Friday, 18 December 2009

Crimbo Tooling Presents

As part of development, I always try to keep my eye on any tools that make my life easier. Sometimes that means IDE tools – and sometimes more general tools. I just wanted to share the things that have helped me recently. Maybe you’ll decide to treat yourself for xmas ;-p


Recently, Player 3 (free) and Worstation 7 (£$€) were released; any developer not using virtual machines regularly is missing some serious tricks – and now that the free “Player” product allows you to create machines (bad news for EasyVMX?) there is no excuse not to. I compared it (informally) to the Windows (7) Virtual PC, and I’ve found Workstation much nicer to get along with. I honestly can’t quantify why (except for the really annoying pause whenever I resized a console in WVPC), but it just feels slicker.


Desktop icon management; everyone I’ve shown it to simply loves it (and they are still using it). Fences is, in some ways, a flashback to Program Manager (for those of us who remember Windows 3.x).

You know how your desktop accumulates cruff? Fences lets you group them – both visually and logically (drag groups instead of individually). And perhaps more importantly, hide/show them all (or your choice of them) in a single action (double-click on the desktop.

Some people might (and have – and no, I don’t have that many!) criticize me for keeping anything on the desktop – but it is the biggest UI element I have; why should I ignore it? It lets me keep things in logical groups, uncluttered, and easy to hide / show. Just lovely.


When I’m in the office, I switch from my laptop to my workstation (more “grunt”, fixed dual head, etc) – but my laptop is still useful. Thanks to the joys of RSI, and my freaky keyboard/mouse setup, switching between the two is a pain. A KVM is an option, of course, but involves messing with wires, and doesn’t let me do everything at one. Step up MaxiVista! This great bit of software lets me configure my laptop as a monitor for my desktop PC – either as an extended desktop or for remote control (and I can toggle between the two with a single key, conveniently placed (on my freakboard) next to the Windows key.

Extended desktop: as you expect; drag a running app off the fixed monitors, and it appears on the laptop. It works brilliantly; sometimes (not always) there is a tiny bit of latency (similar to remote desktop etc, which makes a lot of sense), so I mainly use it as the monitor with static content (the requirements / spec, for example) rather than the monitor that I’m using for active UI work.

Remote control: in another mode, move the mouse off the monitor and it takes charge of the laptop; no noticeable latency now, as it is just sending the mouse movements and keyboard, and I find this fantastic, for example, for cross-OS testing (my laptop and desktop run different OS). No messing with KVM, VM, or RDP – just move to the computer you want.

There is also desktop mirroring for showing the same desktop somewhere else; I haven’t needed this yet, though.

It supports up to 4 remote monitors, and works alongside your existing multi-monitor setup, so you can go mad. I don’t think I could gainfully use more than 3, but hey.