Windows and open source

I’ve been known among my friends for pushing people to use quality open source software instead of illegal copies or copyrighted software, or unregistered versions of shareware programs. I’ve also been pushing the day to blog about this for a while, for some reason.

After using a Mac if only for a few hours – I bought my wife a MacBook that i tend to use the “Look don’t touch” approach with in order to let her feel as its true owner  and customize it her way – I clearly understood why Apple becomes a religion to most people. There’s so much aggregated value to the Mac OS itself and iLife that now ships with all new Apple computers since 2008 at least, that you might as well do without installing a single piece of software in it.

Now if you look at Windows, there may be some of that too: where Apple has iTunes, they have Windows Media Player. Where the Mac has Mail, windows has Microsoft Exchange…. So why is the Mac OS more pleasant to people?  Simple answer: Apple’s products don’t feel half-assed. Why does Windows Media Player be such a resource hog and take me anywhere but my own music when I open it? I could brag about this all day, but my point is, Windows is NOT pleasant to use out of the box.

Does it make it a bad OS? Well, if you compare it to, say, Kubuntu, it’s definetly far superior in the usability aspect. Sure, amarok beats WMP’s sorry behind, and Konqueror is sexier than IE, but it’s still broken. I tried using Kubuntu with KDE4 almost exclusively for the last year, but felt relieved when I finally took the decision to ditch it and go with windows instead.

What makes windows usable is the endless number of add-ons, packages and applications you can use to make it better. It’s more of a platform for creating your own OS in a way. I chose to create mine using lightweight and quality open source software.

So without further due, here’s a list of the open source software I use, endorse, and can’t live without on windows:

  • Browser – Mozilla Firefox – If you’re reading this blog you know all I can tell you about it. I’ve been using Google Chrome more than it, I have to admit, but Firefox still has the best add-on support and I find myself resorting to it for the great Firebug, FireFTP, DownThemAll and ChatZilla add-ons.
  • Music Player – Songbird – Songbird is the closest thing you’ll get to Open Source iTunes. I love iTunes’ interface, but I hate being locked in to a store I can’t shop in (Apple Store won’t sell anything but iPhone apps to Brazil), so Songbird unlocks the potential of the iTunes library to a broader set of – you guessed it – add-ons.
  • CD Recorder – InfraRecorder – Now here’s something that I’m proud I’ve found. I was sick of having to install the monolithic Nero everytime I wanted to record a CD on windows. The built-in CD recording capabilites are seriously lacking, and InfraRecorder handles anything from MP3 CDs to Audio, to DVD Video and DVD Data discs. It also burns images both on the bin/cue and ISO format. All that on a 5mb install footprint, all open source.
  • Code Editor – Notepad++ – I must admit I was a die-hard vi fan. I used gvim on windows for quite a while, and it served me well, but I grew tired of the whole <esc>:something thing. I was looking into TextPad which is what most of the people in the coding business use for quick file opens with syntax highlight, and as usual looked for a open source alternative. I stumbled into Notepad++ which is godsent. The syntax highlight works awesomely, it has an explorer plugin that allows me to open files as I go while developing with Rails or CakePHP,  and also has some nice plugins for syncing with remote FTPs and for pretty printing HTML and XML. 
  • Archiver – 7-zip – Can’t say enough about this open source archive handler. It handles all format, and does so with style. The VB interface (as much as I hate VB) is flawless, and it also integrates nicely into the shell right-click menus. Their own .7z format allows for better compression than any other algorythm I’ve seen as well, and I’ve been converting people using WinRAR and WinZip to use 7zip with 100% of success so far. Get rid of those silly “UNREGISTERED” messages and go with the best, open source solution
  • Launcher – Launchy – If you ever heard of QuickSilver for the mac, Launchy would be the closest thing in windows. Basically you press alt-space and it brings up a “command line” where you can type in anything from a Putty session name to a command prompt command or a bookmark title, and it fires the right program for you, already positioned where you want to be. Anything in your computer is just an alt-space away.

As a side note, I’ve been doing some rails development, and this blog post has some nice highlight and shortcuts Notepad++ setup for .erb files.

Wish it had a command prompt window integrated like Kate does in Linux/KDE4

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