Scott Hanselman

Scott Hanselman's 2021 Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows

December 22, 2020 Comment on this post [57] Posted in Tools
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Can you believe it's been 6 years since my last Tools list? Tools have changed, a lot are online, but honestly, it's just a LOT OF WORK to do the tools list. But here's one for 2020-2021. These are the tools in my Utils folder. I made a d:\dropbox\utils folder and I added it to my PATH. That way it's on all my computers and in my path on all my computers and I can get to any of them instantly.

This is the Updated for 2020-21 Version of my 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2014 List, and currently subsumes all my other lists. I’ve been doing this for over 17 years. Wow. I need to do better, I guess. 

Everyone collects utilities, and most folks have a list of a few that they feel are indispensable.  Here's mine.  Each has a distinct purpose, and I probably touch each at least a few times a week.  For me, "util" means utilitarian and it means don't clutter my tray.  If it saves me time, and seamlessly integrates with my life, it's the bomb. Many/most are free some aren't. Those that aren't free are very likely worth your 30-day trial, and very likely worth your money.

These are all well loved and oft-used utilities.  I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't use them constantly. Things on this list are here because I dig them. No one paid money to be on this list and no money is accepted to be on this list.

Personal Plug: If this list is the first time you and I have met, you should subscribe to my blog, and check out my podcasts, and sign up for my newsletter of Wonderful Things.

Please Link to http://hanselman.com/tools when referencing the latest Hanselman Ultimate Tools List. Feel free to get involved here in the comments, post corrections, or suggestions for future submissions. I very likely made mistakes, and probably forgot a few utilities that I use often.

THE LIFE AND WORK-CHANGING UTILITIES

"If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow." - Beyoncé

  • Windows Subsystem for Linux - It really can't be overstated how WSL/WSL2 has put the cherry on top of Windows 10. It runs on any build 18362 or higher as it was recently backported and it's integration with Windows is fantastic. It's also WAY faster than running a VM. Go learn more on my YouTube
  • Windows Terminal - Finally Windows has a modern terminal. You can run shells like Command Prompt, PowerShell, and Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Its main features include multiple tabs, panes, Unicode and UTF-8 character support, a GPU accelerated text rendering engine, and the ability to create your own themes and customize text, colors, backgrounds, and shortcuts. It also includes a pseudo-console so 3rd party Terminals like hyper, conemu, terminus and more work better!
  • Windows PowerToys - They are back and they should be built into Windows. Install them here and get a color picker, fancy zones, file explorer addons, image resizers, keyboard manager and remapper, an Apple Spotlight-like running in the form of PowerToyrs Run, the Shortcut Guide and more!
    • Also check out Ueli as a great launcher/spotlight for Windows!
  • VS Code - Visual Studio Code is hella fast and is my goto text and code editor. I still use notepad sometimes and I'm in full Visual Studio a lot, but VS Code is like the Tesla of code editors. Check out my Favorite VS Code Extensions below.
  • PowerShell/OhMyPosh/PoshGit/Cascadia Code - I've had a blast this year taking my console prompt to the next level. Try these out but also look at Starship. Whatever you do, play! Don't accept the defaults!
  • ZoomIt - A true classic but also the answer to the #1 question I'm asked. How do you draw on the screen when you're sharing your screen? ZoomIt has been THAT TOOL in my toolbox. Really take some time and learn how to do boxes, arrows, colors and more and you'll be a more effective screen-sharer. In fact, just go get the whole SysInternals suite and put it all in your PATH.
  • Winget - It's apt-get for Windows. Similar to choco which I've used in the past, WinGet is going to be included in Windows 10 and has a ton of nice features. I use it to setup a machine in an hour from the command line, versus a day before doing it manually. Just add your MSA (Microsoft login) to the Package Manager Insiders Program and get it from the Store. It's bundled with the Windows App Installer. Then just "winget search <tool>" and winget install whatever!
  • QuickLook - Free in the Windows Store, just highlight a file in Explorer and press Space to get a preview!

