Zen By Any Other Name

web zen. Just so.

Less is More

or, Geek Essentials for a Lightweight Windows Laptop

OK. I finally caved in and removed RedHat from my Toshiba. I just got fed up with the rdesktop bugs, X server lockups, power management issues and odd wireless card problems (plus the fact that none of the Office alternatives for Linux is good enough for my needs). So I trashed the disk (sadly including my own customized build of Straw) and went with XP.

Yeah, I know, I have an iBook. Why Windows at all, you ask?

Three things:

  • It's not the operating system, it's what you do with it. "Less is More" can apply to any OS, provided you know what you're doing.
  • I work in a real company, in the real world (currently on a big, complex and utterly time-consuming project) and I need Office and Outlook to get my big bad corporate e-mail (with all the VPN and compatibility hassles that entails)
  • I'm going on holiday sometime soon to uncertain places, and I need to take a "disposable" laptop with me that will talk to my digital cameras without the least hassle. No editing fstab for USB disks. No fiddling with /etc/modules.conf to connect via Bluetooth. No PPP wierdness. No finicky thumbnail viewers. XP just works for that, period.

Sure, it's not Mac OS X. But if I can't have OpenStep with 21st century driver support, then I'll take XP.

After the endless downloading, patching and .NETness of setting up XP, here's what I ended up installing:

  • Mozilla Firebird for most of my browsing. It feels a lot like Applications/Safari, is blindingly fast, and it has tabs. I just can't live without tabs anymore, even though IE 6.0 SP1 is more than good enough and includes more plugins.
  • The RSS Reader Extension: Simple. Fast. Minimalistic
  • AdShield to block popups and other junk when I do use IE. It's still free and it's the best anti-popup software by far.
  • The latest Mozilla Thunderbird alpha for most of my e-mail (it supports IMAP over SSL properly, has built-in anti-spam and a very neat Outlook 2003-like vertical preview pane. I'm sold.)
  • Trillian for instant messaging.
  • And, of course, Office XP with a minimal feature set.

Next, development tools:

And finally, minimal eyecandy:

  • Flat gray wallpaper
  • The UxTheme Patcher to remove the hideous XP Luna theme and install the much leaner, neater Watercolor theme instead:

  • Samurize for a minimalistic, taskbar-embedded system monitor.
  • PowerMenu for changing window transparency and task priority.
  • Y'z Shadow for Mac OS X-like window drop shadows.

It's usable. It works. It's fast (much faster than Linux on the same hardware, and the battery lasts longer).

Nevertheless, I've cast it aside and am back at my iBook - I've got serious work to do, and Windows keeps getting in the way :)