Linux Mint may be the Windows killer

The Thinker by Rodin

I haven’t used the Windows operating system as my principle operating system for ten years. For a decade I have been using an iMac with its MacOS operating system and paying a premium for the privilege. I didn’t mind though. I just couldn’t stand Windows anymore. And since MacOS was basically written on top of UNIX, I could leverage my UNIX skills completely.

Linux Mint (Cinnamon edition)
Linux Mint (Cinnamon edition)

My loathing of Windows though was not enough to keep me from buying a Windows laptop. I don’t use it much and given this I didn’t want to pay the premium for a Mac laptop. I formally left the Windows world about the time I retired in 2014, where using Windows 7 was required. My laptop came with Windows 10. The more I used Windows 10, the more I realized I liked it less than Windows 7. It’s so flashy and so terribly annoying. Amongst its many faults is that it will frequently update itself during booting it up, sometimes taking ten minutes or more before I could actually use it. There’s that and it feels so bloated with all the flashy controls, not to mention all the junk software that came installed.

I’ve made it a goal to move off the Mac when I retire my iMac. The only alternative though seemed to be Windows. I couldn’t see myself going back to that. But maybe there was finally a distribution (“distro”) of Linux for the desktop that was finally mature enough to replace both Windows and MacOS?

This led me to a little project to partition my laptop’s drive so I could at least boot up to another operating system rather than wait for Windows 10 to be usable. In case you haven’t heard, Linux is an operating system. Haven’t heard of it? If you have an Android-based smartphone, you are already using it. Google’s Android operating system is actually a wrapper around a minimized version of Linux. So if you’ve been thinking that Windows was the most popular operating system, you are wrong. It’s really Linux, hidden inside your Android smartphone.

When Google created Android, it realized it was a completely different platform so the old constraints like “can I run Microsoft Office on it?” didn’t apply. They could build it properly and since Linux was already used on devices of all sorts (not to mention servers, where it predominates) they wrote a wrapper around free and open-source Linux and called it Android.

So if you are looking at trends, you are realizing that Linux is taking over. It’s only lagging behind on the desktop. One reason Linux is lagging on the desktop is that there are so many variants (distros) of Linux. I picked one pretty much at random to place on a partition on my laptop: Ubuntu. Ubuntu is nice but it doesn’t behave like Windows. It also doesn’t behave like MacOS. If you are going to move to a Linux desktop, it should at least work similarly to what you are already using.

It didn’t take me more than a week for me to say goodbye to Ubuntu. A friend recommended the Linux Mint distro saying it was written to be Windows-like. So I installed it and took it for a spin.

One thing I noticed right away: Linux Mint booted up fast: really fast, at least compared with Windows 10. Windows 10 gave the illusion that you could use it right away but in fact it sort of hung after you logged in while all sorts of background programs tediously loaded. Mint though was quickly loaded and usable. And it had a Start-like button in the bottom left corner and task bar on the bottom just like Windows. Clicking on the button brought up a Windows-like navigation pane. Nice!

But what was under the hood? Firefox came preinstalled, but also LibreOffice, an open source Office-like set of programs. I quickly learned that only the fussiest people would complain about these programs compared with Microsoft Office because probably less than 2% of us need the most advanced features of Office. LibreOffice is perfectly fine and you have to look hard to figure out what is different.

Pretty much everything I needed was already installed, but there was a Software Manager off the “Start” button that made quick work of installing lots of other useful software. What wasn’t in the Software Manager was often available from various websites. If you download a Debian package (.deb files) from a website, Firefox will recognize it and it is quickly installed. Since there is usually a Debian package for programs written for Linux, this means that few programs Linux programs that are not available for Mint.

While Mint comes with Firefox, if you love Chrome you can download that too. Only it’s not quite Chrome, but Chromium, basically the open-source version of Chrome. Google adds their own proprietary layers on top of Chromium to do things like make it friendlier with its services like GMail and call it Chrome. Since I do IT consulting, I didn’t have problems finding very familiar software I use every day. Filezilla is available for Mint. Since I couldn’t find a Debian package, I had to hunt for a RPM (RedHat Package Manager) package for XAMPP, a program that lets me install a local development environment for the web. This required some “hands on” work from the command prompt to install it, but it was the exception.

Strangely, I hooked my wife, a Windows bigot who spurned my iMac. Her needs are modest: mostly Firefox, Thunderbird for email, VLC for playing videos and Steam for playing games. It turned out there was a Steam engine for Linux that was preinstalled on Mint, as well as Firefox, Thunderbird and VLC. She put it on a rebuilt laptop, throwing away Windows 10 entirely and replacing it with Linux Mint. Tomorrow she is off to Las Vegas to visit friends, and doubtless she will show off her laptop with its Windows-friendly Linux Mint OS on it. She loves it and is amazed by how quickly it boots and is usable.

If you have to run Windows, you can run it virtually inside of Mint using WINE (a Windows emulator) which is also preinstalled. As for replacing my iMac, I don’t think there’s a way to run MacOS virtually inside of Linux. But there are Linux distros that try to emulate the Mac’s user interface. These include Elementary OS, Deepin Linux, Backslash Linux, Gmac Linux and Trenta OS. Of these, Gmac Linux looks the most Mac-like.

About the only software I can’t easily replace is Quicken. I could run it as a service online; I’d just prefer not to trust all my financial data online. Obviously there is some software like Photoshop that is not available for Linux distros, but may be some day. There are some programs that offer 90% of its functionality and are free. Chances are there is an open-source version that’s close enough to those you use everyday on Windows that you won’t mind trading a few differences for the cost (free!)

Playing with Linux Mint though has me thinking that it may kill off Windows. It behaves very similarly, is faster, more nimble, much more stable and doesn’t feel lethargic and bloated like Windows. Yet it’s also so familiar while feeling easier to use. Microsoft may be seeing the beginning of the end of Windows. To compete it may opt to turn Windows into a Linux distro, much like Android became a very unique distro of Linux for handheld devices. Or by being introduced to it through people like my wife, Windows users may discover Linux Mint and make the switch too.

