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Four free tools I (nearly) always install on a new machine and use everyday

Note: This blog post is from 2014. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
I'd like to recommend four free tools that I think everyone (running Windows) should consider installing on their machines, as they can help with day to day tasks that many (certainly I) hit every day.

They don't run in the background, only doing their job when you ask them to, so I find them safe to install and use on production servers, though of course any tool can be abused. I've never seen these to cause a problem in many thousands of uses.

I was reminded to share this list today as I was helping a customer, as I got on their server with them to help them solve a problem. I recommended we install these as I do on nearly all my engagements (and indeed on all my own machines). I think they really are fundamental tools, as I'll explain below.

Of course, I realize everyone has their own favorite tools. If you already some similar tool, whether free, commercial, or built into the OS, which you prefer, I'm not trying to pull you from those. Indeed, I list over 1800 tools and resources in over 150 categories that you may like, at my cf411.com site.

And yes, these are all Windows tools. If you're on Mac/Linux, you may find alternatives there or of course will find many of these features already built into those rich OS's.

With that as preface, on to the tools...

First let me list the tools, then I'll offer some commentary

  • FileLocator Lite (aka Agent Ransack): free (and commercial), fast and fabulous tool for searching for files containing a given string.
  • UltraSearch: free (and commercial), even faster tool for searching for files or folders by name (rather than by content)
  • Beyond Compare, commercial (but free trial for 30 days of use, not 30 days from installation!). My favorite tools for comparing files and folders, especially from the Windows Explorer context menu
  • Universal Viewer, free (and commercial). Amazingly effective file viewing tool, especially for viewing very large files

Here's some commentary about the tools:

  • FileLocator Lite (aka FLL, aka AgentRansack): If you've only used either Windows search or your favorite editor's file find feature, you won't believe how much better life can be with a tool dedicated to file contents searching. It's faster and more effective than any other tools I've seen folks use. Indeed, I've written before extolling the many virtues of this wonderful tool. Please check that out. Note that since then they have come out with a new update, called FileLocator Lite 2014, with a substantially improved interface and new features. It just keeps getting better. There is a commercial version, File Locator Pro, which primarily adds the ability to search archive files (zips). That's pretty awesome, and it also adds support for additional search keywords (NEAR, , LIKE, LINES, and more), internationalization, and much more, as shown in this comparison chart.
  • Ultrasearch: While FLL is incredibly fast and capable when searching for files by content, if you just need to find files or folders by name, nothing (I've found) beats Ultrasearch. It's wicked fast. I've seen it find a file across a hard drive of a million+ files in just seconds! (It's also from the same people who make the equally fabulous Treesize line of tools (in free, or personal, orcommercial licenses) for analyzing a hard drive to find what folders/subfolders are using the most space. It's definitely my go-to tool if ever I encounter a drive running out of space.)
  • Beyond Compare (aka BC): If you've never used any file/folder compare tool, you are seriously missing out. They can be incredible. And again, while many have their favorites, I've not found any that top Beyond Compare. It's fast, efficient, capable, and flexible. And about their trial as a I note above, I think it's the best in the business. What confidence they have, giving you not 30 days from installation but 30 days OF USE. I've told people they may find it lasts for a year or two, if they don't use it often. And if they do run out of uses, then they will know by then that they want the tool!
  • Universal Viewer (aka UV, but don't confuse the names here and call it UltraViewer): If you may rely solely on Notepad to open files, have you ever noticed it start to choke if the file is more than about 100mb? What if you need to open one that's a few hundred meg? or gig(s)? Sure, you may prefer to use your favorite editor, but check this out: UV can open a gig file in a second. How? It only does the I/O needed to show the section of the file being displayed on screen. Few editors presume to do that, since they're "editing" the file. You never notice it lurching as does subsequent i/o, while you page down/up the file, nor even if you search the file (via ctrl-f, like any program). It just works. I make it my "default program" in Windows for viewing .log files of any sort. And I wrote more about it in the past, too.

Someday I'll do another entry on some changes I always make to my own machines (and propose making to customer machines) to make certain default settings better. I'll save that for another blog entry some day.

And I could write about still other tools that I do often use. It's just that I just don't ALWAYS use them, such as the aforementioned TreeSize, as well as Log Parser (fabulous for analyzing log files using SQL syntax, as I've written about before). And I used to often need to install client-side proxy tools, but those are now included in most modern browsers by default, as I've written about before.

I may be forgetting still other tools I often use. I just wanted to get this entry out before I might forget again. And as I've mentioned above, I keep a list of over 1800 tools in over 150 categories, at my cf411.com site. (Yes, yes, it's still just one huge honkin' page after all these years. The value for most is in browsing it anyway, starting with the category lists at the top.) There are indeed many, many tools there that I do use often, but I'll leave you to explore them for yourself. Maybe you might find one or more there that you could end up using every day, depending on your needs.

If you may consider these four above, do let me know what you think. (But really, no need to tell me about an alternative you favor, unless you don't find it in a search of the cf411 page.)

