Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things

Setting up a new computer the past two weekends I've felt like Maria in the Sound of Music ... "when the mouse bytes, when the keys click, when I'm surfing Web, I simply remember my favorite wares and I don't feel so blank." As I attempt to rely on freeware or open source software in my new electronic universe, I'm reminded of the growing universe of unsung programmers who have given freely so much to the world.

Few people except for those who know early computing lore realize that this was the way the pioneers envisioned the future of computing, a sentiment captured by Richard Brautigan in his poem "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" from which I quote the following:
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
Such sound like a fitting paean to freeware and open source software. I'm sure you've heard of the $0 Open Office general office suite, Firefox Web browser and Winamp audio player.

Let me write a few words of praise for less well-known freeware I use.

Pegasus, one of the Internet's longest-serving and most configurable e-mail programs is not idiotically simple, but it allows the user to really control every detail of incoming and outgoing electronic communications. The program was designed by New Zealander David Harris, who nearly quit his work on this gem in January 2007.

Dutch programmer Jeroen Laarhoven, from the town of Zwolle, about 75 miles northeast of Amsterdam, has given us AllChars, which provides a quick way to type accented and foreign characters such as é Ü ç î æƒ ² ‰ © £ ± ß ° 1/2 ¿ « » ™ -- all using a U.S. keyboard, which has no keys for them.

Its name a takeoff on the DOS Norton Commander file manager, which it imitates, Servant Salamander, of which version 1.52 is still freeware is a million times easier and clearer to use than Windows Explorer to manage files, copy, rename, create folders, etc. (I purchased the pay version to encourage these clever Czech programmers, but even without the newer paid bells and whistles, this is a great little program).

Marek Jedlinski, who for 10 years taught American literature and advanced translation at the University of Lodz, Poland, has given the world the very useful Oubliette, a little program that stores usernames, passwords, URLs, and free-form notes.

PathCopy is a shell extension that once installed appears in a right-click context menu when you are in a file manager. The program, developed in Denmark, allows you to copy the full path of a document or folder -- a useful thing if you're say wanting to create a shortcut or redirect something.

From Massachusetts comes Startup Control Panel is a nifty control panel applet that allows you to easily configure which programs run when your computer starts created by Mike Lin, a researcher in computational biology, what I have just learned from the Wikipedia is "an interdisciplinary field that applies the techniques of computer science, applied mathematics, and statistics to address problems inspired by biology."

Thanks to them and more. Find more free gems at Son of Spy and Pricelessware. Enjoy!
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