Speculations on the new computing paradigm for the 21st century

The Thinker by Rodin

Last September I speculated that the introduction of the iPad might mean the death of Microsoft Windows. Microsoft seems to have gotten the iPad message. Last week it gave a preview of its newest incarnation of Windows, Windows 8 Metro that according to reports is looking very iPad-ish. In fact, apparently it’s hard to find the windows in Windows 8. Microsoft seems to be betting the farm on portable computing and a next generation of tablet computing in particular. The mouse is out. Using your fingers by touching the screen of your device is in. Windows are out. Sliding from application to application, like on the iPad, by simply moving your finger side to side on the touchscreen, is in.

At least that’s as best as I can figure out from press reports. I haven’t tried Windows 8 personally. But I have been using my iPad for a couple of months now and understand it quite well. Indeed, for a change I was prescient last September when I suggested Windows was in the early stages of its death throes. How we will compute in the 21st century is now fundamentally changing, driven largely by the late Steve Jobs and his singular vision of how portable computing should work.

Microsoft seems to be making it official in Windows 8: the desktop era is soon going to be history. Windows 8 is being careful to be backwards compatible, allowing mouse movement, windows in a desktop environment and 100% compatibility with its Microsoft Office suite. It has to be this way. One of the reasons Microsoft sucks at innovation is that they have backwards compatibility as a core part of its business strategy. Windows 3.1, later Windows 95 and even today in Windows 7 made sure that the DOS command prompt remained, and that you could still (largely) run all those text-based DOS applications. Microsoft must now make sure that Windows 8 maintains backwards compatibility with Windows 7, while fundamentally changing the user interface so that it is primarily a pad-based operating system. The price Microsoft pays as a result is a serious loss of agility and innovativeness as a company. Their business model essentially requires them to always play follow the leader.

The mouse seems destined for the trash bin, just like the five and a quarter inch diskette. Also going: the humble monitor. In the future the monitor you use will be the one built into your pad computer. As I suggested in September 2011, you might plug your pad computer into an external monitor at work, or might not. The larger screen is needed now because the windows metaphor requires lots of display real estate. When one application gets sole focus on the screen, and you effortlessly slide between them through simple finger gestures across your touchscreen (which by definition must be within a comfortable reach), the windows metaphor becomes obsolete, as does the need for a lot of screen real estate. The modest screen size of a tablet computer becomes usable and more productive.

Perhaps it was inevitable. As computing became increasingly portable, it becomes untethered from wired connections like mice, power cords and even keyboards. As batteries retain charges longer and CPUs get better at conserving power, we can work off our pad computer’s battery for an entire day, if needed. Integration adds value; components keep you tethered to a clunky past.

What will replace the desktop computer? Last September I envisioned a world where you carried your pad computer with you everywhere, and maybe plugged it into a keyboard and a larger monitor when you got to work. Now I see it differently. The desktop computer will effectively be consumed into the pad computer. Instead of having a computer monitor facing you, you will look down on your desk or at a forty-five degree angle to the screen of your pad computer. You will probably prefer a wireless keyboard, at least if you are a certain age. For those now in school, keyboards too are likely to become obsolete. Your keyboard may appear on a translucent area of your desk when needed, or for many tasks you can use the on-screen touch keyboard built into your pad computer instead. More likely, the latest generation will consider a microphone built into their pad computer as their new keyboard. They will simply say what needs to be put into electronic words. Unlike the voice recognition software we have today, this new class of software will be much more sophisticated, understanding context, adjusting for your style and retaining a natural fluency. Most of the time you will talk instead of type. To navigate, you will use finger movements. The combination of finger movements and voice will make you far more productive.

And what about the venerable Microsoft Office suite? It too is going to evolve and eventually may be subsumed into the operating system. In ten years it may have evolved into a product that we simply will not identify today. The whole notion of a document may be undergoing a fundamental shift. Like documents have sort of evolved into web pages, in the future how we communicate may no longer rest on a page metaphor at all. Documents will almost be alive. They will not be considered primarily textual anymore, but inherently multimedia creations where words, pictures, movies, animations and simulations all exist comfortably side by side, and all communicate information much more richly than they do today.

Whoever builds that (and it likely won’t be Microsoft) will be reinventing our concept of useful and structured information. It will be exciting to see it emerge.

Thanks are not enough, Steve

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not news that one of the founders of Apple Computers and the visionary behind a plethora of Apple (and other) products died yesterday. Even people who don’t usually tune in real news tuned into the news of Steve Jobs’ passing. There’s a good chance when they got the news, it appeared first on their iPad, iPhone or iMac, just a few of Steve’s many inventions. (I got the news on my iMac.)

The more attached you are to Apple’s products, the more the news affected you. Part of your feelings was also the anguish that the iPad or iPhone you held in your hand may be the last cool product you would own. Unquestionably, Steve Jobs was an extraordinary inventor and creator. It will take a couple of decades for it to sink in just how greatly his life impacted humanity.

To call him the Thomas Edison of his generation is not enough. In reality he was some combination of Edison and Sir Isaac Newton. Edison’s genius was that he could figure out how to make inventions that seemed beyond our technical grasp. (He also patented many inventions that never took off.) The need for a more reliable and cleaner source of light was understood in his time. Someone just needed to figure out how to do it. That was Edison’s genius. When the Apple computer was unleashed on the world, it filled a void we never knew existed. Like Sir Isaac Newton, who discerned order behind the forces of nature, Jobs could model a usable version of the information centric age the rest of us simply could not even imagine. Jobs could do that with almost any product he invented. Jobs’ genius was pulling our inchoate needs right from our id, figuring out a way technology could fulfill them, then designing irresistible products that could realize them. But he could also turn an invention that had been done before into something everyone suddenly wanted. The iPad by all rights should have not succeeded because it had been done before. The problem was that no one had built a tablet computer so easy to use and so sexy that we would be pulled to it like a moth to a flame.

