Tools I Use

A friend of mine recently shared some of the tools she had discovered during 2006, and I have seen similar lists on other blogs. Here is my annotated list of my favorite products that I have come across in 2006.

I started using StumbleUpon toward the end of 2006. It is a browser extension available for at least Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. The basic way it works is that you rate sites you visit. Based on these ratings, your interests, your friends, and other factors, it takes you to a new likely unknown Web document. I would make the analogy that StumbleUpon is to Web documents what Amazon.com is to books. If that is truly what it is intended to be, I would say its suggestion engine needs some work or it needs more users to give it a better corpus of data from which to make recommendations.

I am currently using Windows Vista. While not generally available until the end of January, it was released in 2006, and I have the release version through both an MSDN subscription and the gift for being a Windows Vista beta tester. If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, Windows Vista has a nice looking interface. At first glance, this interface may look like pure eye candy, but there is usefulness as well. Live previews of many things are rendered. When you hover over a taskbar button, you see the actual window in a live thumbnail. When you switch applications with either the traditional task switcher or the new Flip3D, you also see live previews of the windows. These are also not basic image thumbnails, they are live thumbnails. If there is a video playing in the regular window, it will be playing in the thumbnail. Windows Vista also has several improvements to security from integration of Windows Defender to User Account Control. Unless you are into security, you likely won’t understand the significance of the improvements so I won’t describe them in detail. Windows Vista also has desktop search features built-in. Windows XP has an Indexing Service that served a similar role, and it is still available for backwards compatibility, but desktop search does a better job and has a more appropriate scope of indexing. The final item I like is that Windows Vista constantly improves. If you are not connected to the Internet, it will optimize how it uses memory based on how you use applications. It automatically defragments the hard drive on a schedule. It automatically learns your particular dictation and writing style with its speech and handwriting recognition capabilities. Beyond that, with an Internet connection, it will automatically optimize networking parameters for the actual connection. It can use online help which may be more accurate than the help collection included. It can send crash reports to Microsoft for analysis and automatically tell you when a reported issue has a fix or more information.

I am also currently using Office 2007. In particular, I like the RSS and iCalendar integration in Outlook. I like the To Do bar in Outlook. I also like the account automatic configuration in Outlook. I also like the ribbon user interface. It is present in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and portions of Outlook that use Word. It makes much more sense than the infinitely nested toolbars and menus in Office 2003 and earlier. Office 2007 also features live previews similar to Windows Vista. Office 2007 also finalizes the death of Clippy. Office Assistants, as I believe they were called, are no longer available in Office 2007.

Another product I started using was Windows Live OneCare. It is an all-in-one security product from Microsoft. It provides firewall, antivirus, antispyware, and more. It does cost money for a subscription, but a subscription covers three computers, so one subscription can cover your family. Generally, I have been fine using free security products and actually found them better than commercial products. However, I was introduced to OneCare as an internal beta tester when I interned at Microsoft. Recently, a particularly amazing capability that I haven’t seen in other security products became evident when I was using OneCare. There was a security vulnerability in Windows with how Windows Metafile images were processed. Before the fix was available for Windows, OneCare began to ensure that Windows Metafile images were not malformed. One that I encountered was malformed and I was warned. OneCare has an extremely simple user interface with literally one care. As long as the programs tray icon is green, you are okay.

That is my report of tools released during 2006 that I have enjoyed using. I am sure I will find new tools during 2007.

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