Windows Explorer hasn't always been the most feature-packed of elements inside Microsoft's operating systems. Yet, oddly, it's probably the one part of your Windows version that you use most frequently. But that's not to say that everything is Microsoft's fault. We're often so quick to blame the software giant for what's more a lack of future-proofing than outright failure. In this case, Windows Explorer can't predict what's going to be the next big thing--it can't know that you'll want your photographs easily updated to Maximum Photos someday; it has no idea that you might somehow need to paste a direct link to a file instead of its name or containing folder.
Windows Explorer is, in a word, dumb.
But that's not what we're here to talk about. We're not going to sit around a table and lament about all the features Windows Explorer could have were you one, Bill Gates, and had access to an engineer, or two, or twenty thousand. We're going to go over all the unique little elements that you can build into Windows Explorer right this darn second. I can think of five off the top of my head that are useful additions to your standard interactions with your operating system. They're free, they're awesome, and they're yours for the taking after the jump!
Whenever you want to download a file in Firefox, you get a little gremlin tagging along for the ride. He's a helpful little monster, and his eerie resemblance to a common "download window" allows you to quickly see the status of, pause, and cancel your file transfers as you see fit. Easy as cake! Simple as can be! Insert more similes here! Seriously, how could one really improve a pop-up window whose sole purpose is to tell you how much time you have left on your download, only to scurry away into your browser's back pocket once the file is done?
I just gave you a clue. But this isn't a Sherlock Holmes mystery, so I'll jump straight to the big spoiler. Your download window in Firefox doesn't have to be a pop-up element that rests overtop your browser. In fact, this can be kind of annoying. Given that Firefox is all about the tabbed browsing, it makes much more sense to pull the download window out of the airspace and chain it to its own individual page amongst your plethora of open tabs. You can't do this via Firefox natively, and that's where this week's Firefox Addon of the Week comes into play.
I feel as if we just crossed this path the other day. But that's okay. On the grand scale of "pony-themed games" to "extremely useful freeware applications," automatic application installers--or package mangers--tend to fall toward the latter end of the spectrum.
I wouldn't be broaching this topic so close to a previous, similar roundup were it not critically important for you to check out some of the apps that I've recently found. Although a few package managers might slip into the mix, the freeware programs I'm about to profile today... aren't really programs at all. At least, they aren't installation packages in the way you're typically used to seeing them.
Unlike package managers, which require you to install a separate application that contains some fancy list of other applications to download, some of the apps I'm investigating today remove this extra step from the equation. When stumbling into the official Web site of said programs, you're given the opportunity to customize a list of programs you want to install before you have to download anything. Once you're ready, the site creates a single executable that--if all goes well--downloads and spits the applications onto your hard drive without so much as an extra mouse click of your time.
Of course, that's the best-case scenario. There are still a number of helpful "application packages" that are a wee less automated but still worth looking into. I'll be exploring a host of automated installation offerings below, so click the link to get started! And if you need any further encouragement, one such tool cut my typical post-installation software installation time from around 30-45 minutes to a grand total of five--five hassle-free minutes, mind you.
If you've been following my articles as of late, you'll notice that I've been exploring (obsessing over) the world of Windows-based package managers. It's an interesting concept that the Linux world gets to enjoy to great success--the ability to download and install applications via a single program, much like how you would grab a song on iTunes or an application off its App Store.
In last week's Murphy's Law, I postulated that this exact combination of one-button glam plus a functional, community-driven application repository would be a surefire way to increase open-source awareness amongst average computer users. That, and it would offer power users a better way to grab, install, and manage large bundles of applications on any number of individual or networked PCs.
A number of you seemed to agree. That's great. But as we all saw in this week's freeware roundup, the state of the package manager market for the Windows operating system is tragic at best. It's difficult, if not impossible, to find a working package manager that fulfills the three main criteria for usefulness: updated applications, minimal downloading errors, and a halfway-decent GUI.
What's the holdup in Windows Package Manager development? Are they really that tricky to create and maintain? And why should users ultimately care about these kinds of applications? To get the answers to these tough questions, I turned to BennyP--creator and sole maintainer of the WinPackMan package manager application. He's currently caught up in bringing this once-popular piece of software back from the dead, making him an ideal candidate for learning more about what's going on in the trenches of third-party Windows package manager development.
If you're ready to discover the dark secrets that separate Linux and Windows package managers... click the jump!
There was a ton of great feedback to my column last week, where I dreamed up (blabbed out loud) the idea of a Windows-based application store for open-source downloads. For the Linux layman, this would be something like a wicked hybrid of iTunes and apt-get. A package manager featuring pretty icons, one-click downloads, descriptions, and community interaction that could help bring the open source world just one step closer to the hearts and minds of average computer users.
As it turns out, a number of package managers already exist for the Windows operating system. In theory, they provide you the convenience of being able to hunt down a number of open-source projects, categorized by operation, which you can install without having to pore over the Web for the right file. Beyond that, they also give you a way to learn about newer open source projects that you might not have heard about or seen by your casual browsing on SourceForge. But are these applications as glorious as my dream from last week? Are these applications even worth your time at all?
Unlike typical open-source roundups, where I recommend five awesome programs that you. must. have. I'm actually going to give you the pros and cons of a series of five different package managers so you can decide for yourself as to which one would best fit your PC habits. So without further ado, I present: Windows Package Managers.
Click the link to get started -- I hope you've cleared off some space on your hard drive!