Archive for the ‘Meta’ Category

Edit Windows file types with FileTypesMan

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

To keep track of which programs should open which files, Windows uses a system with two basic units: file extensions, file types and actions. File extensions like .html and .txt are associated with a single file type, which is called things like ChromeHTML and txtfile. The file type includes a number of actions, such as Open and Edit, each containing a command string, which tells Windows how to open the file.

Back in Windows XP, the Explorer included a very useful dialog window in which you could manually edit the association between file extensions and file types, as well as the actions belonging to each file type. I personally used this extensively. Specifically, I like to customize the Edit menu item for various file types. For example, I could click Open on an HTML file to open it in my web browser and click Edit to open it in my HTML editor.

Unfortunately, this feature was removed from later versions of the Explorer. Many third-party alternatives have been developed, but the most powerful and reliable one that I’ve found is FileTypesMan by NirSoft. While initially a bit confusing, it is a very capable program, and I thought I’d share some tips about it in this post.

Installation

FileTypesMan doesn’t include an installer, but I prefer to extract the archive into %ProgramFiles%\NirSoft. Then, I run the following command in a command prompt with administrative rights:

mklink /j "%AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Nirsoft" "%ProgramFiles%\NirSoft"

This creates a directory junction between the NirSoft folder and a new NirSoft folder in the current user’s Programs folder. This makes FileTypesMan easily accessible from the Start menu. Furthermore, the contents of the NirSoft folder will be included when I make a search from the Start menu.

Interface

FileTypesMan’s interface is divided into two sections: at the top, the list of all registered file types, and at the bottom, the list of all actions of the currently selected file type.

Main FileTypesMan window

You can search by file extension by typing anything while having the file type list selected. To search by other fields, use Edit Find (Ctrl-F). In the screenshot above, I’ve selected the .html file extension by typing .html (including the period). As you can see, it is associated with the ChromeHTML file type, which contains three actions: EditEdit2 and open.

Open and Edit are common actions, often defined by default, but I’ve added Edit2 myself. For ChromeHTML files, I’ve defined Edit to open KompoZer, my WYSIWYG editor, and Edit2 to open Notepad2, my plain-text editor.

Editing file types and actions

You can create a new action or edit an existing one by right-clicking in the action list. This brings up a menu where you define the internal action name, the menu caption (i.e. the text displayed in the Explorer’s right-click menu) and the command string describing how to open the file. Furthermore, you can copy and paste actions between multiple file types via the Copy Selected Actions option in the right-click menu.

Edit Action

The Edit Action window.

In the file type list, you can double-click a file extension/type in order to edit its properties. You can create a completely new file extension via Edit New File Extension (Ctrl-T).

Edit File Type

The Edit File Type window.

Creating new file types

The only thing that FileTypesMan can’t do is to create new file types per se.  It can create new file extensions, to which actions can be attached as well, but not new file types. Fortunately, it’s fairly simple to create a file type manually. Just edit and apply the following .reg file:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\YourInternalName]
@="NAME TO BE SHOWN IN EXPLORER"
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\YourInternalName\shell]
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\YourInternalName\shell\open]
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\YourInternalName\shell\open\command]
@="PROGRAM WITH WHICH TO OPEN FILE \"%1\""

Then, you can associate your file extension with your new file type by right-clicking on it in FileTypesMan and selecting Replace File Type For Selected Extension.

Reflections on the blog

Friday, March 19th, 2021

In the late 2000s, I used to run a moderately successful Swedish blog about technology – Softtype – which no longer exists. Around 2011, I lost interest and stopped doing it. This new blog is my first real attempt at blogging in a decade.

That decade has given me some valuable perspective on blogging as a whole. I have a clearer idea of what makes for good content, and I’ve realized that you can’t write about something in the long term unless you’re really passionate about it.

That’s what I want to write about in this post. It seems early for a “state of the blog”, seeing as how I’ve just started it, so consider it more of a “state of my blogging” from 2008 until now, with special focus on my new blog.

Content

In terms of content, I think a blog like mine has to strike a balance between more philosophical and more practical posts. While practical posts are more useful, they often feel a bit shallow. I feel like a couple of my OS X posts are like that. They’re useful information, but more tutorials than blog posts, really.

On the other hand, philosophical posts, while having the potential to be deep and interesting, are rarely very useful from a practical standpoint. Sometimes, they just serve to stir up emotion; in some sense, I think my post about using old computers is like that. It’s gotten the blog a lot of traffic, though, and I’m grateful for that!

But the perfect blog post, in my opinion, should be both philosophical and practical. It should open the mind to new ways of thinking, in a very straightforward, pragmatic way. Of all my posts so far, I think the one about AppleScripts for the OS 9 Finder has succeeded best in this regard.

To apply that idea to this blog post, I’ll include a small tip that I find helps me with the wording of post titles: use the imperative mood instead of the present participle. For example:

  • Restore Leopard-like Exposé in Snow Leopard” instead of restoring
  • Stream audio from iOS to Snow Leopard via AirPlay” instead of streaming

A lot of titles involve a verb, especially when it comes to more practical posts, and reading -ing over and over again gets old.