I have a particular reason to mourn Steve Jobs’ passing and to be thankful to the guy. It wasn’t because I thought Apple products were particularly cool. I am typing this on an iMac, which is pretty neat, but not all that much neater than my Windows 7 computer at work. Rather, I am grateful to Steve for the Apple 2 Plus computer that he helped create. It literally changed my life. It did not make me a wealthy man, but it did make me a well-moneyed man. In part because of Steve’s Apple 2 Plus, I changed to a career I found that I loved and which paid much, much better than my old career. I became an information technology geek.

Sometime around 1983, the management where I work purchased an Apple 2 Plus computer and put it on a table near my desk. No one really knew what to do with it, but there it was all shiny and new. It was mostly ignored, but when my work was done I’d sit down at it and start playing with it. I was not entirely new to computers, but I had never experienced a personal computer before. I had experienced a mainframe computer, which in 1975 meant tediously constructing Fortran source code using a keypunch machine, delivering a stack of cards to an operator behind a glass wall, and waiting for a couple of hours until your job was run. Invariably you made some sort of syntactical error in your code, so you’d redo the cards that were coded incorrectly, being careful not to disturb the order of the cards. And you’d go through the cycle many times until with luck your program ran correctly. You would get a printout from a wide dot-matrix printer with sprocket holes on both sides of the paper. In short, programming computers could not have been more difficult, tedious and time consuming. I got through the class but if I had an idea of doing computer programming for a living, it went away. Programming was for masochists.

The Apple 2 Plus changed that. It had a keyboard and a monitor, and it ran a computer language called BASIC that was simple enough for even a novice to pick up. More importantly, it was personal. I could use it in real-time and get immediate feedback. At the time I was using pink copies of handwritten forms to track the movement of “service requests” through the printing plant I worked at. I kept them in a binder. With the Apple 2 Plus, I figured out a way to do away track these service requests on the computer. I stored the data on five and a quarter inch floppy disks. I impressed my bosses and I recall getting an award. The award included lunch with other award winners and our director in the director’s conference room. I was onto something good.

The details of what happened since then are not important except to say I wiggled my way into a journeyman’s computer programmer slot. Since 1986, I have made my living first through computer programming and later more advanced information technology stuff. The Apple 2 Plus totally changed my life. It made computer programming fun and profitable at a time where anyone with modest computing skills could get a job. My income soared, my sense of self worth and job satisfaction went through the stratosphere and eventually I had the income to live a larger and more comfortable life I craved.

That was what the genius of Steve Jobs’ mind did for me. He gave me wealth and he gave me work that was both creative and mattered in the real world. He did it by making a computer actually personable. It was a long time between that Apple 2 Plus and my 2008 purchase of an iMac, twenty-five years in fact when I lived mostly in a Windows world. I followed the market, which were machines running MS-DOS and later Windows. However, it was inventors like Steve Jobs who made computers relevant to the masses, in fact they became must have items, which stimulated demand, drove us to email systems, and then the web, and more lately into social networks. Steve was not only a creator and inventor; he cemented us into the information age. He personally connected us with technology and each other in ways that had never been done before.

He died way too young at age 56, but he could not have died without knowing the huge impact of his life. He deserves monuments and museums, cities renamed for him and, if we ever build an American Pantheon, perhaps the biggest statue in the room. I am quite certain I will not live long enough to see the rise of another man or woman of his caliber. Quite frankly, I believe that Steve Jobs may ultimately prove to be one the most influential Americans that ever lived, ranked right next to Lincoln. Through intelligence, foresight and boundless energy, he invented a broader and more connected future for all of us.

iMac Journeys, Part Three

The Thinker by Rodin

I promised when I got my iMac last year that I would give you periodic updates on my experiences, pro and con. Okay, I have been a bit tardy, having last written about my iMac last July. My iMac is now a routine part of my life and frankly, I give it less thought that I ever gave my Windows-based PCs. That is for the better. I now spend hardly any time fussing over my computer and a lot more time being productive with it.

I am finding that the myriad cool features that come with my iMac matter a lot less than its ability to behave consistently and reliably. I want it to work when I turn it on and go off promptly when I turn it off. I want it to be rather simple to use and wholly consistent when I have it on. Yeah, it is nice that it has a built in camera and microphone, but being introverted I hardly ever use these features. It is also nice that it takes up a lot less real estate on my desktop than my Windows PC. It is so quiet that most of the time I have to listen hard to know it is working at all. (The old PC always let me know it was alive by the continual whirr of its hard drives.) I like its wider screen and how everything looks so crisp and shiny on its monitor.

I also like how fast the system boots up and shuts itself down. My Dell desktop PC at work is patched most nights to address the latest security vulnerabilities. I generally don’t have to reboot it often, as I just log off and on. However, when I do have to reboot or cold start it, it takes many minutes as Windows XP applies patch after patch after patch. I have no idea how much money our agency spends pushing out these updates and patches to the thousands of PCs across our agency, but it must be a huge sum of money. In contrast, it takes about thirty seconds from when I turn on my iMac until I get a log in prompt. Shutting it down is faster. Leaving it in sleep mode is also an option. Applications generally run spiffily too, typically loading within ten seconds. Only a few times in the seven months I have owned an iMac have I had to Force Quit an application. (A Force Quit means the application was probably poorly written, and is not a reflection on the Mac OS/X operating system itself.) It froze up on me just once.

Like Windows, my iMac wants to be upgraded periodically, but it rarely pesters me more than every few weeks. When the software update icon jumps up and down on my Dock, it is not so often that I find it annoying. I have changed it to check for software updates monthly, so it will be even less bothersome.

