Revitalizing Vista (and Windows)

Fix the Vista Beta blues with open source software for Windows.
As I write this, the Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2 has just been released, and everyone is looking for software to run on it. Ironically, though, a lot of Microsoft’s own products don’t work properly. Vista, it seems, only runs new, Vista-optimized versions of Microsoft’s most stalwart software.
If you want software for Vista or want to spruce up your existing Windows XP system with some great software, look no further than Open Source. The catalog is large, so let’s get started.

Productivity and Office Suites

Let’s face it: Without an office suite and productivity software, you can’t do an awful lot with a desktop operating system. On Vista, you can go with the new Office 12 beta, but it’s greedy (consuming disk space and memory), and well, it’s eventually going to cost money when the final version comes out. Instead try some open source desktop productivity software, which has matured nicely and runs great on Vista and Windows XP.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years, you’ve likely heard about OpenOffice.org. While most people think it’s unique to Linux, it actually runs on many platforms, incuding Windows and Mac OS X. OpenOffice.org 2.0 (http://www.openoffice.org/, pictured at the top of Figure One) has everything you need to be productive in Vista or XP, and the software is highly compatible with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files. For the most part you shouldn’t have a problem exchanging files with Office users, provided you save everything in DOC or RTF format. OpenOffice.org comes with a database program as well.
FIGURE ONE: ” We don’t need no stinkin’ Word!” OpenOffice.org 2.0 is free and is compatible with Microsoft Office

In addition to OpenOffice, there are a number of other standalone applications you should take a look at, too. Abiword (http://www.abisource.com/) is a mature, easy-to-use word processor with a great deal of features, and it runs extremely well on older Windows systems, if you don’t have the horsepower for OpenOffice, let alone Vista or Office 12. GNUmeric (http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric/) is a standalone spreadsheet program that’s been in development by the GNOME Foundation for quite a few years now, and it has a reputation for being fast and stable. DIA (http://dia-installer.sourceforge.net/) is a diagramming tool that is similar to Visio. DIA should handle all your organizational- and flow-charting needs quite nicely.
If document management is your forte, you’ll want to take a look at PDFCreator (http://www.pdfforge.org/), an Open Source PDF printer driver for Windows. It also allows you to print to a PDF file from any application that supports the Windows printing system, including older and current versions of Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and all major web browsers. (OpenOffice.org is capable of saving to PDF natively.)
If the $400 price tag of the Desktop Publishing suite you’ve been eyeballing has you down, and you want to build a nice corporate newsletter on a budget, take a look at Scribus (http://www.scribus.net/). It has page layout and document formatting features that you’d expect to find on much more expensive software products, such as QuarkExpress and Pagemaker. And guess what? Scribus runs on the Mac, too.
Got some web designing to do? Don’t reach for the credit card to shell out for DreamWeaver or FrontPage. Have a look at NVU (pronounced n-view, http://www.nvu.com/). It’s got powerful WYSIWYG editing features, and you can edit files on your Web server on the fly, due to integrated FTP capabilities.
Prefer to edit your web pages the old fashioned way? No sweat. Notepad++ (http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net/uk/site.htm) is a huge step up from the built-in windows Notepad applet, and is based on the very powerful Scintilla editor component for Linux. It’s got syntax highlighting, auto-completion, WYSIWYG, bookmarking, zooming, multi-document-viewing and just about anything you could want out of an advanced programmer’s editor.
No office desktop should be without some great screen savers, but you shouldn’t have to shell out for Plus Pack or wait until the next Windows release to get them. Instead, head over to the Really Slick Screen Savers Web site (http://www.reallyslick.com/) and pick up some of these really mind blowing, dazzling, 3D OpenGL beauties, all free and open source. If you’ve got one of the latest and greatest cards from ATI or nVidia, these will really put their capabilities to the test.

Media Content Creation

No doubt you’ve got some photo editing to do, and unless you’re a pro and need very specific features in Photoshop, you probably don’t need it. Reach for the GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/windows/, pictured in Figure Three) instead. Often called the “Poor Man’s Photoshop,” the GIMP has more plugins and image processing tools than you can shake a stick at, and it runs just peachy on Windows, too.
FIGURE THREE: The GIMP is a veritable cornocopia of image editing features.

If you’ve joined the podcast revolution, Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) is the audio editor of choice for armchair broadcasters, bar-none, be it free or commercial. And lucky for you, Audacity doesn’t cost a red cent. Audacity can natively import stereo, multitrack WAV audio streams, and supports MP3 import and exports thru the use of the LAME MP3 encoder/decoder DLLs.
Got some non-Microsoft format video files you need to play, or perhaps a DVD? Have a look at MPlayer (http://www.mplayerhq.hu) and VideoLAN VLC (http://www.videolan.org/), two open source video players originally designed for Linux, but that work just swimmingly on Windows. If your video file requires some wacky codec, chances are, one or both of these players support it.


