6 open source tools I use on my Windows machine

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Open and closed source


In most of the places I have worked there has been a centralized computer and application standard that was more or less mandatory for all employees. There are benefits of such an environment, which I will not go into in this piece, but for me, as an open source and Linux enthusiast, I try to use the tools I'm used to and like.

So, I immediately install my favorite applications when I receive a new standardized Windows-based work computer, something I have been lucky enough to be allowed to do.


The first application I install is Vim. I can't live without it on any computer. I have tried other editors and word processors but nothing can compete with Vim. I tried using Microsoft OneNote but was not happy with the interface and the huge files it created. I transferred all my notes, more than 800MB, into Markdown files. All Markdown files, including pictures, occupied less than 800KB of storage. I call that a win. If all 14,000 users at my former workplace would do the same, we would have been able to save a lot of space and investment in storage. The Markdown files are also portable to all platforms and can easily be converted into other formats if needed.


Next up is Pandoc, which converts my Markdown notes into other formats, such as Microsoft Word or PDF. To convert to PDF, you will also need a LaTeX document preparation engine, which is next in line.


MikTex is a LaTeX editor. I don't use it as an editor that much, but I need the LaTeX engine mentioned previously to be able to convert files into PDF files through Pandoc.


Coming from a Linux environment I miss having multiple workspaces. Usually the companies I have worked for used Microsoft Windows 7 as the standard OS, which has no support for workspaces. VirtuaWin to the rescue! After installation, you need to make some configurations for keyboard shortcuts, but after that, you're up and switching between workspaces in no time.


After working in IT business and for several years focusing on security I'm a big fan of complicated passwords. There are many reasons to use a password manager, and I prefer KeePass because I have used it for years and it works on all my different platforms. KeePassX is another great alternative.


There are ways to do simple changes or edits to pictures in Windows, but to me, the easiest way is to fire up GIMP. It's suitable for small fixes up to major photo or picture editing. It is very powerful but still easy to understand, and it does simple things as well.

An evolving favorites list

These are the tools I use now, and I have had other favorites, such as LibreOffice, Atom editor, and XChat.

The best tools for office suites depend on the type of templates you're supposed to use and if you need to collaborate with colleagues using the same files. I used LibreOffice for years when I could create my own templates that follow the company's graphics profile, but when I collaborated with colleagues who were using Microsoft Word it just never worked out well with type settings and it made weird automatic changes to the layout.

The one application I have not been able to find any substitute for, which prevents me from going all open source, is Skype for Business. It is often a company-wide solution for chat, audio, and video conferences, and it is still hard to find an open source alternative. If you have a solution, let me know in the comments.

What are your favorite open source applications, solutions, and tricks for your closed desktop?

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Jimmy Sjölund is a Principal Agile Practitioner at Red Hat, focusing on organisation transformation and team excellence while exploring agile and lean workflows. He is a visualisation enthusiast and an Open Organization Ambassador.


We have W10 were I work and it never fails to amaze me just how primitive the "Windows experience" is. Where are the multiple desktops, multiple logins, a search that works, etc? Open source software that are use on the M$ box on a daily basis include Cygwin (for grep and vi), Notepad++, Evince (the fastest pdf reader I've found), Audacity, Avidemux, LibreOffice, as well as KeyPass and Gimp. Three other excellent tools I use are Irfanview, JRuler and UBitMenu. UBitMenu is well worth the £10 licence cost. If like me, you've never gotten on with the ribbon in M$ Office, it solves that problem by giving back the proper menus.

Great tips there! I struggled with the ribbon in Office but kind of got the hang of it by now. But I still need to click around sometimes to find where to do certain things ...

In reply to by MartyMonroe

Thanks for your suggestions of the open source software you use under Windows. I've used many of those tools under Linux (evince, audacity, avidemux, gimp) but it never occurred to me to look if they were easily available under Windows.

Windows 10 (Pro and Enterprise) does have multiple desktops, or "virtual desktops" in MS lingo. Press Ctrl-Win-D to create a new one, Ctrl-Win-F4 to delete one, or Win-Tab to give you an overview of the current virtual desktops. (Ctrl-Win + left and right arrows allow you to switch easily between them.)

As for multiple logins, as far as I know, Windows has allowed them since at least Windows 7 (I never got close enough to Vista to know much about it).

Since you're forced to work under Windows 10 at work, if you're using Pro or Enterprise, and if you've got the Anniversary Update (the massive, disconcerting update that Microsoft forced upon its Windows 10 user base last summer), I'd highly suggest checking out WSL (Windows sub-system for Linux). I'm still a Cygwin fan, but WSL allows you to very easily install and run packages straight from the Canonical/Ubuntu repository (via apt), and for the most part they run extremely well. It's the best integration of bash in the Windows environment I've seen yet. What's more, everything you run is ELF-compiled binaries, as opposed to binaries compiled for Windows (as programs under Cygwin are). Again, I still think Cygwin is great, but I've come to prefer WSL for its ease, integration, and native Linux packages.

