So what software do I use?

Well, I use Microsoft software.

I don't use a lot of Microsoft software anymore, but I do use some of it. Like a lot of people, that's how I got started, and at times I turned to their products when the ones I preferred disappeared. Also, I use a lot of software, for a lot of different things, and some of Microsoft's products are fairly useful, so some of them were bound to show up. After all, no single system is the best answer to everything. So I have several computers (some networked, a few not), each doing different things. Contrary to what Microsoft-certified "system integrators" would lead you to believe, it's not that difficult to get a variety of different machines (in my case including Linux, Windows, Mac, and BeOS) working together well. (I can sit down at any one of them at random and update a web page.) Although Microsoft often ignores computing standards and makes up its own, standards make interoperability relatively easy. Here's a list of them and some of the software they're running:


Main Workstation: Custom-built
(AMD Athlon/700MHz, 512MB RAM, 60GB hard drive) "Hal"
Linux WINE KDE Gnome Mozilla Konqueror Agent OpenOffice.org OpenOffice.org BlueFish Quanta Plus the GIMP GIF Animator
It shouldn't surprise you to see that I run Linux (Red Hat's) on my main workstation. This machine used to run Windows 98, and I kept it that way for quite a while, because I had a lot of Windows (and DOS) software I'd accumulated over a decade or more, and some poorly-chosen peripherals such as a scanner that didn't have Mac drivers. But over the past few years I started using my Linux server (described below) as a second workstation, downloading new programs as I needed them. I that time, the only new software I've bought has been for my Mac (described below). There are several Windows apps I'm fond of (such a Forte Agent and Microsoft GIF Animator) that I was able to get working on Linux, courtesy of WINE. There were a few programs I thought I couldn't live without, but I found substitutes that I'm quite happy with, such as OpenOffice instead of WordPerfect Office, or BlueFish and Quanta (I haven't decided which to settle on) instead of HomeSite. Finally I decided that I could transfer the handful of Windows-only apps I still need over to my laptop (also below) and build the Linux workstation I'd always wanted. It has a lot more stuff loaded on it than the above icons indicate. Because so much Linux software is free, and none of it's really all that large (unlike most Microsoft Windows apps), I was able to install pretty much everything that came with RedHat Linux, plus a lot of additional tools I've collected on my own.

Secondary Workstation: PowerMac
(IBM G5/1.6GHz, 256MB RAM, 80GB hard drive) "Oliver"
Mac OS MS IE BBEdit DreamWeaver Flash Fireworks Freehand PhotoShop Safari Mozilla Opera Camino OmniWeb iCab MS IE AppleWorks OpenOffice.org
There was a time when the only way to run good graphics software was to buy a Mac. Windows finally got good enough for graphics, and the size of that market has lured most major software developers to create Windows versions as well, but most of the really good graphics software is still available for Mac, and usually runs best on them. Especially the screaming 64-bit G5's. I'm fond of several of Macromedia's tools: DreamWeaver, Flash, Freehand, and Fireworks, and of course nothing beats Adobe Photoshop. You might not expect to find a decent text editor on a point-n-click system like a Mac, but BB Edit can make even a DOS geek love it. I'd still use this machine on a regular basis even if I still did most of my Web development on Windows because the Mac OS versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera don't behave quite the same as their Windows counterparts and I need to test my sites with them. Plus there are Mac-only browsers like Safari, Camino OmniWeb and iCab to test. AppleWorks was very inexpensive and is fine for most office-suite uses. I have OpenOffice installed for full compatibility with the other machines I have that use it.

Tertiary Workstation: Toshiba
(Celeron/450MHz, 64MB RAM, 10GB hard drive) "Barry"
Windows 98 LitePC Mozilla Kmeleon WordPerfect WordPerfect OpenOffice.org OpenOffice.org Access Agent PaintShop HomeSite DreamWeaver Flash Fireworks Freehand GIF Animator
This is one of two remaining machines I use MS Windows on. I've used 98Lite to disable the integration of Internet Explorer with the rest of the OS, since that only slows the machine down. I use the free Firefox and Kmeleon browsers instead. I still use Microsoft Access for a few things because it was the best database programming software for Windows when I started doing some serious application development of that kind. But I haven't upgraded it, partly because the "upgraded" versions would've required that I overhaul the programs I was developing, partly because I couldn't afford it, and partly because I'd decided to stop giving money to Microsoft by then. The rest of the software choices pretty much speak for themselves: WordPerfect for word processing, Quattro for spreadsheets, Agent for news and mail, PhotoShop and Paint Shop for image editing, Freehand for drawing, and HomeSite, Flash, and DreamWeaver for web site development. My single favourite piece of Microsoft software is GIF Animator, which was offered as a free download. It does the job simply and efficiently, works well as a companion to any graphics program, and gives the user direct control over everything it does with a minimum of bells and whistles... in other words, it's the antithesis of most Microsoft programs.

