The Lifehacker Editors’ Favourite Software and Hardware

The Lifehacker Editors’ Favourite Software and Hardware

Lifehacker readers range from the complete newbie to the most seasoned techie, but where do the Lifehacker editors stand? We polled our own editors for the computer hardware and applications they swear by and we’re breaking it down for you here. This post is categorised into the software each editor (US and Oz) uses on a daily basis, the operating systems we live in, the hardware we rely on, the peripherals we utilise on a regular basis, and webapps we need. Then we tell you exactly what kind of user we think we are.

Gina Trapani, Editor:

The Basics

  • Firefox: I spend the majority of my day in my favourite browser, where I manage email, write Lifehacker posts, read RSS, and surf. My must-have Firefox extensions include: Foxmarks (so my bookmarks are everywhere), DownThemAll! (for downloading big files), CoLT (for grabbing links to drop into Lifehacker posts), all of the Better Extensions which I put together, Firebug and Chris Pederick’s Web Developer toolbar (for development), and Greasemonkey and Stylish for customising pages. (Here are my current user style picks.)
  • Quicksilver: On any Mac, I’ll Cmd+Spacebar out of habit, because I’ve come to rely on QS so much for launching apps, moving files, resizing images to Lifehacker’s standard sizes, and accessing frequently-used documents on the Shelf.
  • TextExpander (Mac) and Texter (Windows): Not only does TE and Texter help me write Lifehacker posts by auto-expanding HTML snippets, it auto-corrects typos and helps me stay on track with our style guide (by automatically replacing things like “wifi” with “Wi-Fi”, for example).
  • TextWrangler (Mac) and EditPlus (Windows): Everyone needs a good text editor, and these two are my picks. (TextWrangler is free, but EditPlus is not).
  • KeePass: The day I sat down and created my KeePass password database–and decided every time I’d set up a new password I’d store it there–was a good day indeed. While I do use Firefox to save web-based logins, KeePass is an awesome secure parking place for Wi-Fi, network, computer, and file passwords as well as software serial numbers. Since it’s Mac and Windows compatible, if I save a password on the PC’s copy of Firefox, I’ll also enter it into KeePass so I can still look it up on the Mac.
  • Adobe ImageReady: A throwback to my web dev years, I still reach for an old copy of IR whenever I have to do any image editing beyond simple cropping and resizing. Been meaning to get good at a free option for awhile now–and I’ll have to, since Adobe discontinued ImageReady releases.
  • Adium (Mac) and Pidgin (Windows): I’m not a huge IM user, but when I need to hop on for a quick chat these are my two clients of choice.
  • Cygwin: I’m not running a Linux desktop full-time, but I do need my ls and scp. While offers these Unix command line tools built into OS X, Cygwin can give it to you on Windows.
  • InstantShot (Mac), Skitch (Mac), and SnagIt (Windows): Since I take screenshots all day long, these three apps are indispensable. For a simple snap and resize, I use InstantShot and Preview; to annotate screenshots SnagIt and Skitch get the job done.
  • Mozy (Mac and Windows), Time Machine (Mac), and SyncBackSE (Windows): Since I work at home with no IT department backing up a network drive, backing up my important data’s up to me. I bought an unlimited Mozy subscription for off-site backup in case of fire, flood, theft, or tsunami, and use Time Machine and SyncBack to run regular local backups to a FireWire drive.
  • GeekTool (Mac) and Samurize (Windows): I like having my todo.txt, a calendar, and a set of daily reminders in front of my face every day. So while I keep my desktop clear of shortcuts and documents, GeekTool and Samurize pins my top tasks, a two month calendar, and remind reminders to keep me on track during the day. Here’s more on setting up GeekTool on the Mac, and incorporating text files on your desktop with Samurize.

Primary OS

It’s changed over the years and will continue to shift, but right now I split my time about 80%/20% Mac OS X and Windows XP. I plan to increase my Windows time (and get Vista into the mix) to better serve Lifehacker readers, who are primarily Windows (about 70% at the moment, though this chart changes by the minute). Setting up a Hardy desktop is also looking more and more tempting.


