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Software

Three free utilities to make your computing life easier

Get ready to work faster, smarter and better. These tools amp up your mouse, keyboard and clipboard. Plus: a $150 Windows hybrid.

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I used PhraseExpress to insert the image credit below. Why type the same thing over and over? Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Yesterday's post about Norton Identity Safe, the surprisingly good free password manager, got me thinking about other great freeware -- the utilities I use daily and, frankly, couldn't live without. And I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I'm hemorrhaging money -- so I thought I'd keep the free stuff coming. Maybe I can even get a Freebie Friday lined up for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've put together a list of three indispensable utilities, all of them with the best possible price. Take a look, then hit the comments to nominate your favorite freeware.

M8 Free Clipboard

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M8 Software

While we're on the subject of making life easier, every Windows user should know (and love) these three keyboard shortcuts:

  • Ctrl-C: Copy
  • Ctrl-X: Cut
  • Ctrl-V: Paste

As you probably know, whenever you cut or copy text, it lands on the Clipboard. The next time you cut or copy something, it removes the previous item. In other words, the Clipboard can accommodate only one selection at a time.

Enter M8 Free Clipboard, which gives you multiple "sheets" on which to store lots of clips, the idea being to vastly expand the Clipboard's versatility -- and it does. I'll turn you over to the Download.com review for more details, but the key takeaway is this: If you're a heavy copy-and-paster, this might just change your life.

PhraseExpress

Tired of typing the same words and phrases over and over? I'm talking about, for example, your mailing address. Different email signatures. The date and time. Letters of introduction. Complex terminology. If there's any kind of repetition in your typing life, you need PhraseExpress.

At its core, PhraseExpress is a macro manager. With it you can assign any word or phrase to just about any keystroke -- say, Ctrl-Shift-A for your mailing address. One press and presto: the info gets inserted in your browser, word processor or any other program. It's not limited to raw text, either -- you can also create macros for images, HTML, even forms.

PhraseExpress also offers robust auto-correct features, handy if you frequently misspell certain words. The learning curve is a little steep, if only because it's not immediately clear how to get started, but it's worth the effort. I use the program all day, every day, and couldn't live without it.

WizMouse

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Antibody Software

It's incomprehensible to me that even after eight versions of Windows, you have to manually "activate" any given window by clicking in it. You can't just mouse over a window and expect your scroll wheel to work. What?

Tiny WizMouse solves that problem. Just move your mouse atop any open window and do what you need to do: scroll, click a link, open a menu and so on.

This may sound really trivial, but I can't overstate how useful this is. WizMouse is among the first programs I install on any new machine.

Bonus deal: Can't decide between a laptop and a tablet? Why not have both: GameStop has the refurbished Asus T100 Transformer Book 64GB for $149.99 shipped. (Wait, GameStop? Ooookay.) True to its name, the Transformer alternates between laptop and tablet with the quick addition (or removal) of its keyboard dock. It runs full-on Windows 8.1 and scored pretty solid reviews when it made its debut in late 2013 (with a $399 price tag, ahem). My only concern is that there's no warranty information listed, but I'd assume 90 days. A quick call to GameStop would probably clear that up.