WordPress

After experimenting with alternatives (including a short venture to build my own blog engine), I settled for WordPress as the back end for the blog. I was initially worried that the admin interface would be slow or unusable in older browsers, but it turns out that it’s still not too bad, as long as you re-enable the classic editor.

My reason for choosing WordPress is simply that, in terms of pure function, it is unparalleled. It just works, and it works very well. Looking around, there frankly doesn’t seem to any real (free) alternative. WordPress gives me so much for free. Out of the box, I can use MarsEdit to write and edit posts. I get pingbacks and trackbacks and threaded comments.

WordPress is big enough to be described as a monopoly, and a monopoly comes with monopoly benefits – most importantly, stability. I’m happy to say that the WordPress of 2021 is still pretty similar to the WordPress I learned to love in the 2000s.

As you can see, I use the old default theme for WordPress. This is a deliberate choice! Here’s how I’m thinking: Because the default theme is so recognizable, most visitors will immediately see that this is a blog. This means they will also understand that there are other posts they can read, that they can leave comments on posts and that they can subscribe to the blog via RSS. This is a big benefit, both for them and for me.

Future

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about blogging, and really any type of content creation, it’s that it’s best to keep your plans about the future to yourself, because the majority of the plans that humans make don’t work out. That said, personal computing is a topic that is dear to my heart, and it is hard for me to imagine that I would cease to have things to say about it.

Whether anyone reads it is another question. Blogs sure seem dead, at least in comparison to the 2000s. But who knows – maybe they aren’t as dead as they seem.

Why use old computers and operating systems?

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

On this blog, I write about the various computers I use and about the operating systems I use on them. Apart from Windows 7, which is relatively modern, these include Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which at this point is quite old, and Mac OS 9, which is practically ancient. I’d like to talk a bit about why I use such old systems.

Joy

I’ve mentioned before that, to me, computers are more than just a means to an end. I enjoy them or dislike them to the extent that they are a reflection of myself, to the extent that I can identify myself with them. They bring me immense joy – as well as much irritation, unfortunately…

Because I see computing as an interest, a hobby and a passion, I don’t like to use computers and operating systems that I don’t enjoy using, in the same way that somebody who enjoys literature isn’t interested in reading literature that they think is poorly written. That’s why I refuse to use Windows 10. The poor user interface just hurts my soul.

It happens to be that some of the best, most well-designed, most enjoyable user interfaces are buried in history. There is no modern equivalent to the Macintosh. If I want an enjoyable computing experience, then I am forced to look in the past.

Apps

Even from a totally pragmatic standpoint, there are good reasons not to reject old computers. To me, the most glaring example is HyperCard, a revolutionary application for the Macintosh which literally does not exist on modern operating systems. If you’ve never used it, it’s hard to appreciate just how incredible it was, but imagine if spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel stopped being developed and eventually just disappeared – that’s the level of significance that HyperCard had.

Quite literally, the only way to use HyperCard is to get a hold of an old Mac – or emulate it, but emulation always falls short of the real deal. That’s why HyperCard alone is a pretty clear reason to use Mac OS 9 today. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I regularly boot up my iMac G3; once you’ve discovered it, HyperCard is just too useful to give up.

Example of a HyperCard stack

I use HyperCard to keep track of the Russian literature that I read.

Specificity

When it comes to retro computing, the inevitable question is how to access the web. The answer is that it isn’t always possible. My iMac G3 is technically able to browse the web, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience, nor a very useful one. My 2009 Mac Mini running Snow Leopard handles it relatively well, but even Snow Leopard has problems accessing a lot of modern web sites.

I think the only solution is to stop expecting every computer to be general-purpose. In the human world outside of computers, general-purpose tools are pretty rare. No one expects there to be a single screw that fits all holes.

If we applied this type of thinking to computers, I think we could have a healthier relationship to them. I’m quite happy for my iMac to be my HyperCard machine. As long as I have a way to transfer data to and from it, it works rather well.

In fact, as cell phones become more and more general-purpose, I suspect there will be more room for non-general-purpose personal computers. There is a ton of software, just like HyperCard, waiting to be discovered in the depths of computer history, and the computers needed to run them are cheap. If you like WordStar, why not get an old DOS machine? Even if WordStar is the only program you’ll run on it, it might be a worthwhile endeavor – as long as you have space for it.

New blog about personal computing

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

The personal computer is something that is very dear to me. If there are two types of computer users in the world:

  1. those who see their computer as a means to an end, and
  2. those who identify themselves with their computer,

then I am part of the latter group. I care deeply about the way my computer works, especially with regards to the operating system and user interface. And once I’ve found an operating system that I like, I spend a lot of time learning it, customizing it and optimizing my workflow.

That’s why I created this blog. I’ve chosen to call it John’s Desktop. The theme is personal computing, but I thought desktop sounded better than PC. It’s been a while since I’ve done any blogging per se. I’ve written a few web articles throughout the years; I’m not sure that counts as blogging. But now I’m actually returning to it, with blog engine and all.

The posts are going to be focused on the operating systems that I use:

As you can see, it’s very much a mix of retro and modern. If you’re interested in the same kind of things – welcome! Feel free to stick around or subscribe to the feed.

John Ankarström