Unix for the Windows World
Okay, so you’re a geek. Or you’d like to be. All of your cool friends are running Linux — or maybe even FreeBSD. You’d like to install something with a distinctly geeky UNIX flavor. There’s a problem, though. You’ve got a PC, it runs Microsoft Windows, and your parents / spouse / girlfriend / boyfriend / children will cause you great pain — or at least a great headache — if you do anything to endanger their comfortable environment. Chopping your hard drive in half to put a new operating system on it will probably end in tears. What to do?
Or maybe you’re like me. You are sort of a geek. You like to program, and you enjoy the command line. Heck, you even like X11. Trouble is, you’ve also got a few decent Windows programs, and you don’t feel like rebooting every time you want to play Civilization IV or muck about with Adobe Photoshop. If you were a real geek, you could probably do something with Wine. You’re not a real geek, though – at least not the sort who can work their way through a binary compatibility layer. I’m with you. Heck, I can’t even type “binary compatibility layer” without a spellchecker handy. What should we do?
The solution is surprisingly straightforward. Get Cygwin (pronounced “Sig-win”). Cygwin provides a Linux-like environment for the Microsoft Windows platform. It’s a simple point-and-click install, which should provide a pleasant surprise for some of the grizzled (well, lightly toasted) folks who attemped a Linux install. As much as it looks like Linux or whatever derivative of UNIX you happen to like, it’s still Windows underneath. Cygwin is not binary compatible with Linux, which means that you can’t just pick up a compiled Linux program and run it on your Cygwin install. The good news is that it is possible to compile many of those programs to run under Cygwin. It can be a challenge, though — don’t say you weren’t warned!
So that’s all I’ll say for now. If I ever talk about some UNIXy thing on this site, the odds are good that you can also do it from Cygwin.
Cygwin Ports Project
Cygwin on its own is fairly handy, but one of the blessings of a major open source project like this is that people are always working to add more. These additions may eventually get incorporated into the main Cygwin repository. It wasn’t that long ago that X11 was considered an experimental add-on which only the brave should try. Nowadays it’s standard and readily available.
You may want to play with the packages which haven’t been incorporated into Cygwin yet. My advice to you is to go straight to the Cygwin Ports Project and follow the instructions there.