25 January 2018

Windows Survival Kit for OSX exiles

After 5 long years, I was gently forced back to Windows for everyday work. The experience has been less terrible than I thought, but was pretty frustrating at the beginning.

To help anyone in the same predicament, I put together a small list of tips to make the move a bit more tolerable.

  • Windows does not have hot corners. Hello, 1995! Anyway, the solution here is using a small app called, unsurprisingly, HotCornersApp. It works well enough, and it's fine with multiple screens too. Despite the basic website, it's legit and even opensource, you can compile it yourself (although beware - apparently the very latest updates may not build properly).
  • Windows does not do text substitution, which is one of those things that you don't know how much you love it until they take it away from you. As far as I can see, there is no free utility on Windows to do this, or nothing that actually works well enough. So, I paid for Breevy. It feels a bit retro (it looks blurry on high-def screens...), but it works very well and has all sorts of options and special features.
  • Windows doesn't really deal well with multi-language support, aka typing accents from a US keyboard. Sure, you can use US-International, and deal with ' and " becoming meta-keys, but for a techie/programmer typing those characters on their own more often than accents, it's extremely annoying. The solution was again Breevy: you can define a combo that will not be triggered unless you type a special character afterwards. For example, I defined `e to become รจ after I press Ctrl. It works absolutely everywhere, although it's nowhere as elegant as the OSX popup. Same story for special characters like £ , € etc.
    • For best results, check if your keyboard supports custom macro. Mine does, so I mapped the blank side-keys to accents and so on. After muscle-memory starts kicking in, this solution is actually superior to stock OSX.
  • I was not going to reformat my external hard drives to NTFS, which is a pain to use back on OSX; so again I had to pay for Paragon HFS+ for Windows. The UI is garbage (and does not work properly with multi-monitor setups), but the actual driver seems to work perfectly.
  • Microsoft has basic print-to-PDF support. If you need to concatenate documents, PrimoPDF does it, and it's free (do not download the Nitro version). The interface is not great though.
  • For the developer types out there who rely on Dash, a good equivalent on Windows is Zeal. It supports the same format, even fetching docsets directly from Dash repositories.
  • Also for developer/sysadmin types, the Windows equivalent of homebrew is now Chocolatey. Whoever came up with that word should give up trying to name things, but the software does work. You can use it to install 7zip (to get the latest beta with proper security patches, choco install 7zip.install --pre -y) windirstat and so on, it will make it easy to upgrade them when necessary (rather than having through the usual website-download-install dance, just choco upgrade them all).
  • There are quite a few apps that do what Fluid does, i.e. making websites into "native" apps. I know, I know, they are aberrations; but I got used to having a few sites (Gmail, Trello, Hangouts...) accessible this way. After a bad experience with WebCatalog (it was working ok, but then it got stuck trying to upgrade itself), I installed nativefier. This is again more for the geek types; it requires npm and it's a command-line app with a few quirks.
  • UPDATE 1: to get back the "preview on pressing Space" experience, there is a free app called Seer. You can also pay for a license, but it's not clear what the difference might be, the free app is more than enough for my needs. I had to remove the Ctrl-Alt-S shortcut in Settings in order to make it work properly.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to suggest other useful tidbits in comments.