Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft Windows’

 

I Love My New Computer. I Hate Windows 8.1

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

IMG_20131124_131622

I’m typing on the new computer I ‘built’ a few weeks ago. It’s ‘built,’ not built, because I didn’t actually put the components into their slots. That honor went to a tech at Fry’s. It was built with parts I specified after lots of research and angst. It is custom in every sense of the word.

In nearly every respect this box performs better than anticipated. Because its system drive is an SSD, instead of a mechanical hard drive, it boots in under 20 seconds. Photoshop, a major beast of a program, lights up in under three seconds!

The system was built to manipulate stills and videos while being quiet. It does both very well. High def video is often rendered faster than its realtime running length!

Having two 1920×1080 monitors (which I bought at BestBuy) has given me loads of desktop real estate, making nearly everything I do easier. Two, three, four or more programs can be open simultaneously. That’s a web design game changer.

All that being said, Windows 8.1 is the weakest link. For a longtime Windows user this latest Microsoft iteration is non-intuitive while adding extra steps and hoops to jump through.

What were they thinking?

The problem is Windows 8 was built to be used in touchscreen and keyboard scenarios. It comes up short when you are forced to use actions more suitable to a tablet on a keyboard and mouse computer. It is frustrating.

My friend Peter Mokover is in the final stages of building a similar computer. He asked which OS to use, Windows 7 or 8.1?¹ I’m not sure.

Windows 7 is a better bet right now. But, as a geek, it’s tough to not use the latest operating system which is still in active development. I won’t be surprised if he grits his teeth and goes with Windows 8.1, even knowing it’s bad.

For my purposes (and Peter’s) a Windows alternative is not an option. Too many of the specialized programs we need only run on this platform.

For most general users who basically surf and read email, Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot! Nowadays web based apps are replacing OS specific programs. This debacle will only push more people to Android or Apple’s OSX and IOS.

Here’s my rundown:

  • Windows 8.1 (x64) (build 9600)
  • CPU: 3.50 gigahertz Intel Core i7-4770K
  • Motherboard: Z87-G45 GAMING (MS-7821) 1.0
  • RAM: 16328 Megabytes Usable Installed Memory
  • Drive: Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB [Hard drive] (250.06 GB) — drive 0
  • Drive: WDC WD2002FAEX-007BA0 [Hard drive] (2000.40 GB) — drive 1
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 [Display adapter]
  • Monitor (2): AOC 2367 [Monitor] (23.1″vis, s/n BEGD89A000462, August 2013)
  • Case: Thermaltake Soprano

¹ – Windows 8.1 is a free, service upgrade to Windows 8 after the original cry from users. It is a small, incremental improvement over the original.

Helaine And The Penguin: My Wife’s Linux Laptop

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Just a few feet to my left Helaine is sitting with her laptop. I can’t see what she’s doing, but whatever it is she’s doing it without complaint. Her laptop no longer runs Windows. She’s running Ubuntu Linux.

After a few pointed questions I’ve come to the conclusion she doesn’t care. That’s great.

To Helaine Ubuntu and Windows are functionally equivalent. To a hacker or virus planter there’s a huge difference. Their voodoo won’t harm her!

The anticipation of this switchover was more painful than the switch itself. I backed up her critical files, inserted the Ubuntu disk and it just installed. Both the sound and WiFi were recognized and proper drivers installed.

Beyond logging onto our encrypted wireless network there was nothing to do. The laptop just worked on the first try!

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges. The current Linux version of Picasa has a well documented glitch that kept it from running. Of course the well documented glitch wasn’t seen by me until I installed it three times!

Some of what I did wouldn’t be obvious to a new user. That’s a Linux problem, though new Windows installation from scratch would bring some similar concerns.

I understood WINE needed to be installed for a few Windows only programs to run. No problem for me, but it must be frustrating to someone who can’t conceptualize why and just wasn’t expecting it.

Converting Helaine’s email files demanded some scrambling. She’s an Outlook Express user. I set up Thunderbird as her mail client because it’s quite similar.

Unfortunately Thunderbird won’t import Outlook Express files natively. There is a separate command line program that does the conversion. Files then have to be manually renamed. Again, not a big deal, but only if you know you have to do it.

I’m pretty impressed with Thunderbird. I hadn’t configured an email program in a long time, but as soon as I told Thunderbird Helaine’s mail address it went into its database and set all the server parameters automatically. Sweet.

The default Ubuntu look is a little utilitarian and dull. The default type is very small. I reconfigured the fonts and colors and even added Helaine’s desktop background from her Windows machine. It’s a little more finished now.

So far it’s running like a champ. It boots quickly. It’s been stable. All the functionality she wants and needs is there.

