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Making Windows Tolerable

I got a new job a couple months ago. I suspect that IT departments of monstrously-large, international corporations are all reading from the same playbook in how to setup and administrate their networks, users, applications, and computers. The IT overhead was pretty overbearing at the previous place, and the only changes at the new place are purely cosmetic. (I hear of places which are worse than both of them, so it can be worse.)

Perfect example: the wifi is locked down, just the same, in both places. I don’t know how they do this. It must be either certificate-based authentication, or RADIUS. The end result is that you simply cannot put a personal device on the wifi network. If a customer were to demand it, they can make an exception, but for only a week. I guess that’s better than the old place, which only gave out single-day exceptions, but both organizations are demonstrating a cutting-off-you-nose-to-spite-your-face approach to the problem. As before, I can plug a computer into the wired network, and carry on just fine, thank you very much, so what did the policy do for them or for me? The answer is: inconvenience us both. So, first tip, for free, is:

Get a cellular plan with a provider which has good coverage at your office

I switched from AT&T to Verizon, because AT&T coverage around Columbus is famously bad, and AT&T has been telling people for a decade that they are going to put up more towers, but they never do.

Next? Proxies. OMG, proxies. What gives? The old place had a single proxy everything had to go through, and it needed authentication via the domain credentials. If you didn’t use it, or didn’t authenticate, you weren’t getting to the internet. Period. The new place has a world-wide conglomeration of about 20 proxies, depending on office location, and you get passed between them depending on what you need to get to. And they, too, need authentication via domain credentials. However, unlike before, these proxies can just be bypassed! If you use one of the proxies, you can’t reach about half the internet, like YouTube or Reddit, but if you simply do not configure your connection to use a proxy, you can get to everything just fine! And faster! So, second tip, to make Windows usable, in this situation is:

Use Firefox as your main browser, and install the FoxyProxy plugin

I just configure the plugin to use the local proxy to get to the couple of corporate machines I actually need to access, and it all works out great. I had to do this sort of thing at a different previous company, so I was prepared for this particular annoyance.

Next: Working with Linux. For many years, I’ve watched Windows Services for Linux take shape, and was secretly hopeful about it, even despite my general distrust and dislike for Microsoft and Windows. After it came out, I tried using it to develop with Ruby on Rails. It failed in about 3 different ways before I gave up. I’ve continued to try it, and it continues to fail in obscure ways because it’s not, in fact, “real” Linux, no matter what the paid advocates say (nor how cool they may be). So, third tip, to develop with practical web application stacks:

Avoid WSL, and keep using VirtualBox

The second half of this tip is, of course, what to do about a terminal and SSH. I thought I had it figured out at the previous company with Cmder and PuTTY. However, at this new company, people use MobaXterm, and OMG how have I not found this before? It’s seriously great. So, third tip, part deux:

Use MobaXterm

Windows 10. Ug. I’m actually glad that Microsoft is… Microsoft, at this point, and allows companies to do unspeakable things to the registry and policies on the system that they will not expose to plebeian end users. Corporations have reined in the worst of the Windows 10 abuses. At least the playbook that big companies are using includes things like preventing the installation of game demos and requiring centralized approval of updates, which prevents a lot of day-1 update fiascos.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Windows is still Windows, and you still have to use it all day long. One thing I really have come to despise is the Windows Explorer. As time goes on, it becomes a bigger and bigger sore point to me, because it’s so jarring after using Apple’s Finder all day long. About 15 years ago, a coworker introduced me to Directory Opus. It’s not cheap, but it’s an incredible replacement for the native application. I’ve bitten the bullet, and bought it again. Fourth!

Buy Directory Opus

Seriously. Just spend the money.

The rest is a laundry list:

  • Use RubyInstaller to do Rails development. Everything else is broken.
  • Buy Sublime Text 3.
  • Install the Droid Sans Mono font. Other fonts may look a little nicer for coding and terminal work, but it works really well with the Windows anti-aliasing hinting system.
  • Buy Tower for a git client. You could use Sourcetree, which is free, but Tower is waaay faster.
  • Avoid the use of Skype wherever and whenever possible. It was great before Microsoft bought it, and now it’s just a “corporatized” trash fire. At least we get to save conversations at this company!
  • Go ahead and use OneNote, but please do not share the notebooks with your team. That way lies madness.