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comment Typical software & tools short-list for *manual* QA specialist (tester) working environment
I agree Notepad++ with XML addin is super useful for XML and configuration files.
comment Under what circumstances is Sikuli better for test automation than Selenium or Watir?
I have seen problems with Sikuli tests when screen resolution changes, desktop theme, number of colors, even RDP settings. If the system you run tests on needs to change - OS, or whatever, this is something to consider. The biggest concern I have is that the project does not seem to be active anymore so if you plan to use it to write new tests consider how that fits in with your overall testing tools.
comment Performance Testing a cloud application
This is a good point. You want to try to break down the performance issues and where possible separate things like record creates, modifies from pure server availability. Load testing is also important and that is where you want to stress the system. I guess a good way to think about it is to try to separate tests that are purely targeting applications code performance from tests (like load) that touch on application and infrastructure.