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Applications and Utilities: Andy Preferences


Over the years I have found various applications and utilities that work best for me. They certainly aren't for everyone, but below I will show you what they are and why they work well for me so that you can see if they might be a match for your tool kit as well. As a general rule I prefer FOSS, 'Free and open source software' where possible.


Libre Office (previously Open Office): From the The Document Foundation, Libre Office is a strong and much lower cost alternate to Microsoft's Office. I have been using Open Office/Libre Office exclusively since version 3.0 came out, even when I had MS Office available, and have yet to find anything I need that it can't do that MS Office can. After the development team moved over to a new home, I followed them soon to LibraOffice. The only 'catch' are two defaults that are easy to change so that Open Office/Libre Office will open when you click on an MS Office formatted file, and optionally to save in the MS Office file formats. A LifeHacker comparison of MS and Libre Offices ends with Microsoft has something to worry about.
If you think you need Microsoft Office, give LibreOffice a try before spending the big bucks. You can either use the self supported free one, or for a fraction of what Microsoft charges, buy supported versions from from a number of companies such as Oracle and Collabora.

Total Commander: By Ghisler Software is a great representation of the File Commander style file management that I've been using for over a decade instead of Windows Explorer. I got hooked on this model of dual pane file management with Norton Commander back when it was young and haven't looked back on it ever since. I find Windows Explorer and such XTree Gold styled management to be too constraining to me most of the time. Some key things I use just about daily: one keystroke viewer, especially for text files; single keystroke directory size; 3 keys for totals of all the displayed directories (to find where did that space all go to); compare and sync two directories (great as a manual backup); built in FTP client; allows dealing with hidden files without many of the warnings Windows Explorer hits you with if you can even get to the files; and many other useful bits. An additional benefit is if Total Commander hangs such as when trying to access a locked file, the rest of Windows doesn't suffer like it does when Windows Explorer(My Computer) gets hung up under similar situations. There are many competitors, but I have yet to find one with all the features I use regularly. I'm still on the hunt for a similar tool in Linux, the commonly available Midnight Commander being so 15 years ago, though it is great to have when the GIU isn't available. I just discovered krusader for KDE, so will be trying that over the next while, though it looks like I won't be able to just plunk it on my clients' systems like I have been able to with the other two.
Another benefit of not using Windows Explorer is I avoid the common problem of files and folders going MIA that has a pain to implement work around.

IrfanView: By irfan skiljan, has all the others beat. It opens blazingly fast and if IrfanView can't view the image file, only the original app that created it will. Just those to make it so worth it. You can rapidly flow though a directory of images, easily re-size and convert formats, create slide shows and web page photo albums, and so on.

FireFox: The Internet Web Browser by the Mozilla community. Having started on the Web before Microsoft had any browser, I've been though a few. Early on I tended to gravitate to NetScape, but as Microsoft tried to control the internet (in a pathetically unsecured way), the more I stuck with the alternates. All the browsers have ways to extend them, the Firefox addons I get most use of, are:
- Lazarus form recovery, for when you just lost what you were typing into a web form.
- My Weekly Browsing Schedule
- CleanPrint cleans out the stuff on a web page that you may not want on a print out.
- TinEye to find different (better?) copies of an image.
- Spell checker for the web pages I work on. I also use a bookmarked bit of javascript to do a similar thing. Just put the following string in the 'location' field of a bookmark:
javascript:document.body.contentEditable='true';%20document.designMode='on';%20void%200
- Evernote Clear to render pages cluttered with Adverts and other distractions in a more clear way with just a click.
- Chrome is the other alternative that I am contemplating a shift too, but that testing and finding replacement snap-ins just isn't yet a high enough priority for me.
Browser market share is fun to watch.

Thunderbird: A standard POP/IMAP email client also by the Mozilla community. Thunderbird can be extended many ways, such I as use Lightning for calendar services.
Other
Extensions I tinker with:
- Reg-Ex Filters with FiltaQuilla
- SendLater

Text editors: One is just not enough as there are several that each give me useful things depending on what I am doing. I uses these for both simple notes, the beginnings of documents, config files, and web pages. My notes simply reflect where I've ended up using them and it may well change as they continue to evolve.
- Notepad2: My basic text editor to throw single text files in or start notes.
- Notepad++: As it remembers my last set of files, this is for my dynamically shifting set of text files on the go. Has a decent spell checking ability, and appropriately colors program source files.
- NoteTab: This has a great favorites feature so that I can have collections of files opened in their own sets. Is the only one I've found that lets me replace text that includes charage returns as well as appropriately colors program source files.

Linux on a stick: Having a bootable USB key with me helps for those odd troubleshooting challenges where the local operating system is damaged. LifeHacker's guide has worked for me so far on both Windows and Linux systems.

PuTTY: A nice Terminal tool for when you need to remotely Command (vs just control/wiggle the mouse) that does the old insecure telnet as well as the modern secured SSH that as THE typical way of managing Unix/Linux systems. Only thing missing to me is the ability to copy specific pieces of text from a session.

Virtual Access: A wonderful newsgroup reader I've been using since late CompuServe days. This is how I can handle so many more messages than with the web interface as a part of my forum Knowledge Partner activities.


As an attempt to keep the links to my apps handy for myself when rebuilding my systems, I created this handy list.


Others' have certainly done similar lists as this such as:
- LiveHacker's list of alternates of the basics on Windows and for the Mac
- Xorton's blog entry along similar lines.

 

Why FOSS?

Well free is pretty hard to beat if it does the job you need it to do. And for those inclined and appropriately skilled, being able to modify open source software sure gives someone greater power than when with software they can't truly modify.
FOSS has the long term benefit of the growing number of programmers in the world that code as a hobby. There is a certain amount of the population loves to program once they've had the chance to learn programing. As it is just in the last few years that almost all first world students are exposed to programing and that rate is increasing in other parts of the world, there continues to be a huge growth of number of programmers. Less than 10% of 50 year olds have been ever exposed to programming in school hence the number of 50 year old programmers is much less than 20 something programmers. Imagine how many more 50 year programmers will be in 30 years. With so many programmers around the world just wanting to program just as a hobby (even in addition to a job programming), FOSS is the most natural avenue for any exposure/credit of that hobby. The Bazaar method of collaboration commonly used in open source projects allows for an individual programmer to make contributions to even the biggest projects, allowing the best programmers to shine and reap the rewards of fame and good job offers. FOSS is where we are now seeing the majority of innovation.
While FOSS is steadily making progress such that some offerings are now superior to any proprietary offerings and many are giving the proprietary offerings a good run for their money, FOSS certainly doesn't yet do it all just like the proprietary offerings don't do it all either. FOSS is a very Darwinian set of processes that have a great probability of dominating every niche of which the bad guys knowing the code is not a detriment (such as with spam filters). Even Microsoft is starting to use open source (PHP) rather than try continue to try to push something new that has to play catchup to the established standard.
Open Source is a big barter system, with more joining it every day.

If you interested and want to get involved and contribute to some aspect of FOSS, your first step is to use some of the software. My list above is a starting point, and to go beyond that just Google "open source alternative for" adding the commercial application you already know. All FOSS projects have some sort of community behind them, some in desperate need for more help, with the more popular ones being very selective because of how much people want to help. To build your name (aka 'street'/net cred) start with the small projects that are actively looking for help with SourceForge being an excellent starting point. Also search for local FOSS groups and events as most cities have them, often connected/associated to larger schools and maker spaces. As just one example of my involvement, I attend FSOSS in Toronto most years.




Last updated 2015-11-17 Copyright © 1996-2015 Andy Konecny andyweb @ konecnyconsulting.ca