Laptop: iBook
(Motorola G3/500MHz, 128MB RAM, 10GB hard drive) "Bruce"
Mac OS Safari Camino Thunderbird BBEdit AppleWorks OpenOffice.org
Although my Windows machine is a laptop, the LCD's dying on it, so I have to keep it tethered to an external monitor. My "real" laptop is a older 12" iBook, which runs the latest version of Mac OS X quite well. AppleWorks was very inexpensive and is fine for most office-suite uses. I have OpenOffice for OS X with X11 installed on this machine, so I can open OO-format files from my other machines, but it's still on version 1.0, which takes a rather long time to load on a machine this slow, so I still use AppleWorks for speed.

Palmheld: Psion Revo sold by Diamond as the "Mako" in the U.S.
(ARM710/36MHz, 8MB RAM+storage) "Ray"
Symbian OS Opera
I've had a Psion palmheld of one model or another in my pocket since the early 1990's, replacing them mostly when the hardware has broken. There's a lot of third-party software available for them, but aside from a shareware utility for automating keystrokes, I use only the software that's built in, which includes an excellent program for managing my schedule and to-do list, an overpowered word processor, a spreadsheet, a simple database, and a one-person strategy game called Cascade. It also includes a autodialing interface to many mobile phones, a standard e-mail client, and the Opera web browser. They don't make this unit anymore; when it breaks I'll probably buy a Nokia 9210 phone which runs a newer version of the same software.

Server: Gateway GP6-333c (heavily upgraded)
(AMD Athlon/XP2000+, 768MB RAM, 120GB hard drive) "Diana"
Linux KDE Gnome Apache Samba DNews PostFix SquirrelMail BIND Movable Type MySQL PHP Perl Python Lynx Mozilla Konqueror Mailman OpenOffice.org
My server is on all the time, and has to do a lot of things, all at the same time. Linux was an obvious choice of operating system for that (I'm using Mandrake's), though one of the BSD unixes would probably serve just as well. A graphical user interface isn't strictly needed (and for a long time I didn't have one installed), but for convenience I've installed the KDE and Gnome desktop environments, which are both very similar to the Windows interface. It runs the Apache web server, and just served this very page up to you. It's also running several other web sites on other domain names, including a few of my own and some I'm hosting for clients. (If this were all it was doing, an old 486 would be all I'd need; Linux is that efficient.) I use Samba to provide shared storage for the rest of the computers in my home/office. The server runs DNews as a Usenet Newsgroup server; there are free news servers available, but DNews is worth paying for due to its flexibility and ability to work with limited storage space. PostFix is my mail server, providing enough compatibility with SendMail, but with more security and ease of administration. I've added SquirrelMail to provide a web-based interface to e-mail, for myself when away and for my site-hosting clients. BIND is my domain-name server, mostly because I want to stay on top of the "standard" (however troublesome). I use Lynx to see how my web sites look to a text-only browser... not that there are many out there, but it's a good check of how robust your web site is. I usually use Konqueror when I sit down at this machine for browsing. MySQL is the database I'm using for some web-pubishing projects, using PHP and Perl to script them. Python is there to support some of the other systems I have running. I'm using the open-source Mailman for the mailing lists I maintain. Not that I do a lot of office-type work on it, but OpenOffice is there for when I want it.

Emergency Backup Server: PC's Limited Turbo PC*
(Intel Pentium 150MHz CPU, 96MB RAM, 4GB (total) hard drives) "Snapper"
Linux Apache Samba SendMail BIND
This server is my emergency spare. As such, it's configured with all the essential server software and data from the main server, for those occasions when I need to take that server off-line (planned or not). It uses SendMail instead of PostFix for two reasons: 1) that's what I was using back when I built this box, and 2) I've found it handy to "switch" mail transports on occasions when I'm experiencing a spam attack which bypasses the defences of the one I've been using. Of course I left off the graphical interface and all the "workstation"-type software that I installed on the main server (because I could).
* Although most of the components (i.e. everything except the case and the power supply) have been replaced with upgraded components (sometimes twice or three times over), this machine began its life as an 8MHz 8088 IBM PC-XT clone I bought by mail order from a guy my age named Michael Dell. At the time he was doing business as "PC's Limited"; the company is now known as "Dell Computer Corporation". Can I pick 'em, or what?

Emergency Backup Server: no-name home built
(Intel Celeron 333MHz CPU, 128MB RAM, 60GB hard drive) "Reddy"
FreeBSD Apache Samba Postfix BIND
I haven't actually assembled and installed this one yet, but it's going to replace Snapper as my emergency spare. I'm going to install FreeBSD on it, to get some first-hand familiarity with Linux's older, not-as-popular cousin.

Toy Server: Apple Macintosh Quadra 630*
(Motorola 68040 33MHz CPU, 20MB RAM, 250MB hard drives) "Dinah"
Mac OS MacHTTP iCab WordPerfect
I set this one up mostly for the challenge of pulling it off. When this machine was new the idea of putting personal computers directly on the internet with TCP/IP was still pretty new (Windows required third-party software for it), and running one of them as a web server was considered rather ambitious. It's a pre-PowerPC Mac running System 7.5.5, with the latest versions of MacHTTP and iCab, which run... OK... on a machine with this little horsepower.

