I’ve been using computers since I was 5. I’ve worked in IT more or less full time since I was 13. For all this time, I’ve used an endless amount of software written by people I’ve never met and whom I’ve never thanked properly. Windows, Office and the typical productivity software of course gets a yearly thank you note from me and my company in the form of different sorts of payments through the Microsoft Partner Network, but everything else I use does not.
I was paying some bills last weekend and I figured I had some extra money left after the mandatory payments. Not a lot, but some. I started thinking about some of the projects I’m involved in. Most of the time, my work pays ok as it is something I do for a living. Other times I do a sort of pro bono work – maybe some work for a charity or ofter non-profit organization, or helping out a user group or community in some way. But for all this, I tend to use some pretty great software tools every day – for which I pay absolutely nothing. That’s when I decided it’s finally time for me to do something and provide a little gratitude for all these years of using some very fine software.
Figuring out what apps I’m really using
I have about 361 different apps installed on my main Windows 10 box at my home office. To come up with this number, I ran this small PowerShell command:
$apps = Get-ItemProperty HKLM:\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\* | Select-Object DisplayName, DisplayVersion, Publisher, InstallDate
Querying for $apps.Count gives me 361. I realize this is not optimal, or even exactly true due to different ways apps tend to advertise themselves within the Windows Registry, but it’s close enough. I knew I wasn’t using all of these all that much, but how could I get a meaningful number of the apps I most frequently use? Registry does not help me here, as the only properties are InstallDate, DisplayVersion, Publisher and DisplayName. Not much to work with.
Windows 10 Start Menu has a short list of items I’ve frequently used:
The usual suspects, I would imagine for someone working in multiple projects and communicating mostly over Microsoft Teams and web based apps. I remembered that in old Windows versions, pre-Windows 8 timeframe, most of this information was stored in registry. And it’s still mostly there, although in a little bit different form. To dig it out, I used the following PowerShell:
Set-Location -Path Registry::HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Search\RecentApps
Get-ItemProperty -Path * | select AppId, LaunchCount | Sort-Object LaunchCount -Descending
This provides me with a nice list of apps I’ve used recently the most:
(I had to hide one as I wasn’t sure if it’s something that is being publicly shared)
So, I’ve ran cmd.exe for 29 times, Windows Calculator for 13 times, and Plex Media server 10 times. I’m not fully certain if this is since last reboot, as my current uptime is about 2 days and 16 hours. It sounds about true, and for my exercise it’s close enough for many of the apps listed above.
Figuring out which apps I’m using the most, and which of those are apps I am not currently paying anything can be done simply by listing the commercial software first, and everything else after them.
These apps are included in Windows 10, thus I am already paying for them through the digital license for Windows:
- Control.exe (old school Control Panel)
- Eventvwr.exe (Event Viewer)
- Mmc.exe (management console host)
- Some miscellaneous Windows modern apps
- Microsoft Edge
- Internet Explorer
- Services.msc (Computer Management > Services snap-in via mmc.exe)
These apps are included in Office 365 ProPlus, so I am paying for these through my Office 365 plan:
- Teams.Teams (it’s an Electron app)
- Skype for Business and consumer Skype
- WinProj.exe (Project Pro)
- PBIDesktop.exe (Power BI Desktop)
Everything else not part of Office ProPlus or Windows 10 are the ones I’m most interested in, in descending order of launch count:
- Plex Media Server
- Google Chrome
- Visual Studio Code
- Plantronics Hub
- Windows Sysinternals’ ZoomIt
- Filezilla FTP client
Some of the statistics are naturally skewed, or plain incorrect. I probably use Dropbox several times each hour for something, but I’ve only launched the binary once – during startup of my PC. Does it count as something I use often, or something I use rarely? I’m paying a monthly fee, so I decided to exclude Dropbox from my list of possible recipients of a small donation.
Plex Media Server, which I use heavily, is also part of a monthly plan I pay for Plex.tv. Visual Studio Code is free from Microsoft, and Steam client – I think – is also free as I pay for the digital media I retrieve through it. Google Chrome is problematic – it’s free, but I feel I am being harvested for a lot of the data, so I think we’re even. Plantronics Hub is free, but I did have to purchase a headset in order to utilize the app. Windows Sysinternals Zoomit is free, but I try to support it’s creator, Mark Russinovich, quite actively through my consumption of Microsoft Azure, so I’d say I’m good there also.
This left me with a quite short list of apps I use, but don’t pay anything for:
- Notepad++ -a fabulous text and code editor
- KeePass – probably the best password manager out there, and it’s free!
- Filezilla FTP client – when Windows ftp.exe is not enough
- Greenshot (added) – amazing screenshot + obfuscation + editing + sharing tool
- ScreenToGif (added) – a simple but powerful tool for recording portion of your screen as a Gif animation
Looking at this list of only 3 apps, I realize there’s two missing. One is Greenshot, the free screenshotting tool I use constantly. Another is ScreenToGif, for recording Gif animations for easy sharing of steps and instructions. For some reason these were not in the list, so I’ve added them.
To donate, or not to donate?
Time to put my money where my text is. I had decided I wanted to support the creators of these free tools. But 5? I was expecting maybe 1 or 2 apps. To be honest, I could probably afford to donate something for all 4 apps, if only by skipping a few cappuccinos at the fancy cafe down the street. It feels a bit same when you travel to a distant country for holiday and the currency is valued very differently from your usual tender. Everything feels either super cheap, or super expensive regardless what the actual price or value is.
I decided to support two of the four apps – ScreenToGif and Notepad++. I felt I’m using these two apps quite often, and they get far too little recognition for being so awesome and useful.
Donating money is easy, as they both support the universal payment that is PayPal. I went with $5 for each. I know it’s not much, but I feel it’s better than nothing and this way I might be able to support more software in the future by distributing the donations.
I hope my small act for donating money to developers who provide quality software would be an example to anyone else considering this.
I work with Azure and frequently write about my experiences. Former Microsoft Most Valuable Professional & Microsoft Regional Director, ex-MSFT. Based in Helsinki, Finland.