Tech & Work

Seven apps that will help make IT pros more productive

There are ways IT pros can improve our own productivity by using applications, which will benefit you and the company you work for. Here are seven to look at.

As IT professionals, we work in an industry that is constantly looking to improve its organizational productivity through the use of software and hardware. We contribute to this by what we do in our jobs. However, there are ways we improve our own productivity by using applications, which will benefit you and the company you work for. Let's take a look at seven different applications that I think improve our productivity.

Launchy

Launchy is a small little program that you can use to launch applications faster. Install it on your computer, and it runs silently in the background. When you press Alt+Space, it displays a window that allows you to type in a command, with a kind of "autocomplete" hint that shows the most likely result you're looking for. Pressing Enter will launch this.

It may seem strange to use it at first, but after a while it's substantially quicker than other ways of running applications. It also remembers your common applications - for me to run my favourite FTP application, I just press Alt+Space from anywhere, press "F" (for FileZilla), then Enter, and the application starts. It can also be used to open web addresses as well.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a popular cloud-based file sharing service. It's simple to use, syncs files across all of your devices, and even has a web-based access method if you need it.

To use Dropbox, you install it on your computer, specify a location, and any files in there are accessible from other computers that you have Dropbox installed on. It's great for sharing your own files between devices - notes, pictures, documents.

Usage of this may depend on your own company's security policy. Some companies don't let you install Dropbox or let you use it for company files, so I would look into that before using it. Nevertheless, it's a handy program to use - saving you the time of using USB drives to transfer files in many cases.

Notepad++

We all know that the Notepad application that comes with Windows is quite basic. That's where Notepad++ comes in. It's a handy text editor with many functions to help you be more efficient, but still not too clunky.

Some of the handy features include language syntax formatting (e.g. HTML, SQL), highlighting searched words, tabbed files, reopening files when the application is restarted, Find in Files, and many others I haven't even looked at. It's a great alternative for the default text file editor.

RescueTime

This application is something that I've just started using recently. It doesn't directly have an impact on your productivity like some of the other applications I've mentioned, but it's still very handy.

RescueTime is a web-based service that allows you to track the time you spend on various applications and web sites. It rates each site based on the estimated productivity and how work-related it is. For example, Facebook would receive a low "productivity" score, but Microsoft Word may receive a high "productivity" score, as it's likely you're using it for work. Application settings can be changed to meet your needs.

It tracks how long you spend in each of these applications and gives you an overall productivity score. I think just knowing about how you spend your time can make you more productive. If you realise you're spending an hour a day on a news website when you don't need to, then you can make adjustments to get more out of your day.

LastPass

This application has saved me so much time since I started using it. LastPass is a browser extension that securely stores all your passwords for websites that you use, which is protected by a single password. We use so many passwords for different websites, it can be hard to keep track, and that's where LastPass comes in.

When you sign up for a new account, you can ask LastPass to remember the website and password. You can turn on Autofill, which automatically populates usernames and passwords into sites that you visit (which may or may not be a good idea for some websites). It also lets you automatically fill in form details yourself - simply right click on a Login textbox, select LastPass and the site details will appear filled out in the textboxes.

Teracopy

The Teracopy application is a great replacement for the Windows copy and paste process. Install it and it becomes your default file copy application. It allows you to see the files that are transferred, shows an accurate file size total and time estimate, allows you to skip files on error, and actually seems faster than the standard Windows copy.

The most important feature to me is the logic that handles the "file already found" situation. Windows gives you a few choices, but can be rather clunky. Teracopy gives you several - allowing you to rename, skip, or overwrite files - either for single files or for the entire batch. A big time saver.

ExamDiff

The final application in this list is ExamDiff. This is an easy to use file comparison tool. Simply load in two files, and ExamDiff compares the two and shows you where the differences are - additions, deletions and modifications in each file. It has simultaneous scrolling so you can easily find differences.

Many file comparison tools exist out there, and you may have your preferred one, but I find ExamDiff quite simple to use. I haven't tried it with a lot of file types, but it works great for log files and source code.

I hope you can get the same benefits from these applications that I do. Do you have any other applications that you use that improve your own productivity?

Ben Brumm is an experienced IT professional with a background in databases and software development. He runs the IT career development website at www.completeitprofessional.com.

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