By the way, all of this is free! Where have I gone right?

I’m About To Perform The Great Linux Experiment On Helaine’s Laptop

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Helaine’s laptop is infected again! Though I’ve removed most of the infection her browser is still being hijacked. Google results bring spammy non-Google ‘search’ sites. There’s surely stuff I can’t find. Other functions like sound are no longer reliable.

This virus is so good it managed to shut off Microsoft’s own Windows Security Essentials program! Thanks Bill.

This is not Helaine’s fault! Considering where I found most of the infected files it looks like she was fed an infected Java jar. It probably came from an otherwise trustworthy website via an infected ad.

A day after the infection Java posted one of their ‘too damn often’ security updates. Come to think of it Microsoft was in the midst of rolling out Security Essentials 2 then too. Coincidence? I think not.

I have two choices. I can reload Windows XP and take the chance of it happening again or just maybe I can switch her to the virtually virus free Ubuntu Linux.

She was at first skeptical. OK, she was skeptical at second too. Linux sounds geeky.

Certainly there will be a different look and different programs to use. Her browser will remain the same. Her email program will change.

Helaine is primarily a web browser. She doesn’t run very many discrete programs. Those she does use have native Linux versions or claim to run through WINE the Windows emulator.

Linux comes with a ‘live’ version allowing a quick try without committing to an installation. I loaded the CD and it works.

Tonight I’ll back up Helaine’s files and install Ubuntu. Wish me luck.

Better still wish Helaine luck.

Tech Support Here. I’d Like A Few Words With You

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Hi, tech support here. I’m the friend/relative who fixes your broken PC. I am part of an army of nerds that cleans up other people’s computer troubles.

The good news is I can probably fix your computer even though this is the first time I’m seeing your particular problem. It’s not that I know how to fix everything. I just know where the answers are. That’s the secret of the nerds!

Unfortunately I can’t find the answer unless I know exactly what the problem is. No abbreviating. No paraphrasing. I need the error message verbatim. Don’t leave stuff out. Let me decided what’s important.

Writing all that stuff down is a pain in the butt. Do it anyway. Trust me–you’re still getting off easy.

I have to research. I can’t unless I have real specifics. This is why computer geeks are often perceived as snippy. Put yourself in our scuffed shoes.

If your computer stopped right after you did something tell me.

One of my tech ‘suportees’ downloaded the ‘free Flash player’ from a porn site. It was the only way to get the free porn. Wow, how public spirited. I won’t be judgmental.

Yesterday my daughter’s computer lost Internet access after getting some Microsoft updates… except it wasn’t connecting to the Internet before the updates either. I discovered that by accident. It allowed me to say, “wait.” Sure enough today this problem fixed itself.

Speaking of my daughter, she knows I don’t snoop at her stuff. She’s a grownup and deserves privacy. However, understand we tech supporters can see pretty much everything on your computer including a list of the websites you’ve recently visited.

A friend’s teenage daughter decided she didn’t need my help when she found that out.

Sometimes problems can be solved by restoring. It’s a function built into Windows and brings your computer back to an earlier state. Documents remain untouched. Whoever’s responsible for that gets my undying gratitude. Of course if you tell me the problem started three months ago restore won’t help.

If you’re infected with a virus I’m going to recommend reformatting and reloading from scratch. Maybe I could clear the infection, but it’s painstaking work which will take forever with no guarantee I’ll fully succeed. Virus writers try and protect their work from my repairs and they’re much more computer savvy than I am. Reloading take a fraction of the time and I don’t need to supervise most of it.

I don’t have virus protection on my computers and I don’t get infected! Think about that a second.

Today most… no nearly all virus infections happen because you bring them in! It’s called social engineering. The virus writers convince you to do it willingly! Most computer users click on anything without understanding what they’re doing. You’re not doing yourself any favors.

Microsoft takes a lot of the credit here. Their methods of security have numbed users who just assume all clicks are good.

If you’re using a Mac I don’t want to hear it. OK?

Old Laptop – Fresh Install

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I am typing on a 2½ year old Dell 640m laptop. Like most computers it has slowed over time. It’s not wearing out. It’s the victim of dozens of instances of poor or sloppy programming! It can be fixed–in fact it has been fixed.

Unfortunately, installing programs in a Windows computer is not as simple as it would seem. Windows (all versions of Windows) depend on a “registry.” Here’s how PCMag.com defines it:

The configuration database in all 32-bit versions of Windows that contains settings for the hardware and software in the PC it is installed in. The Registry is made up of the SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT files. Many settings previously stored in the WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI files in 16-bit Windows (Windows 3.x) are in the Registry.

Over time the registry gets bloated and full of orphan files.