Amazing .NET and Developer utilities

"Power means happiness; power means hard work and sacrifice." - Beyoncé

  • CodeTrack - CodeTrack is a free .NET Performance Profiler and Execution Analyzer. It works on basically every version of .NET and will give you massive insight into how your code is running! The flamegraph view is fantastic. It's free but you should donate as it's a one-person amazing app!
  • LINQPad - Interactively query your databases with LINQ with this tool from Joseph Albahari. A fantastic learning tool for those who are just getting into LINQ or for those who want a code snippet IDE to execute any C# or VB expression. Free and wonderful.
  • WinMerge - WinMerge just gets better and better. It's free, it's open source and it'll compare files and folders and help you merge your conflicted source code files like a champ. Also see Perforce Visual Merge which free and also can diff images, which is pretty amazing.
  • WinDbg - Low-level and classic but also new and fresh! WinDbg (Wind-bag?) is now in the Windows Store with ALL NEW VISUALS and more!
  • Insomnia and Nightingale are great alternatives to Postman for doing REST APIs!
  • NuGet Package Explorer - This app allows browsing NuGet packages from an online feed and viewing contents of the packages
  • WireShark - What's happening on the wire! WireShark knows!
  • GitHub Desktop - Gits, ahem, out of the way! Watch my Git 101 on YouTube!
  • RepoZ - This is a powerful repository hub for Git that enhances Windows Explorer with git superpowers! See your git details in your Windows Explorer title bar!
    • Also from Andreas, if you're a .NET person you'll want to look at Fusion+, a modern alternative to the Microsoft Assembly Binding Log Viewer!

Useful Windows Utilities that should be built in

"I love my job, but it’s more than that: I need it" - Beyoncé

  • Ear Trumpet - Fantastic advanced volume control for Windows! If you have ever wished that volume on Windows could turn their UI up to 11, Ear Trumpet is that app.
  • Teracopy - While I use the excellent built in copy features of Windows 10 the most, when I want to move a LOT of files as FAST as possible, nothing beats TeraCopy, an app that does just that - move stuff fast. The queue control is excellent.
  • AutoHotKey - This little gem is bananas. It's a tiny, amazingly fast free open-source utility for Windows. It lets you automate everything from keystrokes to mice. Programming for non-programmers. It's a complete automation system for Windows without the frustration of VBScript. This is the Windows equivalent of AppleScript for Windows. (That's a very good thing.
  • 7-Zip - It's over and 7zip won. Time to get on board. The 7z format is fast becoming the compression format that choosey hardcore users choose. You'll typically get between 2% and 10% better compression than ZIP. This app integrates into Windows Explorer nicely and opens basically EVERYTHING you could ever want to open from TARs to ISOs, from RARs to CABs.
  • Paint.NET - The Paint Program that Microsoft forgot, written in .NET. It's 80% of Photoshop and it's free. Pay to support the author by getting the Windows Store version AND it will auto-update! It's only $7, which is an unreal value.
  • NimbleText - Regular Expressions are hard and I'm not very smart. NimbleText lets me do crazy stuff with large amounts of text without it hurting so much.
  • Markdown Monster - While I love VSCode, Markdown Monster does one thing incredibly well. Markdown.
  • Fiddler - The easy, clean, and powerful debugging proxy for checking out HTTP between here and there. It even supports sniffing SSL traffic.
  • NirSoft Utilities Collection - Nearly everything NirSoft does is worth looking at. My favorites are MyUninstaller, a replacement for Remove Programs, and WhoIsThisDomain.
  • Ditto Clipboard Manager - WindowsKey+V is amazing and close but Ditto keeps pushing clipboard management forward on Windows.
  • TaskbarX - It literally centers your Taskbar buttons. I love it. Open Source but also $1 in the Windows Store.
  • ShellEx View - Your Explorer's right click menu is cluttered, this can help you unclutter it!
  • OneCommander and Midnight Commander and Altap Salamander - As a long time Norton Commander user (google that!) there's a lot of great "reimaginings" of the Windows File Explorer. OneCommander and Altap Salamander does that, and Midnight Commander does it for the command line/CLI.
  • WinDirStat - A classic but still essential. What's taking up all that space? Spoiler - It's Call of Duty.
  • FileSeek and Everything - Search it all, instantly!
  • I like Win+Share+S for Screenshots but also check out ShareX, Greenshot, and Lightshot
  • Alt-Tab Terminator - Takes your Alt-Tab to the next level with massive previews and search
  • PureText - PureText pastes plain text, purely, plainly. Free and glorious. Thanks Steve Miller
  • I still FTP and SCP and SFTP and I use WinSCP to do it! It's free or just $10 to get it from the Windows Store and support the author!
  • VLC Player - The best and still the best. Plays everything, everywhere.
  • PSReadline - Makes PowerShell more Bashy in the best way.
  • Yori and all Malcolm Smith's Utilities - Yori is a reimagning of cmd.exe!

Visual Studio Code Extensions

"I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me." – Beyoncé

There's a million great Visual Studio Extensions. The ones I like won't be the that ones you like. But, go explore.

  • GitLens - Glorious. Just makes Git and VS a joy and adds a thousand tiny lovely features that will make you smile. You'll wonder why this isn't built in.
  • Version Lens - Do you have the latest package versions? Now you know
  • CodeSnap - Screenshots specifically tailored to make your code look nice.
  • .NET Core Test Explorer - Makes unit testing with .NET on VS Code so much nicer
  • Arduino for VS Code - The Arduino extension makes it easy to develop, build, deploy and debug your Arduino sketches in Visual Studio Code! So nice.
  • Coverage Gutters - This amazing extension highlights what code is covered with Unit Test and what's not. Ryan is looking for help, so go see if this is a great OSS project YOU can get started with!
  • Docker for VS Code - Container explorer and manager and deployer, directly from VS
  • GitHistory - Another nice add-on for Git that shows your Git Log
  • HexDump - I need this more than I would like to admit
  • LiveShare - Stop screen-sharing and start code and context sharing!
  • PowerShell for VS - A great replacement for the PowerShell ISE
  • Remote Containers - This is an AMAZING EXTENSION you have to try if you have Docker but it has a horrible non-descriptive name. But must be seen to be believed. Perhaps it's "Visual Studio Development Containers," I'm not sure. Open a folder and attach to a development container. No installs, just you debugging Rust, Go, C#, whatever whilst installing NOTHING. Amazing.
  • Remote SSH - Another in the VS Remote Family of Extensions, this one lets you use any remote SSH Server as your development environment.
  • Remote WSL - Edit and debug and build code from Windows...using Linux!
  • And finally, Yoncé, my current VS Code theme. Beyoncé inspired.

Things I enjoy

“We all have our purpose, we all have our strengths.” – Beyoncé

  • RescueTime - Are you productive? Are you spending time on what you need to be spending time on? RescueTime keeps track of what you are doing and tells you just that with fantastic reports. Very good stuff if you're trying to GTD and TCB. ;
  • Carnac - This wonderful little open source utility shows the hotkey's you're pressing as you press them, showing up as little overlays in the corner. I use it during coding presentations.
  • DOSBox - When you're off floating in 64-bit super-Windows-10-Pro land, sometimes you forget that there ARE some old programs you can't run anymore now that DOS isn't really there. Enter DOSBox, an x86 DOS Emulator! Whew, now I can play Bard's Tale from 1988 on Windows 10 in 2021! Check out Gog.com for lots of DOSBox powered classics

Oh yes, and finally Windows Sandbox - You already have this and didn't even know it! You can fire up in SECONDS a copy of your Windows 10 machine in a safe sandbox and when you close it, it's gone. Poof. Great for testing weird tools and utilities that some rando on a blog asks you to download.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 25, 2020 2:23
> Can you believe it's been 6 years since my last Tools list?

Yes. Been waiting every year for the update :)

Thanks!
Ben
December 25, 2020 2:36
Far Manager is an old replacement for Norton Commander for windows.
December 25, 2020 5:17
Thanks for the list Scott. There are several here I would like to check out.

The biggest surprise for me was that you did not mention Total Commander as a replacement for Norton Commander. It is by far the best file commander "like" software ever made. I've used it every day since I bought a license in 1996. Highly recommended!

It has a ton of features built in and is highly customizable.

Check it out at http://www.ghisler.com

December 25, 2020 7:22
Awesome list. A lot of great new Microsoft things in the last 6 years.
December 25, 2020 7:32
Any love for LogViewPlus? :-)
December 25, 2020 8:06
WizTree is a much much faster WinDirStat replacement. It reads the MFT table instead of parsing the disk file by file.
December 25, 2020 8:47
Q-Dir has saved me so much time over the years, whenever I have to sift to lot of binaries, this is the best!

http://www.softwareok.com/?seite=Freeware/Q-Dir
December 25, 2020 9:29
A great Xmas gift!!
Not only the list is super-useful (as EVERY post of Scott is), but the comments too...
Thanks to Derek for WizTree suggestions. Orders of magnitude quicker!

