Never thought I’d say it, but I’m one happy Windows user

I’ve never been a big fan of Windows. Until now.

I was introduced to Linux at my previous job, primarily by my long-time friend, Ben Simon. I was a happy Linux user for years, then switched to OS X when it came out. I was a happy OS X user for many years, as well, but was recently compelled to switch to Windows. I tried to be a good sport about it and embrace the change. In fact, I decided that if I was going to switch to Windows, I was going all the way. No Cygwin. No command line tools. I wanted everything to be graphical. I wanted the full Windows experience, and to fully embrace the Windows world.

In many ways, I was very impressed. Windows is far faster than OS X (a problem I’m hoping the Intel Macs will help solve), and most software is much better supported on Windows (Mac users may argue both these points, but believe me, they are both very true). I also didn’t mind the ease with which I could install certain applications. I’ve installed MySQL dozens of times on Linux and OS X, and it was kind of refreshing just to double click, go through a configuration process, and a few minutes later, have a great database server running perfectly.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long. My biggest frustration was a lack of command line. My commitment to doing things the Windows way wasn’t working. I tried things like Tortoise CVS and Tortoise SVN but found them clumsy and even buggy. I’m a huge Vim fan, but I tried to force myself into using Eclipse (which actually I really love now for certain things) and TextPad for all my editing needs. When I needed to move files to a Unix machine, I opened WinSCP rather than running scp from a shell environment. The result was months of constant frustration at the clumsiness of a purely graphical environment. I needed a command line, or I was going back to OS X the day the Intels came out.

The DOS shell is pretty much a joke (it doesn’t look like it’s changed a bit since I was a kid), so I decided to install Cygwin, an amazing Linux emulation layer and collection of tools, commands, and utilities. The problem I’ve always had with Cygwin was that the terminal window itself wasn’t much better than DOS. Although it behaves like a Unix box, the look and feel was clearly that of Windows DOS. Danny Dura suggested one day that I try installing sshd and using Putty to SSH into my own box locally to give myself a better terminal. I kept meaning to get around to trying it, and then when I saw that Ben had done just that, I used some time over my holiday to play around with my own setup. I’m happy to report that it works perfectly, and now I am probably the happiest Windows user I know. I have my command line just how I like it, vim, make, ssh, scp, cvs, svn, ls, mv, d, bc, cal, cron, aspell, etc. — all just how I like them. And, of course, I still have all the convenience and speed of Windows. And the icing on the cake: screen. Now if only I could run FVWM.

15 Responses to Never thought I’d say it, but I’m one happy Windows user

  1. its soo funny to hear some of your comments. i started with dos. in the mid to late 80’s and couldnt WAIT to get to windows 3.1 because it was sooo cool to not have to look at an ugly screen all day, and then to get to 95 was just such a blessing, then i toiled with *nix in the early 90’s and was sooo happy to go back to Windows. its soo tomatoe tomatoh that its really all just about what you are used to and what you like.i personally cannot for the life of me stand command line … to me its like using chopsticks to eat rice and square wheels on a car. we have evolved as a people and need to make those changes in all aspects of our lives, it really is better on this side of the fence 🙂

  2. Chopsticks are an excellent way to eat rice. 🙂

  3. Nolan Dubeau says:

    Christian,There is a Virtual Desktop Manager available for free download on the Windows PowerToy site ( as well as an ‘Open Command Window Here’ PowerToy which may come be handy. I haven’t looked at ‘Open Command Window Here’ but there may be a way to configure it to work with Cygwin and Putty.

  4. Dave Nelson says:

    My cygwin has various fvwm-related files, but I’m not sure how to use it. Have you looked in /usr/X11R6/bin? I’ve got a fvwm2.exe there, and a “find /usr/X11R6 -name ‘fvwm*'” gives me 23 files that start with that. Maybe you have it, and you didn’t even know it!

  5. tanguyr says:

    the company i work for doesn’t allow desktop internet access (so 90s), which means i can’t install cygwin. My current solution involves a number of executables from the gnuwin32 project on sourceforge coupled with python for shell scripting. Along with a few other odds and ends – putty, vim, cvs and svn clients – the whole setup fits nicely on a usb thumbdrive, which allows you to civilize any windows machine you might come across.