I used to use four different computers on a regular basis, but keeping them all maintained, synced, backed up, and up to date with operating system patches became too much. So last year I decided to simplify and pare down the machine I use for work purposes to one laptop (so I could take it with me when I travel), and chose:

  • A 15-inch MacBook Pro to which I added a stick of memory, using Adam’s guide. I run both Windows XP and Leopard on this machine with VMware. (I used to Boot Camp and virtualise that partition in Parallels–but when I needed more internal hard drive space, I killed the Boot Camp partition and now just virtualise XP.) I’ve also got…
  • An ancient Dell Dimension tower which I launched Lifehacker on mostly goes unused now. For awhile I used it as a file server, but to reduce energy consumption, I decided keeping an always-on file server was overkill for the two people who live in my household.
  • A G4 PowerBook, which was replaced by my MacBook Pro last year, lives in the living room. For a beat-up secondary computer, the PowerBook still does triple duty as a media centre file server for my XBMC, a recipe reference in the kitchen while we cook, and my other half’s main computer.
  • A classic Xbox running XBMC is my primary media centre for watching downloaded video, and my TiVo records TV episodes online.


Besides a stack of external hard drives, a Netgear router, an ink jet printer, and a widescreen Dell monitor I hook the MacBook up to when I’m at my desk, I’ve got:

  • A Fujitsu ScanSnap mobile scanner for Mac, which is perfect for scanning receipts, contracts, and newspaper articles. I reviewed the Windows version here and loved it so much, that when I sent the review unit back to Fujitsu I bought the Mac version as soon as it was available..
  • An iPhone, which I had misgivings about purchasing when I lost my Nokia. The iPhone 2.0 software isn’t without problems that are dogging me as well as a couple of others, but for the most part, it’s a very pleasant gadget to use.


Even though I still like keeping important files saved to my local hard drive, I’ve moved most of my daily work into a Firefox tab (which makes it easy to access from the iPhone as well). I use dozens of webapps, but the primary ones are:

  • Gmail: A year or so ago I abandoned Thunderbird to use Gmail’s web interface exclusively, mostly for its conversation thread view (which T-bird doesn’t quite handle as well) and its keyboard shortcuts, and because I’m constantly working on the Better Gmail extension.
  • Google Reader: Once I switched from Bloglines to Google Reader, I’ve never looked back–even though Adam did almost convince me to move to NetNewsWire, I’m too happy with my Reader workflow to change things up. I’ll often read feeds while I’m on line at the grocery store or in the doctor’s waiting room, and star items that may turn into Lifehacker posts later.
  • Google Calendar: The Lifehacker staff uses a shared GCal calendar to schedule vacations, conferences, and software launches, and I use it for my personal calendar as well.
  • Campfire: In lieu of instant messenger, at Adam’s suggestion, the Lifehacker staff started hanging out in a Campfire room throughout the day while we write, which helps us coordinate and ask quick questions and make decisions so much faster than over email.
  • Twitter: I don’t have the time to fool around on Facebook or Flickr as much as I used to, but contributing to and scanning Twitter is a fast, efficient way hear what my pals are up to and blog with very little effort. Twitter’s helped me keep in touch with my NYC friends, find story ideas faster than they break in my RSS reader, recruit guest writers, keep tabs on people I admire and look up to, and poll people I trust quickly.

I also love MediaWiki and Here’s more on the apps that run Lifehacker’s virtual office.

Self Assessment

I’m a late early adopter. I love to try out new apps, but after reviewing thousands over the years here at Lifehacker, I think long and hard before I actually work one into my daily workflow. I’m a big open source advocate–to the point of a tendency toward that “tinfoil hat” free software extremist mindset–but I will (and do) compromise for beautiful and easy-to-use software, too. It’s great that you can do so much in the cloud these days, but I like to store and manipulate my own data and avoid webapp lock-in as well–so, for example, I back up my Gmail account via POP. I love tinkering with software, but I’m not as much of a hardware DIYer as my co-editors, many of whom have built their own computers.

Adam Pash, Senior Editor:
The Basics

  • Aside from the obvious (Firefox), I spend a lot of time using Adium and NetNewsWire.
  • I love Growl. (I’d kill for a Windows version.)
  • Love Notepad++ for text editing in in Windows.
  • Of course I don’t feel complete without my text replacement macro apps, so that’s either our very own Texter on Windows and TextExpander on the Mac.
  • As for software I’d pay for, TextMate in OS X is a fantastic text editor that I’m glad I shelled out for.
  • I’m also a huge fan of Vista’s Media Center–it’s what makes the upgrade to Vista worth it for me, since it integrates so well with my Xbox 360.