For more content like this from Charlie Arehart: Need more help with problems?
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Thanks for this Charlie. Some good ones here. I used to be a big fan of BeyondCompare, until Mark Drew pointed me to WinMerge. It's completely free, and I've never looked back
# Posted By Cutter | 1/3/14 11:54 PM
@Cutter, i did acknowledge that folks would have their favorites, and that I listed alternatives (including that one) on my cf411 site. As long as people use at least SOME tool in these categories, I suppose that's what matters most. :-)
I'd also add WinMerge, as an amazingly useful file and directory comparison tool.
# Posted By Steve | 1/6/14 12:07 PM
In case people are skipping from reading my list to offering a comment, I'd like to repeat my last paragraph above:

"If you may consider these four above, do let me know what you think. (But really, no need to tell me about an alternative you favor, unless you don't find it in a search of the cf411 page.) "

:-) I foresaw this, and tried to forestall it. I really don't want this to turn into a forum of people voting on their favorites. That was not the intent. (And I'll just say that I've taken a look at winmerge and still favor beyondcompare, but again, I don't want to turn this into even a debate over that.)

Like I said in reply to Cutter, as long as folks are using at least some tool in these categories, that's what matters most. My goal was more to promote the idea of these sort of tools (and what were my favorites after years of experience with many), as I find that so many people have no such tools at all (or don't have any on their servers, which is vital for troubleshooting).
Great list of software you have here! I'll be trying a couple of these out, as I really need to get my stuff organized!! Thanks!
# Posted By Amber | 1/13/14 1:10 PM
I went to your link for Universal Viewer and when I clicked on the download link for the lite version, I got virus protection warning. Anyone else have this issue?
# Posted By Donnie | 7/10/14 3:28 PM
@Donnie, thanks for sharing that.

Well, the UV free version does use an unfortunate crapware installer, called installIQ. And I do always warn people, when I am working with them and might have reason to recommend they install it, that they chose "decline" for the first several screens that are trying to offer to install crapware.

Of course, being a free tool, the vendor is trying to make money by including that, because the vendor of the crapware hopes at least some people will install one of the apps. (Hey, Adobe uses crapware installers too, right? Doesn't the installer for something try to install also Chrome or something like that?)

Anyway, I have seen cases where, even though I have done the "decline" thing on multiple times upon the installation of UV, if I ran a virus scan of some sort later it might flag that the installer had still installed installiq, and the scan flags it as being a risky thing.

I don't think it should technically be called a virus, but I know many people hate crapware, so perhaps they have reported it. Was it your browser that flagged the link? Or was it on downloading it? What tool flagged it, and did it really say it was a "virus" or just something to be suspicious of. I'd agree with the latter assessment, yes. But it would be too bad if it led someone to be either unable or unwilling to install it.

It's a great tool. If that warning bothers you, you could get the free trial of UV Pro (the paid version of the tool). Of course, it will expire eventually, but that may be enough time to decide if you like it enough to pay for it.

As for me, I just do the decline dance on the InstallIQ prompts and enjoy the benefits of the UV free version. :-) To each his own, of course. (I didn't think to mention this issue when I wrote the blog entry, as I was just offering quick hits on each tool, but thanks for bringing it up, Donnie.)

Hope that's helpful.
@Charlie Thanks for the explanation.

I don't remember specifically what the warning said or what program launched. I tried to reproduce it and I just get the webpage is not available message using the original browser. I can download it using another browser. I do know the warning came up on the download of the UV exe, not the install. I also go the "webpage is not available" message the first try as well. I'm guessing it was Chrome that threw the warning.

Hope this helps.
# Posted By Donnie | 7/11/14 11:34 AM

I just got the warning again. I went to the Universal Viewer link in your blog post. I clicked on download and then clicked on the Installer link under the Universal Viewer Free section. An AVG window popped saying the exe file was malicious and gave me no other option but to close it. Might picking up on the InstallQ.

Hope this helps
# Posted By Donnie | 7/16/14 1:54 PM
@Donnie, I happened to just get the warning from Chrome which similarly would not let me download it on a new machine, regarding it as malware. That led me to dig a bit deeper.

And here's great news: you can just get the "portable version" of the app, offered on the UV download page, http://www.uvviewsof... That does NOT use the installiq installer.

Note that there is a portable version for both the paid and free edition. The free edition portable version is offered at the bottom of the download page.

It's simply a zip that you extract and then can run. While that doesn't hook it into the Windows Explorer context menu the way the real installer does, of course once you have told a given file extension to use it then you will see that in the context menu.

Finally, while the page there says that the portable version requires MS Office to be installed, I do not have it installed and just ran it fine.

Hope that helps.
As an update (to this very old post, from 2014), I just want to point out for those interested in these tools that I learned today that Ultrasearch has had the ability to search by file CONTENT (as well as by name), since its 2.1 release in 2016. I just never NOTICED it!

I had above recommended it for fastest searching of files by NAME, while File Locator Lite (or pro) was my preference for search by CONTENT. I will start exploring use of US more, and may update this content or post a new blog entry, but in the meantime I wanted to share this news to those following this post.
Great list of tools. I've used Beyond Compare for the last 20 or so years. I've not tried UltraSearch, but I do use "Everything" which can be portable and finds files on your hard drive in seconds (as Windows should do). You can find the install here - https://www.voidtool...
# Posted By Peter | 3/6/20 12:24 AM
Peter, are you involved with Everything? I installed it on the Windows 10 Sandbox (a one-time user vm), and the search returned nothing. Clearly something's amiss.
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