Introducing Boxstarter

Every year, Scott Hanselman publishes his Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows. I usually take a look through it, pat myself on the back when I see things I’ve been using for a while, and spend some time investigating some of the new ones. Sometimes a tool that I’ve looked at before but haven’t been using gets another mention and it prompts me to take a look (this year it was Clink, a tool that adds readline-style editing to the Windows command line).

I recently discovered that I’d missed an important recommendation – it’s right there at the beginning of the list. A while ago, someone on my old team at Microsoft UK had recommended Chocolatey. This is a command line tool that works like apt-get but it installs Windows tools and applications. What I really wanted was a way to script installation of tools through Chocolatey, say after deploying a clean installation of Windows.

Introducing Boxstarter. Boxstarter, as recommended by Scott, is a fantastic tool that allows you to configure the installation of a set of Chocolatey packages. It also allows you to configure key Windows settings. Even better, the WebLauncher installs everything from a simple URL.

For simple installations, you can list the packages you want in the URL and BoxStarter will take care of the rest. Say I want to install node.js, git, and Visual Studio Express for Windows. Easy. I just press Win+R to bring up the run dialog and type

http://boxstarter.org/package/nr/nodejs.install,git.install,VisualStudioExpress2013WindowsDesktop

Here is a video (don’t worry – most of the Visual Studio installation is edited out) that shows what happens when you launch this on a clean installation of Windows 8.1: