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.
My previous What I Use article appeared in September 2012.
Note: With rare exception, I've paid for all the commercial software I use and mention below. Unless noted, I have also 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.
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.
Primary desktop PC
My desktop computer is an HP Pavilion HPE h8-1220t tower PC with a 3.5 GHz Core i7-3770K (third-gen Core “Ivy Bridge”) processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB Crucial SSD, a 2 TB 7200 RPM HDD, an AMD Radeon HD 7570 (with 2GB RAM), and a SuperMulti DVD burner.
This PC is connected to a 27-inch Planar PX2710MW display running at 1920 x 1080, a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, Microsoft Explorer Mouse (Blue-Track) (I highly recommend both), and Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers (also recommended).
Primary notebook PC
My notebook is a Samsung Series 9 15-inch Ultrabook, the NP900X4C. Given my previous experience with a loaner 13-inch Samsung Series 9, I knew this machine would be perfect for me: It features a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, a gorgeous 15-inch matte screen running at 1600 x 900, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, and a decent back-lit keyboard. It weighs less than 4 pounds.
NEW: With Microsoft’s new Surface with Windows RT devices in market, I’ve made the switch, and while I’ve been a bit more critical than some, it’s a solid device. I have two, one I’ve paid for and one that’s a loaner. My own Surface is the 32 GB version with a black Touch Cover and black Type Cover.
I have overhauled up my home office server set up recently.
Windows Server 2012 Essentials (RC)
UPDATED: After using Windows Home Server for years, I’ve switched to Windows Server 2012 Essentials on an HP Proliant MicroServer with an AMD Athlon II processor. This system was upgraded to 8 GB of RAM, and its single 320 GB hard drive has been augmented by three 3 TB HDDs. This is currently the center of my home network, and I’ve migrated it to the final version of Essentials 2012 back in October.
I use a number of portable devices, more so when I'm on the road.
NEW: My new smart phone is the HTC Windows Phone 8X running Windows Phone 8 on AT&T Wireless LTE with a 4 GB/month Mobile Share tethering plan. I have a second phone on this Mobile Share plan, currently the Nokia Lumia 820 for testing purposes, though I hope to switch the second line to the Google Nexus 4 when I can get one. (The 8X will remain my primary phone.)
I use an original (2010) Samsung Focus, which has been updated with 16 GB of additional storage (for a total of 24 GB) on the road as an MP3 player for music and podcasts.
UDPATED: I use an Amazon Kindle Fire HD to read books and two newspapers (New York Times, Boston Globe) daily. On the road, I use this to watch rented movies and TV shows and do other tablet stuff.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
I always travel with Bose noise cancelling headphones and recommend them highly. For the past year, I’ve used the bigger and more effective Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones somewhat exclusively. (I also use them while mowing the lawn. Hearing is precious.)
Our digital camera is a Panasonic Lumix ZS20, a 14 megapixel point and shoot with 20X optical zoom, a 24mm wide-angle lens, and GPS. It’s a bit large and heavy as point and shoots go, but it’s a great camera.
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. 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.
Xbox 360 S
We now use the Xbox 360 S semi-exclusively for digital media services such as Xbox Video Marketplace, Amazon Video, Netflix, HBO Go, and more, though the Kinect has come and gone. This is the high-end Xbox 360 S that comes with a 250 GB hard drive and glossy finish, and it’s replaced the Apple TV as we move to eliminate Apple products from our home.
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.
I am using the final shipping version of Windows 8 (various editions) on all of my daily use PCs, and on most of my test PCs.
NEW: I use and recommend Microsoft Office 2013, primarily Microsoft Word (hey, I do write for a living) and OneNote. (The final version is now available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers and will ship next year as a subscription version through Office 365.)
I use Microsoft's SkyDrive app to synchronize key files between my PCs and the cloud. I pay for additional SkyDrive storage.
For email, contacts, and calendar management, I use a mix of Outlook.com(personal, with a Hotmail.com address) Exchange (work, via Outlook Web Access, and Office 365). I have email accounts (Hotmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc.) on numerous other services for testing purposes, but these are currently all being forwarded to Outlook.com.
Internet and communications
For web browsing, I use Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. I use and recommend Last Pass for online password management (it works in all major browsers).
I use Skype for instant messaging with friends and family and to record podcasts and to chat with Rafael Rivera, my Windows Secrets co-author. (I connect Skype to the Messenger network as well as to its own.)
I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family only and Twitter to communicate with the world about tech topics; I use and recommend the excellent MetroTwit for Twitter on the PC.
I do not use any third party security software as Windows Defender in Windows 8 now includes anti-virus functionality. My entire family uses it, and its predecessor, Microsoft Security Essentials, and we've never had any major issues.
I use Amazon Cloud Player as my primary digital music player on the PC and on Android and iOS devices.
I subscribe to and recommend Xbox Music Pass (currently called Zune Music Pass), an excellent subscription music service that works with Windows 8 PCs (including the Xbox Music app), the web, the Xbox 360, and Windows Phone. The music on my phone comes only from Xbox Music Pass.
When I purchase music, I use Xbox Music Store, Amazon MP3, and Apple iTunes. My music collection is backed up to Amazon Cloud Player. (And, of course, to Crashplan via Essentials 2012 as well.)
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). When I rent or purchase TV shows or movies, I use Xbox Video Store, Amazon Instant Video, or just the On Demand feature in FIOS.
I use and recommend Audible for audio books. (Yes, Audible advertises on both of my podcasts now. But I would use and recommend this service regardless.)
I manage my photo collection in the Windows shell, but use the free Windows Photo Gallery 2012 for acquiring photos from devices and light image editing. For work related image editing, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Microsoft Paint.
I use VLC Media Player to watch digital movies on the PC; VLC supports soft captioning in H.264/MP4 files, including VobSub-style captioning.
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.
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 for PDF files and Techsmith SnagIt for screen captures. I use Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Phone 8 and Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows 8 to keep up on software development issues.
I subscribe to Microsoft’s TechNet Standard service to keep up to date on the software giant’s business software.
Windows Phone apps
I primarily stick to the built-in apps and experiences on Windows Phone since the platform is so integrated and complete. But I do use a handful of third party apps fairly regularly including Facebook, AP Mobile, Audible, Amazon Kindle, and myAT&T.
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...
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.
NEW: Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is out. I’ll be playing this game regularly for the next 12 months.
I use a LifeFitness X3 Elliptical Cross-Trainer for cardio on a near-daily basis and watch movies and TV shows via an Xbox 360 S that’s attached to a wall-mounted Sony Internet TV (24 inches). People who work in front of computers (or otherwise sit all day) need to do something energetic. For me, this is it.
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.
I’m considering getting a desk that can change between sitting and standing modes.
I use a variety of hardware to record various 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.
Our main printer is a network-attached Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer, which is huge and power-hungry, but quite capable.
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 and brew it with a Lello 1375 Ariete Cafe Prestige espresso maker. It's inexpensive, but it works well. We may be replacing it soon, however, since it’s getting old and cranky.
If you have any questions about my gear, please email me.