On top of that some programs are just not as nice as they seem! They can take up resources even when you’re not using them!

Most computers also end up with a few handfuls of ‘helper programs.’ These are little applets that run all the time checking of the master program needs updating. They each use a little memory and processor power though they’re seldom really needed.

I might as well point a finger at myself too. Over time I’ve been a software slut installing lots of programs and never uninstalling them when I stopped using them.

Anyway, long story short, I decided it was time. Dell nicely dedicates a portion of the original hard drive to an image of the factory fresh install. I backed up the files I figured I’d need, rebooted and started the journey.

The actual Windows Vista Business re-install didn’t take long. What was tedious was going to Windows Update to get all the patches and fixes–nearly 100. The process was slow and the progress was poorly conveyed by Vista. I often wondered if anything was happening. Some patches wouldn’t even install!

Yeah, that’s right. A totally virgin install of Vista didn’t properly update using Microsoft’s own tools! Seriously. That’s disgraceful.

Dell’s not much better. Their support area has many patches listed for the programs in this machine. Unfortunately, their links lead to an error message indicating the patches aren’t there!

I’ll wait a day before contacting Dell. This seems like the kind of problem they’ll quickly find on their own. Right Dell?

I was surprised by how little of my stuff was on this machine. My photos get pushed to a backup drive. Most of my documents live ‘in the cloud’ on a Google server somewhere.

Vista features the Aero interface with translucent windows on screen. When I first got this machine I turned it off. I originally thought it was a resource hog. It’s on right now because I’m no longer sure shutting it down really does make a difference.

Mostly Aero is eye candy–and not particularly Earth shattering.

I really won’t know this machine’s true state until I start editing photos. My RAW photos from the Canon Xsi weigh in at 16Mb per shot (approximately). Photo editing and manipulation is really heavyweight math. That’s the true test. If the machine performs as it did all this work will have been for nothing–and that’s a real possibility.

My best guess is the job’s around 75% done. There are more programs to load.

At some point I expect I’ll realize something I need no longer exists–inadvertently left off the backup. Hopefully nothing too important.

Google Changes Everything With The New Google Chrome OS

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

A little after midnight Google made a startling announcement. Late next year Google will roll out an operating system–Google Chrome.

Price out Windows Vista (or soon-to-come Windows 7) or Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard and see how they stack up against free! Google’s new OS will be open source which means free.

Some of you reading this are more technophobe than technophile so here’s a quick explanation. An operating system connects the programs you run with the underlying hardware that is your computer. Different operating systems interface with programs differently. Software must be written or rewritten for each OS. That is why my Mac friends kvetch so often about applications they want not being available for their machine.

Google’s OS promises to untie applications from a specific OS.

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

Actually there are lots of promises starting with security and speed.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

This is a huge announcement. Microsoft and Apple stock will plunge this morning. As of now their business plans are suspect.

It’s more than just a tech thing. This is a seminal moment in the history of communications, computing and media.

Very Connected With My Blackberry

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Helaine and I went to the JDRF Gala tonight. I was the emcee. More on that later.

Before we left we had the Phils/Mets game on. Good game and, of course, Helaine is a rabid Phillies fan. We continued listening in the car.

“Who is that guy? He’s awful.” Helaine was hearing a new Mets announcer for the first time. So much access now. There’s less reason to listen on the radio.

We got to the Gala. No TV. I pulled out my BlackBerry and hit the Phillies logo icon. My screen was updated every 15 seconds. There was a reasonably steady stream of text enumerated the action pitch-by-pitch. Text only. No video or audio.

This is nuts, right? Can’t we miss the end of an early season game? Obviously, no.

A few minutes later I got some text via BlackBerry’s messenger. It was Erik wishing the Phils luck and then predicting Shane Victorino would win the game for the Phillies.

He did!

This BlackBerry is magical. Stef told me before she got hers, but I took a long time to catch on. It is effortless as an email handler and its web browser is so vastly superior to the one on my earlier Samsung Blackjack with Windows 6 it’s criminal! I see people with iPhone’s and wonder how the experience could possibly be better than what I have?

People who purposely wander from the web often chide me for being too connected. They equate being in the digital cloud with work. No! My phone is a tool I use to my advantage. I understand why it is call “Crackberry.”

Vide-Oh My

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I saw a the thumbnail for a video posted by a friend of a friend on Facebook. What the heck–click. It’s a church group and a trip they took to Santa Catalina Island off the California coast.

Forget the scenery et al–what blew me away was the presentation. That’s what it is–a sophisticated presentation. It’s certainly more than you’d expect from a home movie. Video pulled out of scrapbook photos. A timeline traced the trip from the Midwest to California on a spinning globe.