Multimedia Station: no-name home built
(Pentium/200MHz , 64MB RAM, 4GB hard drive) "Katar"
BeOS NetPositive BeMail Be MediaPlayer Robin Hood
I'd been wanting to play around a bit with multimedia on a computer, just to see what I can do with it. A friend gave me an adequately-powered PC (in lieu of actually repaying money that he owed me), and since BeOS Personal Edition is available for free, I decided to give it a try. It's a wonderful OS, so I can see why the folks behind the OpenBeOS project are trying to keep it going, and I'm eager to try Zeta. The NetPositive browser, BeMail, Be Media Player, and Robin Hood web server are all capable software.

Firewall: Dell Netplex 433/P
(Intel 486DX/33MHz CPU, 16MB RAM, 1.44MB diskette drive) "Arthur"
Linux Coyote Linux
This is an old machine (selected from the scrap pile as much for the low-profile case as the CPU inside) running Coyote Linux, a specialised version of Linux that fits on a single floppy diskette, designed to serve as a router, connecting my local network to the internet (over a Symmetric DSL line). Using IPchains, it also acts as a firewall, allowing only certain kinds of traffic in to my network, and routing them all to the appropriate place (e.g. the web server or mail server).

Video Recorder: Philips HDR112
(PowerPC/54MHz, 16MB RAM, 13GB hard drive) "Ralph"
Linux TiVo
The Sony and Philips TiVo systems are a good example of the pervasiveness and potential usefulness of computers in our everyday lives, since inside the box is really a computer built using a lot of fairly standard components (and some proprietary stuff). They're also a testament to the value of open-source software like Linux, which makes it possible. The TiVo's modest PowerPC processor runs LinuxPPC (a distribution of Linux compiled for the CPU used in Mac computers), using an MPEG2 encoder chip to record TV shows, off-the-shelf high-capacity hard drives to store them, and an old-fashioned modem to call in for program updates. Thanks to tools and instructions created through the ingenuity of various hackers out there, it's possible to add more storage space to these machines, network interfaces, etc.

Notebook: TRS-80 Model 100
(Intel 80C85/3MHz, 32KB RAM) "John"
TRS-80 model 100
When I need a machine to take along somewhere just to type on, I grab my trusty TRS-80. The TRS-80 Model 100 (affectionately known today as the "Model T") was the first laptop and the first genuinely portable computer, about the size, shape, and weight of a ream of notebook paper. It's a completely archaic machine (yes, that's only three MHz, and 32KB of RAM) and the LCD is charmingly low-res, but the built-in text processor is fine for getting thoughts into digital form, and the keyboard is better than you'll find on many state-of-the-art laptops. Plus, the standard "AA" batteries last for ages. It comes with Microsoft BASIC installed, written by Bill Gates back when he knew how to write small, reliable programs. (There are also modern equivalents of the Model 100, including the AlphaSmart and QuickPad.)

Notebook: Poqet PC
(Intel 80C88/8MHz, 512KB RAM) "Zatanna"
DOS
When size is more important than typing speed, or I want a full-screen editor, I grab my Poqet PC. It's about a decade newer than the TRS-80, and squeezes a standard IBM-PC running DOS 3.3 into an AA-powered package slightly larger than a VHS cassette, with slots that accept PCMCIA SRAM cards. I'm keeping my eyes open for the WordPerfect 5.1 and 1-2-3 r2.2 cards that were available for it.

Test Workstation: Compaq Presario 2266
(Cyrix 686/266MHz CPU, 160MB RAM, 6GB hard drive) "Clark"
Win98 MS IE MS Outlook MS Media Player MS Word MS Excel MS Publisher MS FrontPage
I use this machine for two purposes: To test web sites and other things I develop, to make sure they work properly for people who do use all the usual Microsoft software; and to remind myself periodically what I'm "missing" by avoiding that stuff (e.g. crashes, hourglasses, etc). So it's loaded with stuff like Windows ME, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Word 2000, Excel 2000, Publisher 2000, FrontPage, etc. (all of which were either free downloads, or were bundled in with the price of the hardware, against my wishes). I take precautions with it though. I keep current on the steady stream of security fixes that Microsoft has to produce for Windows. And I keep the Outlook address book empty, so that I don't pass along any viruses, worms, and trojans designed to take advantage of its security holes. I've considered installing Windows XP and/or Office XP, to keep this machine "current" with the rest of the Windows-dependent world, but decided that it's not worth bothering, since it drags like a rock on anything less than a GigaHertz CPU. This system is connected to the internet through a 56Kbps modem rather than the ethernet-and-DSL connections of the others, both for further security and also to check how the sites I build behave at standard dial-up speeds.
If you can tell where I got the "nicknames" for all these machines, give yourself a prize. If you know, it's obvious, so if you're not sure, you don't know. There's no real significance to which machine has which name.

intro page | about me

All logos and product names are trademarks of their respective developers or distributors.
This site is in no way affiliated with Microsoft Corporation
© 1999-2008, Rzero.