What we talk about when we talk about Windows

Hoo-wee, is this blog ever out of date! I’ll clean up the terrible German puns sometime soon, promise. In the meantime, I wanted to (procrastinate and) get around to something I’ve been copying and pasting around to friends quite a bit lately: a short list of free or open-source apps that make the Windows experience considerably more elegant than it deserves to be. I’m mostly listing obscure and/or underappreciated (albeit robust) programs, so don’t be surprised at the absence of, say, Google Chrome (although, geez, you really oughta be using Chrome on Windows; it loses a lot of its lustre on OSX, and now that Safari has extension support, the “anything but Firefox” category is an even toss-up).

Without further ado:

Google’s Picasa photo organization suite is quite nice, although not the sort of thing I’d bother with normally. The photo viewer app that installs with it and overrides the default Windows program, however, is suuuuper classy, and absolutely everyone ought to be using it.

PureText is 90’s freeware at heart, and accordingly, hasn’t been updated in years, but is it ever a charm. It runs in the background, and adds a key shortcut to strip out rich formatting from clipboard text, so you can copy web content into Word without having to use Notepad as an intermediary.

Launchy is a cross-platform “Keystroke Launcher” akin to Quicksilver on OSX, which indexes your installed programs and lets you open Photoshop by typing “Pho” from a shortcut text prompt — autosuggesting the program in question before you develop the faintest craving for Sriracha.

ffdshow is the only video decompression pack worth using, usually associated with the open-source VLC player. In fact, it works with any video player, and better than absolutely anything else out there; just remember to download it from someplace other than Sourceforge, which hosts an out-of-date build.

If you’re still on XP, ISO Recorder does exactly what it says, and adds ISO burning capabilities (which are supported natively in Windows 7) to the Windows shell with unimaginably little fuss. Here’s looking at you, luddite sysadmins.

Finally, 7zip is adorably, paradoxically, an open-source compression utility built exclusively for Windows, featuring the best such algorithm in regular use, and expertly taking the place of whatever broken shareware you’ve been using for this purpose since 1997 (when WinZip, god bless its little heart, politely mentioned that its trial period had ended while still providing full functionality).

In conclusion, don’t buy a Mac and pretend it’s solved every problem you didn’t know you had — Steve Jobs is a pretentious jerk. Just because Gnome looks like somebody really loved OS9 and KDE keeps ripping off the worst parts of Windows and xfce effectively makes you feel like you were too cheap for OSX doesn’t mean that you need to give your money to this man.

(not you, Ballmer. I love you, Ballmer.)

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