Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Free Software Tools for Geeks

Everyone knows that techies have different needs when it comes to software. Come on. Admit it! For the average person a slow network is a mystery and an annoyance. For us, it's a project and all projects need tools.

Over the years, I have accumulated many software tools that can be had for free. Some are open source tools supported by a vast community of developers. Others are a hobbyist's pride, given freely for all to enjoy. Some are particularly useful.

So here is my top software tools for the serious computer geek, with commentary. Did you expect any less?


If you don't occasionally need a terminal session then you have no right to consider yourself a computer geek. The command line is what separates the real deal from the poser. PuTTY is an excellent Telnet interface with support for SSH, Rlogin, and even a serial shell.


Git 'er done! PuTTY gets you a command line to almost anything. It emulates the most common types of terminal (ah! The VT100. You never forget your first) and has a bazillion options to tweak your terminal session. Mostly, the default settings are all you need.


PuTTY only handles one session at a time. You have to load multiple instances of the software to talk to multiple systems. Even more annoying, when you shut down a session, the whole program shuts down and you have to reload it to talk to another box. Still, these are annoyances not major flaws.


There are lots of websites to visit, servers to manage, and PCs at home and in the office. All have passwords to manage and it's a pain. If you use the same password over and over you know that's a security risk. Besides, the user name and password requirements vary from site to site and box to box. Keeping an unencrypted file or database of passwords on your computer is inviting disaster.

Enter KeePass. It manages an encrypted database of information about your logins. Besides storing user names and passwords, KeePass also has search and organization capabilities.


Does the basic job of storing user names and passwords extremely well. Search is fast and accurate. The password generator is also useful when you want to create secure but different passwords.


The interface is a bit dull but, really, it's not a game after all.

MailStore Home

Unlike most people, techies tend to generate and receive a lot of emails. No matter how good your email system, sooner or later your system bogs down if you don't archive them. Or you bog down trying to find needles in your email haystack.

MailStore Home is the little brother, freeware version of a commercial package. It does a credible job of archiving and indexing emails. I find it useful for archiving emails to a USB drive which acts as a backup. I can then delete emails from my email client with confidence.


MailStore Home interfaces with most of the major clients such as Outlook and Thunderbird but also can archive from a server, including Exchange, POP3, and IMAP mailboxes, and webmail systems such as Google Mail. It's also pretty fast for an average techie which means an above average email user.


It can copy but not move emails. That's great if you want to backup your email but not so great if you want to truly archive them. Instead, you have to remember to go back to your email client or server and delete emails manually.

Sun VirtualBox

In the world of virtualization, VMWare has the mind share and Microsoft's VirtualPC comes bundled with their servers. Sun's VirtualBox is not as well known which is too bad. It's best feature is that it is really easy to use. You can run most anything you want with minimal effort. It's free for individual use which makes it a great choice for home or a hobbyist. Would I run a data center cloud on it? Probably not. For testing, developing, or just plain goofing around, it's so much easier to use.


Easy to use. You don't need a four week course to start using it. It does a very credible job of creating virtual servers or desktops.


Configuring inbound network access, such as an HTTP server, is not intuitive making VirtualBox more useful for virtual desktops or sandboxes. I still can't get FreeNAS to work right because of server access problems.

The list of freebie tools is much longer than this. This is but a sample of tools for the techie. Also in the mix is 7-Zip, an excellent archiver, and Filezilla, a classic and profoundly useful FTP client. For the software developer, I also recommend Sun's Netbeans. It's a full blown, commercial quality, IDE that is especially good for Java development but has decent support for PHP, Python, C/C++, and many other languages.

A lot of these tools are much better than the stuff you pay for. Some of them you do have to pay for if you want to use them in a commercial setting. It's always a good idea to check the license. And, if you are managing a large commercial environment, many of the tools won't provide the scope of features and services that you need. However, for the hobbyist, individual, or SOHO environment, these tools can't be beat. They give you what you need for a great price – free!

No comments: