The Thinker

New Computer Joys and Annoyances

I was in no particularly hurry to replace to my 700mhz Dell Dimension computer. I have had it for about three years and it was working fairly well. It did have a few things that were getting on my nerves. First, it took three minutes or more to boot my computer in the morning. It reminded me of my old Commodore 64 and the 1541 single sided, five and a quarter inch disk drive I used to own about twenty years ago. Those were the days but they were not the sorts that I wanted to relive twenty years later. There was also an annoying problem watching videos on my computer. Very often the CPU couldn’t keep up with the dialog, or the video got choppy. But those were my only real complaints. Otherwise (once Windows 2000 was installed over that piece of crap Windows Me that it came with) it was a very reliable system. If my wife didn’t build computers as a part time hobby I probably would have bought another Dell computer.

Every three years her company allows employees to get reimbursed for fifty percent of qualified home computer expenses. Three years had passed and the time was right (particularly since they are about to lay her off) so we went on a mini-spending spree. That is the real reason that I spent much of yesterday configuring my new machine. This is a fast machine but I guess by current standards it is somewhat pokey. It has a 1.8 gigahertz Athlon CPU, about the slowest CPU you can buy for a desktop computer these days. But I didn’t need anything faster since I am not a gamer. I saw no point in consuming more electricity and pumping out more heat into my house just to say I was cruising at 3 gigahertz. I really have no idea if I have a souped up video card or not since it is built into the motherboard. But my data has plenty of space now: 80 gigabytes on the hard disk (plus 20 gigabytes on the old drive) and 512mb of RAM. And finally I have two USB ports on the front of my computer where they belong. Since we bought a stack of DVD-RWs I figured we might as well have a DVD drive that could actually write DVDs. Now we do.

I held my nose and requested Windows XP as the operating system. This was not because I liked XP but because Windows 2000 support is dribbling away. XP was inevitable so it was best to get it over with. What I did not expect is that I got the new XP Service Pack 2 with the computer. So I’m gritting my teeth and hoping I won’t have too many problems. So far I can’t trace any of my problems directly to XP SP2, but it’s hard to tell since I haven’t used XP at all very much.

The real challenge with each computer migration is to get everything configured just right and to move over all the data. This time I had my wife put the old hard drive in the new machine as a slave drive. If Windows were an operating system that made sense then all that lovely software I had on what was my C drive and is now my D drive would work transparently. But of course this is not the way things should work in the World According to Redmond. Word, Excel and Powerpoint cannot be run as is from my D drive, even though my versions are all legit. They must be reinstalled so that they show up on the Windows registry on the C drive. I have only found one program so far that I can run directly from my D drive: an old version of WS_FTP LE. It apparently is so old it doesn’t know or care about the Windows registry. Even my trusty email client Eudora gave me some fits. Tweaking the Eudora.ini file to show references to the C drive to be the D drive did not completely end annoying error messages.

Right now my most annoying problem is that my computer cannot talk to the other computers in the house. Alas this is not a new problem. For at least six months I have been unable to print to the printer attached to my wife’s computer. But I was hoping with XP that this would go away. Leave it to Microsoft though to take a simple peer-to-peer network concept and add a new layer of complexity to it. Now to do any kind of home networking it darn well wants every computer on the network to be running the .Net framework. I spent a couple hours in a futile Google search to find ways around this problem. Alas there are none. So my wife’s machine will have to have the .Net framework installed on it, along with every other computer in the house that might want to share files or use a printer.

XP SP2 has some essentials left out of earlier versions of XP, like a firewall. (It was sort of like building a house without putting a lock on the door!) Of course their default firewall sucks big time. We use ZoneAlarm instead. So there was a bit of head scratching trying to figure out how to get XP SP2 to play nicely with ZoneAlarm.

And of course there are the patches. There are patches to pretty much every program out there now and I will be weeks getting all the patches installed. I am sure there are patches to the Microsoft Office Suite, Quicken, Front Page and numerous other programs I use routinely.

The “experience” of XP is not usually too my liking. Life in Windows 2000 is a lot simpler. In XP they are so busy jazzing up the user interface and trying to make things easier that I can’t find the things I used to find in the same places anymore. The Control Panel is still there but it took some puzzling to figure out where the heck the things I want are in there. When I finally discovered the classic view things improved but it was a needlessly frustrating process.

And I hate retraining my computer. No, I still don’t want the incredibly annoying Office Assistant. I so have to dig into Excel’s options to turn the damn thing off permanently. I am annoyed by the dopey animated dog that hangs around when I do things like transfer files. Reinstalling Quicken brings back a plethora of advertising crap for services I didn’t want the last time I installed and I still don’t want. And Quicken still continuously bugs me about its services even though I tell it not to bother me anymore. There was one moment of relief. Mozilla Firefox is now at Version 1.0! I reinstalled it and copied my files from my D drive and I got all my bookmarks and cookies transparently.

But the new machine is still sweet. It takes about 30 seconds to boot up to the point where I can log myself in, and not much longer than that to be up and running. My Internet connection seemed a lot slower on the old machine. Now pages jump up most of the time. Despite the hassle I am already in a better place. I just wish it involved less work to turn my computer into a tool I can efficiently use. I think this is why people buy Macs. Someday I might join them.


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