The previous episode in this series was about PowerToys: a nice collection of first-party tools to extend the functionality of Windows for power users. But what about functionality that’s built into the system? There are a few more areas I wanted to touch on before concluding the GUI part of these series, so let’s dive in.
I miss macOS' Preview app. This system tool, often thought of as a simple PDF reader, is much, much more than that. I understand the confusion because, on the surface, Preview’s UI couldn’t be more spartan. But once we interact with it, we realize it has much more to offer. On the PDF front, Preview lets you break files apart, merge them, reorder them, annotate them, file forms (not always). And on other fronts, Preview is a great image viewer and relatively simple editor (a la Windows' Paint).
Preview’s PDF editing features have been critical in some of my workflows—aka digitizing the many paper documents that we still receive via snail mail. I haven’t yet found a good alternative on Windows. The File Explorer addons extension from PowerToys that I previously described helps a little bit, but it’s insufficient. There is, of course, Adobe Acrobat Reader… but I refuse to install such a monster, especially now that it comes with cloud features and subscription requirements. I mean, seriously, why. It’s supposed to be a frigging document reader.
The Microsoft Store is riddled with PDF viewers. Some are of dubious quality. Most are free with ads and some paid-only features. I’m sure some there is one in there that is good, but it feels wrong to have to pay for such an app when the OS should “just” provide this basic feature given how ubiquitous PDFs are. Yeah, I know this is not fair to the developers, but all of macOS, Gnome, and KDE have these features now for free, so…
Fortunately, and I guess thanks to Google Chrome’s initial push “for security reasons”, browsers of all things have gained PDF reading capabilities. They are not as powerful as Preview, but for most tasks, Edge is good enough. I wonder what I’ll have to do when I want to manipulate a PDF though. Maybe just borrow my wife’s MacBook Pro.
Speaking of Edge, this browser deserves its own section. Believe it or not, I have been a pretty happy user of this browser for more than a year now, and I’ve been using it on Windows, macOS, and even iOS where it’s not really a browser.
I primarily started using Edge on the Surface Go 2 because it was noticeably faster than Firefox and, surprisingly, Chrome as well—which is interesting because they share the same gigantic rendering engine. That experience left me with a good impression so I tried using it on the desktop as well and it has been really good.
But I’m sad that Edge is essentially Chrome now. I was pretty excited when Microsoft decided to build a new rendering engine from scratch with Edge; not because I liked Microsoft or Internet Explorer, but because diversity in engines is a must to keep the Internet neutral. Unfortunately, Edge moved to Chromium not so long ago… and we lost a potentially big player in the browsers arena. The current state of affairs in browser-land is concerning and I’ll be forever disappointed that Mozilla dropped Servo and fired most of their Rust team. Oops. End of digression.
On a brighter side of things, let’s talk about screen captures. All I knew before diving into Windows was that
PrtScrn captured the screen into the clipboard and then you had to go into Paint to paste and save it, but things are infinitely better now.
I find myself constantly using is the snipping features built into the system. Press
Shift+Win+S and you get the ability to capture the whole screen, a window, or an arbitrary rectangular area. (macOS had these features too, and it’s great to see that Windows has them as well.)
As a nice touch, whenever you capture a screenshot, you get a notification to open the capture in the Snipping Tool, a little program that lets you annotate the image and do some other basic manipulations before saving the result or copying it to the clipboard.
And what about video? As it turns out, you can also trivially save a screen recording by pressing
Win+G to enter the Game Bar and using the right buttons in there. This has been handy to record many of the EndBASIC demos I have been sharing.
That’s about it for today and concludes the GUI section of this multi-part reflection. The next episode will open the last chunk of this series, which will focus on my experiences about developing on Windows.