Five cool tools

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A list of five little tools that will make your life easier and more productive.

Chocolatey

On the official project page the tool is described as "Chocolatey NuGet (like apt-get, but for Windows)". In my opinion this says it all...

Having a good automated installer is a great production boost, since installing the most important software is just a matter of pasting a list of commands into the PowerShell or command prompt.

The installation is as easy as copy / pasting the following snippet into the command prompt:

@powershell -NoProfile -ExecutionPolicy unrestricted -Command "iex ((new-object net.webclient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))" && SET PATH=%PATH%;%systemdrive%\chocolatey\bin - See more at: http://chocolatey.org/#sthash.Rwwf3D3C.dpuf

Even commercial products can be installed, if serial keys or registration information is provided in form of additional arguments.

Git for VS2012

Git is my favorite VCS - mostly because it is distributed and has a lot of great features. On Windows using git was always disappointed. There are two major reasons for this:

  1. The git bash totally blows on Windows (I can't even correct typos in usernames or passwords - they have to be completely re-entered).
  2. GUI driven applications are either totally useless, overly complicated or limited.

A good approach is the GitHub for Windows client. It comes with a nice PowerShell mode, that alleviates some of the struggles I just mentioned.

However, spending most of the time in VS a tighter integration with Visual Studio would have been great. Luckily since a few months Microsoft provides a great solution and even though I sometimes have to go back to the git bash I feel that the solution is becoming better and better.

MiKTeX

For years I've been using TeX Live as my TeX distribution. Some months ago I realized that I was missing a much better alternative in form of MiKTeX. What I did not realize is that MiKTeX is (automatically) installing missing packages.

This feature does not seem very appealing at first (couldn't one just install all or at least most packages up-front?), but becomes much handier once non-standard packages or updated sources are required. Now finding them, correctly installing them and verifying them takes some time.

MiKTeX provides a standardized way of solving this. The only drawback is that once MiKTeX is outdated the automated installation does not work anymore. A funny thing I noticed lately is that the following line was actually causing more trouble than what its worth:

\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}

Obviously if the fontenc package is (correctly?) installed it can lead to a kind of blurry text representation. Hence removing this line seems to make sense.

IguanaTex

Personally I do not use PowerPoint for presentations. I am also not using TeX for my presentations, as I favor HTML due to some reasons.

Nevertheless one might want to create a PowerPoint presentation that contains some equations. Years ago PowerPoint did not have any good features for creating equations - all solutions have been horrible. Nowadays the equation editor works quite nice and does look OK.

But OK is sometimes not good enough - and having a wonderful TeX enhanced equation on the screen is something that might be desired. The solution is IguanaTeX. It is a free plugin for Powerpoint (works in any version starting with PowerPoint 2007).

There are 3 gotchas:

  • MiKTeX (see above) is recommended, since some packages are required, which otherwise would have to be downloaded first.
  • If the Add-On ribbon is not shown you probably downloaded the wrong version (there are 32-bit and 64-bit). Choose the version for your Office not Windows. Be aware that Office 2007 was only distributed as 32-bit version.
  • In principle the equation is displayed as a graphic (PNG), i.e. select the proper font-size or you will see scaling effects.

The big advantage is that IguanaTeX saves the PNG (could be also viewed without IguanaTeX then) and the code behind (could be edited with IguanaTeX later on). All in all a very nice solution.

One last trick: Since we just get an image we cannot change the color of the font. This has to be done in LaTeX as well, like so:

%...
\usepackage{xcolor}
%...
$$\color{red}2+3$$

LINQPad

This last could not conclude without LINQPad. I do not mention text editors (Sublime Text 2), virtualization software, browsers (Opera / Torch), IDEs (Visual Studio), synchronization (SparkleShare), audio (foobar2000), video (VLC) or graphics (GIMP) etc. software, since they are mostly obvious or about equal (from a feature perspective) to other software.

So the solutions I presented here are either very unique in general or have at least one really good USP. LINQPad for instance is unique in general. There are not many C# prototyping / test UIs. Most of the contenders in this category try to produce a REPL on C# or do something with scripting. LINQPad is a good tool to get some initial tests going, or show colleagues a specific scenario.

LINQPad is also great for having a look at MSIL, connecting to data sources or making a quick performance evaluation.

The best thing, however, is that the tool is free (without intellisense) and comes optionally with hundreds of snippets for learning C#. Therefore it is also a great tool for newcomers to the language or professionals who are interested in a particular sub-topic of C# / the .NET-Framework.

Created . Last updated .

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