You'll probably need to connect to a serial port now and then. I have two programs I use for connecting to Serial devices, putty and X-CTU
While not the most powerful serial port software, putty does a good job. It also does telnet and ssh so that's handy as well
You can download putty from http://www.putty.org/ or http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/download.html
On the off chance the site is down, here is a mirror
The installation defaults are pretty good
Putty is pretty simple to run, just run the Putty tool
For serial ports first click Serial in the radio buttons. Then type in the Serial name in Serial line (e.g. COM5) and finally, set the Speed to be whatever speed you like
Then click Open to open the port
I also sort of like X-CTU which has more low-level tools like the ability to toggle and monitor the flow control lines, view hex codes, see both incoming and outgoing bytes, generate and send packets, etc.
Once installed, you can run just the Serial Console from the Tools menu
Start off by Configuring the serial connection
Unlike Putty, you'll get a GUI interface to select the serial port, byte encoding, baud rate, and whether you want flow control
Once configured click the Open Port button
If you type into the console the sent data is shown in blue. Incoming data is shown in red.
On the left you see the ASCII values, on the right, HEX bytes. In this case I sent the text abcde to a USB serial cable with nothing connected to the end. I then connect RX and TX pins together so that sent data would come back as received data and typed in ECHO
What is really easy is setting and unsetting the flow control lines, handy if you, for example, want to test that DTR is resetting an Arduino compatible chip, or that the CTS line goes high/low based on the pin settings of a breakout board