As I’ve said previously, I’m a big fan of Microsoft products (most of them at least). Inspired by Paul Thurrott’s What I Use article, I would like to take this opportunity to disclose the full extent of my love for Microsoft software. The following is a list of all the computer hard- and software I currently use, most of which is, as you will see, made in Redmond.
My primary machine is a 2006 LG M1-3DGAG laptop with a 1.67 GHz Core Duo processor and 2.5 GB of memory running Windows 7 Ultimate. I also keep my previous laptop around, a 2001 Gericom Webboy (I hate that name) with a 1Ghz Pentium III processor and 256 MB of memory running Windows ME. The region code on this machine’s DVD drive is set to 1, so I can watch US DVDs on it, even though the fan running at a perceived 120 decibels doesn’t make this as enjoyable as it could be. I still have our 1996 Vobis desktop computer with a 120 Mhz Pentium processor and 56 MB of RAM, and a 1.2 GB hard drive running Windows 95. Historical note: This is the first computer my parents bought for our family back in April 1996 and even though I don’t actively use it anymore, I do turn it on every now and then and I must say it still runs like a charm. My employer has supplied me with a Lenovo R61 running Windows XP Professional which I use for working from home on occasion. As I participated in the Give One Get One program of One Laptop Per Child, I also have an OLPC XO-1 laptop. I recently bought an Acer H340 easyStore home server with a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, 2 GB of memory and 3 TB of storage running Windows Home Server. Finally, I should probably include my cell phone an HTC S710 smartphone running Windows Mobile 6.0 in this category.
The list of other gadgets that aren’t technically computers but still kind of belong in this article currently comprises the following: the Wintec WSG-1000 GPS logger and the Samsung S1070 digital camera (which to this day has not seen any serious action) and my graphing calculator, a Texas Instrument TI-89 which runs a computer algebra system and can also be hooked up to and synced with a PC.
I realized some time ago that as I was moving to the latest version of the Windows operating system whenever a new version came out, a lot of licenses where lying around unused. So I decided to use Microsoft’s Virtual PC (originally the 2004 version, now 2007) to set up virtual machines to install my old copies of Windows in. Over the years my collection of virtual machines has grown, so now I have one for every version of Windows that I have every worked with, which means pretty much everything since Windows 95. Here’s the complete list:
- Windows 95 (including the PLUS! add-on)
- Windows NT 4.0 Workstation
- Windows 98 Second Edition
- Windows ME
- Windows 2000
- Windows XP Home Edition
- Windows XP Professional
- Windows Server 2003*
- Windows Vista Beta 1*
- Windows Vista Beta 2*
- Windows Vista Business
- Windows 7 Release Candidate*
*These are pre-release or evaluation versions.
I’m still looking to add Windows 3.1 to that list, so if you have a copy you don’t need, let me know.
The one piece of software I find truly indispensable is Microsoft Outlook 2007. I use it for email, reading RSS feeds, contacts and calendaring. As it syncs this data with my phone, Google Mail and Google Calendar it is the one application holding it my life together.
Also high on the list of applications I frequently use is Microsoft Office 2007, most notably Microsoft Excel 2007. Excel is at least in my mind the premier member of the Office suite and probably the one application that alternative office suites such as Open Office and Apple’s iWork have the hardest time catching up with. I use it primarily to keep track of my finances, the process of which I have automated with a few VBA macros. Since graduating from university I no longer use Word, PowerPoint and OneNote as frequently as I once used to, although I should mention that did write my thesis of 100+ pages in Word 2007 and did so without any loss of data ever. While still a student I’ve also obtained licenses to Microsoft Access, InfoPath, Project and Visio via MSDN Academic Alliance.
As it came with my first laptop, I’ve tried out Microsoft Works 2001, although I must say it it laughable and I would always recommend going for the real deal, the full Microsoft Office suite. Also on that laptop as Microsoft Encarta, which was a great multimedia encyclopedia at the time, but is no longer a match for Wikipedia which I now literally use every day.
Internet and Digital Media
I use Windows Media Player 12 as my primary media player, mostly because it feels the most natural thing to use on Windows, as I like how it fits in well with the rest of the Windows ecosystem and I value consistency above everything else. Plus, it syncs great with my Windows Mobile phone. Even though it feels like a foreign body on Windows, I also keep Quicktime around, if only to watch trailers on apple.com. As some websites require it, I also have Real Player installed, even though I hate using it and have yet to meet someone who actually likes this product. When I buy music – which doesn’t happen that often – I use the excellent Amazon MP3 service.
For web browsing I use the latest version of Firefox and have done so since before its 1.0 release. This is a great piece of software and I’ve come to rely on a bunch of extensions that offer functionality one simply doesn’t find in any other browser that’s out there.
I use Skype for instant messaging and internet telephony.
From Microsoft’s Windows Live suite of applications I only use Windows Live Writer to write this blog and Windows Live Photo Gallery to organize my photos. I’ve also kept Windows Live Movie Maker around, ever since it first appeared as Windows Movie Maker in Windows ME, although I don’t really have any video to edit.
For my very occasional photo editing needs I’ve purchased Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 and plan on upgrading to the latest version soon.
As I program a lot during my day job, I no longer do that much programming on the side. Nonetheless, I keep one install of Delphi 2007 Professional on my main machine, with the older Delphi versions 7, 8, 2005 and 2006 also sitting on the shelf.
I would also place the aforementioned Virtual PC 2007 into this category as it is a great means to try out one’s software on different versions of an operating system with the ability to undo all changes afterward and start over with a fresh install every time. While I also got a license for Virtual Server 2005 via MSDN Academic Alliance, I don’t think I have ever installed it. Also in this category is another great tool, ImgBurn, which I used for creating install disks or ISO images that can be mounted as disks in a virtual machine. Of the other dozen or so little utilities in this category I will only mention Inno Setup as it is a great tool to create custom installers for one’s applications.
Recently, I’ve also installed Microsoft Visual C# 2008 Express Edition to tech myself a new programming language. Also via MSDN Academic Alliance I have gotten my hands on Visual Studio Professional 2005 and Expression Blend and Expression Web which I have played around with for a while but never seriously used.
The only security software I use in addition to the firewall built into Windows is BitDefender Antivirus. I also use WinRAR for file archiving and Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files. For hard drive partitioning and imaging I’ve been using Acronis Disc Director and TrueImage, respectively, even though my backup needs have been taken care of by Windows Home Server ever since I got my server earlier this year.
In order to read and edit the data collected by the GPS logger mentioned above I use TimeMachineX which has a great feature set hidden behind a half-decent user interface.
The remainder of this category could be summarized as “everything from Sysinternals (now part of Microsoft)”, e.g. Process Explorer, a tool similar to Task Manager but a hundred times more powerful, Autoruns, to manage which applications, services etc. should be allowed to start when the system starts, TCP View, to monitor what applications listen on what ports or open connections to the outside word.