SLIDESHOW

10 Crucial Apps for Gearheads

Gearhead author Mark Gibbs picks his top ten everyday tools … the utilities he can't live without, including CCleaner, RoboForm, and fontViewOK.

Top Apps for Gearheads

Check out these tools recommended by Gearhead author Mark Gibbs.

For more than 25 years, Gibbs has done just about everything in the networking business short of hacking into NORAD. He worked as an executive in various companies, has created companies, and has consulted on product and service development for many businesses.

As an author, he has written four books and numerous articles about networking and computer technology. Gibbs has been a regular contributor to Network World since 1995 and pens (well, keyboards) the weekly Gearhead column.

Karen's Time Sync

The time synchronization services built into the various versions of Microsoft Windows are, what's the term, ah, yes, "meh.". They work but don't give you much information and there's nothing cool about them. Karen's Time Sync is delightfully geeky, does the job very well, closes the system tray, and is free (Karen's Time Sync gets a rating of 4 out of 5).

Radmin's Free Advanced IP Scanner

Radmin's free Advanced IP Scanner is one of those tools I turn to all the time. It's a simple, fast, and useful way to run a quick scan to check what's on your network. Select any device and you can connect to it via HTTP, secure-HTTP, FTP or shared folders as available. AIPS supports Wake-on-LAN, remote shutdown, telnet access (requires a separate telnet client), and can launch Radmin's own remote monitoring software. (AIPS gets a rating of 4.5 out of 5.)

fontViewOK

Hi. My name is Mark and I'm a font addict. I admit it. I have way too many fonts and when I'm trying to figure out what's the perfect typeface for a network uptime report I find FontViewOK published by Software OK invaluable. Unlike the font viewer in Microsoft Word or pretty much every other Windows application, FontViewOK gives me a decent look at what some target text rendered in each font will look like at a size I can actually see. (FontViewOK gets a rating of 4 four out of 5.)

TeamViewer

It always happens: Someone calls you (usually a friend or loved one or, occasionally, a client) and they have some kind of software problem that they can't explain to you but expect you to fix anyway. When the other party doesn't have remote control software installed (which is always) I get them to download TeamViewer. It's simple to install, works through firewalls and across the 'Net, supports remote reboot and reconnect, file transfer, chat, and various levels of access control. TeamViewer is free for personal use while for corporate use it's a little pricey at $749.

CCleaner

CCleaner is one of those free apps I can't live without. When the dreaded WinRot starts to fill your registry and disk storage with cruft that slows your system to a crawl, CCleaner will go a long way to de-crufting it. Note that you should always run the registry cleaning function repeatedly until CCleaner can no longer find problems. CCleaner will also clean up temporary files, remove browser histories, clean browser caches, and generally spruce up Windows.

Pingplotter

Nessoft's Pingplotter does what you'd guess it might do: It tests connectivity to one or more target hosts on your local network or on the Internet and plots the results. What PingPlotter is actually doing is repeatedly running a traceroute to identify all of the intermediate routers between your machine and the targets and testing each for how long it takes to respond. The tool also measures "packet jitter" (the variation in how quickly packets are handled), VoIP Mean Opinion Score or MOS (an estimation of perceived voice quality), and standard deviation of packet transit time. Pingplotter comes in freeware, Standard ($24.95), and Pro ($199.95) versions. Pingplotter is my pick of this group of tools and gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

GoodSync

I last covered GoodSync in a Gearhead column in the middle of 2009 and it is still one of my favorite workhorses.

Now available in both 32- and 64-bit versions for Windows and OS X as well as for USB flash drives, GoodSync can synchronize and or backup files on local drives, CIFS shares, FTP servers, WebDAV servers, Secure FTP (SFTP) servers, and Amazon S3 as well as Windows Mobile and Pocket PC devices (does anyone still use Pocket PC?). It can also copy locked files, encrypt files using the Windows Encrypting File System, handle symbolic links by either copying them or "drilling down" so the actual file is copied, copy NTFS Access Control List attributes, and perform line-by-line file comparisons using an external DIFF-like utility (such as WinDIFF). GoodSync, priced at $29.95, still gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

RoboForm

RoboForm is another product that, like GoodSync, I covered in a previous nail-biting episode of Gearhead (this was also in 2009. And like GoodSync, RoboForm comes from the same company, Siber Systems. Also, like its sister product, GoodSync, I couldn't live without this utility.

What RoboForm does is manage your passwords. It integrates with IE and Firefox adding another toolbar from which you can invoke "One-Click" loading and automatic login of Web sites, fill and save Web forms and passwords, and generate real, serious custom passwords.

RoboForm is available in three versions: The Everywhere version ($9.95) provides not only password management on your desktop but also licenses you to run RoboForm on any number of devices and all passwords are synchronized between all devices through your included "Everywhere online account". The Desktop version ($29.95) supports multiple profiles (Everywhere only provides one identity). The RoboForm2Go version ($39.95) provides similar features to the desktop version but works off a USB drive. The entire product line gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

Process Manager

I've always thought it curious that Microsoft never provided a decent task manager until they acquired the product, Process Manager. Up until then the included Task Manager was too techie for the average user and nowhere near sophisticated enough for expert users.

Process Explorer changed that for the expert users and provides a list of currently active processes and their owning accounts, handles that a selected process has opened; DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded, a process search features that will show you which processes have particular handles opened or DLLs loaded, process killing, examination, resource usage analysis, system shutdown, replaces the Windows Task Manager, and much more. This is a great tool that gets a rating of 5 out of 5 and is definitely one I can't live without.

VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion

I feel that I need to lump VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion together simply because they both do the same thing but on different platforms. That same thing is making it possible to run, in parallel, pretty much any x86-based operating system in a virtual machine on top of the host operating system. Tons of RAM is a great idea as is having as fast a processor as you can get your sweaty hands on.

VM Tools

I couldn't live without these VM tools: Being able to run Ubuntu, or Windows Vista, or Windows XP (the latter with one of the few video games I really like, to wit, LucasArts PodRacer) on top of OS X on my new 27-inch iMac with an i7 processor is pretty amazing.

VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion, which together are my pick of all of the tools I've discussed, both get a rating of 5 out of 5.

More From Gibbs

Gibbs tests tools in Ventura, Calif. Tell him about the tools you love or quiz him at gearhead@gibbs.com.