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July 2017
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SpaceSniffer: freeware disk usage utility

imageMerry Christmas everyone! I  had a fairly unconventional Christmas, spending it with my wife and kid in San Diego (Legoland!) Six hour drive from here, made tolerable by the fact that we have a pretty spacious, comfortable sedan. But I digress. Got back home and did a bit of catching up on the software review sites, and found a program called SpaceSniffer which, amazingly, has within a single hour ousted SpaceMonger as my favourite disk usage analysis tool. I say “amazingly” because I’ve been using SpaceMonger for maybe ten years or more! SpaceSniffer is very similar in functionality and I guess there’s not much separating the two, but the latter does have a bit more configurability in terms of look and feel without appearing to sacrifice speed. Also, while viewing a report of my C: drive, certain directories periodically “flickered” on the screen. I suspect that post-analysis, the program monitors the just-scanned drive and does real-time updates on its display as the contents of directories change. If so, super cool! Lastly, it has an MDI interface, which SpaceMonger does not; this allows you to open more than one window within the program showing the contents of different drives. I’m not sure how often I would use this, but if you need to you can.

SpaceSniffer uses something called “treemaps”, which is a method of visually displaying filesize using boxes of varying sizes. A readout looks a bit messy the first time you see it, but it’s really the perfect way to get an instant idea not only of the largest files on your drive, but also the directories which contain the largest (and most amount of) files. For techies, and simply those people who are anal about space usage and organization, it’s indispensible. I’ve used SpaceMonger many times at work to get a handle on drive usage on one of our big networked file servers so I can hammer people who have been storing backups and other useless crap on it “accidentally”. The program is freeware, which makes it that much more awesome.


Service+: enhanced Windows Services control utility

imageAs a professional tech, I spend plenty of time using the Windows Services MMC snap-in (Administrative Tools –> Services). The interface has always been slightly annoying. It allows you to get the job done but the window size cannot be saved (I find myself immediately resizing the window to full-screen – I could probably use some sort of macro utility to do this for me but.. why should I?) and it always takes a few seconds to start up.

Enter Service+. There are two versions of it – the light version (which I’m using, is free, and which is the basis for this article) and the full version. The light version does everything I, and probably most people, will need. The program appears to be installed in the form of a Control Panel applet, but it is able not only to automatically run at startup, but to provide you with an easy-access system tray icon just like any “regular” app. From this interface you are able to see all services, start and stop them (this includes multiple services at the same time – which is AWESOME), and doubleclick on them to view their properties and disabled/manual/automatic startup settings. Apart from that it’s very lightweight (only takes up 7Mb in the background) and given the fact that you’ll never need to run the Services snap-in again it’s definitely worth it.

The full version has more features, so, from their webpage, FYI here are the differences between paid and free: missing from the free version are the possibility to kill a dead service that no longer responds to the stop command (this lets you restart a failing service without having to reboot the server), changing multiple services password or startup settings at once (this feature can save you hours of work if you manage a large number of servers), removing a service (this will let you cleanly remove a service without having to edit the registry and reboot the server), and automatically attaching a debugger to a service.

Service+ (freeware)

TinyResMeter: system information tool

image I’ve been using this tiny, well-written and very comprehensive tool for a while now. While v0.96a is freely downloadable from their website, v0.97 for some annoying reason has been restricted for distribution only to users who subscribe to their mailing list. Free is free and I’m not thrilled with having to drop my email address off on a mailing list that will prove completely useless to me only to secure a copy of the program. So.. enjoy downloading the bizarrely exclusive TinyResMeter v0.97 right here.

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MyDefrag: scriptable defragmenter

image Man. Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water (after my defragmenter roundup) this new one comes out. It’s the next version of the JKDefrag program I previously mentioned, and it’s actually pretty good. The interface hasn’t been upgraded much since JKDefrag, and still looks like crap, but the wealth of delightful features it has more than make up for what it lacks in the looks department (kinda like me, actually).