What am I not doing? I am not wasting hours worrying about things like is my Norton Antivirus subscription up to date, or is my firewall sufficiently advanced, or has my machine been hacked or whether my hard disk needs to be optimized. I have yet to need to call Apple’s technical support line. I am not sure I will develop the same skills for troubleshooting my iMac as I painfully learned over the years using Windows. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t need to.

My experience suggests that the primary value of an iMac is its simpler environment, which is reliable and consistent. I expect it to be smart enough to heal itself. I assume, but do not know, that the Mac OS/X operating system is optimizing the hard disk in the background. I assume that if it needs more virtual memory it creates it automatically. I assume that if I have some vital data that it is being properly backed up somewhere. (To do this you first need to connect it with an external disk drive and then enable Time Machine.) I assume that it is secure and recently verified that my documents cannot be seen by other users on my machine.

There are some quirks. On my PC I pull out flash drives all the time without worrying about using the Windows approved method in the system tray. Do the same thing on my iMac and it gets very concerned, popping up a worrisome system notice. Just as at some level Windows is just MS-DOS with a graphical user interface, an iMac at some level is just a very fancy user interface for the Unix operating system. In the Unix world, you “mount” drives and “eject” them when you are done with them. A flash drive should not be treated like an external drive but it is. Perhaps the next version of OS/X will chill when it encounters a flash drive.

Nor is Apple immune to trying to get you to open up your wallet. It is very pushy with its iTunes software, just as Microsoft is with its MediaPlayer. Fortunately, my needs are simple. I have no desire to keep a large MP3 library. I have learned to avoid iTunes. If I want to hear an MP3 file on my MP3 player, I find it on the Internet and in Firefox right mouse click on the link, choose “Save Target as…” and point it to my MP3 player. I have no inclination to rush out and buy an iPod just so I can have the full integration with iTunes. At least I will have no inclination until my MP3 player dies and then I will consider it.

There is little cause for concern about software availability for the Mac anymore. So far, I have had little difficulty finding Mac versions of Windows software. My needs though are modest. Quicken is available for the Mac, and both TurboTax and TaxCut are as well. I just finished filing my taxes with TaxCut and it was frankly a superior experience to doing it on Windows. Of course, if you are a big gamer you may not find this to be true. If you really want, you can run Boot Camp and have Windows on your iMac. I am not sure why you would want to do that since you then have to deal with all the hassles of Windows on your iMac. It is better to do a clean divorce and get liberated.

The reality is that for me at least there is no longer any compelling reason not to buy an iMac. Microsoft has even written a version of its Remote Desktop Connection for the Mac. If necessary, I can access my desktop computer at work from home on my iMac, although it is a strange experience to see my iMac with a Windows Start button down in the bottom left corner.

One thing you can do to ease your adjustment from Windows to the iMac is remap the Control and Command keys. You can do this under System Preferences, Keyboard and Mouse. Just swap it so that the Control key works like the Command key and the Command key works like the Mac Control key. This means you do not have to relearn how to copy and paste between Windows and the Mac. Since you do this so frequently, you can save yourself the hassle of unlearning something that for many of us is hardwired into us.

The iMac is not computing nirvana, but it is where the personal computer should be had it evolved intelligently. That should be a compelling reason for anyone to consider ditching their Windows-based PC. My daughter is starting to agree, and is now saving for her own Macbook. She too has developed the expectation she should be able to just use her computer, rather than having to continually fuss over it. I suspect that when she too joins the Mac collective she will wonder why she waited so long.

iMac Journeys, Part Two

The Thinker by Rodin

After a couple weeks, my iMac and I are settling in comfortably together. There is little sign that this marriage will require a quickie Las Vegas divorce. Mostly I love what I am experiencing. However, after having spent the last fifteen years in the bizarre world of Microsoft Windows, I can see it will take some time for me to reorient my brain to think like a Mac.

The extra peripherals have arrived and are installed. The most important one is this matias OS/X keyboard. Finally, I can type reliably again, although this keyboard is of no higher quality than any other plastic keyboard I have used. The chicklet keyboard that came with my iMac just was not working out. Also installed is a super quiet OWC Mercury Elite Pro external hard drive. It is hooked up via an ultra fast FireWire 800 cable to a FireWire port on the back of the iMac. It has 250 gigabytes, which is about average for an external hard drive these days. Its real virtue is that it lets me enable perhaps the most important but most neglected software built into the OS/X operating system, a utility called Time Machine. Time Machine not only keeps hourly, daily, weekly and monthly backups of my hard disk automatically, but also has a cool interface so I can go back in time to easily retrieve previous versions of a file. Using it to search for previous versions feels a little bit being Tony and Doug in that 60’s TV show Time Tunnel. Its main virtue is not that it keeps backups. You could do that on a PC for many years too. Its virtue is that it does it all automatically so you never have to think or even worry about it. Like much else about the Mac, after a tiny bit of set up, it just works.

That is not to say I have not had a few quirks. Mac Mail, an otherwise excellent email program, hung on me yesterday. Fortunately, OS/X figured it out and gave me the option to restart it. In addition, Mac Mail got confused today. It told me that an email in my Inbox was from X when actually it was from Y. Hopefully this is just a momentary glitch because otherwise I really like Mac Mail. I like the way that when you are focused on a message it automatically highlights other emails in the folder from the same person. I like its slick integration with IMAP mail servers. IMAP essentially lets me put all my email on GMail, but has the advantage of a much nicer user interface than GMail. Of course, if all my email is in GMail, then I can access all ten years of my email from any browser.

