Idea: the poor man's package manager for Windows

We might also call this a "software mind-map". Wouldn't it be nice to keep track of all the stuff you install on your Windows box, especially when you're a developer who tends to install a LOT of different stuff? Here's one way you can use Windows folders to do this for you.:
  1. Create a new folder
  2. Adjust it's view settings
    1. set it to be an icon folder
    2. auto-arrange off,
    3. align-to-grid on.
  3. Go through your download folder and drag an "important" file, like Firefox, into the new folder.
  4. Repeat for every related file: add-ons, documentation, and even things like Fiddler.
  5. Add a note to the end for everything that isn't represented by a file (addons, and even special configuration. for some programs you can put special file locations and passwords in this file)
  6. Repeat for every "program of interest"
Here's what you might end up with:

What is a program of interest? Anything complicated enough to justify this treatment. For example, I have XAMPP with all it's addons (I included SQLyog with it for good measure), PostgresQL along with a Windows Service icon, pgAdmin III, and the JDBC driver, and installation notes, Eclipse with a bunch of stuff, Tomcat with a bunch of files (mostly docs but a few shared libs), and even Cygwin, PuTTY and PuTTYCyg (which is great, BTW) all lined up.

Stuff that isn't that customized and relatively standalone doesn't get this treatment. Things like Synergy, PSPad, Textpad, Photoshop, Office, JDiskReport, etc don't need to be laid out like this. However, I've made some exceptions. pgAdmin is basically standalone, but it's meaningless to me without PostgreSQL.

Why is this useful? It helps me remember what I have installed, how I installed it (and most importantly) how to start it, stop it, and mess with it. I guess it's kind of like a mind-map of software.

Warning: this positional information you worked so hard for can be lost in a variety of ways. Windows is very eager to move your icons around for you. If you right click and "arrange icons" in any way your work will be lost. If you change your view type (e.g. list details), your work will be lost. If, in another folder you "apply folder settings to all folders" (I think) your work will be lost. In addition, if you do this on the desktop and your screen resizes, you guessed it, your work will be lost. (I actually rather like the desktop as the place to do this. If Windows had a "don't move my icons no matter what" setting I would be pleased.) Trust me when I say that you won't want to do this work ever again. Here's a larger chunk of my desktop:

And yes, you can do this on your desktop, but I don't recommend it. If your screen resizes you loose all that positional information (horrible UI design, BTW - you should never make it easy for users to loose information).

Note in the above picture how I put a shortcut to Services next to SVN and CVS. This reminds me that to control these things I need to use a generic interface - they are headless services or daemons. Also notice I put a shortcut to tortoise next to SVN - that's really just to remind me I installed it, and it's related. Also note that, if I didn't have puttycyg installed, I wouldn't have put either putty or Cygwin on the desktop. Indeed, it may still come off!

With XAMPP you see above it bugzilla and mediawiki - two packages I will eventually install with XAMPP, but I haven't yet so their of to the side. (The installation of bugzilla is not going smoothly - I'll probably have a lot of notes for XAMPP by the time it's working, which I promise to share.) SQLyog is there because it's my favorite MySQL front-end, and XAMPP is in charge of the installation.

[Golly, I really don't feel like hyperlinking everything I should here. Seems like someone should write a "hyperlinker" that learns from you and can link stuff up automatically. I'm sure it exists, as the need is obvious and it would be simple to write.]

[Update: Just discovered another way to loose positional information - copy the folder. That's right, icon positions are lost when you try to copy the folder. Sigh.]

[Update: Discovered that others have had this problem, and there are many solutions. WinTidy 2 was the first util I found, but it doesn't work with SP2. Then I found this shiny, tiny little program. Yes, it's terribly unsafe, installing a mystery DLL into system32. But it seems to be innocuous. BTW it's a very elegant installer: a DLL, a batch file, and a .reg file. Nice!]

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