Tools we use - 2020 edition

Happy New Year! Last year was... interesting to say the least. Hopefully 2021 will be somewhat better but it seems more and more likely that we've dug our own graves and care not a whit.

With that morbid thought out of the way, here we are with another edition of Tools We Use. While I still haven't got the blog redirects switched on for the new platform, I recently upgraded that through various iterations of .NET Core, finishing with .NET 5. I also created several smaller .NET Core websites (that were also upgraded to .NET 5). On the non-development side, I finally unshackled myself from having to use Microsoft or Google's calendaring solutions, by self hosting my own CalDAV instance. Own your own data!

Looking ahead, this year I will be migrating our exception manager from a Web API / React hybrid to Blazor, along with giving our products other than WebCopy some long overdue TLC. And finally getting on with writing a game.

My slow progress at migrating from SVN to Git also continues as I refactor the mono repository to make it easier to split up using a migration tool.

Operating Systems

Tool Description
Windows 10 (Virtualized) Testing VM (32bit and 64bit)
Windows 10 Professional Development environment
Windows 7 (Virtualized) Testing VM (32bit)
Windows Home Server 2011 File server, SVN server, Git server, backup host, CI server. I've been thinking of replacing this with a Linux server
Windows Vista (Virtualized) Testing VM (32bit)

Development Tools

Tool Description
DB Browser for SQLite GUI for working with SQLite databases
dnSpy Speedy .NET assembly debugger and editor
EditorConfig Useful for OSS projects to avoid space-vs-tab wars or to configure code style rules. No need for an extension now as built into Visual Studio
NDepend Static code analysis. I run this mostly as part of CI pipelines
Postman Client for testing REST services
Visual Studio 2019 Although I use Visual Studio Code more and more, Visual Studio 2019 remains my IDE of choice
Visual Studio Code Wonderful editor, once you install enough extensions to configure it "your way". I use it for most non-.NET tasks, such as PHP or editing markdown. Workspaces that can include multiple folders are incredibly useful

Visual Studio Extensions

Tool Description
CodeMaid Code formatting and organising. Lets be fair to ReSharper, there's nothing else available which does a better job, but CodeMaid is an acceptable substitute
Cyotek Add Projects A simple extension for easily adding multiple projects to your solutions. Although I use it far less now that most of my projects are packages, it is still useful
File Nesting Allows you to easily nest (or un-nest) files, great for TypeScript or T4 templates
Open Command Line Easily open command prompts, PowerShell prompts, or other tools to your project / solution directories
OzCode An exceptional debugging aid. Things like exception predication, condition visualisation, reveal, and a data tip that doesn't suck really should be part of the core Visual Studio experience
Roslynator C# code analyzers, refactoring and fixes. I use this to replace some of the more critical functionality I previously enjoyed in ReSharper
T4Editor I use this as a replacement for the ReSharper ForTea extension and I'm quite happy with it - it does a great job of showing me the T4 specific aspects of my templates
Visual Studio Spell Checker After I found one too many spelling errors in comments and GUI text
VSColorOutput Add colour coding to Visual Studio's Output window

Installation and Deployment

Tool Description
Inno Setup Installer with a wealth of features
Inno Script Studio IDE for working with Inno Setup scripts. Hadn't been updated for years but development seems to have picked up again
Inno Setup Unpacker Unpacks installations created with Inno Setup. I use this as part of the CI process to perform dependency checking

Analytics

Tool Description
Matomo I use this web based analytics software to gain anonymous insights into cyotek.com usage
Unnamed Analytics After dropping Luminitix, I replaced the data collection with a home grown solution, although I've yet to write a front end to look at the data effectively

Profiling

Tool Description
dotTrace Although I prefer the ANTS profiler, dotTrace is a very usable profiler and given it is included in my ReSharper Ultimate subscription, it's a no-brainer to use
dotMemory As with dotTrace it is probably time to explore alternatives if I let the ReSharper subscription lapse (yet another reason why perpetual licenses are better than the modern trend of renting software)

Documentation Tools

Tool Description
Atomineer Pro Documentation Automatically generate XML comment documentation in your source code (Visual Studio extension)
HelpWrite The first application offered by Ariad in the mists of time, now reincarnated and producing no-frills documentation from simple markdown and YAML
Notepad++ My go to plain text editor

Continuous Integration

Tool Description
Jenkins Continuous integration that is easy to install, doesn't need a database server and has a rich plugin ecosystem, even for .NET developers. I use this to build, test and deploy all our products and libraries