  6. Alex says:

    Cygwin comes with rxvt which works with screen (and can run locally without X server). I like it better than cygwin.bat or putty.exe.

  7. Jamie says:

    Very surprising to read. After going from DOS, to Windows 3.0 and 3.1, through to OS/2, then Windows 95 though XP, and OS X I’m surprised that Windows does it for you. But hey, whatever works right? For a long time OS/2 was the OS for me. That was some great technology. Neither Windows nor OS X have caught up to some of the things it could do. I’ve been very happy with OS X though.

  8. Believe me, I’d still rather be on Mac, but a fast Mac. I’m tired of the sluggishness of the G4s (I have to use a laptop, so the G5s are no help). Once they have Intel chips, I will likely switch back, but in the meantime, I’m getting by just fine now.

  9. Ben Simon says:

    Hey Christian — I’m so glad to hear that you are a happy windows user.I guess I’m in the same boat, and just as surprised as you are about it.My latest win has been running X windows under cygwin — and then using a regular old xterm and emacs (the X version). All I can say is, wow.I thought it would be really hard to install X under cygwin. I was really wrong. Just go into the setup, find the last group “X11” and just say to install everything. Once it’s done, type and poof – you’ve got X-windows.It’s worth a try.Now, if I could just convert you to be an emacs user, my work would really be done.

  10. Peter Boughton says:

    I’ve tried the Virtual Desktop PowerToy and found it to be not very good.However I now use VirtuaWin which is an open-source desktop manager, and it’s a very helpful tool. command line doesn’t have to be ugly, and it allows much more power – I’ve got a set of batch scripts so that I can use command line stuff through Start>Run – eg “cf [start|stop|restart|admin|root]” – multiple commands all under a dozen key presses away, and accessible faster than I could grab my mouse and double-click an icon. 🙂

  11. Tony Blake says:

    The problem I have with Cygwin is when you want to integrate with native Windows programs. For example, simply running a Python script:bash$ python /cygdrive/c/myscript.pyThis doesn’t work as the Python installation is the native Windows install so it’s expecting a Windows path.You then have to use cygpath, but that won’t work if the python script you’re running expects an input file! You then have to remember your environment and switch between using a native Cygwin path, cygpath on a Windows file and then back to plain ol’ Windows – nasty!You could install the Cygwin version of Python but then I have an unnecessary conflict with the native Windows version. Why have two versions?My solution to all this?- Use JPSoft’s 4NT. It’s a great command line: completely configurable. Much better command-line than Cygwin because it’s written *for* Windows. (CMD.exe sucks, obviously)- Install the GNU Win 32 packages. ( and put the directory in your PATH. You can get pretty much all the UNIX command line tools.- Other useful command line tools are out there: Sysinternals stuff is particularly handy.- Change the font for CMD.exe and make it bearable. This requires a registry hack: only thing that still frustrates is the awful CMD.exe window that you can’t resize and doesn’t use the WindowsXP styles.I’ve made my default window reasonably wide with a huge buffer, so I don’t really feel the pain any more. You can have different shortcuts to different window sizes – not ideal but might help.Another tool that I’ve found that completely changes the way I use Windows is CandyLab’s AppRocket; I’ve heard it’s a copy of a program original written for NeXT. Either way, it’s *fantastic* – couldn’t recommend it more.Best of luck.Tony

  12. Raven says:

    I was wondering if anyone knew of any good Windows vs OS X articles or why OS X is better than Windows.

  13. Shaoken says:

    Hi Christian,You will love NotePad++ instead of TextPad.”Notepad++ is a free source code editor which supports several programming languages running under the MS Windows environment.”,stéphane.

  14. h!ggs says:

    cygwin has fvwm. I’ve never used it. But X under cygwin works surprisingly well so maybe fvwm does is a cool MPW (remember?) like editor for all sorts of platforms. The one I use under windows is the Fred Allen version.

  15. Sarah says:

    I love using Cygwin on my Windows machine. I’ve also used PuttyCyg as my terminal and that’s been a godsend.The only thing that’s been holding me up is that I can’t seem to get PHP set up on Cygwin to save my life. Anyone have any tricks for that or know of some “good” references?Glad you’re enjoying the Windows world, Christian. I , for one, am hoping to make the move to one of those fancy new Intel-based MacBook Pros in the near future (my fingers are crossed).- Sarah