Primary OS
I’ve been primarily operating in OS X since I built my Hackintosh, but I’m always running VMware Fusion (another must have) with Windows and (sometimes) Ubuntu.

I’m using the Hackintosh as my main desktop, an aging MacBook Pro with OS X and Vista in Boot Camp, and an older Windows box that’s a dedicated Media Centre back-end. Then there’s the Xbox 360, of course, which gets about as much tinkering time as the Media Center.

Both of my desktop computers (the Hackintosh and the Vista Media Centre) were built from the ground up.

There’s also my iPhone, which I use almost as much as my laptop these days.

After a weekend of watching a friend regularly reboot his router while I was visiting recently, I should give credit to my router, which is intermittently either running Tomato or DD-WRT. They’re rock solid.

I’ve got a Logitech MX Revolution wireless mouse and one of the new slim Apple keyboards, both of which are very nice to work with daily. I’ve also got a cheap-ish Canon MP180 printer/scanner combo with a recently broken printer tray.


  • Love Gmail. I’ve been making a small move to desktop apps lately, but until Google makes a desktop version of Gmail (not likely) or someone rips off the main tenets of the Gmail interface, I’m not leaving it any time soon.
  • I’m also a big fan of Mediawiki as a software, and–naturally–Wikipedia. I may have well been answering this question in 2004.

Self Assessment
I’m a big fan of anything I can build for cheaper than I can buy it. Hardware DIY gets easier and easier every year, and I’ve managed to do just fine for myself without ever picking up a soldering gun or anything of the sort. It’s all much easier than most people think.

Kevin Purdy, Associate Editor:
The Basics

  • Firefox: With the following extensions: Foxmarks (syncing between systems and Firefox portable, Password Exporter (same reason), CustomizeGoogle (newly installed, mostly for the Google Link annoyance described at #8, and the dev build (i.e. Firefox 3-compatible) of Tab Mix Plus.
  • Launchy and Texter: Both suggestions from Adam, both indispensable to my Windows work. When I’m in Linux, though …
  • GNOME Do and Snippits: The Linux semi-equivalents.
  • Pidgin: I used to use the last version of vanilla AIM that worked with the (then-free) DeadAIM plugin, until I became a Linux geek and friends started hitting me up on GChat.
  • GIMP: Because I truly do suck at Photoshop, so I’m learning day-by-day with its free counterpart.
  • Prism: For running Campfire, Google Calendar, and a few other apps in distraction-free shells on the desktop.
  • Revo Uninstaller: For cleanly and completely uninstalling most of the software I test out on the job.

Primary OS
I honestly split my time between Windows Vista and Ubuntu Hardy Heron (8.04). Up until recently, I’d been almost exclusively running Hardy (which I’ve openly professed my fondness of) with a wirelessly synced iPod touch, but I can’t get my dual monitor setup working in Hardy, and iPhone 2.0 put a nix on the second–for now.


  • A five-year-old desktop I built myself, now doing light testing duty with XP installed
  • A Lenovo ThinkPad T61P (dual-booting Ubuntu and Vista)
  • My parents’ old desktop, turned into a multi-function home server (converted with help from Gina’s guides and this starting point.
  • My wife’s Compaq Presario laptop, which suffers its fair share of guinea pigging.


  • Linksys WRT54G (ver. 6) router: Big mistake, considering I have to wince every time Adam finds a new Super Router firmware (like Tomato or DD-WRT), and I have to sit it out with my locked-down blue box.
  • HP Deskjet 825c: Hooked up to the home server for remote printing (from every system except Vista, of course).
  • iPods: I’ve got an old 4 GB mini, the wife has a 4 GB nano, and I’m constantly tweaking my 8 GB touch.
  • LG LCD monitor: Originally for the old desktop, now a dual screen for the ThinkPad.

