There are three functions I use all the time as a programmer. I need to find files with a particular name on my drives. I need to find out which files contain a particular word or phrase. I need to compare two different versions of the same files and see what those differences are. I also spend a lot of time at the command line. The first function can easily be performed on Windows using dir /s. The second function can be handled by any grep program and there are several versions available for Windows that can easily be downloaded from the Internet. The third function, I usually use the fc command. However, for files with very long lines it can be difficult to read the results and find the differences. It just so happened that I needed to compare several XML files with long lines and was having trouble using fc, so I went looking for Open Source alternatives. After trying every file difference tool I could find at Sourceforge, I came across a program that I’m thrilled to use. I now work with it all the time for comparing file differences. I even use it in place of fc for short files.
You may have heard of popular programs on Windows such as examdiff or winmerge. However, how many of you have heard of diffh? I like command line tools and you can definitely use this as a command line tool. However, you can also integrate it with an editor such as SciTE if you prefer to avoid the command line. It’s cross-platform. So, if you’re switching between Windows and Linux or FreeBSD or even a Mac, you can compile and build it on each machine and use the same program everywhere. Even though it’s a command line program, the output is more graphical, with highlighted text to show you the differences between the two files. How do you get that kind of output with a text program? The output is in HTML format, easily viewable by any good web browser.
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Dialog is a program that lets you create simple user interfaces quickly and easily.
Many of the install programs on Linux use Dialog to communicate with the person installing the operating system. Now you can use Dialog on Windows to rapidly create interfaces as well.
Scripting languages are great for prototyping applications or gluing programs together. However, most scripting languages don’t offer simple ways to communicate with a user and ask a question or display information. Dialog can bridge the user interface gap. It can help you create dialog boxes to display menu lists, checkbox lists, radio lists, input boxes for users to enter information, password boxes, a calendar for choosing dates or a way to choose times. It can give users yes and no button choices or display other text information to the user.
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One of the reasons I prefer Open Source software is that you can customize it to your personal needs. If you’re looking for a particular program, usually someone else has already written it. However, sometimes you’re looking for software to perform certain tasks and what’s out there is very close, but just not it. With the source available, you can build it yourself and make the modifications you want faster than you can write a program from scratch.
Comical is a good example of this. I wanted to find a cross-platform CBR and CBZ file viewer. I wanted a program that was compiled preferrably in C/C++ so it would run quickly, not something written in an interpreted language. Comical fits most of my needs, but I do prefer portable apps that I can take anywhere or move customized settings easily between machines. I checked various portable application web sites, but couldn’t find the solution I wanted. So, I made a few minor modifications to comical and rebuilt it using the ini file support in wxwidgets instead of registry support. Apparently, I’m not the only one who wanted a program like this; Critical Press Media has provided space to upload and share the program with others who might like it too.
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