Testing

Tool Description
NCrunch (Visual Studio Extension) Frequently updated automated parallel continuous testing tool (there's a mouthful). Works with NUnit, MSTest, SpecFlow and a variety of other test systems. This is by far the best continuous testing tool on the market
NUnit Our test framework of choice, for no particular reason other than it was the first one we tried after getting fed up of MSTest's limitations
SpecFlow (Visual Studio Extension) I only used this for one project (my implementation of The Ray Tracer Challenge) and after I a while I really found this way of implementing tests a bit of a game changer. However, I feel that I would quickly loose my sanity if I had to write all these specifications up front and so this is still sitting in my "todo" pile to look into further

Graphics

Tool Description
Affinity Designer New for 2020 Vector editing software. I thought this would replace Inkscape but it doesn't even pretend to support open formats, open an SVG file and you can only save to a proprietary format
Affinity Photo New for 2020 Photo editing software. I thought I would use this to complement Paint.NET but not impressed with how it tries to force you to use its proprietary format
AngelCode BMFont Utility for creating bitmap fonts. We also have a library for working with BMFont files in C#
Axialis IconWorkshop Very nice icon editor, I have been using this for untold years now since Microangelo was abandoned. However, it itself hasn't seen any updates for some years now
Cyotek GIF Animator GIF animation creator that was shaping up nicely, although it is another application I really want to spend more time improving
Cyotek Spriter Sprite / image map generation software that is still in sore need of optimisation and TLC
Greenshot New for 2020 Screenshot capturing utility. Another wheel I almost reinvented but this is nice software that fits the bill. Release hasn't been updated for years even though the source repository is rife with activity
Inkscape Vector graphics editing software. I've been using this on and off for years but forgot to include it on this list before now
Paint.NET Brilliant bitmap editor with extensive plugins

Virtualization

Tool Description
Oracle VM VirtualBox Virtualization software. I prefer this to Hyper-V

Version Control

Tool Description
Git for Windows New for 2020 Git client, tools and GUI for use on Windows
Gitea Self-hosting for Git repositories. An impressive piece of software
GitHub Desktop Easy to use Git client that masks some of the more complicated functionality. Despite the name works with any Git repository
GitHub Git hosting for our public repositories
GitKraken New for 2020 Git client. I tried to use this, but I point blank refuse to rent software anymore and current exceptions will be phased out
SourceTree New for 2020 Git client. Far more powerful than GitHub Desktop yet nowhere near as easy to use
TortoiseSVN Windows Explorer integration for SVN
VisualSVN Server Subversion Server for Windows
VisualSVN (Visual Studio Extension) Subversion support for Visual Studio. Unlike AnhkSVN, VisualSVN uses TortoiseSVN under the hood, meaning that Explorer and Visual Studio are always in the same state no matter where I commit from, something which used to frustrate me no end with AnhkSVN. Stopped using as I slowly transition to Git

File and Directory

Tool Description
7-Zip I've mentioned before on this blog that I used to love WinZip, until it turned into a bloated mess several years back. Since then, I have used 7-Zip for all my archiving needs
FileZilla Simple FTP client that has served my needs for years now
grepWin Another excellent tool for swiftly searching for files containing specific strings or expressions
HxD Another program I've used on and off for years but omitted from this list. Useful hex editor
TreeSize Find out what is using all the space on your disks. Another utility I have used for untold years.
WinMerge Excellent file and directory comparison utility

Backups

Tool Description
CrashPlan CrashPlan creates an online backup of the different offline backups that CopyTools does. If you've ever lost a hard-disk before with critical data on it that's nowhere else, you'll have backups squirrelled away everywhere too! A big part of the reason why I haven't upgraded our micro server to either a newer version of Windows or replaced with a Linux box
Cyotek CopyTools We use this for offline backups of source code, assets and resources, documents, actually pretty much anything we generate; including backing up the backups!

Security

Tool Description
Bitwarden Password manager with a variety of clients. Syncs data
Dan Pollock's Hosts File A hosts file blocks your computer from connecting to many thousands of dubious internet hosts and is continuously updated. A pain to update, but useful if you don't have access to something better
KeePass Offline password manager
Let's Encrypt Short term SSL certificates for free. If you (or your host) are able to automate the process, this is an exceptional way to get basic SSL for your sites
Comodo Sectigo Code signing certificates, and domain SSL if a particular host doesn't support Let's Encrypt
Virus Total Analyze files for malware. It is a helpful tool, except for when you find that one given engine will flag all your submissions as malicious and then when that finally clears up another one decides to join in the "fun" instead

Issue Tracking

Tool Description
Mantis Bug Tracker Open source issue tracker
MantisSharp I use our MantisSharp library to add integration between various applications and our MantisBT instance, notable for raising new issues from our automated error monitor, and for creating road-maps on cyotek.com product pages although as usual I haven't had much time to maintain it

