Scott Hanselman's 2021 Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows
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!
- UPDATE! Lance McCarthy made a GitHub Gist with WinGet and Choco IDs for this whole list! Thanks Lance!
- 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.
- If you really want to mess with your Taskbar, try Taskbar Tweaker.
- 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.
- Also try SpaceSniffer!
- FileSeek and Everything - Search it all, instantly!
- I like Win+Share+S for Screenshots but also check out ShareX, Greenshot, and Lightshot
- For animated Gifs, try screen2gif or LICEcap!
- 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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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.
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
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!
I would add NCrunch to this list, the fast live unit testing and code coverage tool (not free though).
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's a fork and introduces some nice features, like open the folder after extraction, clos 7zop after and so on.
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
I now know of Fileseek and Everything .
Has anyone does comparisons ?
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.
Or, real coders just use a console.?
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!
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.
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Yes. Been waiting every year for the update :)