All work and no surfing makes Jack a very dull boy. However, you can forget the bloated train wreck that is Internet Explorer 7. Once again, the Open Source community has you covered.
Yes, there’s Firefox, but have you also heard about Flock? Flock (http://www.flock.com/, pictured in Figure Two) is a new open source browser that uses the same fast page rendering “guts” of Mozilla/ Firefox, but it’s got a number of really cool features such as blog post integration, Yahoo Flickr image hosting integration, spruced up RSS capabilities, and the ability to save your bookmarks on the Internet and to share your bookmarks between all your computers. Flock’s become my browser of choice on both Windows and Linux. Yeah, it works on a Mac, too.
FIGURE TWO: Flock is a new open source browser based on the Firefox rendering engine. (Inset: Laughing at the projected release date for Windows Vista.)

Need to waste some time jabbering with your geeky friends? GAIM (http://gaim.sourceforge.net/win32/index.php) will hook you up with them, no matter what instant messenger network they are on. With GAIM, there’s no more need for multiple messenger clients. If traditional Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is more your style, both XChat (http://xchat.org/windows/) and Kvirc (http://www.kvirc.net/), two of the most popular IRC clients on Linux, now run on Windows as well.
If you don’t want to run iTunes on Windows because its a buggy, bloated mess, but want access to all the cool podcasts on your PC, have a look at the svelte, fast and stable Juice Receiver (http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/). It has access to all the podcast indexes that the cool kids are on, and quite a number that aren’t listed on iTunes at all.
No doubt you’ll also want to download some files. BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com) is the lingua franca of file swapping, and if you really want to leech some serious files, take a look at Azureus (http://www.getazureus.com/), a very full-featured, Java- based BitTorrent client.
If you’re a real geek, you’ll probably want to serve up some content to your buddies. Well, don’t do it with the personal version of IIS that comes with Windows. Go open! XAMPP for Windows (http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp-windows.html) gives you the same robust Apache/PHP5/MySQL environment that you get from Linux servers, running on your personal Windows workstation. And it’s all pre-configured and ready to go, so there’s no futzing around with compiler scripts. You just copy it onto your system and start it up. A web developer couldn’t ask for more. XAMPP is also available for Linux and the Mac.
All this downloading and serving files is probably going to make you a little nervous. Vista has a built-in firewall and spyware deamon in the form of Windows Defender, but it doesn’t come with an anti-virus agent. Why not use the same powerful open source anti-virus technology that protects Linux boxes? CLAMAV for Windows (http://www.clamwin.com/) gives you a GUI-based virus scanner with automatic Internet updating, as well as scheduled virus scanning so you can keep your system free of the nasties. CLAMAV is completely free. It also includes email notification support in the event you want to install the product on a Windows server and you want the administrator to be notified of a detected virus.
Email makes the world go round, but you don’t have to be stuck using Outlook. Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird), part of the Mozilla project, provides a fast and easy to use email client that isn’t subject to Outlook Exploit of the Week. If you need calendaring support as well as support for Microsoft Exchange servers, take a look at Novell Evolution (http://shellter.sourceforge.net/evolution/), which was recently ported to Windows. (See Figure Four.)
FIGURE FOUR: Come together right now! The Novell Evolution collaboration suite.

Need to get to your Windows box remotely? Or perhaps there’s another Windows, Unix, or Mac machine you need to get to? TightVNC (http://www.tightvnc.com) is a multi-platform, fast implementation of the award-winning and much beloved VNC remote access software.

Unix/Linux Interoperability

If you’re reading this publication, you likely want to integrate your Windows desktop nicely with your Linux or Unix environment. There are a number of expensive commercial packages out there that can help, but the Open Source community is no slouch in this department either.
GNU/Win32 (http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages.html) is an absolute treasure trove of Unix and Linux-style command-line utilities for Windows, courtesy of our long-haired friends at the GNU project. Need to un- tar or gzip something? Want to wget your favorite Web site, or grep a text file? GNU/Win32 has got it.
Need to run X- based software on a remote Windows machine? Take a look at X/Ming (http://www.straightrunning.com/XmingNotes/), a small, portable X11R6/X.Org- based X server for Windows. If you need a more complete Unix-like environment for application porting on Windows take a look at Cygwin (http://cygwin.com/) and Cygwin/X (http://x.cygwin.com/).
While not open source per se, Microsoft’s Services For Unix 3.5 (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/interopmigration/unix/sfu/default.mspx) is now free to download and use for both personal and commercial use (it was once marketed for several hundred dollars per copy as the Microsoft Interix product). Like Cygwin, it provides a Unix-like, POSIX application layer for Windows, including the bash shell, command-line utilities, compiler tools, as well as an NFS server/client, and Active Directory NIS integration for Unix and Linux clients.
Not too shabby from the folks in Redmond.

Eschewing baseball cards, Jason Perlow collected URL’s as a kid. His collection, overflowing countless shoeboxes, now numbers in the hundreds of thousands, including such fallen greats as http://www.pathfinder.com, http://www.pets.com, and http://www.pogo.com. Add to Jason’s collection via email at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com.

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