In my work I often need to use a mandatory Windows computer. I would rather use a Linux environment but there are some tools I can install to help my workflow. I wrote an article for Opensource.com on the topic and you can read about 6 open source tools I use on my Windows machine.
Update April 2023: As opensource.com will go into archive mode with an uncertain future, I have also included the full article below.
In most of the places I have worked there has been a centralized computer and application standard that was more or less mandatory for all employees. There are benefits of such an environment, which I will not go into in this piece, but for me, as an open source and Linux enthusiast, I try to use the tools I’m used to and like.
So, I immediately install my favorite applications when I receive a new standardized Windows-based work computer, something I have been lucky enough to be allowed to do.
The first application I install is Vim. I can’t live without it on any computer. I have tried other editors and word processors but nothing can compete with Vim. I tried using Microsoft OneNote but was not happy with the interface and the huge files it created. I transferred all my notes, more than 800MB, into Markdown files. All Markdown files, including pictures, occupied less than 800KB of storage. I call that a win. If all 14,000 users at my former workplace would do the same, we would have been able to save a lot of space and investment in storage. The Markdown files are also portable to all platforms and can easily be converted into other formats if needed.
Next up is Pandoc, which converts my Markdown notes into other formats, such as Microsoft Word or PDF. To convert to PDF, you will also need a LaTeX document preparation engine, which is next in line.
MikTex is a LaTeX editor. I don’t use it as an editor that much, but I need the LaTeX engine mentioned previously to be able to convert files into PDF files through Pandoc.
Coming from a Linux environment I miss having multiple workspaces. Usually the companies I have worked for used Microsoft Windows 7 as the standard OS, which has no support for workspaces. VirtuaWin to the rescue! After installation, you need to make some configurations for keyboard shortcuts, but after that, you’re up and switching between workspaces in no time.
After working in IT business and for several years focusing on security I’m a big fan of complicated passwords. There are many reasons to use a password manager, and I prefer KeePass because I have used it for years and it works on all my different platforms. KeePassX is another great alternative.
There are ways to do simple changes or edits to pictures in Windows, but to me, the easiest way is to fire up GIMP. It’s suitable for small fixes up to major photo or picture editing. It is very powerful but still easy to understand, and it does simple things as well.
An evolving favorites list #
The best tools for office suites depend on the type of templates you’re supposed to use and if you need to collaborate with colleagues using the same files. I used LibreOffice for years when I could create my own templates that follow the company’s graphics profile, but when I collaborated with colleagues who were using Microsoft Word it just never worked out well with type settings and it made weird automatic changes to the layout.
The one application I have not been able to find any substitute for, which prevents me from going all open source, is Skype for Business. It is often a company-wide solution for chat, audio, and video conferences, and it is still hard to find an open source alternative. If you have a solution, let me know in the comments.
What are your favorite open source applications, solutions, and tricks for your closed desktop?