Taming the PC
It's no secret that I love macOS. However, I've been burned enough by Apple's reluctance to timely address some of their biggest hardware flaws: exorbitantly high prices, bad graphics, shoddy thermals, and the infamous butterfly keyboard.
Even so, I stuck around, only as I loved the operating system. I even shared how I game on a MacBook. Shortly afterwards, frequent bugs on Bootcamp made maintaining an eGPU setup a chore and I gave up. That's why I built a PC as my secondary entertainment hub. I used it to play video games and watch movies on a larger screen.
Things are about to change. COVID19 pandemic means that I no longer have to commute to campus. I'll be stuck at the dorm to attend online classes, which means working on my desktop PC all day.
Although getting used to Windows 10 took some time, with some tweaking, it became quite a comfortable workstation. This is my Windows 10 setup.
Debloating Windows 10
Windows 10 comes with a lot of crap. Not only is it spying on you, Cortana and native advertisements could also easily ruin the user experience. As such, the first thing I did was to uninstall most default applications and disable all advertisements and tracking. I also turned off tiles and notifications. Not having to deal with bloatware is the one thing that I miss about Linux.
If you want to go a step further than me, check out debloat Windows 10.
I still haven't found a cloud storage service that is as cost-effective and convenient for my needs than iCloud Drive. It is where my important files live, synced across all of my devices. With iCloud for Windows, I could sync iCloud Drive, Photos, and Mail to Windows. (Do bear in mind that I plan to gradually migrate to more secure alternatives like pCloud and Proton Mail.)
In addition to my school and personal files in iCloud Drive, research papers live in Zotero. Zotero is a free and open-source (FOSS) citation manager that works beautifully to streamline my essay-writing process.
I don't rely on commercial software for file management. My notes are markdown files written in a text editor, and I save my scanned paper documents as PDFs. I only use Microsoft Office – which I despise with a passion – only when I must. This way, I reduce dependency on a software developer and further future-proof my documents.
Email, RSS, and Calendar
Thunderbird is my desktop email, RSS, and calendar client of choice. Not only is it FOSS, but I also find its UI to make more sense than Mail.app or Outlook.
Setting up emails with Thunderbird was easy, as the process is automated. I simply had to log into my existing email accounts, and voilà! No need to fiddle around with IMAP or POP3 settings.
I chose Thunderbird as my email client so that I can also receive RSS feeds on the same page, my preferred method of subscribing to Youtube channels and news. (RSS is also the only way to subscribe to this blog.)
Thunderbird also comes bundled with a handy Calendar extension. However, thanks to Apple's ass-backward policies, syncing iCloud calendar to Thunderbird was a chore. Here is the best step-by-step guide on how to use iCloud Calendar with Thunderbird.
Firefox is my web browser of choice. I like it because it is cross-platform and it respects my privacy. Only a few tweaks in settings are needed to completely disable all tracking. It also has a healthy Add-on ecosystem. Here are some of my favorites:
- Adblocker Ultimate for a quiet web.
- Bitwarden is a FOSS cross-platform password manager.
- Dark Mode means a darker web is only a button away.
- DF Youtube (Distraction Free) hides the addicting parts of Youtube.
- Zotero Connector streamlines the process of saving web pages or PDFs to Zotero.
- SingleFile makes archiving a webpage into a single HTML file as easy as clicking a button. This extension is my replacement for Evernote Web Clipper.
This entire website is written in Atom, my favorite text editor. It has a plethora of useful plugins, such as atom-latex, file-icons, markdown-preview-enhanced, and open-terminal-here. Since I don't yet write programs that are large enough to warrant using IDEs, all code is written in Atom and executed in the terminal. Atom's only pitfall is that it's written in Electron, which causes high power consumption.
Speaking of the terminal, I hate working with the Windows command prompt. My saving grace was installing the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Available for free on the Microsoft app store, it opens up all sorts of bash command line trickery to a Windows PC. The Jekyll gem that powers this website, for instance, runs on Ubuntu. I love having access to both the conveniences of using Windows and the power of a bash shell.
My SAT and Chinese scores owe a lot to Anki. Anki is a FOSS spaced-repetition flashcard app that smartly shows you difficult cards more often than easy cards. It works seriously well – anyone who has to memorize facts should be using Anki. Even though other flashcard apps like Quizlet exist, Anki still excels in three aspects: customizability, free cost, and the spaced repetition algorithm. While it does have a high barrier to entry, it's worth watching some Youtube tutorials to get going.
Krita is a perfectly functional FOSS digital painting application. For amateurs like me, Krita's feature set is more than enough without having to cough off the cost of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
Astrill VPN ensures privacy online. It also helps me access the global web in China.
FAHClient (Folding@Home) is an easy way to contribute to disease research – such as COVID19 – by donating some computing power for protein folding.
SumatraPDF is the best lightweight PDF and eBook reader.
Tomighty is a free and no-bullshit Pomodoro timer.
Transmission is my favorite BitTorrent client.
Although most people default to (often pirating) popular, commercial software, there is plenty of free and open-source software that can do the same job better. You only have to do some research.
Thanks to the FOSS community, even a travesty of an operating system (note: this is my personal, subjective opinion) such as Windows 10 can become a very productive environment. Much of this is achieved by using open standards for working whenever possible. For instance, I write blog posts in plain text files, archive paper documents as PDFs and web pages as HTML files, and use RSS for news feeds.
Even though a lot of FOSS may be intimidating for casual consumers, it is surprisingly easy to get used to. Furthermore, since many are cross-platform, I can now work more or less in the same way in any desktop OS, whether that be Windows, macOS, or Linux.