I use quite a number of them, but the main ones are:

  • Google Docs: I might switch over to the more feature-rich Zoho Suite one day, because the feature I love most about GDocs is simply that it saves every few seconds. The accessibility and offline abilities don’t hurt, either, though.
  • Reader: Both during morning posts and casual browsing through the iPhone-friendly beta.
  • Gmail: Big surprise, I’m sure, but I mostly use it through Thunderbird via IMAP for both work and home mail.
  • Remember the Milk: On my AWN dock in Linux, on my iPod touch, my iGoogle start page, through my phone and email–a truly universal but simple to-do list.

Self Assessment
I’m obviously a big fan of open source and free software, as you can probably tell from the lists above. I chose and customised my laptop in large part for its Linux-friendliness, and I’ll always favour software and webapps that can be accessed from any computer. In general, though, I can never leave well enough alone–a good trait in writing for this site, I’d think–and while I’m pretty satisfied with my current array of tools, I’m thinking a few lower-tech, real-world productivity tools–index cards, anyone?–could probably find a useful home somewhere in my system.

Jason Fitzpatrick, Contributing Editor:
The [Free]Basics

  • Launchy: Although I’m a relatively new user of Launchy, I’m finding rapidly that I use it enough that I’m frustrated when I’m on a computer that doesn’t have it.
  • Digsby: With lots of people on lots of different messaging platforms, Digsby makes my life easier.
  • Picasa2: When dealing exclusively with client files I’ll use a program like Adobe Lightroom, but for ease of use and for a program that is easy to use for my non-techie wife, Picasa2 is a fantastic fit.
  • TeraCopy: I hated the built-in file handler in Windows. When you’re moving 80 gigs from one drive to another you don’t want to come back after your lunch break and see there was an error at the end of the transfer and the whole thing aborted. TeraCopy takes that pain away!
  • xplorer2 lite: I also hated the default file explorer in Windows. When you’re editing large amounts of media and organizing it, having an explorer alternative on steroids is the only way to go.
  • UltraVNC: Over the years there have been all sorts of fancy new ways to remotely connect to your home PC, but I’ve never found anything I like more than a basic VNC connection.

The [Paid]Basics

  • Photoshop: I’ve been using Photoshop for almost 15 years now and short of writing my own programs and playing with them, haven’t had more fun with another piece of software.
  • UltraMon: If you have dual monitors, it’s invaluable.

Primary OS
My primary OS is Windows XP. I’m usually in some state of tinkering
with OS X (working on a Hackintosh just for kicks), and Linux. I find as time goes on that with Linux I’m less tinkering with the limited free time I have to play with it and more enjoying it. Linux has really matured since I first installed it in 1994.

I used to be an avid computer builder. As far as my primary machine for daily use goes, I usually just purchase a machine that’s on sale and throw a bunch of RAM and hard drives in it. I don’t game much anymore, so my rig doesn’t need to bleed speed. All of that said I have a ton of parts and I often strip down computers before people send them off to be recycled so I have more than enough motherboards, hard drives, etc. to build all the random projects I set my mind too. The level of parts in my workshop has reached a saturation point actually, and it is extremely likely that my next computer will be built from them with a few newer pieces thrown in.

I don’t really have any peripherals that I love… except my Logitech Trackman Wheel. I’ve been using a Logitech Trackman for over 10 years now and I love controlling the entire movement of the mouse with just my thumb. If Logitech announced they would no longer be producing the Trackman, I’d go out and buy a stockpile just to be safe. If we’re being a bit looser with definition of peripherals, I’m quite fond of my Windows Mobile phone, the HTC Apache, it’s a rather common WM phone but I like having a device I can custom and tweak to my hearts content. I frequently use the BuildOS program from to rebuild my entire phone and try new things.

The only web apps I use with any consistency are Gmail and Google Reader. I also use SmugMug to catalog and share media with family and clients and Mozy to back up data. For my Windows Mobile phone I use the service DashWire to conduct remote backups of contacts and other data.

