December 17, 2004

My workstation OS: Windows XP Professional

Author: Mark Carter

The platform I currently use daily is Windows XP Professional. Now, before you burn me at the stake for heresy, let me illustrate why it works so well for me, an avid user of open source software.Hardware support

Quite simply, any hardware I choose to use works with Windows XP. In particular, I use dial-up Internet, and have no problem getting my modem to work. The Linux world, in comparison, seems to be in denial that dial-up exists anymore. Most modems aren't supported out of the box, and the whole infrastructure of system updates and such assumes high-speed access.

Software installation

With Windows, to install something, I download a single .EXE file and double-click on it. With Linux, I have to determine what type of package my distribution uses, make sure I have the right package for the particular version of the distribution and kernel, find a source for the package, hope there are no dependencies that also need to be downloaded ... in short, a usability nightmare.

Free software

Given these advantages of Windows XP, I find it to be an ideal platform for running open source applications. Apart from the operating system, pretty much everything else I use is free and/or open source. Because of the cross-platform nature of most open source projects, there's no shortage of free software for Windows. As a bonus, if I should ever switch full-time to Linux, I can keep using all my favourite software:

Word processing and office programs: I use OpenOffice.org primarily, and also AbiWord (which has a very clean interface, and actually works on my old 16MB RAM laptop).

Instant messaging: Miranda IM supports Jabber, ICQ, MSN, IRC, and a host of other protocols through plug-ins. It's even got a GnuPG plug-in for secure messaging.

MP3 player: CoolPlayer. Plays just about anything.

Browser: Mozilla Firefox, of course. Some of the extensions are so indispensable (DictionarySearch, Plain Text Links, Mouse Gestures, UndoCloseTab, SessionSaver) that they really should be built-in features.

E-mail: Mozilla Thunderbird. How did I ever manage without spam filtering?

Other software worth mentioning: 7-Zip, AxCrypt, GnuPG, PuTTY, VNC, PDFCreator.

In short, a lot of open source software is available for the XP platform. Given the ease of software installation, flawless hardware support, and general ease of use, I find I can't resist Windows XP Professional. I'm past the point where I consider computers a hobby. I don't have time to play with tweaking configurations -- I just need things to work without hassle. Windows XP and free software are the right mix for me.

Mark Carter is an elementary school teacher who lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

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