My Mac is just phenomenal at finding stuff easily. There is always Spotlight, which is a super fast and super easy to use search index of your computer. However, many applications, like Mac Mail, have a program-specific version of Spotlight integrated into it. In Mac Mail, for example, there is a convenient search box. Type anything in there and you do not even have to hit Return for it to start searching. It starts showing a results window specific to folder you are focused on in Mac Mail. It took a while to figure out how to import my email on my Windows machine. I was using Mozilla Thunderbird. Mac Mail would not let me directly import it from my PC version of Thunderbird. So I had to install Thunderbird for the Mac and import from the mailboxes on my PC. Then I used Mac Mail’s built in import facility for Thunderbird for the Mac. Forty thousand plus emails saved over the last ten years imported quickly and flawlessly.

So far, I found equivalents for various PC programs that I was used to using. I used Webdrive to remotely access computers as drive letters inside Windows, using the familiar FTP or SSH protocols. You can do this with a Mac but it is something of a hassle to pass the authentication information in an automated manner. ExpanDrive is an OS/X equivalent to Webdrive. I also needed a good visual code merge tool. WinMerge is a Windows solution that is neat and has the virtue of being free. I found a Mac equivalent called DeltaWalker that unfortunately is not free. That is the general problem with Mac software. There is a lot more free stuff for the PC than there is for the Mac. I do not mind paying extra money for this software for the conveniences built into the OS/X operating system.

Quicken for the Mac remains an issue. It is a little disappointing to pay $69.99 for the software to discover that it cannot even do some of the same features as my Windows version. For example, it cannot do scheduled transactions. This is annoying but right now, the larger problem is simply getting my 18 years of financial data moved over. I tried the conversion tips but they did not work. I get a “transaction file full” error when I move over my transactions. It looks like I will need some phone support from Quicken to clear this hurdle. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot donate my Windows machine quite yet.

The Mac has a cool multiple desktop feature called Spaces. The only problem is that old habits break hard. I find myself ALT-TABbing a lot, which in the Mac world is CMD-TAB but it does the same thing. I will refine these skills with time.

I really like The Dock, which is something like the Windows task bar that hangs out on the bottom of the screen, only bigger and with better icons. Unlike the Windows task bar, which only shows running applications, this one allows you to store shortcuts to your favorite applications. It also tells you which are running by placing a small luminescent blue dot beneath it. The Dock is always there so you do not have to navigate using a Start button. If an application needs your attention, it does so by jumping up and down. It is hard to miss and kind of cute!

I have just begun exploring some of the OS/X utilities. I have a movies folder and it is neat how in the folder view you can see a sample frame from the movie automatically. In addition, OS/X is smart enough to provide right and left arrow buttons on each side to let you easily browse your movies. There is also a scroll bar available to quickly zoom through your movies. On the other hand, I find some things annoying about the iTunes program. It does not seem to like Windows media and there is no conversion utility to turn them into MP3s, at least that I have found. Naturally, it wants to sell me iTunes. Moreover, iTunes seems to want to only work with an iPod. I own a Creative MP3 player. So far, to store music to it I have to mount it as a device and copy and paste MP3s into it.

I like OS/X’s Sleep mode. Windows has a Hibernate mode that most people do not use. Unlike Windows Hibernate, which can take thirty seconds or more of disk activity before it goes into hibernate mode, it is just a few seconds with the iMac. This is very convenient. Sleep mode uses very little power, and it takes only a couple seconds for the iMac to wake up. So I do not have to feel that guilty leaving it in sleep mode overnight. Everything is where I left it and fully accessible.

Unquestionably, OS/X is a superior to any edition of Windows. I would not characterize it as completely intuitive or 100% reliable. However, it is generally very consistent and reliable. With my memory upgrade to four gigabytes, it is also now blazingly fast. With its faster memory, it can download files much faster than my Windows machine. I figured the problem was that my Internet connection was relatively slow. It turns out that my Windows memory was the major bottleneck when I downloaded files.

Ah, engineering. That is what you really buy when you buy an iMac: premium hardware specifically designed to operate with the premium software. Using Windows is like driving on a gravel road. Using an iMac is like driving on a newly paved interstate highway with no traffic. It feels slick because it is slick.

More iMac adventures to follow.

iMac Journeys: First Impressions

The Thinker by Rodin

Back in January, I pledged to buy an iMac this year. I did not actually receive my iMac until Monday. Unbelievably, it sat in its packing box for four days. Hey, I was busy doing other things like buying a car for our daughter to drive to college. Last night I finally felt that I had sufficient leisure to open it up. I placed it temporarily on a card table next to my aging and noisy Windows desktop computer.

I generally knew what to expect from my three-hour Mac tour back in January. Mine is not the souped-up iMac, just the base $1199 model available on the Apple web site. It comes with a twenty-inch monitor. Originally, I was going to get the Mac mini, which is a small Mac box minus the peripherals. When I added up all the options, extra memory and bigger hard disk that I wanted, it was not that much more expensive to just buy the iMac. Particularly since I was not paying for it, but the government was (I paid for it with our stimulus check) I felt more inclined to go with a pricier model. Except for paying sales tax, my iMac was essentially free. (More specifically my grandchildren will be paying for it. However, since my daughter does not plan to have any children, I guess it is free.)

There is not much to assembling an iMac since the motherboard, CPU, memory and disk drive are stuffed somewhere inside the housing of its flat panel monitor. Also inside (but not obviously) there is a camera and a microphone. Presumably, the “i” in iMac is not just for “me” but also for “integrated”. Apple’s selling point has always been that you are getting a completely engineered package, with software optimized to run on a particular type of highly engineered hardware. Part of the reason that Microsoft Windows is so lousy is that it is expected to work with a broad range of off the shelf computer peripherals. When you control the hardware, presumably you have extra time to work on stuff that matters, like the ultra slick OS/X Leopard operating system that comes with the iMac. There are just four things to plug in: the power cord, the keyboard, the mouse (which plugs into the side of the keyboard) and an Ethernet cable.

