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Windows

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Windows is a proprietary operating system created by Microsoft. Its prominent feature is the graphical user interface that so many people grew up with. It is built on top of the NT kernel.

File systems

Windows has notoriously poor support for third-party file systems. It primarily uses NTFS, and if you used anything else for your volumes, you'll have a hard time getting to that data.

It also supports obsolete file systems like the FAT family, but they're deprecated and shouldn't really be used since you can simply pick NTFS instead.

Extended filesystem

There are several ways to access an ext file system on Windows. You can use a program that reads the drive and presents you the files, or you can use a file system driver that runs in kernel mode and lets Windows mount drives just like any other drive.

These programs don't appear to be tested and stable. They appear to work and may be fine for reading, but perhaps it would be wise not to trust them with writing to your drive. Mounting drives read-only is recommended.

This blog post has detailed instructions on some of the options presented here.

Ext2Read

Ext2Read is a program akin to Windows Explorer that can read ext2/3/4 volumes. It supports LVM2 and ext4 extents. It can be used to copy files from the drive to your NTFS partition, thus making them accessible from Windows.

Ext2Fsd

Ext2Fsd is an open-source ext file system driver for Windows, though not all ext4 features are supported. Being a driver, it lets Windows recognize ext volumes and mount them just like any other drive. However, it runs in kernel mode, which can potentially cause system instability.

Virtual machine

It's also possible to run Linux from a virtual machine and hook up the hard drive to it, so that it appears as a device in Linux. You can then mount it and use the drive normally and without fear. Take advantage of bidirectional shared directories in order to transfer data from and to your drive.

Ricing

Natively, Windows is terribly hard to rice on, however software like bblean allows for linux-esque window management and is seen on most riced Windows desktops. Outside of this, there are Windows themes, however these are potentially harmful and should be avoided.

Keep reading if you want to rice your Windows.

Rainmeter

Rainmeter is one of the handful of tools which make it possible to rice, to a degree. It is a free and open source desktop customization program which uses skins to display information. Various skins can preform tasks such as displaying system resources, showing RSS feeds, launch programs, or controlling a music player. Most people on /g/ avoid using Rainmeter as it puts strain on system resources and is hard to get right, as most of the time it looks too busy and takes up too much desktop real-estate.

Winaero and other sites

Working within the confines of the Windows interface, one can make many useful changes to the way their computer looks and runs, including getting rid of many resource-wasting effects which are default in Windows, and even bring Windows 8 into a comfortable state free of Metro.

Launchy

A customizable free and open source application launcher. By default it indexes the program shortcuts in the start menu folder. These can be launched with a keystroke. Users can also add other locations to be indexed.

Stardock Fences

Create shaded, customizable "groups" on your desktop for files, folders, and programs. Unfortunately it is proprietary with weak freeware alternatives but cracked versions are available.

Helpful Links

Command line

For a long time, the cmd.exe program was the only terminal Windows users had. It is the reason many people hate command line interfaces. It is impossible to change the width of the terminal or make it full screen. It is awkward to copy and paste text. The shell language is nigh-unreadable, and that's saying something. It was just plain ugly and didn't work well.

PowerShell

In a surprising twist of fate, the company that consistently had the worst terminals and shells out of any operating system would go on to create one of the best shells around. PowerShell was created by Microsoft's server group (a.k.a. the guys who actually use shells) and it shows.

PowerShell scripts are designed to be short and scale down to as few lines as possible, making it ideal for scripting. Unlike in Unix, where programs are expected to parse their textual input, everything in PowerShell is statically typed, so there is no need to convert from text strings to strongly-typed values; it's all automatically done for you. Even pipes aren't pure text streams but actual, strongly-typed objects. Documentation and usage information gets automatically generated, autocompletion and similar features are provided by default.

However, the terminal emulator itself still appears to be the crappy command prompt that's been around since forever.

Console

Console is a straight upgrade from the Windows terminal. It provides features that are pretty much standard in any Linux terminal emulator, such as tabs, free text selection, different background types, transparency, configurable fonts, and possibly more.

Running Linux Environments on Windows

The default shell for Windows is quite limited in its potential customization. But think of this not as an inhibiting hurtle; just as you can switch interfaces under Linux, you can use a whole different one on Windows and even make great use out of some of the default interfaces.

Two of the main Linux-esque toolsets you can get for Windows are:

Cygwin Terminal

Cygwin is a project which provides tools developed for Linux on Windows, which provides a terminal that runs a version of bash to for executing programs. So for instance, after setting up a Cygwin installation, you can open up Cygwin Terminal and actually use wget to download a file.

You have the choice between Cygwin for 32-bit systems and 64-bit systems; I've never had a problem and I use the 64-bit one.

/cygdrive/c/cygwin64/bin

This is the path that all the .exe files that can be tab-completed in Cygwin Terminal can be found. Mastering this aspect of Cygwin can really give you that Linux feeling when it comes to working a terminal on Windows. For instance, I place mpv and youtube-dl into this directory and that makes it possible to use those two programs even though they aren't officially available for Cygwin, similar to how a Linux user can place programs in /usr/bin.

Further reading