I've recently worked to shake off the shackles of Microsoft. And except for Word and Excel, which I need for work, I've succeeded. What brought this on?
A while ago, I was hit by a bad virus. I keep my antivirus and spyware software up-to-date and run them regularly, but I stumbled onto a website (a reputable commercial website) that had just been hit by a hacker with malicious code. The next day, all the major antivirus companies had this particular code in their databases, but alas, it was too late for me. I was an early adopter. I ended up having to reformat my hard drive and reinstall Windows and all my software.
Fortunately I religiously back up my data files. Every day I back up the work files I used that day, and once a week I back up all my data files. At that time, I was using rewritable CDs for my weekly backups. I used two CDs for this, rotating between them each week. Each CD could hold two weeks of backups, so at any time I had four weeks of backups to use if disaster ever struck.
Well, disaster struck, and after I reinstalled all my software and tracked down all the updates and all that other stuff that goes along with formatting your hard drive, I went to my backup CDs and restored all my data files.
I cursed the hacker for wasting a long weekend of my life, but I was proud of myself for being such an obsessive backer-upper. I even allowed myself to gloat a little. Then life went on.
But one day a few months later, I needed to access an e-mail discussion I'd had with an editor the previous year. I went to Outlook and opened my archive files. I was shocked to discover that instead of going back to 1995 like my archives should have, they went back only a few months! What happened?!
Well, as it turns out, although I'd restored my current Outlook files, I'd neglected to restore my archive files. And in the intervening months, I'd also written over the backup copies of those archives on my CDs. Besides losing all my e-mail, I lost my calendars, and worst of all, I lost my journal entries. I'd been using Outlook's journal feature as a timer for my work, and I used this both for billing and for my taxes. This was a terrible turn of events!
I cried about this for a few days, then realized that no matter how many tears I shed I couldn't retrieve my archives. I decided to place blame squarely where it belongs: on Microsoft's shoulders. Microsoft is such an easy target for hackers. Even though I did everything right, I still got hit with a virus. If I hadn't gotten that stupid virus, I wouldn't have lost all my archives. And if Outlook wasn't such a bloated program that makes bloated data files, I wouldn't have even had to archive my old data. I could have left it in the regular data files where it belongs and where it would have been restored instead of forgotten. This was the end of the road for Microsoft on my computer.
I still use Windows, of course; I have a PC, after all. And as I mentioned above, I also still use Word and Excel, but that's only because all the publishers I work with use them.
So, what do I use instead of Outlook and Explorer?
I have a Palm Zire, so instead of using Outlook, I'm now using the Palm Desktop software, which I've discovered I actually prefer to Outlook. For one thing, I don't have to have the Palm Desktop open for my alarms to go off—unlike Outlook, which will uselessly inform you of all your missed alarms once you open the program.
To replace the journal timer function I used in Outlook, I now use Cratchit.org TimeTool for Windows, a small open-source program available here, which does precisely what I need it to do. Using the journal timer in Outlook required a bit of fiddling on my part each day.
To replace Explorer, I switched to Mozilla. I use the Firefox browser and Thunderbird for my e-mail.
Mozilla is open-source software, which means anyone can tinker with it. Lots of people have written extensions for the software, and you can customize the programs to a great degree. No software is safe from security issues, but so far the Mozilla organization has been extremely quick in responding to security flaws, providing fixes immediately, unlike Microsoft.
Firefox is much smaller than most software these days. It's small enough that you can even load it onto a USB memory key, and then you can run it directly from the memory key on another computer—without having to install it. This is great for people like my husband who work for companies that don't want employees to install software but who would rather use Firefox. Or when you're out of town and need to use someone else's computer but want your own bookmarks available.
The thing I like best about Firefox, though, is tabbed browsing. Instead of opening a new copy of Firefox when you want more than one website open, you just open a new tab in your current copy of Firefox. I use the Internet extensively in my work, and having just one copy of my browser open saves valuable space. I open Firefox, then open tabs for Merriam-Webster's dictionary, for Google, for the Library of Congress card catalog, and for whatever other sites I need for the specific manuscript I'm editing. Tabbed browsing changes everything.
I highly recommend Firefox!
And where do I keep my backups these days? The last time we upgraded to a new computer, we kept the old one and use it for backups. Ron dumped Windows from that computer and installed Red Hat Linux. Who knows, maybe someday we'll escape Microsoft completely!