I am sure some iMac bigots will tell me I am so full of it, but putting the on-off button behind the left side of the flat panel monitor is counterintuitive. I guess doing so would make the iMac itself look less “clean” since, as we know, Apple is big on aesthetics. For a few minutes, it did not seem to boot. Perhaps it did not power on right away because I expected something to happen instantly. Don’t panic. Press the button and give it a few seconds.

Also a disappointment: its Chicklet keyboard. It has to go. Fortunately, my friend Jim Goldbloom knows exactly what replacement keyboard to purchase. So while overall Apple does a great job of design, they have a few minor deficiencies. I do like its mouse though, and its tiny scroll wheel. I know some people hate it, but think it is much easier to manipulate.

I have just begun dabbling with the OS/X Leopard operating system but the features I saw in January are even more appealing now that I own one. OS/X has a curious absence of OK and Cancel buttons. In general, the Mac design is that when you make a choice it should be instantly set. This is one of those obvious user interface ideas that seems to have eluded Redmond and I really like.

The first application I installed was the Firefox web browser. I used the built in Safari web browser to download it. It was straightforward to install, but because a Mac is not a PC, it behaves a bit differently. I also struggled with moving my bookmarks. I eventually found the bookmarks.html file, put it on my flash drive, and then loading it from my flash drive. I had to reorganize the bookmarks I imported for them to appear on the bookmarks toolbar. I also need to move my cookies, which I am sure can be done, but Firefox provides no obvious way to do it.

Mac Mail was simple to set up. Mac Mail is a very slick email client that I look forward to exploring and integrates slickly with the iChat and iCalendar programs built into OS/X Leopard. I can already tell that it will be better than Eudora, my previous high water mark for an email program. I pointed it to the GMail IMAP server. IMAP allows your email to stay on the server. I could not figure out why the email was not moving into my local inbox. Since I had never used IMAP before, my confusion was understandable. Particularly nice about Mac Mail is how the Mail icon on the dock will show you the number of new messages. Moving my 10 years of email out of Thunderbird and into Mac Mail looks like it will be challenging.

Spotlight (which does ultra fast searches of your hard disk), the Dock (which anchors programs to an easy location near the bottom of the screen) and Spaces (which lets you divide your screen into multiple windows and place applications in each, essentially giving you multiple desktops) are all neat features. They demonstrate how far more usable OS/X is compared with Windows. Doubtless, I will discover much more in time. I need to buy an external USB hard drive soon so I can enable the Time Machine feature in OS/X. This lets you easily go back in time to see and retrieve previous versions of documents. It also transparently performs a general backup of your files.

There are some peculiarities with the OS/X Leopard interface compared to Windows. You can only stretch windows by dragging the bottom right corner of the window, rather than grabbing a side of the window. In addition, even though your application may not take up the whole window, a context specific menu always appears at the top of the screen.

Integrating useful applications will be a challenge. The Mac simply does not have the breath of software that Windows has. I determined though that it did not matter for the applications I needed. There is a version of Quicken for the Mac but you cannot easily export your data from the Windows version to the Mac. You have to trim account and category names to 15 or fewer characters, remove special characters from your investment fund names and then export to QIF (Quicken Interface Format) files. QIF is the equivalent of storing a spreadsheet as a tab delimited file, in other words it is very basic. I have a feeling I will be I will be uttering some swear words before I successfully have Quicken working with my Windows data on the Mac. The Mac version of Quicken tends to lag a year behind the PC version, which is not a problem for me because I tend to upgrade only every other year. I am a bit miffed because even though I own a copy of Quicken, I apparently cannot upgrade to the Mac for a reduced fee. In fact, Quicken charges a premium for its Mac version: $69.99. Yikes!

I need the equivalent of Microsoft Office soon. Apple has its own peculiar version called iWork. I am sure it is spiffy, but given the ubiquity of the Microsoft Office Suite, it is probably too much of a transition. I am more likely to install OpenOffice, since it is free.

I also want something equivalent to Choicemail for the Mac. ChoiceMail is a client-based white-list email filter. It requires people who are not in my address book to authenticate at a web site using a CAPTCHA interface. I suspect there are Mac Mail proxies out there but they will take time to locate and install. Mac Mail does have a reasonably good spam filter, but like all spam filters, it is not perfect. I should also be able to get Dreamweaver for the Mac, since I have a license for it for Windows. I hope that any upgrade costs will be minimal. In addition, I need to figure out how to easily mount to external web servers so I can keep earning bucks in my side business. Since OS/X is a certified version of Linux, this should not prove too challenging.

Stay tuned for more observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the Mac in the weeks ahead. As you might expect, my impressions in the first twenty-four hours are quite positive.

Mac Attack

The Thinker by Rodin

Is it too much to ask your PC just to work? Apparently so. I have been living in the Microsoft universe almost universally since 1988. Why did I buy PC after PC and keep putting Microsoft on it? Was it because I thought that MS-DOS or Windows was the neatest and most reliable operating system in the world? Ha! I was never that naïve. No, I stayed with Microsoft all these years like most of us because I needed the applications that ran on it.

Around 1995 I did briefly flirt with OS/2 Warp. I installed the sucker (it came on something like a dozen 3 ¼ inch diskettes) and enjoyed its nice snazzy features. For compatibility, I ran my Windows 3.1 programs in protected memory. It did not take too long though before I was running Windows 95. Did I hate OS/2 Warp? Not at all. It was a cool operating system. The problem was that its applications, if you could find them at all, were generally crap compared to the Windows equivalent.

The reality was that until I could run applications that were the same or as good on another operating system, I was stuck in the Windows universe. After spending a couple hours yesterday with my friend Jim Goldbloom learning about his Mac, I realized: I do not have to take it anymore. Soon Bill Gates, it is gonna be see you later sucker. I just hope this time I do not have to come crawling back because of some killer applications that are just not available for the Mac. (Even so, I can now run a Mac in dual boot mode and run Windows on it, or buy Parallels and run Windows Vista at the same time.)

