The blog of David Wickes, software developer

Surviving Windows

I’ve worked within Windows and Microsoft OSs for… well, most of my computing life now I think about it. I’m pretty sure that most people are the same. And like most people I’ve always had my little moans about it. Too many to mention.

This has come to a head since I [switched to Linux][LinuxSwitch] a few months ago. Not that Linux (Ubuntu in my case) doesn’t have it’s own long list of problems, but they all feel more like problems I should be fixing myself - rather than things I’ll just moan about and put up with. Yes, Ubuntu (and the Unity desktop specfically) has ‘spoiled’ me. I’d rather be working in that environment than any earlier version of Windows. Woo-hoo. Hear the whoop from camp Linux, joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, etc etc usw.

But there’s still so much of my life that has to be done in Windows. Work spreadsheet has VBA macros? Work machine in Vista? Netflix requires Silverlight? It’s inevitable.

So instead of moaning I’ve been trying to fix Windows to make it usable like I want it to be. And I think I’ve found some good options. The first thing to note is that I’ve been so used to putting up with Windows that I was under the impression that there was very little that could be done to it. Lay that thought to rest - there’s hundreds of hacks, options, fixes, and bits of software we can use to make Window’s a happier place to be. Or, if not actively happy, then at least survivable…

Winsplit Revolution

OK, not the greatest name. What I missed most about Ubuntu when stuck on Vista was the way I could throw windows around the desktop using the numpad. This feauture is neatly emulated with Winsplit Revolution, which is small and, well, works. You can customize the shortcuts too. (Looks like the original website is no longer around so I’ve linked to the CNET page).

Put the taskbar on the side

Oh this sounds dumb I know, but nobody even thinks of doing it on Windows because it’s a change. Totally inspired by the Unity set up, it just makes more sense. If most of what I’m doing involves reading down a page on the screen - code, text, etc - then I really want optimize the vertical space on the screen. So slam the taskbar to the side and get yourself a couple of centimeters for free. If you were going to try one new thing this week make it this.


All that Vim goodness - now on your Windows. And you can use the same config files. And you can set the config depending on the environment (Windows, Linux, OSX). And you could save all those files onto Dropbox, make symlinks to them… OK - too far. But get GVim for Windows.


I’ll write something about the what effect of removing the caps lock button from my keyboard has been (no, not physically) at a later date. But for fun keyboard hacks like this and more I’ve been enjoying Autohotkey, which has its own simple scripting language to allow you to remap and rewite your keyboard to your hearts content.

Get GNUy

I’ve tried Cygwin before - part of working using a Linux only font tool. But I found it… big. Powerful, yes - but big. So big I didn’t use it. Second time around I’ve been using Gow - which brings all the *nix-y command line goodness to your cmd shell in Windows.


Missing apt-get or similar package management utilities on Windows? Chocolatey to the rescue. Install Git! Install Node! Install everything listed above and more, and get them all updated from the command line. It’s brilliant.

Ah, that’s it for now. All I’d finish off by saying is that the only thing holding me back from improving my experience of Windows was… ignorance. And indolence. GNU/Linux makes you change things to fit the way you work, and as soon as you’ve learned how to do that it’s easier to avoide complacence with other OSes. . A good lesson.