In reply to by MartyMonroe

Have you tried "GNU Ring" as a replacement for "Skype for Business"?

No I haven't tried GNU Ring. I would need something able to connect to the company 'Skype for Business' and do chat, conference calls and presentations. As an ordinary employee in a large corporation I'm not in position to change or replace the whole system.

In reply to by Óvári (not verified)

Perhaps you could send the idea to someone who is in a position to change or replace the whole system.

Skype does not correctly work on mobile nor Linux.

From the website of "GNU Ring":
Ring is free software for universal communication which respects freedoms and privacy of its users.

A free software
* Open source
* Released under GPLv3 licence
* Supported by an active community

A network
* OpenDHT protocol
* Decentralized communication
* Peer-to-peer discovery and connection

* End-to-end encryption with authentification
* Identity managed by X.509 certificates
* Based on RSA/AES/DTLS/SRTP technologies

Perhaps you could try GNU RIng and write an article with your findings?

Thank you

In reply to by jimmysjolund

That would be an interesting article! I think it would be hard for me to convince stakeholders in the communication platform at work to try GNU Ring. Perhaps someone at a smaller company could pick it up?

In reply to by Óvári (not verified)

The first tool i install on windows machines is total commander. Most superior file manager i have found. Apparently i still struggle to find its linux eauivalent, 2 years after switching over...

Double Commander
Double Commander is a cross platform open source file manager with two panels side by side. It is inspired by Total Commander and features some new ideas.

In reply to by Matt Erdoesnot (not verified)

i use pidgin with a plugin, for skype. I'm not sure if it's good for skype for bussiness


Nice one! I'm a Chromium/Chrome user myself but yeah, Firefox should be on the list.

In reply to by victorhck (not verified)

Thanks for the list and some of them I just heard it. Some of favorite application are KeePass, ConEmu, 7-Zip, ShareX, Atom. On Windows, HexChat is open source and free alternative to XChat. :)

ConEmu looks interesting! I do run Hexchat at home on my linux laptop, but during work hours and work windows pc I no longer connect with IRC. It's all Skype for Business ...

In reply to by Rachman (not verified)

I also like win-sshfs so I can mount up Linux shares on Windows. I can't get it working yet in Windows 10 though...
TeraTerm is another nobody's mentioned. Putty is good,but TeraTerm has built in scp

TeraTerm was a good alternative! At the moment I don't have any work related tasks where a terminal or ssh is needed but I see a lot of my collegues run Putty. I will suggest TeraTerm as another alternative.

Cygwin for the win! :-D

Sorry for the corny line but seriously, if you're a Linux fan why not use all of your favorite tools on Windows?

Three ther open source tools that I add right after building a new machine are 7-Zip, Notepad++, and Firefox.

BTW, I'm not a huge fan of OneNote myself but several people that I work closely are so I end up using it every day. How did you replace the indexing, search, and syncing functions? Markdown in and of itself certainly can't provide those capabilities, yet those are what really makes OneNote useful.

Perhaps I should give Cygwin a spin. It has just seemed a bit complicated beforehand. :D As OneNote I only needed search. As I save everything on network drives they are always available and synced to my laptop through the Windows setup. As the markdown files are text files I can also search inside the files which have provided all the features I need.

In reply to by sgtrock (not verified)

On my Windows machine at work I use Gimp, Irfan View, Libre Office, Sumatra PDF, Atom and almost most importantly: Tagspaces.

If you are looking for an open-source replacement of Evernote / One Note, look no further. It actually is a file manager too. Check it out at tagspaces.org

(Thin Client running a hosted desktop environment with Exchange etc. To keep it polite I'll say that I don't care very much for this kind of solution, but just like you, Jimmy, I am not in position to make decision. I can only apply slow and steady pressure and pray for the rest.)

Installing Tagspaces now!

The requirements were a bit surprising though:
2GB of RAM and 120MB of available hard-disk space
1280x800 display resolution

2 GB of RAM, really? I've run an audio recording studio on 1 GB RAM ...

In reply to by rraggl

Aaaand uninstalling Tagspaces now.

It did not handle Swedish characters well and not only that it replaced all already functioning UTF-8 Swedish characters making me have to go through all notes replacing them with åäö again ...

In reply to by jimmysjolund

Thank you very much for your Article, thanks for share.

Being very frank, I think that has forgotten the following program: putty is the connection program par excellence via ssh with a terminal and works very well in linux and windows,

On the other hand filezilla would be another of the indispensable missing files to upload to a server.


Ernesto Escobedo

Yes both Putty and Filezilla are great applications. I didn't bring them up in the article as I don't use ssh or ftp in my current role.

In reply to by net0bsd

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