The strength of the program lies in its flexibility. Other defragmenters organize your disk really well, and up until now UltimateDefrag has provided the most flexibility in terms of file placement. Not any more.. MyDefrag provides the user with a virtually limitless ability to choose where files are located on the disk. The main program is more accurately defined as a script interpreter. Each type of defrag exists as a .myd script, and when you run them the defragmenter parses and executes the script directives. Sounds clunky, and to tell the truth unless you’re a serious computer hacker (this means if you have an iPhone you can pretty much stop reading now) you should probably use one of the more straightforward, easier programs out there – but if you’re willing to get immersed in the scripting concept you can pull off some pretty neat stuff with this. Basically, your script will identify a target for defragmentation, exceptions, and a method by which to defragment it and any additional pieces such as leaving a small chunk of free space after that “zone” has been defragged. Then you tag other targets and have the program act on those in turn, and so on until the drive is done. My current script will optimize and sort all directories to the absolute fastest portion of the disk. Then it defrags and moves the MFT directly after that – one cannot do this with UltimateDefrag because the only option it gives you is to move the directories “close” to the MFT, which actually means after it. Next, the list of files from the prefetcher (layout.ini) feature of Windows, in order of import. Next, all other files EXCEPT those that match a certain criteria (Picasa database files, other large files) are defragged. Finally, everything else is done and the drive is complete. I actually slightly modified the SlowOptimize.myd provided standard with the program to do the above. You can edit and position file “zones” to your heart’s content – if you’re anal-retentive enough (adjusts tie and sips piña colada) you could make a different script for every drive on your system and have full control over how they are defragmented based on their contents. There are other subfeatures too, such as a “slowdown” command with which you can reduce the amount of system load placed by MyDefrag – great for regular scheduled background defrags of high-activity servers, for example. The UI is also kinda fun to look at, if you’re a quasi-autistic like me. My wife walked in on me staring at this thing defragmenting a drive, opened her mouth like she was going to say something, then shrugged and left. Which was entirely the correct thing to do. *8-)

Lacking from this program is the ability to do a boot-time defragment, and I can’t see the ability to shrink the MFT reserved area anywhere. Maybe that’s coming in a future version, so we’ll see. I’ve noticed a bug with this program too, which I have been discussing on their forum. But it’s definitely not a dealbreaker to using it.

MyDefrag is highly recommended – I’m pretty sure it’ll get better. And yes, there are already feature requests out there for a better UI. I personally don’t care – that’s the first step towards bloatware as far as I’m concerned.

MyDefrag (freeware)

FlashFolder: rapid access to your most-used folders from (almost) any Windows program

image Here’s another small but useful program that I’ve been using for the last month or so. FlashFolder glues a little “toolbar” to the top of almost all of your Windows “Save As…” dialog boxes. You can then add some frequently-accessed folders into it, so that it’s very easy to change to a different folder when you save particular items out of eg. your email program. You can assign hotkeys to different folders, making the switching process even easier and it tracks recently-accessed folder history too. Freeware.

FlashFolder (freeware)

AllSnap: window alignment tool

image I’ve been enjoying a nice little freeware app called AllSnap recently. Essentially what it does is allow desktop windows to be able to “snap” their edges to one another, so that it’s easy to perfectly position windows next to each other either horizontally or vertically. It has secondary features allowing you to snap windows to an invisible grid, similar to Visio elements, as well as being able to force windows to only be movable within the constraints of your screen space. It’s light on system resources and once you use it a little you’ll wonder how you did without it. It just makes Windows a little more comfortable to work with.

AllSnap (YouTube demonstration video here.)

What’s the best Windows Defragmenter? The age old question .. answered!

Okay. You’re looking for the ultimate drive defragmentation utility for Windows. You hit up Google and find a whole mess of results. You laboriously trawl through the results on Donn Edwards’ “Great Defrag Shootout” page, a most comprehensive (in fact, in my opinion, almost autistically obsessive) dive into defragmentation tools, you find countless forums where people ask the same question and everyone throws in with their opinions, most of which are uninformed, and perhaps you find a program you like after a few hours of reading and research. Great, you’re done.

However, it’s time for a post with the truth – no mess, no fuss, the answer you’re after without obsessing, bullcrapping or theorizing. You needn’t search any further. I’m going to answer the question right now, once and for all. Ready?

PERFECTDISK for commercial use, JKDEFRAG (which is free) for home users and ULTIMATEDEFRAG (shareware) for power users.

Want to know why? Read on.

