whatiuse_aug2011_0

It's been a while since I published a "What I Use" article, but I have an excuse of sorts: When we converted this web site over to Dot Net Nuke, we misconfigured the What I Use page as a static HTML page instead of a dynamic site section where I could add articles over time. That's still not fixed, but I figured I'd jump the gun and provide a quick update. Sorry it took so long.

Note: Because of conversion issues, most of the products listed here aren't hyperlinked. I'll try to fix that in a future update as well.

I get a lot of questions about the hardware and software I actually use. With the understanding that the reality of my job requires me to change my daily computing repertoire on a regular basis, what the heck, here's the list. I'll try to keep this up-to-date, but again, my testing requirements often cause me to change things up with little notice.

Note: With the exception of some Microsoft software such as Windows and Office, I've paid for all the commercial software I use and mention below. Unless noted, I paid for all of the hardware, software, and subscription services listed here, and I do pretty much recommend it all. This isn't an opportunity for me to sell you on some vendor's products. This is what I really do use regularly.

I track my software usage automatically with Wakoopa. You can too!

Computers

While I maintain a wide range of laptop computers for testing purposes, most of my day-to-day computing occurs on a small range of "core" machines, which typically consists of one desktop PC and one notebook computer.

Dell Optiplex

My main desktop PC is a Dell Optiplex 755 workstation tower system with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q6600 (8M, 1066MHz FSB), 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB boot/system SSD and a 2 TB data drive. It's connected to two Dell monitors, a 23-inch widescreen (1680 x 1050) display and a 20-inch 4:3 (1280 x 1024) display.

Also attached to the PC is a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, Microsoft Explorer Mouse (Blue-Track) (I highly recommend both), and Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers (also recommended).

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 420S

This year, I purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 420S, which features a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 14-inch (1366 x 768 glossy screen, and a 128 GB of SSD storage. I like this machine a lot, but if I could do it over again, I'd get the ThinkPad X1, which wasn't available at the time.

Servers

I've repurposed two previous PCs as servers, one running the latest version of Windows Home Server, the other with Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials.

Dell Optiplex with Windows Home Server 2011

After years of using various (and excellent) HP MediaSmart Servers, I have switched to Windows Home Server 2011 running on a Dell Optiplex 780  workstation tower system with a 3 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E7500 (3M, 1066MHz FSB) and 4 GB of RAM. This system has over 8 TB of storage attached to it, most internally, and I utilize Server Backup and cloud-backup (via Crashplan) for data duplication.

Dell Inspiron 537s with Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials

My old PC is now a server of sorts: The Dell Inspiron 537s features a 3 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E8400 and 4 GB of RAM. It's running a domain based on Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials.

Portable devices

I use a number of portable devices, much more so when I'm on the road.

Samsung Focus

My current smart phone is a Samsung Focus running the release candidate (RC) version of Windows Phone 7.5. I also have a Motorola Droid X (2010) and iPhone 3GS (2010 version, not the original) for work/testing purposes.

Apple iPad

I use the Apple iPad (first generation) for two basic reasons: To watch movies and to read technical eBooks (programming books, etc.) and PDF documents, most recently using Amazon's excellent web-based Kindle Cloud Reader solution. I very rarely do anything else with the iPad.

Apple iPod touch

My current portable media player is the most recent iPod touch (late 2010, 32 GB). I use this regularly for music (gym, traveling), podcasts, audio-based iTunes content, and audiobooks.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

I always travel with Bose noise cancelling headphones and recommend them highly. I alternate between the bigger and more effective Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones and the smaller and lighter Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones.

Amazon Kindle 3 with Special Offers

I read books--and two newspapers every day--on my dedicated Kindle device. The current one is the most recent version, the Kindle 3 with Special Offers (with both Wi-Fi and 3G access). Highly recommended, and the special offers are actually often quite useful.

Canon PowerShot ZS320 HS

This year, I purchased what I hope will be our final dedicated digital camera, the Canon PowerShot SX320 HS. It features a 12 megapixel sensor with widescreen photo and HD video capabilities, and GPS tagging. But it's not particularly noteworthy and not something I recommend necessarily.

Home technology

One of the big advantages of storing memories (photos and movies) and music and video collections on a PC or home server is that you can then share them to other compatible devices around the house.

FIOS Internet, phone, TV

We were lucky enough to be among the first in the Northeast US to get Verizon FIOS Internet service a few years back, and since then we've upgraded to their phone and TV services as well. The FIOS TV service is particularly good, with numerous non-compressed HDTV channels. We use the built-in DVR to record TV shows. It's not as good as Media Center (what is?) but it's more integrated and it works fine. Our TV is a 46-inch flat screen Vizio LED LCD HDTV, which is actually excellent and was very inexpensive.

Apple TV

The Apple TV is our go-to box for our PC-based music, photos, and videos (TV shows and movies). We sometimes rent movies from iTunes as well.

Roku 2 XS

The Roku 2 XS is the best Netflix player we have, and it supports subtitles as well as numerous other online services.

Xbox 360 S

We don't use the Xbox 360 S as much as we used to, and the Kinect has come and gone. I'm keeping it in the living room for the occasional DVD and for later testing of the Internet TV service. This is the high-end Xbox 360 S that comes with a 250 GB hard drive and glossy finish.

Macs

Unlike some of my trendier contemporaries, I've always had at least one modern Mac in the house for testing purposes. These days I have two: A desktop and a notebook.

Mac mini (2010)

My 2010-era Mac mini has a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. It's for OS X, OS X Server, and other Apple product and services testing, and it's not a particularly fast machine.

