I don’t know whether you’ve ever played with WindowBlinds, which is basically an application that allows world+dog to skin Windows (although it originally started on OS/2).

Well, Litestep goes a little further than that. A lot further, actually. It can replace the start menu, context menus – in fact the whole thing. As an added bonus, it’s open source, as it basically a Windows port of the X window manager AfterStep.

There are hundreds of themes available on the site (although note that you have to register to download any of the files on the site, although this is free and relatively painless). There are themes based on just about anything you can think of, although the theme browser on the website doesn’t do much categorisation or sorting. (That said, there are also some skins on, as well)

LiteStep also has many configurable modules that can be used to enhance your theme. If you install a theme that uses a module you don’t have, then I believe LiteStep will download it for you.

Naturally, I’m planning to use this in a very customised virtual machine – I’ll report back when i have something to share on that!

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Filehippo update checker

I don’t know whether you’ve ever used it – it’s quite new and still in beta – but FileHippo have launched a new update checker.  Very nice, and supports many of the applications I have installed on Vista, including Flock, 7Zip, Flash Player, Foxit Reader, FileZilla, OpenOffice, Picasa

It’s a useful little tool, but beware: I basically did it to see whether there was an update to CCleaner, and suddenly I found I was downloading about 340MB!

It only supports applications that are downloadable from FileHippo, of course, but there’s probably enough there to update a lot of your system.  I’d recommend it, personally.

Java or .Net?

Is either of them irrelevant to this blog? .Net looks irrelevant, Java doesn’t.

Before you think I’m an anti-Microsoft stormtrooper, I’d like to explain why.

Java works by using bytecode. It’s interpreted (or, more likely, converted into native machine code by the Java Runtime Environment) as being machine code targeted to a specific design of machine: a particular non-existent (well, when it was invented, anyway) processor and hardware set designed by one of Sun’s best cowboys, James Gosling.

.Net, however, works more like the GNU compiler collection, where everything is compiled to an intermediate language, that is kind of a meta assembler language which works on any processor. There is, actually, precedence for this – the famous Spectrum game Pyjamarama was written that way, and the programmer went on to create TeeOS around the same idea.

So, to come back to why Java is relevant and .Net isn’t, here’s the bottom line: Java is emulated, .Net is compiled.

Except that I also plan to write about obscure programming languages as well. So I suppose .Net, being a compiler inside, is relevant on those grounds.

One all.

Multics: set free

The source code for Multics has been released now, “for any purpose and without fee”. The importance of this operating system can’t be underestimated; so many things we take for granted as standard features in modern operating systems were either invented for, or pioneered in, Multics: dynamic linking (DLLs, basically) and online reconfiguration (plug ‘n’ play, but more so: you could even add and remove CPUs while the system was running!) to name but two.

What really set Multics apart though was its security level, which was higher than any system at the time, and is still the only operating system to reach the B2 Orange Book security rating from the National Computer Security Centre (part of the NSA). It was also one of the first – if not the first – OSes to be written in a high level language. PL/I, to be precise (a language notorious for being really hairy).

The significance of the source release is this: Multics, which only ever ran on a specific set of mainframes, may yet come alive again. Possibly the most secure operating system of all time, and certainly one that was beloved by its operators (who call themselves Multicians), may be coming to a PC near you in the next couple of years, but this time as a free, open-source operating system. All it needs is someone to start the ball rolling and start a project on sourceforge… any takers?