Essentials to make Windows almost bareable

Okay, so I hate working in Windows, but on my employer’s equipment at least, I must live with it. After having had this machine replaced twice (faulty Dell hardware) and rebuilt more times than I can remember (Windows BSODs), for a total of at least 3 system migrations this past year, I thought I’d better keep a list of what free software to install on top of Windows, and what adjustments to make, so that at least I don’t feel like I’m wearing a straight jacket. Here goes:

Useability

Fix the keyboard to Dvorak (following is for Windows XP — this will likely change for Vista… it shouldn’t be this complicated!)

  1. Open Control Panel: START > Control Panel
  2. Choose “Regional and Language Options” (why not Keyboard???)
  3. Select “Languages” tab, press Details… button (sigh)
  4. In the “Installed services” section, select “Keyboard“, then press “Add…” to add a new keyboard layout
  5. Find US-Dvorak in the list
  6. In the “Default input language” section, set the default language to English (Australia) – United States-Dvorak
  7. In the “Preferences” section, press “Language Bar…” button
  8. Make sure that “Show the language bar on the desktop” is turned on, to make it easier to switch to QWERTY if needed
  9. Back in “Preferences“, press the “Key Settings…” button
  10. Turn off all the language Hot keys

To get rid of that horrible, garish blue/green stock XP theme, I use the Zune theme from Microsoft. It sucks less (the theme, that is, not the MP3 player, that sucks more than iPod).

Make Explorer a bit useable. Actually Explorer is total crap, and I’m still searching for a replacement. I like MidnightCommander in Cygwin (mc), and Konqueror in KDE. But for Windows, there aren’t a lot of free Explorer replacements, except maybe Windows File Explorer. Anyway, follow these steps to have Explorer at least be not so stupid:

  1. Open an Explorer window (anywhere)
  2. Select “Tools > Folder Options…“, “General” tab
  3. Make sure that under “Browse folders“, the option is to “Open each folder in the same window” (Explorer doesn’t do multi-windows like Macintosh Finder: it screws them up)
  4. In “Click items as follows“, turn on “Single-click to open“, and “Underline icons only when I point at them
  5. Select the “View” tab
  6. Turn on the following:
    1. “Display the full path in the address bar”
    2. “Display the full path in the title bar”
    3. “Do not cache thumbnails”
    4. “Show hidden files and folders”
    5. “Show both parts and manage them individually” (for web pages and folders)
    6. “Show encrypted or compressed NTFS files in color”
  7. Turn off the following:
    1. “Hide extensions for known file types”
    2. “Launch folder windows in a separate process”
    3. “Remember each folder’sview settings”
  8. Press the “Apply“, then “Apply to All Folders” buttons
  9. Press “OK

Programs

Install these programs at a minimum:

Emacs

Once Cygwin and Emacs are installed, I need to add my dotfiles (from backup), and also install these emacs add-ons:

  • SLIME
  • PSGML
  • PSVN (not strictly needed, since emacs22 adds SVN support in VC mode)
  • CEDET (this is not trivial to install, I still haven’t figured it out)
  • JDEE (requires some or all of CEDET)
  • cyg-emacsclient (wrapper to add Emacs to your SendTo folder, and have it actually work)

CEDET and JDEE might be more trouble than they’re worth, especially since I’m installing NetBeans anyway. They seem cool (especially the enhanced speedbar), but they’re not exactly plug-and-play. Jury’s still out.

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5 thoughts on “Essentials to make Windows almost bareable

  1. Josh: thanks for the pointer.

    Unfortunately, xplorer2 and the lite version are only free for private or academic use. If I were to install either of these on my employer’s machine, it would be for commercial use.

    Xplorer2 looks like a neat program, and I’ve played with it in the past. It’s probably worth the price, if I wasn’t such a cheap-skate. Although being a dad, I’d have to think carefully about spending US$29.95 (= about AU$35) when there are free (speech or beer) programs that I can legally install in a commercial environment ;-)

  2. Pingback: Take 2:What I add to Windows that helps make it better « Alec the Geek

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