Help Desk

Tool Description
Maian Support Basic help desk. Much easier than trying to keep track of emails

Web Browsers, Email, Calendering

Tool Description
Baïkal New for 2020 Self hosted CalDAV (calendar) and CardDAV (tasks) server
DAVx5 New for 2020 Two way sync for CalDAV data. I use this on my Android (RIP Windows Phone) phone to sync my calendar with my Baïkal instance
DuckDuckGo The search engine that doesn't track you - I can't remember when I made the switch to DuckDuckGo as it was several years ago, but it does a great job and I rarely have to fall back to "another" search engine
Firefox Last bastion from a Chromium world. I switched to this as my primary browser in 2018 as my own protest against Chrome's dominance (and don't get me started on Microsoft's recent ill advised capitulation)
MailStore Home New for 2020 Email archiving. Also I tend to find its search interface quicker and more compact than the one in Thunderbird
Microsoft Edge I liked the Trident based Edge just fine. But at least with this Chromium version I don't need to ever install Chrome again
Thunderbird Email client that also supports CalDAV and CardDAV. A bit rough around the edges but preferable to Outlook and lets me store emails in maildir format

Other

Tool Description
Calibre Ebook management. Although I still prefer paper books, I don't buy them as often as I did. I tend to read on e-ink devices and Calibre makes it simple to update these
Ditto Clipboard manager. Another extremely useful piece of software that I have used for many, many years
EarTrumpet Per-application volume manager. I can't remember exactly when I started using this, probably for a game that didn't have built in volume controls but did have obnoxious levels
f.lux I've been using this utterly fantastic software for years. It adapts your monitor to the time of day, removing blue light as evening approaches and helps reduce eye strain when coding at night
Kodi I've used this for years now to watch video on various generations of Raspberry Pi. I found the Films and TV (or Movies and TV) application that ships with Windows 10 to be absolute rubbish and was very glad when Kodi became available on the Microsoft Store
PowerToys New for 2020 Although nothing like the old Win9x PowerToys, there is at least something useful in this new bag. Back in June, I bought an ultra-wide monitor and I use Fancy Zones to virtually break it up into 3 columns. As it works with the core Win+Arrow hotkeys it makes for a pretty decent window manager
RavenDB Still not using this for much as I can't seem to effectively query the data from Raven Studio, and at heart I still think NoSQL is a fad. Transitioned some data back to SQL Server, the rest to follow
Rufus I use this utility for writing ISO images to USB, useful for setting up new physical machines in an age where CD drives are fairly obsolete
Win32 Disk Imager Useful for burning ISO images to SD cards which I do for Raspberry Pi distributions. I used to use this for USB as well but now I prefer Rufus for that. It is also massively useful for creating images of SD cards, so I use it to backup my assorted Raspberry Pi devices before major updates

What tools do you find useful? I'd love to know... maybe I'll find a new gem myself!

Update History

  • 2021-01-01 - First published
  • 2021-01-04 - Added 7-Zip, EarTrumpet, TreeSize Free, PowerToys

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Comments

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# Rhomas

Vscoloroutput also has a nice option to stop the build on the first error instead of moving on. Usefully for large projects!

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# Siddharth Borania

Thank you Richard, for sharing this tools list.

Reply
# Stefan

Affinity Designer: You can open a SVG file , change it and export as SVG. What's your problem? Affinity Photo: Which non-proprietary format do you want?

Reply
# Richard Moss

And why would I want to open an SVG file and be forced to go through a convoluted export process instead of just pressing Ctrl+S to save?

With Affinity Photo at least I can do Ctrl+S to save to the original format, but I can't do a Save As to easily change to something else, e.g. to switch from png to jpg (Save As only presents Serif's proprietary format). Again, I could do an export but it isn't quick as selecting a new format from a combobox and hitting enter.

I like tools that are easy to use with quick keyboard operations. And in this day and age, I prefer interoperability and open formats so that I can choose to switch to another tool if required.

Reply
# Dalibor Carapic

Surprised that there are no Sysinternals apps mentioned.

Reply
# Richard Moss

Hello,

Thanks for the comment. That's actually a good point and there are a couple that I use semi-infrequently and others much more rarely. I use autoruns occasionally to ferret out what crap is being added by installation programs and procmon to dig out file access or registry keys. I've used sdelete in the past for clearing out space. Mostly though, I use procexp as this is wonderful for finding out why a file is locked (and for killing said locks).

Thanks for the reminder, I shall add them to the post shortly!

Regards;
Richard Moss

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