Currently it takes three to four minutes to boot my machine. It is a couple years old, and has plenty of memory and CPU and runs Windows XP. My wife built it for me (she does these things for friends and family.) I am not entirely sure why it takes so long to boot up. When it was new, it only took about 45 seconds. It is probably because when you have to build a software fortress around your PC every time you use it, it just takes time. There is the ZoneAlarm firewall. There is the free Avast! Antivirus software. There is my Webroot Spy Sweeper program. However, there are all sorts of other stuff, much of which I am only dimly aware of getting loaded and entertaining my CPU. Likely, some of it I do not actually need anymore. Perhaps there are tricks I could learn from a Windows Secrets book on how to speed up things. Perhaps it is just getting old. Booting my PC in 2008 takes longer than it took to boot my Commodore 64 in 1984 and load a program like PaperClip off my floppy disk. That took about two minutes, which seemed intolerably long back then.

I have enough PC savvy to know what the real problem is: Windows is an operating system that is about as lithe as an elephant. Windows was never engineered. It started out as a rickety shack in the backyard. The Microsoft “engineers” kept adding rooms, only they learned carpentry from Alf and Ralph Monroe from Green Acres. Bill Gates was the oily Mr. Haney. We were the foolish Douglases. No matter how crappy their operating system and software was we kept buying because we had to have those compatible applications. Moreover, we needed those applications because we had to share stuff with others, and they were running those applications. There were times when Windows 3.1 would GPF on me every fifteen minutes. Windows Me, released in 1999, was nearly as bad.

We got some relief with Windows 2000. It looked like Alf and Ralph had finally figured out how to add a room to the house without the rain coming in through the roof. It was somewhat acceptable and my applications ran okay. Gradually I could go days or weeks without getting General Protection Faults or BSDs (Blue Screens of Death). Windows XP proved that Alf and Ralph could even put up wallpaper right.

Still, Windows annoyed me. It is like my first car, a 1970 Toyota Corolla. Back then, they were cheap and crappy cars. The good part was that the car was elementary enough that I could do a lot of its servicing. Windows is like that. If you are not part PC geek, running Windows is like driving a car around with the oil nearly out. You can do it, but you are being stupid.

You should not have to be a hardware geek to run a desktop computer. You should not need to subscribe to an online newsletter like Windows Secrets because, well, there should be no secrets between you and your personal computer. Moreover, the damn thing should just run, and run reliably. There is a reason I drive a Honda Civic instead of a Yugo. I have better things to do with my time than take the damn thing into the shop all the time. All these years I have wanted to say the same thing about my PC, but could not.

I avoided a Mac for years not just because my software wouldn’t run on it but also because there were still a few kinks in the machine. They are gone. The OS/X Leopard operating system is as solid and reliable as UNIX, because it is UNIX. It is UNIX with a highly optimized graphical user interface that will finally enable me to do my work without much thinking, instead of a gadget I have to regularly fuss over. I do not think about how a screwdriver works. Why should my computer be a mysterious black box that occasionally requires some guru skilled in a black art to fix it?

OS/X Leopard is slick and effortless. I needed Jim there though as my tutor. The problem with learning the Mac is you have to unlearn Windows. You have to erase the idea that computers have to be mysterious or obscure. Need to find something? Click on Spotlight, type what you are looking for and see the results instantly appear. Lost something but you have not backed up your files recently? Not a problem. Time Machine, sitting in the background, can find it for you. Do you want the version of the file on November 5th or December 8th?

Where is that big rectangular box with all the hardware stuff in it anyhow? There is no box. The computer is built into the monitor. What sort of special cable do I need to get the photos off my cell phone? You do not need a cable; the Mac is Bluetooth enabled. Just where do I attach my web cam? Umm, it is built into the monitor, along with a microphone. It’s just there because it should be there. You have just been trained by Microsoft to spend your odd hours plugging in things to your PC and fussing with drivers. With a Mac, most of the time you just assume it is already there.

I went with Jim through all my myriad software requirements. Can I get Microsoft Word for the Mac? Yeah, you can buy it if you want, or use the Word processor that comes with it, or install the free OpenOffice suite, which is compatible. Browser? Safari is bundled with it, but you can run Firefox for the Mac, keep all your bookmarks and still use its many neat extensions. I am a web developer. Can I run Dreamweaver? Of course, you can get a Mac version. I keep all my financial stuff in Quicken. Yes, there is a Mac version for it too. What about my whitelist software? I hate spam and need a challenge-response system for people I do not know. The Mac Mail program will probably suffice with a little tweaking of the rules. If not, there are doubtless many free applications written for the Mac that can be your proxy that you can download from Apple’s website. Is there the equivalent of Webdrive, which lets me write to a web site as a Windows drive letter? Umm, drive letters are so PC. You do not need to remember drive letters anymore. You simply mount the sucker, and a SAMBA mount pointing to a server on the Internet will suffice. Will it recognize my printer? Just connect it. Unless it is more than a few years old, it will work transparently.

Bottom line: I do not need to put up with Windows anymore. I can finally be liberated.

I will not be rushing down to my Apple store to buy a Mac but I am making plans. I am wondering: will the Mac mini be all I need? After all, I already have an excellent monitor. Whichever Mac I buy I know that my desktop computer will be one less thing about which to worry. I will be driving a Ferrari, not a Yugo.

Sadly, I still will have to use Windows at work. I cannot escape Windows entirely until I retire. I do look forward to the day when I can purge Windows from my brain. It is impossible to have zero latency between my ideas and executing them on a computer or on the web. The Mac is likely the closest I will get to getting there.

The universal translator arrives

The Thinker by Rodin

One of the fun things about watching classic Star Trek TV shows back in the 1960s was marveling over the fantastic devices that were waiting for us in the 23rd century. The only problem is that just forty years later many, if not most of these devices have already arrived.

