Launchy, ManicTime, Dropbox, PicPick

Windows Start menu on steroids
When I first heard about Launchy I thought it was just a third party tool that offered what was basically already provided in the Windows Start menu search. Let me tell you, I was wrong – very wrong. Launchy is everything the Start menu search should be, and more.

From the get-go, Launchy runs behind the scenes and is displayed by tapping alt+space (hotkey is customizable). By default the app catalogs your Start menu and quick launch programs, and allows you to include additional directories. It doesn’t stop there.

The vanilla installation includes several plug-ins which add another layer of functionality, among them is Weby, which indexes your Firefox and Internet Explorer bookmarks. It also allows you to bind a Web address to a keyword. So for instance, I am able to bring up my Gmail inbox in Firefox by typing “gmail” into Launchy. In truth, I only have to enter “g” and Launchy automatically knows what I’m looking for. There is quite a selection of user submitted plug-ins as well, so you’ll undoubtedly find more substance to this program than can be captured in a few paragraphs.

See how productive you really are
For self-employed procrastinators and deadbeat employees alike, a detailed look of how your day was spent might be the jumpstart you need. ManicTime tracks and records all Web and program activity.

The interface is particularly easy to use. Data is gathered and presented in a very clear-cut manner. There is an activity bar which remains green during periods of use and goes red if productivity halts. Above that bar, you are able label a specific timeframe with tags. Below it is a color coordinated bar displaying individual program activity.

ManicTime takes note of application window names, so you’re not only able to see that you were using Firefox, but precisely what site you were visiting and so on. Below all the bars are two panes. One displays a look at the individual program start and stop times, and the other displays a summary of total time spent using each application.

After testing the program for a few days, I wasn’t at all taken back by number of hours spent unfocused. Instead, I was shocked by the amount of time I’m actually inactive altogether. As it turns out, I spend about as much time away from my PC as I do in front of it.

Sync data seamlessly across all your PCs
The importance of having a PC on the run is made evident by the sheer scale of today’s portable computing market. From smartphones and PDAs to netbooks and notebooks. With multiple sessions logged across various devices, coordinating data between them can be bothersome to say the least. If that sounds like you to any degree, Dropbox might just be what you need.

Dropbox is an easy-to-use cross-platform utility which runs silently in the background of your system. The program creates a dedicated folder on your system, which you can interact with in the usual manner. By placing a file within your Dropbox folder, it is automatically synced over the Internet to other designated computers running the software. Data is displayed with a checkmark and arrows to indicate synchronization status.

The entire process requires no intervention and is a real breeze. Data within your Dropbox folder is securely stored online and file changes are saved incrementally so you’re able to access previous versions of your data. While Dropbox is free, it’s limited to 2GB of storage, which should be enough for conventional office or personal use. Premium options include 50GB of storage for $9.99 per month ($99 per year) and 100GB for $19.99 per month ($199 per year).

Screenshots with oomph
I don’t want to hype this app up to be an all-in-one image editing station which will have you packing Photoshop and GIMP away, because that’s not what it is. PicPick is an advanced screenshot program and as such, its tools are based around that fact. That said, if you don’t use most of the features in full-on graphic design software, PicPick may just meet your basic demands in that realm.

Its densely featured screen capture module has support for dual monitors as well as fixed region, freehand, active window or web page captures. The software’s “Whiteboard” tool provides the ability to draw over a window prior to taking a shot.

Its image editing functions don’t stray far from what you’d see in Microsoft Paint, but they’re definitely suitable to the program. PicPick doesn’t require installation and is fully portable.