Amherst Bytes 2.0: Reprogram Your Life
By Ricardo Bilton '10 and Peter Le '10, Staff Writer and Contributing Writer
The landscape of the typical Windows or OSX desktop is littered with the remnants of applications of times gone by. Computer vendors tend to have a nasty habit of foisting upon costumers some of the most intrusive and unintuitive applications imaginable — often before the computers have been booted up. What results, invariably, is a sort of software complacency, a less-than-desirable satisfaction with second-rate software. The truth is this: there are better options out there. In this first edition of Amherst Bytes 2.0, we aim to save our readers from sucky software by offering a few wholesome (and free!) alternatives.

Pimp Your PC — Peter Le ’10

VLC Media Player

By default, Windows ships with Microsoft’s Windows Media Player (WMP). It is currently at version 12 and has vastly improved over the years. For general use, WMP is fine. It can play most music and movies that people have and will also burn and sync multimedia files. But once in a while, a user will come across a file that WMP just refuses to play. It’ll complain and moan and say something about a codec and then refuse to do anything. This is where VLC Media Player comes to the rescue. Touted as the media player that can play anything, VLC is a free, open source multimedia player, encoder and streamer. This essentially means it can play, create and deliver multimedia files. VLC is available on Mac, Windows and Linux and can also be run on a portable device such as a USB thumb drive. It’s a must-have for people who download and share multimedia files from diverse sources. Some lesser known features of VLC are that it can also make screencasts and play video as ASCII art.


By default Windows can extract ZIP files but cannot create them. A must-have for any Windows user is the file archiver 7-Zip. Not only can it extract and create ZIP archives, it supports other popular file formats such as RAR and TAR. For those unaware of the many benefits of file archiving, some uses include the ability to quickly share large files over the Internet or to attach a folder in an email. Free and available only for Windows, 7-Zip is desirable program for computer user looking to pimp his or her PC.


Any article claiming to pimp your PC would be remiss to not mention Firefox. The browser, based off the long-dead Netscape Navigator, rose from obscurity in 2004 as part of the Mozilla Project to become the second most popular browser with 30 percent of the market share, after Internet Explorer’s (IE) 55 percent. While IE’s market share has been declining, Firefox’s had been increasing steadily year after year. This is due in large part to its fast performance and rich feature set, including a large library of community-supported add-ons which vastly extend the browser’s capabilities. While the “Browser War” continues primarily between Firefox and IE, Google’s notable but relatively new contestant Chrome has been gaining popularity at a swift pace. Its speed and ease of use threaten to turn the two-man ruckus into a battle royale. Both Chrome and Firefox are free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Ameliorate Your Mac — Ricardo Bilton ’10


To be blunt, Quicksilver is the one application that all OSX owners should use. Running in the background of the operating system, Quicksilver holds a finger to the pulse of your computer, cataloging applications and documents for easy retrieval. When the Quicksilver window is invoked, the user is given complete control over the contents of their system. Want to send an e-mail? You can do that from the Quicksilver window. Need to pause iTunes? By setting a few keyboard shortcuts, you can start, stop, and do just about anything with iTunes without ever navigating to the program. It should be said that Quicksilver possesses a bit of a learning curve, but read the manual and spend a few minutes experimenting, and you will soon feel like you are finally in control over your computer.


In our world of perpetual multi-tasking and multi-tabbed web-browsing, it’s nice once and a while to eliminate computer-borne distractions and focus on your writing. WriteRoom’s goal is to imitate the seamlessness and singularity of the typewriter. When it is run in full-screen mode, WriteRoom turns your whole screen into a word processor.

— Continued on Page 8

Everything else disappears - dock, menu bar, mouse functionality - and you are left with a blank screen. While not in any way seeking to replace Word, Writeroom does an amazing job of clearing the clutter, and, in turn, your mind.

Carbon Copy Cloner

No modern-day computer user should ever be without a viable backup. While hard drives are cheap, plentiful, and rapidly increasing in size, they often don’t make the back-up process all that intuitive. If Apple’s Time Machine doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps Carbon Copy Cloner will. Carbon Copy Cloner is a simple back-up utility that does all the things a simple back-up utility should. Users can schedule periodic backups, chose which files to back up, or, ideally, make a complete, bootable copy of their hard-drive. Backing-up your computer is likely the most important thing you can do for your data - not to mention yourself.

Issue 19, Submitted 2010-03-25 08:42:41