Self Assessment
My computer usage reflects strongly on my general personality. I don’t use many social networking tools, I’m not the kind of person that Twitters the minute details of their life. I share my personal pictures on a password-protected site only for family, not on Flickr. When I’m working I use a pretty Spartan set of tools which helps me stay focused. Google Reader to distill my feeds, Firefox to help fling me about the web, a simple calendar, contact list, and to-do list in Outlook to sync with my Windows Mobile phone. And when I’m goofing around instead of getting work done I’m all over the map experimenting with new software, dubbing foreign films, playing in Photoshop, building a TiVo clone out of spare parts from my workshop bins, trying out new tweaks on my XBMC, etc. I love experimenting and playing with computers, I’ve just come to a point in my life where I have enough of a time crunch that I have to be careful to fence off the “Let’s see what we can solder to this!” part of my love for computers from my “Let’s get some work done and pay the bills!” part.

Tamar Weinberg, Contributing Editor:
The [Free]Basics

  • Notepad2: I’m not a developer so I don’t really need the extravagant features offered by LH favourite Notepad++. I do love the line-numbers and color-coding of Notepad2, and that’s all I’m looking for in a Notepad replacement.
  • Pidgin: I’m a fan of purple penguins and find Pidgin’s options easily configurable for my needs. I also use a very old version of AIM with DeadAIM because the GUI is oh-so-nice. By the way, Digsby is on my list of apps to try!
  • Irfanview: Because it’s so incredibly lightweight and small, Irfanview is a great app to use for image viewing and to resize or crop images quickly.
  • Firefox: Firefox 3.0.1 is a terrific browser, and unlike 3.0, this baby doesn’t crash at all on my computer.
  • VLC Media Player: I used to open files and never be able to locate the proper codecs. VLC eliminates that hassle. When I have downtime and want to watch a movie or TV show on my computer, VLC does a nifty job, and it’s also pretty lightweight too, which adds to the appeal.

The [Paid]Basics

  • FlashFXP: Unlimited lifetime upgrades and a purchase that was made several years ago made this an easy choice.

Primary OS
My primary operating system at this time is Windows XP Pro. Ah yes, a Mac OS would be nice, but I’ve been procrastinating on making the plunge! Windows XP does what I need. Additionally, I run a Fedora 9 box in the corner of my apartment and am always SSH’d into it to tinker around with the system.

My main computer is a Dell XPS M1710 laptop, but I built the two desktops I use (they run Windows XP and Fedora 9). I test Lifehacker software on another old Dell laptop. I also have a MacBook Air that I haven’t yet used. I know Gina is going to kill me when she reads this.

Peripherals and Gadgets

  • Samsung ML-2010: Really the family printer of choice, and we like it because of the network printing capabilities. I’m a big fan of getting up to gather my printouts days after I print them out!
  • Flip video: I’m new to the video world, but the Flip has proven to be a small yet affordable camcorder that produces quality results.
  • Treo 755p: I’ve been using Palm OS for almost 10 years now and can’t really fathom moving over to a Windows Smartphone.
  • iPod touch: I once wished for an iPhone without the phone. Then, Apple announced the iPod touch. All it needs now is more storage space.
  • Lots of external hard drives: I’ve suffered way too many hard drive failures to risk losing data again, so I have more than a terabyte of data stored on external hard drives in the event that my main drives fail.

I don’t use other peripherals on a regular basis primarily because my desk is my lap and my office chair is a couch. There’s not much you can use here without things falling all over the place.


  • Gmail: I really like Gmail, especially since it now supports IMAP. I have four tabs of Gmail for the three accounts I use (three of which are on Google Apps for Domains). Really, who doesn’t like Gmail?
  • Flickr: To put it simply, photo sharing rocks. I’m a big fan of social media and I love being able to tag photos, comment on them, add notes, and organize them into sets that others can easily see and navigate to. I also love how you can bookmark your favourite photos with the “call a fave” feature.
  • Twitter: I use Twitter on a pretty consistent basis mostly to foster and build professional relationships. I enjoy that it has an API with hundreds of available applications. I primarily use Twhirl with Twitter and I take heavy advantage of the SMS tools when I’m mobile.
  • WordPress is my blogging platform of choice, but I do use MovableType maybe even more regularly.
  • FriendFeed: FriendFeed is one of my favourite tools ever to keep abreast of the news that interests my colleague and peers, and the conversation is growing. The best part is that you can hide the noise and only focus in on the signal.
  • Carbonite: This non-intrusive backup solution for Windows and Mac is tough to beat for the price of $49.95/year for unlimited storage.

