Open Source Tools
I have been trying to find the easiest most widely useful set of tools usable for developing the widest range of applications. I have only so many hours in the day and only so many days left on earth to spend learning each required tool. It is clear that much of my work will be with the web. But also, some of it is just plain old data crunching and report creation and possibly small one off applications.
This thought pattern originally had me programming using Access and Visual Basic and moving into various aspects of SQL. A great all in one tool set that can do about anything on a smaller scale, but nothing much useful with the web. As I began to look for ways to upgrade from Access I explored the wide range of Microsoft products, in particular the various "free" versions of Visual studio, with MSQL server and the reporting package. There were obvious clinkers and roadblocks which prevent these tools from being used in any meaningful way without buying the whole suite, the roadblocks and licensing issues were just too much of a PITA. I did experiment with a Version of the full MS suite to see if it might be worth laying out the $$ and time to get into. At the same time I was exploring the forums for answers as to how to use and configure the various MS tools I began to be aware of various alternative tools.
At first I figured Open Source meant Linux to start. So I made a detour to pick that up and get my only system at the time configured for dual boot. Boy was I Scared! It worked like a charm. I subsequently learned, the hard way, that much of free source works better on Windows! Those free source guys understand where the installed base is! So I got my tools up and going on Windows xp and now Vista. See my tech blog at http://tombrander.wordpress.com for some gory details of all this!
Specifically I zeroed in on MYSQL and various "freesource" report writers.. With far less effort than buying Microsoft tools, I was able to assemble a working suite with MYSQL, Eclipse and Birt report writer, and Heidi sql for a reasonable admin tool. All free. and if something did not work there were people willing to help in almost real time (often times a real core developer). No more snotty and impossible to find answers in obscure and or pay for MS forums and their ecco-system which has spawned pay for expert sites to answers things which should be readily documented and or provided by mutual help.
So now I had industrial strength tools, completely scalable. And Microsoft was not involved. I was beginning to read Java books ( Birt and Eclipse are primarily Java systems).
I needed to fill out the Tool box... More on that next time. (Python, Django, App-engine, app engine patch and Pinax, and SVN, Mercurial, and GIT).