Windows 7 has been available for long enough that software developers have begun to build open source software that exploits its features. We share a few FOSS applications, suitable for business, which deserve your exploration… and perhaps your community support.
Most Windows users are accustomed to having a huge array of workplace applications and tools available. The primary commercial applications are a part of the business ecosystem — popular, mature applications that have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to perform for business.
But, as strong as these applications are, they also come at a cost, usually the kind that puts a dent in your corporate budget. What if there was a way to get much of the same functionality of your existing software for free?
Open source software may not leap out at Windows users as a big solution, but even Microsoft has included free software within Windows 7. Dozens of existing applications fall into the free and open source software (FOSS) category, and most run on multiple operating systems (such as the Firefox browser or the OpenOffice.org suite). Most of the Windows open source apps run on all versions post-Windows XP — or at least on Windows Vista as well as Windows 7. If you’re comfortable and familiar with your existing Windows open source options, you have little to worry about.
However, Windows 7 does bring new features (many of which IT Expert Voice has explored at length), and developers are building on the new capabilities. New programs have been created to directly capitalize on Windows 7 features. Here’s a quick round-up of three solid open source applications you can download and start using for your Windows 7 business desktop today.
Discover the Missing (Virtual) Link
One of the touted features for Windows 7 that didn’t make it into the final release was the capability to create multiple, virtual, wireless adapter connections with the Virtual WiFi feature. Virtual WiFi was put together by Microsoft Research, and it does just what the name implies. This feature offers more functionality than the old ad hoc network connection. Users can connect to a wireless network, and then other devices can roll through to the same network using the virtual WiFi device just like a real access point.
Interestingly, most of the code to actually use this is inside Windows 7 now; it just isn’t activated yet. Ultimately, all network card drivers for Windows 7 will be required to support Virtual WiFi, and the feature will be switched on.
Until that time, you can download and install the open source Virtual Wifi tool hosted on the SourceForge open source repository). The only problem is that right now, there is only a German-language version of the utility.
To get around the language barrier, try downloading the freeware application Connectify, which performs the same service. Because its source code is not available, Connectify is not true open source, but it comes at the right price — free — and it has no restrictions of use.
Not-So Secret Agent
This one might fall under the category of “classic,” or maybe it’s pure stubborn nostalgia.
Beginning with Microsoft Office 97, a new interface tool won fans all over the world.
Yes, we’re referring to Clippy and the rest of the Microsoft Agent pantheon. With the release of Windows 7, it was thought that the animated interface, so often the butt of jokes from power users, would go the way of the dodo. Amazingly, Microsoft Agent is still popular enough that the company quietly released a Windows 7 version of the Agent platform.
There’s even open source software available that improves on the Agent platform. Known as Double Agent, it’s available for both 32- and 64-bit Windows 7 and—unlike the official Microsoft version—allows for the development of additional Agent applications.
While the Agent functionality may seem like a bad joke for savvy users, there’s very useful technology in here, including the latest version of Microsoft’s Speech API, the main text-to-speech engine for Windows. Developers and users of accessibility applications could benefit from the open source feature of Double Agent.
Okay, it’s Clippy, we get that. But the accessibility benefits are hard to ignore, and if your user base still misses the animated paper clip, this is an easy way to make them happy.
Tricked Out Logon Screens
Another useful open source application that taps into Windows 7 functionality is the Logon Background Changer.
The utility doesn’t sound very interesting, initially: a way to customize the logon screens for your users. However, it’s useful for companies that want to extend branding into staffers’ workstations or into public-facing systems.
The real payoff for this application is that it serves as a great demo app for the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), which according to Microsoft “provides developers with a unified programming model for building rich Windows smart client user experiences that incorporate UI, media, and documents.” In other words, a rich XML development environment.
Since the code for the Logon Background Changer is open, developers can easily get in and see WPF in action right away.
There’s not a big influx of open source apps that specifically capitalize on Windows 7 features yet. Reasons for this may be that the operating system is too new, and developers tend to like to wait until an update or two for any new operating system—just to make sure things are stable.
Still, there is some burgeoning interest in developing open source technology for Windows 7, perhaps one you already know about. Let us know in your comments, so we can add to the list.
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