What’s in a PC?

18 Feb

While posting on Facebook the other day one of my friends asked me about a piece of technology that I use every day on my PC – and I thought, since it had been a while since I posted anything, that I would warm up with a quick post about my PC.

I’ve been working in IT since before the PC was invented – in fact, I did the first demos of the IBM PC-XT to Unilever Research in the UK. I’ve run IT systems across the world, and was responsible for the entire PC development process in Unilever (around 200,000 PCs) – so I know what I am talking about….and of course, it’s my belief that a PC should do what I want, not what Microsoft want (by the way, I have nothing against Microsoft or Bill Gates – I think Microsoft have produced some amazing software, and do some great things).

When I got my last PC, I decided to do as much as possible using Open Source or Free software. And I have done remarkably well! Just to let you know – Open Source software is software that’s publicly developed – all the source code (the original programming) is freely available so that people can extend and develop the software themselves. The results are made freely available for download. Freeware software is software that people have created and made available for free – sometimes they ask for donations, other times there is an advertising component to the product – or it is a limited edition version of a paid product (perhaps an older version, or one with fewer features). It’s surprising what’s available for free. Some licences are for private use only, by the way – or for small companies with few employees.

So, what’s in my PC


Well, first off, you have to admit that that’s probably the tidiest PC desktop EVER!

Office software – the wonderful and only occasionally idiosyncratic Open Office has my word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools. It also has a PDF creator so that’s ideal for ebooks that I create. I’ve spent a bit of time customising the toolbar for the most frequent functions.

Mind mapping – I use mind maps for marshalling my thoughts (otherwise they look like birds nests) – Freemind is a perfectly good version that allows me to get my ideas down in a structured way.

Note taking and To Do listsEvernote is the best that’s out there in my mind.. I use it to clip interesting stuff from the internet, to store my thoughts, inspiration that I get, quotes and more. It allows for a fairly basic ToDo list, and while there are better To Do tools, I would rather have a simpler life with fewer things to manage. Evernote automatically synchronises with the web and then to my Android phone – meaning all my notes go everywhere with me!

email and calendar – here I use Thunderbird (email) and Lightning (calendar). While I could just read email on line, I find it’s faster to download it all into one place and use it from there. That allows me to grab all my email from multiple accounts into one place, sort it with some clever rules to categorise it and throw away the junk (an prioritise some things from those very important people in my life). I’ve extended Thunderbird (and Lightning) to make my life even easier, adding more formatting, easier access to email accounts and more. I use K9 to do spam filtering for me.

Web browsing – I use Firefox. I know Internet Explorer is equally free, and I could use Chrome – but I have grown used to FF and use quite a few add ons to improve it (for example to manage the tabs, close all tabs, fill out forms automagically, block Flash adverts, block adverts and more….

Picture managementGIMP is an alternative to Photoshop. It does what I need, although perhaps not quite as easy to use as PS. I’m not a heavy user of this stuff, so that’s OK for me.

Audio editingAudacity is great for all the wonderful little teaching and hypnosis audios that I create. (You read it here first – expect to see some great new products from me coming soon)

Blog editing – all done off line with Windows Live Writer and then uploaded to my various blogs

ebook editing – using MobiPocket and the Amazon on line tools

Diagrams – flowcharts and other diagrams are created using Dia and the Dia shapes add ins.

A real find was Auto Hot Key – using this I have created all sorts of little bits of automation that save me time for repetitive tasks and allow me to get my PC working for me rather than the other way round!

And then there’s loads of stuff on there that does little bits for me:

WinDirStat produces a graphical picture of what’s on my disk so I can clear up where necessary

Recuva is used to recover files that I accidentally deleted (and FileShredder is used to destroy files I definitely don’t want)

SyncBack SE (for backup to a hard disk) is the only paid program I have on my PC – and that because I already had it paid for. Otherwise I would just go with the tools in Windows 7.

Kompozer is used for editing HTML documents for the web – and FileZilla is the FTP client I use to put them on line.

Virus checking using Microsoft Security Essentials – although I used avast until recently

WinAudit is used to store my configuration so that I can rebuild a PC quickly

Pixclip is to grab screenshots from my screen to use in manuals or as reminders

iPrint saves me paper by printing two sheets on one A4 page

Juice for downloading podcasts

7-Zip for managing zip files along with rarzilla for RAR archives

And of course the usual suspects – RealPlayer, Quicktime, Silverlight, Acrobat, Windows Media Player and so on. I’ve also tweaked the interface quite a bit to stop it annoying me (although the fact that I put the Windows Taskbar at the TOP of the screen annoys everyone else that uses my PC)

I’ve also spent a lot of time organising my desktop, file system and email system to make my life faster and more efficient – and so I can find things effectively. But more of that another day, maybe….


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