December 25, 2020 9:30
WinGet is based on the work of Keivan Beigi who created AppGet. It's worth a few minutes to research the history of how WinGet was born out of AppGet and how proper attribution could prevent disappointments.
December 25, 2020 9:32
@Derek wow WizTree is really fast! Thanks for mentioning it. It also has a portable version. Are there any downsides to using the MFT? The speed difference is huge.
December 25, 2020 11:33
Dngrep is open source file search that also integrates with everything. Tons of features
December 25, 2020 12:17
Great list!

I would add NCrunch to this list, the fast live unit testing and code coverage tool (not free though).
https://ncrunch.net
December 25, 2020 12:44
I was just searching for this yesterday and saw it had not been updated in so long. But then here it is in the RSS feed! Merry Christmas! I am also interested in your work from home equipment setup. Thanks!
December 25, 2020 12:57
This list really captures the majority of tools that are useful for developers using Windows. I also use many of the tools on the list, some suggestions:
Inkscape; free tool for working with vector graphics. Sometimes you need to tweak some vector image or export it as a bitmap.
SourceTree; nice Git GUI, still using it although Git support is constantly improving in Visual Studio.
HttpMaster; feature-rich HTTP tester, written in .NET.
December 25, 2020 14:15
Thanks for such a great article!
Small addition.
Far Manager is an awesome replacement of any file manager similar to the NC and MC. Also it can replace any archiver (even 7-zip) and can extract even from Msi packages. And it can be used as a windows terminal tab.
December 25, 2020 14:17
This is so timely. I recently bought a Thinkpad T14 AMD laptop and started to setup my workflow on Windows 10. Thanks, Scott!
December 25, 2020 15:44
@Warner Indeed, it's worth remembering this story every time MS praises themselves :D
edu
December 25, 2020 16:27
I highly recommend Everything too (https://www.voidtools.com/support/everything/)
It's a lightning fast search engine for files on your PC. Where Windows Explorer takes forever to find anything, Everything finds any file instantly.
December 25, 2020 16:46
We need to get most of these within PowerToys itself
December 25, 2020 16:48
I would also recommend ripgrep https://github.com/BurntSushi/ripgrep and glow https://github.com/charmbracelet/glow
December 25, 2020 17:41
If I can, I'd like to suggest a tool that is much more than file manager (like Midnight Commander), and I find it invaluable (ex one feature I use all the time is accessing and using file on any remote SSH as they would be on a different drive): FAR File Manager https://www.farmanager.com/
cDc
December 25, 2020 17:43
Do not forget BeyondCompare. Can edit texts smoothly as well.
December 25, 2020 17:43
First page of HN! Some of these utilities I did not know. Thanks for the update!
December 25, 2020 17:57
It looks like codetrack is no longer under active development. Latest version is from (10-01-2018)

http://www.getcodetrack.com/releases.html#latest
ms
December 25, 2020 19:23
I've been using Total Commander as super-successor to Norton Commander for probably 25 years now. It was amazing then and is even more amazing now. It's so good that now even it's got clones (I see you Double Commander for Linux).
December 25, 2020 20:26
There also several affordable commercial software tools that I love. FolderSizes (foldersizes.com) for disk space management, Beyond Compare for file and folder comparisons, and Directory Opus for everything else. Each of these tools are wonderfully feature rich.
December 25, 2020 20:43
One tool I use all the time (can't remember where I got it though) is ztree (clone of the old xtree). I love the way it makes viewing and searching files easy (including searching in hex). It also has some useful file management features (e.g. I can search some files for a string then copy all the matches elsewhere).
December 25, 2020 21:21
Thanks for the list! Thanks to it I found true gems!!

Since for me GitHub Desktop is too simple I use <a href=“https://git-fork.com/” title=“Git Fork”>Fork</a> and I find it amazing.
December 25, 2020 21:32
Powerup your clipboard with super functions and history and plaintext pasting, built by another Canadian - https://clipboardplaintextpowertool.blogspot.com/
December 26, 2020 7:19
I am curious how did you build the list ;-) ( I am doing one also and this is one of my big problems)
December 26, 2020 8:07
I would add Git Fork (~50$ lifetime) and Rest Client Extension for VS Code
December 26, 2020 10:11
I would replace 7zip with "Easy 7zip":http://www.e7z.org/

It's a fork and introduces some nice features, like open the folder after extraction, clos 7zop after and so on.
December 26, 2020 10:45
Re: ZoomIt, please Scott or any Microsoft people reading this, pull strings to get ZoomIt (and some other SysInternals tools) into the new, open-sourced Powertoys family. ZoomIt lack support for unicode text, among other things. ProcessExplorer should have a quick filter-by-string box.
Zap
December 26, 2020 10:47
Rad list! I use Scoop for 'apt-getting' and FreeCommander or Far Manager as the alternative file explorer.
December 26, 2020 15:27
Great list, promptly added to my favorites!