Macbook Air (Late 2010, 11-inch)

I recently purchased a used 2010-era 11-inch Macbook Air from a friend for OS X testing and iOS software development using Xcode. It has 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of solid state storage.

Software and Services

Like many people, I have stock collection of software that I install every time I reinstall Windows or get a new PC.

Operating system

I use Windows 7 exclusively on my PCs, a mix of Windows 7 Ultimate, Professional, and Home Premium.

Productivity

I use, rely on, and recommend Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Plus, primarily Microsoft Word. (Hey, I do write for a living.) I use Microsoft's Windows Live Mesh service to synchronize key files between my PCs and Windows Live SkyDrive; it works well.

For email, contacts, and calendar management, I use a mix of Exchange (work, Office 365), Hotmail, and Gmail/Google Calendar.

Internet and communications

For web browsing, I use a mix of Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 9, and occasionally Apple Safari for testing. I use and strongly recommend Last Pass for online password management (it works in all major browsers) and Invisible Hand for product price comparisons.

I use Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging with friends and family only. Leo Laporte and I record the Windows Weekly podcast with Skype each week.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family only and Twitter to communicate with the world about tech topics. My favorite Twitter client is Metro Twit Loop.

Security

I use and recommend the free Microsoft Security Essentials. My entire family uses it, and we've never had a single issue.

Digital media

I use Apple iTunes as my primary digital media jukebox, but only because this software is still required to effectively use an iPod touch or iPad; I do not like or recommend iTunes to others. I use the Zune PC software to sync photos from my Windows Phone to the PC and to browse Zune Marketplace.

I purchase DRM-free music from Apple iTunes Store, Amazon MP3, and Zune Marketplace. I subscribe to and pay for three subscription music services for comparison purposes: Spotify, Microsoft Zune Pass, and Pandora. Each are excellent, but I will presumably drop at least one of these in the coming year.

I am currently backing up my music collection to both Amazon Cloud Storage and Google Music Beta. It's unclear which will emerge as the preferable service. (I'm also testing Apple iCloud, currently in beta.)

I rarely purchase or rent TV shows and movies digitally thanks to improvements to the excellent Netflix streaming service. Netflix has emerged as one of the most valuable technology services we utilize, but we have been using the similar Amazon Prime streaming service, which doesn't have nearly as much content (but is free for customers of Amazon's Prime shipping service).

I use and recommend Audible for audio books. (Full disclosure: Audible advertises on my weekly podcast. That said, I would use and recommend this service regardless.)

I manage my photo collection in the Windows shell, but use the free Windows Live Photo Gallery for acquiring photos from devices and light image editing. For work related image editing, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 (which has been discontinued), and Microsoft Paint. I back up my photo collection to the Google Picasa Web Albums service, and pay the company for additional storage yearly.

I use QuickTime Player Pro and VLC Media Player to watch digital movies on the PC; both support soft captioning in H.264/MP4 files, but only VLC supports VobSub-style captioning. I generally prefer the iPad for this activity, however.

I use and recommend a few Slysoft products related to DVD copying. These include Slysoft AnyDVD HD (which removes DVD copy protection) and SlySoft CloneDVD (for creating backup copies of DVDs). I rip DVDs to H.264 format using latest version of Handbrake, which is both free and excellent (and can create videos with soft captioning). This utility can also convert existing videos to H.264. Note: I do not steal DVDs; I use these products to create digital copies of my own movies so that I can watch them on devices at home and on the go.

Like most people, I very rarely need to edit digital movies. When I do need to do so, however, I use Windows Live Movie Maker, which is excellent (and free).

Other applications and utilities

In addition to the aforementioned applications, I regularly use a number of other apps that don't necessarily fall into neat categories. I use Adobe Reader and/or Acrobat Pro for PDF files, Techsmith SnagIt for screen captures, Microsoft Windows Virtual PC and Sun VirtualBox (both of which are free) for OS testing, and the latest version of WinRAR for file archiving (the built-in Compressed Folders feature in Windows is a joke). I use Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone to tinker with Windows Phone 7 software development.

Home Office

When I'm not on the road, I spend most of the day in my home office, where I use my primary PC, Xbox 360, and some other stuff too...

Xbox 360

My own Xbox is an Xbox 360 S 4GB with an added 250 GB hard drive. It's attached to a Samsung 24-inch LED LCD (1080p) and a second set of Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers.

Office furniture

I've gotten a number of questions about the furniture in my home office. I have a Herman Miller chair, which is at least 10 years old now but still works well. My desks various desks are all in the IKEA Galant workstation series.

Podcasting equipment

I use a variety of hardware to record Windows Weekly and other podcasts. This includes a Heil PR 40 microphone with PL2T Boom Mount, a USB-based M-Audio Fast Track Guitar/Mic Recording Interface, and a new Logitech HD WebCam C525 web camera, all of which are excellent.

Printer/scanner

Our main printer is a network-attached Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer, which is huge and power-hungry, but quite capable. We also have a work issued HP Officejet J4580 All-In-One printer, mostly for scanning travel receipts; I do not recommend this equipment.

Workout equipment

I try to go to a gym regularly and fail, but at home I do use a LifeFitness X3 Elliptical Cross-Trainer. Let's face it, people who work in front of computers all day need to do something.

Coffee

My favorite espresso, Guglielmo Espresso Classico, is now broadly available in the United States! We buy it locally at my favorite Italian specialty store, Tutto Italiano.

So there you go. Given how long it's been since the last update, there are probably a few mistakes/omissions, which I'll try to correct as discovered. If you have any questions about my gear, please do email me.