The video was put together in a near automated fashion using Apple’s iMovie, a program which only runs on Macs. By specifying a template the program creates the finished product to match the desired look and feel. Can you see my jealousy?

I sent an email to Eric who pushed the buttons to make it happen. All he could do was tell me how easy it was. Eric–that doesn’t make it easier to take.

A Google search for a Windows application that does the same thing pointed to Adobe’s Premier Elements. It was the most often cited response. I’m going to give that a try. Unlike it’s more sophisticated cousins Premier Elements even handles the HD files from my little camcorder natively.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Reinstalling Windows XP

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

A few nights ago the main hard drive on my main desktop machine started making loud knocking sounds. Uh oh. Not good. Dead! Luckily I had recentlly backed up my photos, the only things I really needed. This seemed like a good time to reinstall XP and get a fresh start.

Maybe you are organized. Not me. My PC is as sloppy as my office–and that’s pretty darned sloppy. Starting from scratch is a convenient way to throw out a lot of crap.

I went online and found a 620 Gb hard drive. I was really tempted to get a 1 Tb, but the 620 Gb was on sale for a good price and had excellent reviews on the Newegg site. I find Newegg’s buyer reviews believable because I’ve seen so many that knock the product!

the drive itself was under $80 with free 3-day shipping. I ordered Thursday afternoon. UPS delivered it Friday afternoon. Sweet.

This machine was hand built by me and over time had accumulated 5-hard drives. I opened the case and pulled them out. Then I pulled out my original XP CDROM for the install. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve installed Windows.

This was about the time my mechanical reconfiguration noise woke Helaine. That’s not good.

Everything went fine until Windows discovered my hard drive. Instead of 620 Gb it was reporting 131069 Mb. As I’d later find out the original XP disk only supports drives that big. Back when XP came out no one had dreamed of throwing terrabytes of memory in a desktop machine.

I ended up at Paul Thurrott’s amazing SuperSite for Windows.where I was walked through the process of ‘slipsteaming’ Service Pack 2 into my original disk. Well, almost. The current version is Service Pack 3 and my CDROM burning software doesn’t actually support what needs to be done. A few ad libs and I was on my way.

At the moment Windows XP SP3 is installing with the full hard drive recognized. It’s going along very smoothly! I’m sure something will come up to slow me down.

In the meantime, I have discovered one hard drive is a lot quieter than five.

Upgrading My Samsung Blackjack To Windows Mobile 6

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

blackjack_upgrade_screen.jpgFor months the rumor has been floating around that my phone, the Samsung SGH-I607 (more commonly known as the Blackjack), would be getting a new operating system. It began its life with Windows Mobile 5. It would be upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.

I first heard this rumor about the time I got the phone, in the fall. There were dates announced and missed. Then Samsung came out with the Blackjack II.

Now there was a new rumor. With a new model, Samsung would stop any work on its older models.

Last night, while poking around, I found an article saying Samsung had actually released the update last week. I moved my focus to bulletin boards where the geekiest were already discussing their individual results (which like your mileage, can vary).

Two tidbits stood out. The Blackjack could still be used as a modem for connecting to the Internet (valuable if you’re sitting in an airline terminal or hotel with ‘pay only’ Internet access) and it now worked with Google’s GPS-less mapping system.

As much as I wanted to wait and let the smoke clear, I was drawn by a force more powerful than apprehension. The update had to go in and it had to go in now.

Putting a new operating system in your telephone is not a simple thing.

Samsung posted instructions on their website. There were lots of steps… steps that implied the phone really wasn’t designed for the untrained masses to perform this surgery. There was software to be loaded onto my PC (XP, not Vista – thank you), then pushed to the phone. Software switches would be thrown, then switched back.

For long periods of time, the cellphone sat with a barebones screen showing changing parameters in Comic Sans (to understand my feelings about Comic Sans, read this). I was beginning to worry I’d ‘bricked’ my phone.

The whole process took around 30 minutes. By the time I was done, the phone was actually working, infused with the geeky goodness of Windows Mobile 6.

I had backed up all my data, so my phone numbers would easily go back in. My ringtones, actually the ABC World News Tonight music, is now too large to be played. I’ll have to find a replacement. I also forgot to back up my customized home screen. I’ll have to rework that too.

There are a few unexpected improvements. Youtube now works on the phone! I can also now easily read Microsoft Windows documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint files.

Already, people on the bulletin boards are complaining the upgrade doesn’t include Microsoft’s voice command software with the ability to do most functions handsfree. I expect someone will figure a way before long.

This upgrade is not for the faint of heart. There are many confusing steps spread between the PC and cellphone. Wild horses couldn’t have kept me from doing it.