I'd suggest adding AllDup to the list, though. It's great for anything related to duplicate files, and superior to similar tools from other platforms: http://www.alldup.info/en_download_alldup.php
Aug
December 26, 2020 16:52
Awesome list! Many I have just forgotten about. As a geek since CPM, I certainly appreciate the breath of fresh air.
December 26, 2020 17:45
I use Agent Ransack for file searching.
I now know of Fileseek and Everything .
Has anyone does comparisons ?
December 26, 2020 17:53
ClickMonitorDDC is an excellent utility to control your monitor settings from your computer. It has a convenient volume control too.
December 26, 2020 17:57
hejdig.

Maybe you should remind the world, again, about Steps recorder. An official secret since Win7. Still as useful when screen dumping a sequence of tasks.

Can also be used for finding the reason for an eluding bug:
Set it to record the 50, or so, last actions and just hammer away at your debugee until the bug surfaces. Then you have a trail with screen dumps of what you did.

/OF
December 26, 2020 18:27
These are awesome! They will super charge productivity for sure, plus jazz things up a bit. Thanks for the list!
December 26, 2020 21:22
Are window managers not a productivity tool? Are they a sign of weakness?
How about
https://github.com/rickbutton/workspacer
.?

Or, real coders just use a console.?
December 27, 2020 5:27
What about Git Extensions? It's a nice open source GUI and I've enjoyed using it for the last couple of years.
December 27, 2020 20:06
Safely remove your USB drive from the commandline: removedrive

https://www.uwe-sieber.de/drivetools_e.html
December 28, 2020 7:12
Shift+Ctrl+V also pastes plain text, at least in browsers.
December 28, 2020 10:11
I love reading your tools lists, Scott. I use a lot of these already, but I'd like to shout out to Executor which I rely on in all of my daily work. It is essentially a launcher like Windows PowerToys Run and Ueli that you mention above. But it's very easy to customise in useful ways.

I couldn't comment with more details here for some reason, so I blogged about why Executor is so useful to me here. I hope some other folks might also find that useful!
December 28, 2020 10:36
Ear Trumpet is a winner! Thanks :)
December 28, 2020 11:27
I have to mention SublimeMerge (https://www.sublimemerge.com). Having used TortoiseGit for many years and being disappointed with all the slow JavaScript based alternatives, this tool was a game changer for me. Fast and faithful to Git.
December 28, 2020 17:47
Thanks a lot for the list, Scott.
I use Free Commander @https://www.freecommander.com and "Everything" all the time and are very productive to me.


I have been enjoying your lectures for quite some time and want to thank you for your efforts. I have been using Windows since 3.1 professionally and technically for over 20 years. Now trying to become a C#/ASP.Net developer.

December 28, 2020 17:58
My advice is docfetcher.
December 28, 2020 18:05
Don't under-estimate Windows Sandbox. It is CRAZY fast, especially considering you're getting a brand new instance of Windows 10. It is significantly faster than spinning up a VM.
December 28, 2020 19:43
Thanks for the list Scott - complete with links even.
December 28, 2020 22:54
Self-plug: I wrote this software: Check out WinProductive task switcher and keeps time tracked in each Window and Application => cworklog.com/winproductive
December 29, 2020 8:14
Would be great to see these items identified by their WinGet package names. Then it becomes much easer to auto install them on a new PC.
December 29, 2020 16:03
I use ProcessHacker on all my computers. In the pass, it had more feature than ProcessExplorer. Maybe it is not true anymore and I should give it another try since that ProcessHacker is not updated for many years.
December 29, 2020 22:28
@Richard Davies, that was a great suggestion. I've gone ahead and done that here https://dvlup.com/2020/12/29/2021-ultimate-list/
December 30, 2020 9:26
Great list. You've mentioned both Ditto and PureText. Do you know that Ditto can paste plain text by holding the shift key when pasting?
December 30, 2020 13:45
My recommendation is https://www.regexbuddy.com/ It helps you write regexes and comes with an excellent grep search function.

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.