This utility has been around forever. It’s extremely stable and perfect for servers in the workplace. It allows you to defragment system files at boot-time (such as the MFT). It supports optimization according to the contents of your layout.ini file (although both they and I don’t recommend that). It’s reasonably priced. You can schedule defragments. The new version has something called StealthPatrol which allows the defragmentation of your system while idle – I’m not comfortable with the idea of a permanent “on-switch” for defragmentation, and I suspect that Raxco included it in the product because there are a crapload of morons out there who falsely believe that the feature is a “good thing”. Anyway. My company runs an intranet server with systems that fragment the hard drive continuously and we have a weekly schedule which runs PD. Couple of things that I’ll ding this tool on are the fact that it’s defrag strategies are not really configurable, and the fact that it’s “SmartPlacement” mode pushes your boot files to the front of the disk so your system boots faster. Raxco needs to wake up to the fact that this is a LOW priority for most servers which DON’T GET REBOOTED all that often. I’d rather have the tool identify the most-accessed apps and move those as well as your directory data to the start of the disk (the fastest area) rather than wasting the area with boot files which only get accessed once a month or less. Still, a very robust tool. Stay away from Diskeeper – it doesn’t do a great job and they’re behind the curve for several reasons covered in dozens of other forums, including Donn Edwards’.

This one surprised me. It’s an ugly little utility that’s gotten a heck of a lot of traction out there. I’ve been giving it a shot across my systems for a while now and I have to say I agree. While graphically it looks like it was programmed by Stephen Hawking using a rubber pencil in his mouth while being tasered, it has a jolly good defragmentation algorithm and it’s fast as hell. Because of it’s pissant interface, several people have written alternate GUIs for it. My favourite is by (bangs hands on keyboard a few times) and you can download it here. (bangs hands on keyboard a few times)’s GUI also features a “scheduler” option so that you run this guy every week, for example. It has a basic algorithm as well as a few slower sorting strategies, which makes the utility a little smarter than PerfectDisk. The default algorithm is slightly more intelligent than PerfectDisk’s because they get the fact that directories are usually the most frequently-accessed data and move your dir information to the fastest area of the disk. Then come the rest of the files (defragged but not sorted, which isn’t the best idea [but most people don’t care]) and then what they call SpaceHogs – large files, esssentially. During the basic defrag process a couple of gaps are strategically left in order to allow your computer’s junk files to accumulate in a reasonably fast area of the disk. You know, stuff like Internet Explorer temporary files and the like. A nice touch is that the program allows you to defragment individual files/directories instead of forcing you to select an entire drive. Summing up: JKDefrag is just a nice, small, decent utility to use when doing a set-and-forget on Grandma’s computer. Plus, it appears to be very stable as well.

This program is small and does a lot. The version 1 series wasn’t particularly good, but they seem to have gotten it right with v2. It covers everything you need – metadata and boot-time defragmentation (typically you only do this once a year on your C: drive, if that), multiple defragmentation types, and a fascinatingly unique graphic display whilst working. You can choose the defrag method that corresponds to the type of data on your drive. The program has this concept where you can tell it a percentage of most recently-used files to move to the faster area of the disk, and then a percentage of least-used to “archive” to the slower areas. This is smart. For your digital photos or MP3 file mass-storage partitions you can choose file/folder defragmentation. It even supports individual file/folder defragmentation. It covers all the bases you need and isn’t bloated with crap you don’t need, such as realtime continuous defragmentation. Again I say: the entire concept of continuous defragmentation is stupid and I completely agree with Jeroen Kessels (author of JKDefrag) when he says, quote, “In my opinion continuous background defragmenting and optimization is marketing hype and a bad idea. There is considerable overhead (CPU, memory, disk) that may actually make your computer slower instead of faster, and it will wear out and shorten the life span of your harddisk.“ UltimateDefrag also has a scheduling system and actually allows you to move your metadata files such as MFT to different areas of the hard drive during boot-time, and you can even resize the MFT to free up a bit of room on your drive. This all coupled with the ability to move the directories to the fastest area of the drive means it wins Best Overall Defragmenter as far as I’m concerned. And a Hot Download Award, despite the fact that the software company loves to self-flagellate about how their program conforms to “Pareto’s Principle”, and have way too much kiddie-level enthusiasm and exclamation marks in their documentation and website.

That’s pretty much it. All the other defragmenters out there either have the same features or else have useless features. Or are bloatware. Or have crashed on my system – once this happens a program is out of the running, hands down, no appeals, fugedaboudit. Now, go forth and download.