Much of what I use revolves around my work behaviour, since I’m tremendously focused on using the computer for all work and no play (if I play, I’ll go with a console of some sort–my Wii and Xbox360 get some nice face time when I have a spare moment). I’m somewhat old school but I love to try new things provided that I don’t have to install them on my computer (well, for the most part).

Angus Kidman, Editor, Lifehacker Australia:
The Basics

  • Firefox: I was a very late convert to Firefox — it was only the hideousness of using Internet Explorer on Vista (slow, unstable, unwilling to play nicely with my local home page) that got me onto the Firefox train. Now I wonder how I ever did without it. It’s the main editing environment for dealing with Lifehacker (via Moveable Type), as well as various other online tools. Webapps take up an increasing part of my life, though as I spend so much of my time travelling (and hence disconnected) I’m a firm believer in having all the basics stored on my hard drive. Also, unlike most of the US Lifehacker crew, I like to work in an extensions-minimal environment. I’m a dedicated keyboard shortcuts junkie, and I think the trend towards minimising these in Windows has been a big mistake.
  • Twitter:While I’m a relatively recent Twitter convert, it’s become an important part of my working day pretty quickly — both for keeping in touch and for grabbing story ideas. It also provides an easy way to keep my Facebook status updated. I still like and use Facebook for social purposes, though the recent redesign did nothing for me at all and I switched back pretty quickly to the more functional, less whitespace-obsessed older version.
  • Microsoft Office: For my actual text editing needs, Open Office is pretty much OK (though the word count still needs work). The big selling point in Office for me is Outlook, and a big selling point for Outlook is the fact that it’s easy to replicate information onto whatever portable device I’m favouring at the time. I spend a good chunk of my day racing between meetings and hitting tech events, so an accurate, mobile, non-network dependent calendar is a must — and I’ve never seen anything in the open source world deliver that reliably to date. (Also, I have no interest in a conversational email view, which is one reason Gmail’s never really floated my boat.) With that said, the hideousness of the Office ribbon has made me look harder than ever for an alternative.
  • Media management: Years of doing my own file maintenance means I have an inherent mistrust of applications that try and take over the whole process. So I’d rather use CDex than iTunes, and I’d prefer to edit and crop pictures in Irfanview. For backup, I’m a huge fan of SyncBack, and I try never to board a plane without a current backup USB stick in my shirt pocket.
  • The podcasting possse: One of my regular media outlets is the fortnightly podcast BRAN, which I co-host with fellow hacks Roulla Yiacoumi and Nathan Taylor. While this is rapidly approaching its 100th episode, the technical requirements are fairly basic: Skype for communication, and Audacity for recording and editing. The fly in the ointment isn’t this, but the endlessly variable networks I find myself using: Skype and wireless networks are rarely nice to each other.
  • PCs: For the past year, I’ve been working on a ThinkPad T61 (the second in a year; the first was a total lemon that Lenovo had to replace). Physically, it’s a really solid machine that can cope with my extensive travel routine, but in software reliability terms, it’s a bit of a disaster. I run Vista (as a computer writer, I need to be across whatever the mainstream is using), and it’s definitely part of the problem, but the supposed enhancements supplied by IBM are more often than not a nuisance. I’m looking to get a replacement machine shortly, though my lifelong preference for trackpoints over trackpads or external mice (the latter are useless when you’re travelling) limits the brand choices somewhat. Suggestions welcome (Macs not considered, the interface does nothing for me and I don’t care about the design element).
    While the ThinkPad is my day-to-day machine, for travelling to press conferences, taking notes and on brief overnight trips, the EEE PC has quickly captured my affection. Equipped with a Vodafone wireless broadband modem, I can use it pretty much anywhere.

My well-established work habits die hard — once I’ve got a routine going, I’m reluctant to break it unless a product becomes massively unstable or the demands of my work environment change rapidly. Mobility is a critical factor for me, and many a cool-sounding product gets rejected because it’s impractical for use on the road. I love using technology to solve problems and organise my life, but I still suspect that organisation has more to do with mental attitude than the products you use.

Now it’s your turn…
Readers, what are your preferred freeware, shareware, and commercial apps? What gadgets and peripherals tickle your fancy? Which webapps do you use consistently? Share your all-time favourite recommendations in the comments.


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