The communicator was a neat idea. It was wireless and able to be used over thousands of miles. However, we mastered the cell phone many years ago. In addition, where cell towers are not present you can use a satellite phone. The transporter may never dematerialize us and move us instantly to another place, but scientists have teleported photons and atoms without traveling through space. The phaser? We are not quite there, but we do have commercial laser pointers. Moreover, our Department of Homeland Security is worrying about whether these cheap devices, by shining them into pilots’ eyes from many miles away, could be used by terrorists to bring down airplanes. There is also the Taser, whose name I am sure was not coincidental. One version can deliver a shock remotely (using a wireless signal). Shuttlecraft? We got them already. While they cost hundreds of millions of dollars per flight, and require a rocket booster to get them into orbit, they are (mostly) reusable. Medical injections without puncturing the skin? Nicotine patches prove they can be done. Of course, there are all sorts of medicines you can take via inhalation or ingestion. Those fancy body-imaging machines Dr. McCoy used to use to diagnose patients? Got ’em. They are called MRIs. Scalpel-less surgery? We are already doing some of that. Had any colon polyps snipped recently? The Warp Drive engine still eludes us, as well as the whole Star Trek thing about faster than light travel that somehow eludes Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. Maybe someday we will get there.

The latest gee whiz “right out of Star Trek” gizmo is called MASTOR. MASTOR stands for Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator, and it is a product of IBM Research. When I heard about it yesterday on the BBC’s World Update broadcast, my interest was immediately piqued. You can think of it as a Star Trek universal translator.

Translation software is nothing new. Even if we seem to doggedly prefer our keyboards, Microsoft believes we will evolve. It built speech to text translation into its Windows Vista operating system. (It may need a bit more work.) We also have programs that translate text from one language to another automatically. While such software usually does a faithful job translating words, it can also kick out intensely strange and occasionally hilarious mistranslations when it attempts to translate expressions and colloquialisms. I used freetranslation.com a few years ago when I sold a car to a Spanish couple. It seemed to be good enough and allowed us to sign an agreement of understanding even though my Spanish was rudimentary at best and their English was nonexistent. MASTOR is the next logical step. Make no mistake: MASTOR is a quantum leap in functionality because it can allow two people who speak two different languages to talk in real time with neither directly interacting with a computer. It is being field tested in Iraq right now as a means to allow our English-speaking soldiers to communicate with Iraqis, and visa versa. Reputedly, it is doing a decent job.

The software is installed on ruggedized laptop computers that soldiers can carry around with them. It is sensitive enough not just to translate spoken English into spoken Arabic, but into the Iraqi dialect of Arabic. IBM has been working to make the software work on small portable computers. In Star Trek, the universal translator was able to accurately translate any kind of speech, or in some cases thoughts in the form of energy. It was a neat gizmo to have and helped move the plot along at a brisk pace. While MASTOR is not as sophisticated as what was envisioned in Star Trek, it is easy to see MASTOR as version 0.1 of the universal translator. Presumably in time IBM will work out the kinks, and add translations for many more languages and dialects.

What is more exciting to me is where this should eventually lead. Computer storage continues to get cheaper. Memory continues to get denser and less expensive. Processors become more powerful and more energy efficient. The MP3 players that many of us carry around demonstrate just how much functionality can be squeezed into such a small space and yet have such modest power requirements. My MP3 player has 1GB of flash memory, plays, records, has an FM-radio and works on one AAA battery.

I can see the day, likely in my lifetime, when every international traveler will journey with a universal translator. Maybe it would just be a feature on our MP3 player. Instead of FM radio, we would engage its translation feature. On the other hand, perhaps it would be smart enough to detect foreign words and phrases and automatically speak them to us. Such a device would need a microphone that most players already have as well as a small speaker. Even if the translation were not perfect, it would be sufficient for your average tourist. When we travel this would make it unnecessary for many of us to have to learn the local language or purchase foreign phrase books.

I know that last year when my family visited France even though I had my daughter with me (a fourth year French student) I was a bit intimidated by the language, Fortunately, we stayed in tourist areas, so language barriers were rarely a problem. Admittedly, reading signs in foreign languages would be a problem. However, GPSes can get us from point to point in our favorite language, as well as always tell us where we are. Spoken word translation though is better. It predated the written word for good reason: it was universal. As long as there are people, a universal translator would be a convenient and natural way to navigate in foreign countries.

As a Washingtonian, I often feel that I need a universal translator right here where I live. The cultural diversity is such that you are about as likely to hear someone speaking a language other than English as English itself. Newt Gingrich wants to require that all Americans read and speak English. There may come a time when our universal translators become so fast and proficient that knowing more than one language will be unnecessary.

I hope the MASTOR succeeds in Iraq. Improved communications with Iraqi locals certainly could not hurt, and might reduce casualties. We sure could have used it when we invaded back in 2003, for we invaded with grossly insufficient translators for our needs. When MASTOR is finally available commercially at an affordable price, you will be seeing me using my passport a whole lot more often.

Rehosted

The Thinker by Rodin

This will be a short entry. My writing here lately has been constrained because (a) I have been busy at work (b) having Google abandon my blog has made it more difficult to get inspired (c) I have been busy doing phpBB modifications work for clients and (d) I have been up to my armpits with rehosting issues.

Thankfully, the rehosting issue is finally solved. I went through a tedious process of moving over my two phpBB message boards (Oak Hill Virginia Online and The Potomac Tavern) but the last domain, this blog, has proven daunting. Thankfully with a help from my friend Jim Goldbloom, calls to the tech support people here at westhost.com, and helpful users in their forums, plus a lot of the troubleshooting common sense skills acquired from being in this business 20 years, this blog is now rehosted too.

So hopefully I will feel a bit more inspired, Google will put me back in their index and clients will not need my services as much, so I will have more leisure time to get back to the sober and well crafted blogging I hope I do so well.

Thank you for your patience.

New Computer Joys and Annoyances

The Thinker by Rodin

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.