Windows Tips II – software roundup

Tons of people haven’t been asking me what software I run on my Windows boxen. This little ditty isn’t for them. Before jumping into recommendations, I should give you an idea of what I’m about when it comes to the software I run on my computer. As a Unix guy I have a strong appreciation for simple tools to solve simple problems, and are able to work alone or with other tools to solve (or create) complex problems. So, I’m big on open standards. I also like free software (as in beer). GNU-style, Linux-style. Open source is a beautiful thing. I’m definitely open to monolithic applications though, but they’d better offer a lot in terms of convenience, compatibility, security, or foot rubs.
So, what kinds of software do I use? Remember, this is windows, which I need for certain aspects of my work life, and that’s pretty much the extent of it (and need may be a little strong of a word). I use office software, security tools, ‘power-user’ tools, and some nifty other apps for fun and profit. Here’s a quick rundown of what I use, how I use it, and maybe why.

Office Software

  • OpenOffice. This is a full, free, and powerful suite of office applications. Included are word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and some sort of drawing package. Really really nice, check it out. You can even read almost anything from MS Office.
  • Thunderbird. OK, this is a bit of a stretch because I generally use the webmail client on my home PC for the work computer for technical reasons (my machine is not considered part of the network so mail from a client like Outlook or T-bird looks like spam), but Thunderbird is pretty nice. Evolution is great too, but I’m not sure they do it for windows (haven’t looked).
  • gvim. You probably don’t want to get involved with this unless you are a Unix type, but I like it. Check out Textpad as a text editor instead…it’s nice than NotePad and WordPad put together.

Security stuff

  • Ad-aware. This nifty little free package will scour your computer for nasties. Like viruses, worms, and evil daemons. Get it, run it frequently (pay for it to get the scheduler if you keep forgetting), keep it current.
  • AVG and Zone Alarm. I dunno, Norton, Window Security, whatever, just use something that will do firewall, antivirus, updates, and keep an eye on things in general. These are what my Windows admin friend recommended.

Power User Tools

  • X/Cygwin. This is a snappy package that does a few really really powerful things. It lets your windows machine be an X server (so you can run graphical unix programs remotely) and it also creates some emulation of a nice Unix environment, complete with all your favorites like perl, grep, and cat! It’s free and awesome!
  • VirtuaWin. This program creates a virtual desktop for you. Basically, instead of having everything in one window, you can spread them out among 1 (pointless) to 9 windows. I tried out several packages, and this is the one that comes closest to meeting my needs. These are: configurable hotkeys, nonobtrusive pager dealie, and no annoying whizbangs. Simple.
  • Windows Power Tools. This is something you can dig up at the Microsoft page. I haven’t explored it a lot, I just wanted an easy way to setup focus follows mouse. That way I don’t have to click a window to type in it. The real benefit to me is that I can leave something on top and type into something underneath it without it going away.
  • Putty. This simple tool let’s you ssh into other computers, which is a secure way to do login to machines in places where you are not, or that simply don’t have keyboards.

Cool Apps

  • The Gimp. This is like photoshop, but free. I think it works a little different, but it’s super-powerful and free. There’s a windows download on the site, but it’s not necessarily provided by them.
  • Knoppix. Not technically a windows app, or even Windows at all, this is a linux distrobution that boots from cd and has tons of tools to fix things when things hit the proverbial rotating blades.
  • Firefox. Cool browser, free, under current development, and better and more secure than the one you are probably using. I hear Opera is nice too, and relatively free now.

That’s about it. Check these tools out, I think you’ll be quite pleased. For the most part, they are as easy to use as the equivalent that you may or may not be using, but relatively free, adhering to open standards, and making me happy. In general you can read things from other software, and save things to be read by other software also.

Oh, and if you have any recommendations for iTunes sorta software, I’d love to hear them!

  • moistee

    after reading these technical posts, no wonder you can dissect a beer so well…

  • Ojingo

    Having lived with Senor Beerdrinker in the past, I can attest that although there’s a bit of a learning curve involved to use his computer – there is a method to the Linux madness. It’s an elegant and efficient setup, especially compared to the bulky “monolithic applications” that have yet to provide a single foot rub.

  • rick

    amazingly, several of these tools (openoffice, ad-aware, firefox, thunderbird and more) work just like you’d expect a windows app to work, easy UI, functional, but with the additional bonuses of being cheaper/more powerful/more compliant. Give them a shot, you won’t be disappointed! I tried to be clear where an app might require a bit more of a learning curve.

    Open source applications have made huge strides over the last several years, as commercial office apps have been experiencing diminishing returns. Plus, having been built on open standards, the open source software is far more agile.

  • iggir

    i work in a Windows shop, but i switched over the Thunderbird last year and am pretty happy with it. it doesn’t have a couple of features that Outlook had, but i can’t even remember what they are now (so not having them must be okay). also, it blocks alot of annoying spam images and such that Outlook automatically loaded.

    i highly recommend SpyBot Search & Destroy for ad/spy/malware removal, btw. it’s completely free and it comes with an Immunizer that blocks known threats once it’s installed. just my $0.02…

  • Anonymous

    i heard nagios is pretty cool

  • rick

    wow. punk. I’m looking forward to being astounded now ;)

  • Andy

    Another cool paint/photo program is, which is free (

    As for iTunes replacements, I’ve been using WinAmp rather happily on my windows box at work because there are tons of plugins for it to play things like aac, m4a, flac and shorten files, and plugins for There’s also a cool tag editing tool called TagScanner if you are as anal about your ID3 tags as I am.

    Also, WinSCP3 is a great SCP/SFTP client that’s open source.