The time had come to do a fresh install of my Operating System. I'm at about the usual six to eight month 'term' between reinstalls and every time I promise to use less and less obvious products and fling myself deeper into the cavern of open source or generally free software. Not being a complete masochist, I stuck with Windows XP as the desktop of choice. I knew I could find a lot of other tools to help me in my quest for open source goodness but I just can't do Linux right now, no matter how hard you guys are yelling at me.
What made this whole experience unique is that most of it is down to RSS. I'd only heard of RSS before in whispered geeky conversations and assumed, much like a lot of people that it was just a clever way of getting BBC News headlines on your desktop… how wrong I was, but read on a couple of paragraphs for that.
"I want women to find me more sexually stimulating because I have large helpful icons which glow and body pop their way around the screen when I click on them."
Having given my PC a digital enema and installed, patched and updated my way into a working desktop I hurriedly began customising the layout to my liking as I do every time I reinstall. Then I paused for a moment, and left the Icons and Menus alone whilst I had an epiphany.
I quite like
Now you've picked your jaw off the floor, I can be more specific. What I actually like is a desktop which screams special effects. I am NOT practical, I am NOT efficient and I am certainly NOT command line. If you read my previous article on GUIs
, until everything is like Minority Report it's all just padding for me.
Therefore I wanted to make my desktop interface look as damn funky and interesting as I could, I want people to come round, sit at my PC and not know what to click on next; I want computer illiterate friends to stare over my shoulder going "Coooooool…" and I want women to find me more sexually stimulating because I have large helpful icons which glow and body pop their way around the screen when I click on them. Windows Vista looks like it's a step in the right direction, so I started on my crusade for a theme which looks a little like it. This is where I discovered the joys of RSS and other oddities like social bookmarking and user-controlled site recommendation.
Obviously like any sensible Internet user, I cast Internet Explorer aside, installed Firefox and surfed away, having been pointed to del.icio.us
by my friends. Whilst I was on both sites, I thought to myself what a good idea it would be if I could bookmark all the popular links I came across.
At that very point the God of "Duh!" struck me and explained that Livemarks in Firefox would let me do exactly that, as they syndicated their content via RSS.
At that exact moment, everything fell into place and I fully understood what an incredible tool RSS was and how a practical implementation literally changed the way I used my computer in a second. In fact one of the first links I saw led me to a fantastic list of Firefox Extensions
that have already saved me so much time and made my browsing a dream to experience.
digg.com pointed me in the direction of the Vista Inspirat shell pack
for Windows XP which turned my desktop into a bizarre gestalt of Mac OSX, Windows XP and Windows Vista (I have to say that after a few minutes of tinkering to get the layout perfect, this even impresses me every time I boot the PC).
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Then I loaded on Konfabulator
with the 'combrss' widget, which lets me syndicate headlines from my favourite news sites around the globe in a much more traditional way. However, I can also tag on time, weather and computer statistic widgets to name but a few to increase the perceived integration between information I want to see and my desktop.
Obviously you would have to have been living on Pluto not to have heard about Google Talk
. Whilst the hype surrounding it is on overdrive, the actual application itself is a little like one of those farts you think is going to be dead impressive but just slips out without a sound and really leaves you thinking if you ought to disappear to the little gents' room. However, that hype means plenty of people I know will end up switching to it out of curiosity and I ought to do something to keep in touch with them, so I put GAIM
on and happily connected up to MSN and the Jabber compatible Google Talk. Whilst I lose a little functionality I liked in MSN, now I can keep in touch with everyone I know with just Skype and GAIM. And this stuff is free? Madness!
"For the first time in my life, I actually feel in charge of my computer, instead of it being in charge of me."
Finally as I come to put the finishing touches on my new desktop of choice (which takes a surprisingly long time when you're getting used to Object Dock), I realised I couldn't get rid of Media Player 9. The K-Lite media pack was just a little too flaky for me and I would only use it for Quicktime anyway, (because if a site streams Realmedia, I just don't listen to it). As much as there are things to hate about MP9, it's served me well and it just works. Besides, I can't give up everything
, can I? However, given the recent announcement about OpenOffice 2.0 Beta
(which yet again I 'dugg' up), I might even be giving up Microsoft Office 2003 as well.
For the first time in my life, I actually feel in charge of my computer, instead of it being in charge of me. RSS has shown me that I can get fast, concise and exceedingly useful information to my screen in real-time, which then leads on to finding out all sorts of things you hadn't even been aware of.
I can guarantee I wouldn't be as happy with my setup now if I hadn't have stumbled upon half the goodies via del.icio.us and digg.com, which given they are voted for by the Internet population, have already been vetted for me instead of leaving me to flounder helplessly through sites like download.com trying to find an application which does something I was after, only to install it and find it's rubbish.
Having utterly rearranged my desktop and the way I work, it's clear to me that distributed social bookmarking and derivatives are the future of searching the Internet. Information shouldn't be travelling around the world in a truckload of hard to search and navigate websites; it should be globally indexed and rated by the users themselves so that the real cream of the crop is where it deserves to be.