Living Without Microsoft: A Guide for Windows Users
So, just how does one live without Microsoft? The Redmond giant’s software seems to have such a level of ubiquity that such an aim might appear impossible. Only, it isn’t. It’s actually rather easy – especially if you have a broadband internet connection and an a willingness to try.
This guide is written with personal use of computers in mind. Much of the following advice is good for businesses too – but the arguments are different. We’ll list every thing you might want to do on your Windows PC, and show you how you can do it without touching MS software.
The other great thing about non-MS software is that it is often not only cheaper than Microsoft’s, but is actually free. You can assume that all the products listed here can be obtained for nothing by downloading them from the web, perfectly legally – unless otherwise mentioned.
This is the first thing to switch. Not only is the current incarnation of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer very dated in terms of features, it’s also dangerous- in the sense that it has a lot of security holes, and is more vulnerable to viruses and malicious software than other browsers . The main alternative is the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox, a lightweight browser which is both more secure and easy to use than IE. Other options include Opera, Netscape, and other Mozilla browsers Seamonkey and Mozilla itself. It’s best to avoid the likes of Avant, which is basically IE in disguise.
Some people complain that they can’t use certain websites with Firefox, such as internet banking and some e-commerce sites. To address that problem you can download a plug-in for Firefox that allows you to open sites the same way that IE does.
Like Internet Explorer, every Windows user gets a copy of Outlook Express to read their emails. We suggest you avoid using Outlook — for security reasons. Instead, switch to another Mozilla Open Source program - Thunderbird. Similarly to Firefox, Thunderbird is small and lightweight as well as very user friendly. Other alternatives include Eudora, Mozilla Mail, Seamonkey Mail and The Bat! which you have to pay for.
After web browsing and email, the next application you are likely to want is a word processor. OpenOffice.org is a complete office suite, which offers a word processor that can both open and save MS Word files, as well as offering most features a home user is likely to ever need. Another option, and again a free one, is the stand alone application AbiWord.
Or you could try going online for your word processing too, with one of Writely, ajaxWriter or Zoho Writer. These are word-processing programs that you use though your web browser, and offer reasonable functionality if you have a broadband connection.
IM is a great way of staying in contact with your friends and family. Often the choice of software you use is dominated by what your contacts use. So how can you get out of using MSN Messenger? Easy. With Gaim or Trillian, you can not only chat with your MSN based buddies, but also with people on any of the other networks too. All in one application.
There is a web alternative here as well – Meebo.
Photo Handling and Editing
Microsoft isn’t as famous for this as other companies, like Adobe for example, and these applications traditionally have high price tags. Explorer does have a built in image viewer that allows you to edit photos in small ways. But you don’t have to spend mega-bucks to have a fully featured graphics editor. One to start with is Google’s Picasa, a free download that makes it easy to organise and print your photos, meaning you never have to touch the ‘My Pictures’ folder ever again. You can also crop, rotate and remove red-eye from photos, amongst other effects.
For a more involved approach to photo and graphic editing, an Open Source program called The Gimp offers a range off features comparable with programs such as Photoshop do. What’s most astonishing is that The Gimp is free of charge, too.
Why use Microsoft’s mediocre Media Player to play your CDs and MP3s when Apple’s free ITunes is available? Quicktime, installed along with ITunes is also a good player of video files. Realplayer can also play videos, music, and DVDs, as well as online content.
Microsoft was pretty proud of itself when it released its anti-spyware package for free. Others got there first, though, and so Spybot Search and Destroy and Adaware are two packages it really would be a good idea to download and keep up-to-date. Even with a reasonably secure browser like Firefox, the odd gremlin can still sneak through, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of it.
Powerpoint is almost synonymous with presentations these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way – OpenOffice.org’s Impress can do most of what Powerpoint can do, and is free. It can also read PowerPoint files and do some things that the Microsoft program can’t — like export presentations as Flash movies.
It’s also possible to replace some of Windows’ functions with non-Microsoft alternatives. For example, you can replace the file search tool with a full desktop search, such as that offered by Copernic or Google. Notepad is a pretty handy little text editor, and many of the replacements on offer are bloated and slow in comparison. The same can’t be said of Metapad, which adds some much needed features, like a toolbar and a removal of the file size limit, while retaining the speed of the original. Lastly, the Windows file manager, Explorer, can be replaced with Xplorer 2 Lite - which offers dual panes, making the copying and moving of files far easier, and tabbed browsing of directories.
If you have any comments or suggestions for software we could have mentioned, please leave them in the comments of this feature’s blog post. Thanks!