It’s all about the tools.

In a previous post I admitted to the world that I, an avowed Linux weenie, was now using a Windows desktop for all my geeky endeavours. This continues to be true, but I’ve taken the steps necessary to make my environment comfortable to work in, without going the easy route of “I will do everything in my power to make Windows look and feel just like my Linux box.” To me this defeats the purpose of potential learning experience of working with a new environment.
So about those tools…

Very few operating systems are useful right out of the box. Generally the first thing a person does when sitting down to work in a new environment is to add in the necessary tools and fidget some personal settings. This latter element can take days away from your life and result in permanent “No, that color just isn’t quite right, lets try bringing the blue content down 2%” mania.
After setting a background from Digital Blasphemy, I was ready to tackle getting the components in place that I needed.
IDE – Eclipse
An Eclipse screenshotMy preferred environment is Eclipse. Since I’m mostly working in Java, this makes a lot of sense. One of the big advantages is that Eclipse runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, so moving from yawl to clipper and occasionally on to hunter really requires no mental shift. Eclipse works the same way on all 3 machines.
SSH connections – SecureCRT
I’m an old stick in the mud on this aspect. I use ssh for just about everything – accessing my mail server (via tunnels), remote connections and other VPN activity (SVN, RDP, etc) – all possible over ssh connections. Though my client is keen on using Microsoft VPN tools (like PPTP), I still like the flexibility and simplicity of SSH tunnels.
Originally I was using PuTTy for a client, but the now woefully out of date interface and lack of decent features (such as tabbed connections) made me return to Van Dyke’s SecureCRT. While it is a commercial application, I’m comfortable laying out the $70 or so it’ll take to upgrade my now quite old license. Tabbed windows, interactive dialogs for setting up tunnels, very good font support, and excellent emulation make it well worth the investment.
Web browser – Firefox, natch
Don’t really need to go into detail here. Firefox continues to be faster, more stable, less susceptible to phishing and virus attacks, and standards compliant (yes I know it has it’s own issues, but compared to the nightmare that is IE6, it’s leaps and bounds above it). It’s also consistent across platforms (I run Firefox on Windows and Linux), and using the Google Browser Sync, I even keep my bookmarks consistent. Coupled with Sage, it makes for a great environment.
One note on this, I have not transitioned to Firefox 2.0 yet, nor have I had a chance to evaluate IE7.
Email client – Thunderbird
My loathing of Outlook knows no bounds. Since that was not an option, the world is wide open for alternatives. I’ve worked with many different mail clients, from console-based tools like ‘pine’ up through full environments like ‘Evolution’, I’ve worked with them all. My latest love affair is with Thunderbird, an exception free opensource application written by and supported by the Mozilla foundation. It’s quite fast and the user interface is outstanding.
Calendaring – Google Calendar
Calendaring has always been the achilles heel for folks not willing to suck up to Microsoft and go whole hog into an Exchange solution. There just is no toolset around that can duplicate the level of calendar interaction that Exchange can.
Google Calendar is the best of the free services on the net, at least as far as I’ve seen. It has the best supported API, excellent sharing between multiple users, and quite a good interactive toolset.
What really cinched it for me though was finding Companionlink for Google Calendar, a tool that syncs up Palm desktop calendars directly to and from Google Calendar. This means I can have my calendar moving with me on my Treo, and hotsync it to clipper, and have it sync right up to Google where my friends and family can see / change / update it.
Graphics editing – The Gimp
To be sure, Adobe has the photo and graphic editing world in it’s pocket with the massive application Photoshop. Because the thought of forking out $500 just to edit some pictures does not appeal to me, I use Gimp for the basic photo manipulation I do. It’s fast, powerful, and extremely flexible, unlike many of the handholding ‘basic’ photo tools that every camera on the planet seem to come with.
IRC / Chat / IM – Various
These don’t really require their own seperate groupings, but I do a lot of communication with folks online – in the more interactive sense, not just email. To handle that, I have a few tools I use:

  • IRC – X-Chat – The legendary IRC client. This one is an old sticky one for me. Sure there are other newer clients, but this is something I’m quite comfortable with, and chances are when I go in for a job interview in 5 years, the fact that I haven’t evaluated and gotten familiar with newer IRC clients probably won’t be an impediment to getting hired.
  • Jabber – Exodus – I use Jabber for connecting to MSN, IRC, Yahoo chat, and of course Jabber chat (which gets me onto Google talk and the Livejournal jabber network).
  • VOIP – X-Lite from xten – An excellent free VOIP client for Windows. I use this every day for morning conference calls.

I feel that I’ve built up a set of tools that makes my experience with Windows quite tolerable, without feeling like I’m particularly in bed with my worst enemy. My interaction with Windows on the level Microsoft wishes is pretty minimal, as I’d say 98% of my time is spent in the above apps. Granted, I’m running Windows as my core OS, and in many ways it has helped me spend time doing the things I need to do (like work on my projects), rather than spending half a day building a new kernel because a switch was set wrong. In this way, I’d say I’m comfortable with the end result. But every time I boot up, I still hear Bill Gates laughing maniacally in the distance.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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2 thoughts on “It’s all about the tools.

  1. That’s not laughing. That’s coughing. He REALLY wanted you to get Visual Gonads+++ and Office XPproPlusdoublegood2009 and…
    And. Um. Firefox? Is it me, or does it not grok Flash at all? As in “Whee! Here’s some Flash. I think I’ll take a giant runny poo on all over your productivity while I just sit here and free…”
    As opposed to IE which lies back with its proverbial lower extremities widely splayed.
    Anyway. Windows isn’t so bad, especially if someone else is buying it. It’s like going to Pizza Hut on the boss’s dime. Long as you know it’s not really Pizza, it ain’t too trashy and, hey, you can always leave a lousy tip.

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