 30-day trial license only counts days that you actually run the software, so if you only use it once a week, it’ll be a good six months before the trial expires. More software should do this.

The Best Things In Life Are Free


Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera

imageimageimageimageLatest versions of these (plus Internet Explorer, of course) are pretty much essential for testing final release web apps. I have a slightly odd set-up – I use IE for “work browsing” (MSDN, FogBugz, our wiki), I use Firefox for GMail, and I use Chrome for pretty much everything else. On Windows 7, you might want to try the Chrome Channel Changer which will pull updates from Google’s weekly alpha builds instead – might be a bit wobbly but generally works a lot better on Windows 7 than the mainstream build.


The only Firefox add-in I ever use; Firebug gives you full, detailed, debug views into your CSS, HTML, HTTP, and Javascript, all at your fingertips. Building web pages without Firebug is like playing the piano in boxing gloves.


The best archiver and archive manager out there, bar none. 32-bit and 64-bit versions; supports every archiving format you can think of, with a decent GUI on the top. Open source. Free. Fast. Bye-bye Winzip. It’s been… emotional.


  Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ and Jabber (Google Talk) in one client. Just watch out for all the heinous bloatware in their installer – don’t say yes or accept anything except the first screen, and you should be fine.

NotePad2, TextPad and A. N. Other Editor…

Notepad2 is fast, free, lightweight, and lovely. You’ll want to download Kai Liu’s installer that replaces Windows notepad.exe.

For a long time I swore by TextPad, which back in the day was a truly impressive editor, but recent releases have felt to me like they’re treading the water a bit; some subtle UI changes between 4.x and 5.x meant it didn’t really feel like the upgrade I’d been waiting for, and since I now do most of my actual coding in Visual Studio, switching text editors isn’t the life-changing transition it would have been a couple of years ago. I’ve been playing around with Notepad++, EditPadPro, UltraEdit, and probably end up installing all of them at some point, but I don’t really have a favourite editor right now.


Cygwin provides a huge collection of Unix command line utilities – sed, grep, bash, tar, that kind of thing – that are just useful to have around. I install Cygwin at C:\Windows\Cygwin\ - which keeps it neatly out of the way - and then add C:\Windows\Cygwin\bin\ to the system path, and then forget about it, because grepping for stuff just works and that’s the whole point.

If you want to use cygwin’s git client, you’ll need to add the optional git and openssh packages, because you’ll need ssh-keygen.exe to set things up, and then git.exe to wrangle your repositories.

imageSlikSvn and TortoiseSvn

TortoiseSvn is the wonderfully smooth and polished Windows shell extension that gives you right-click version control menus in Windows. It’s not just a great revision-control system; it’s a wonderful example of how you can seamlessly integrate your software into the OS instead of needing lots of clunky great windows and forms all over the place. SlikSvn is the command-line Windows binaries; although Tortoise does 99% of the day-to-day stuff, once in a while it’s useful being able to call svn from batch files and scripts, and that’s where SlikSvn comes in.

NUnit, Moq and TestDriven.NET

I like the simplicity of NUnit; I like Moq’s Linq-driven syntax, and I like the way gives you all this from a right-click anywhere in your project. I particularly like that once these are all in place, they become the easiest way to run a chunk of experimental code, so your successful experiments often end up as unit tests without even trying. I like that.

Snippet Compiler

Snippet Compiler compiles snippets. It’s like the notepad.exe of .NET IDEs, and it’s wonderful for just hacking together tiny programs to automate ad-hoc tasks or try out an idea.

image Paint.NET

It’s free, it’s open-source, it works, and it’s powerful. If you’re used to Photoshop it can take a bit of getting used to, but otherwise it’s a great application to have around.