Making Windows Usable

A Sad Tale of a Lonely Hacker


Please note, this document is severely outdated and has not been tested since WinXP era. It is only preserved here for historical purposes (someone might feel bad if their google* searches returned non-existent pages).

(*) For the truly non-conforming, replace the word "google" with a search engine of your choice.

1.0 The Beginning

After a considerably long period of using UNIX® systems, I found a regular Windows PC really irritating to use, not to mention administrate. Here's what I've done to self-medicate high blood pressure.

I'm starting with an older IBM laptop running Windows 2000. Assuming that you're not willingly running Windows (ie. your IT department has already installed and "configured" it for you), I won't go into details of securing Windows. Instead, I will walk through installation and configuration of software to make your Windows installation feel more comfortable for a UNIX user.

If you really cannot stand Windows, by far the best technique I have discovered is to use VirtuaWin (see sect. 1.3 below), make a nice tittie pic the background and always keep one virtual desktop clear of any programs - in case of aggravation, switch to staring tits for a while. I know it sounds a bit silly and childish, but it Just Works. Titties rule.

1.1 Connectivity

Quickest cure is to download a free SSH client for Win32, Putty. Download the latest binary here, and place it under c:\unixutils. Then edit your %PATH environment variable to point to c:\unixutils (My Computer-Properties-Advanced). You can either change the system path variable to make changes for all users, or create/edit user specific variable.

Hint: Windows uses "%" as a prefix for environment variables, and ";" as a delimiter for variable values.

You can also download the pscp.exe for secure file copying. By default, Putty uses right mouse button for paste, which is rather irritating. To fix this, open Putty, under "Window" pick "Selection", and choose "xterm" for the type of preferred mouse behaviour.

There is also a command-line port of OpenSSH available for windows from here, comes with an installer utility.

1.2 Editing

There are Win32 versions available of both Vim and Emacs. You can download an installer for Vim 6.3 here. Vim includes both a graphical version and a command-line editor. Emacs is a bit trickier, since it doesn't come with an installer. First, download the Emacs 21.3 tarball here and extract the files to c:\unixutils. Then add Emacs binary directory to your %PATH.

1.3 GUI

You need to download a separate tool for editing some "hidden" features of Windows, such as changing focus type. Fortunately, Microsoft supplies these tools, although they are unsupported. Here is the pre-XP version. Download and extract it to a temporary directory, then right-click the tweakui.inf file and choose "install". Now you have a new icon in your Control Panel, by far the most useful tweak is the "X-Mouse" extension (focus follows mouse). Many will also find the "Paranoia" tab interesting.

For those who like virtual desktops, there are a lot of alternatives for Windows, most of which are not really usable. However, VirtuaWin is great!

1.4 Shell

Time to find a usable shell to replace the hideous monster called cmd.exe. Luckily enough, there is an old port of Zsh for Windows. Download here and extract to c:\unixutils. Start it up and see what is your homedir:

C:/Documents and Settings/Administrator

This is where you will want to put your .zshrc file. If you're not a zsh user, here's an example file:

export PROMPT="%m:%B%4.b> "
alias ls="ls -F"
setopt autolist
setopt automenu
setopt nobeep
setopt nohup

To make effective use of your newly installed shell, you should also install some useful tools. Unxutils is a collection of GNU tools for Win32. Download the latest archive, and extract to a temp directory. Then copy all files under bin/ and usr/local/wbin/ to c:\unixutils. You can also try the sh.exe shell shipped with Unxutils, which appears to be a version of the zsh port.