Now It Can Be Told

by Jonathan Plutchok

Thank you, loyal visitors, for tearing yourselves away from the new Harry Potter book long enough to read some real adventure at the Tool Bar & Grill. I’m sure you’re all wondering how this week’s installment will end – while I’m still wondering how to begin.

Pixel R.I.P.

Have you just bought a new laptop computer or LCD monitor? Before you do anything else – especially before you throw out the box – run Dead Pixel Buddy on it.

Dead Pixel Buddy is about as simple as a utility can get, and as useful. It displays one color at a time over the entire screen, making defective pixels (dead or undead) obvious.

Despite recent advances in LCD manufacturing techniques, even a single bad pixel can drive you nuts. Dead Pixel Buddy ensures you won’t be stuck with a defective new screen because you didn’t notice the problem right away.

Dead Pixel Buddy is free from, but is not Vista-ready yet.

Desert Island Disk

Remember the famous “Desert Island Disks” radio show, where celebrities would choose the eight or ten records they would want when stranded on a desert island (presumably, a desert island with a stereo system)? I faced a similar choice recently.

I had to set up a few laptops at one time for various family members. So I decided to load one CD with the essential free utilities that I intended to install on all the computers. This made me think (I hate when that happens!) about the most important tools that every computer user should start out with.

Here is my list (in no particular order) of the gotta-have utilities that I installed on the new computers:

  • xplorer2 lite file manager
  • ZipGenius for file compression and extraction
  • Firefox browser (in a future post, I’ll share my favorite add-ons)
  • AVG Free antivirus (or one of several other equally good ones)
  • Comodo firewall (ZoneAlarm Free is a fine alternative)
  • WinPatrol start-up and process manager
  • Spyware Terminator or Spyware Blaster real-time anti-spyware
  • Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy anti-spyware (one can’t be too careful)
  • Windows Defender anti-spyware (what the heck, it’s free)
  • SpamFighter anti-spam (one of various good tools)
  • CrimsonEditor text editor
  • ArsClip clipboard manager
  • Copernic Desktop Search
  • Advanced Windows Care Personal Windows and Registry maintenance
  • TClockEx or AlfaClock tray clock enhancer

The following favorite utilities are not essential start-up gear, but are nice to have and also fit on the CD:

  • CFi Lockdown Caps Lock alert (one of many good alternatives)
  • FileBox Extender for shortcuts to most-used files and folders
  • Foxit Reader (PDF reader)
  • ToDoList (task list manager)
  • TaskSwitchPro (Alt-Tab task switcher)
  • WordWeb (dictionary)
  • VoluMouse (volume control from the mouse wheel)
  • Restore Desktop icon layout saver
  • Slawdog Smart Shutdown
  • WhatsRunning startup and process manager
  • PC Decrapifier for removing unneeded trial programs and promotions from new computers<!--[if !supportLists]-->
  • FastStone Image Viewer for picture viewing and simple manipulation

These utilities can get a new computer off to a good start, and at no extra cost. All are free for personal use (though I encourage you to send donations to the authors who accept them).

I have reviewed many of these programs in the past, and I plan to review the others in the future.

No doubt many of you have your own essential utilities, or will take issue with my list. In fact, if I took more time to think about it, I might make some changes myself. All my readers and I would like to hear your suggestions, so please chime in by writing to ]]