Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Slightly More Philisophical View

I appreciate the comments on the previous post and in fairness, I should point out that I've made my living the last 10 years managing the folks that support Windows servers and/or Windows desktops at a number of different companies and there are certainly good things to be said about Microsoft from a business support standpoint. My issues are really all around personal use/personal support and I've even defended Microsoft for personal use in the past.

I'll admit that I've thought a couple of times about trying a Mac for family members that are either not technically inclined or not interested in the overhead Windows PC ownership sometimes entails, but I can't bring myself to do it. There's no one that is more proprietary than Apple (making Steve Jobs' shouting at the RIAA about how DRM was a mistake quite laughable) and the only reason they aren't more vulnerable to malware attacks is their relatively small marketshare. Every new iBook they sell makes them more likely to be targeted.

No, I actually bought one of the Gateway refurbs as a test bed to ween myself off of reliance on Microsoft by playing around with Linux distros until I find one that is an acceptable combination of user-friendly, easy to maintain and stable. I just haven't had the time yet to do that evaluation, although I did some preliminary looking late last year and was pretty impressed with Fedora. The problem is that there are some programs that I can't live without that I have so far found no adequate Linux substitute for (MSMoney, TurboTax), others that I'd rather not do without (some games like PGA Tour Golf and Dungeon Siege, Photoshop Elements) and others that I just haven't had time to investigate substitutes for (management software for Creative MP3 players, Canon cameras, etc.). If all I was doing was web-surfing, email and Office stuff, there'd be no question that I'd dump Windows for Linux. And before any of you start pointing out substitutes for some of the programs I mentioned above, the GIMP is way too user-unfriendly, various open source MSMoney clones lack functionality and others I just haven't had time to evaluate. However, I love me some OpenOffice, Filezilla, Thunderbird, Firefox, etc. so there is hope.

Bottom line is that I expect I'll be using some version of Microsoft operating system for the foreseeable future for at least some systems, so it's in my (and everybody else's) best interest for them to get this right. In the meantime, while many Linux distros are shooting for a more user-friendly computing experience, MS seems to be heading in the other direction, so some flavor of Linux is becoming much more reasonable as a general user platform.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Steve Ballmer Owes Me Money

...or at least my Sunday back. For the most part we've avoided Vista but I did buy a Dell laptop for J last year that came with Vista Home Premium and it has certainly had more than its share of problems. Some of them are no doubt familiarity, which makes one ask why Microsoft thought it prudent to take a lot of the management controls and user controls that we've all become accustomed to with XP and essentially hide them. Much worse are the constant cases of the laptop locking up and other problems - the known issues with Vista make it difficult to tell what's a Vista problem and what is potentially a hardware problem.

Sunday was the topper though, as I tried to install SP1 on the laptop to see if it would alleviate some of these problems. While SP1 has been out for two months, it has not been presented to everyone yet via Windows Update, so I downloaded the almost half a gigabyte executable and, after backing up J's files, gave it a go. Halfway through it blew up with an error message so I rebooted to reset things and to start my debug. Then things got interesting. Well, if by interesting I mean frustrating as hell.

When the system started back up, I was presented with a message that the laptop could be running an unauthorized copy of Vista. My choices were to check it out or close. Knowing that this was clearly due to the failed SP1 installation, I hit "Close" which instead of letting me bypass the notice, shut the machine down. Wonderful.

So I started the laptop back up, got the message again, and hit the button to check it out, which opens a browser to the Microsoft "Genuine" page and, after the 8 Microsoft security messages I had to respond to for the ActiveX control from THEIR website to load, it told me that there was a problem with our installation of Vista and gave some suggestions for things to try, all of which required access to the "Start" button which at this point I did not have since Windows had never completed its initialization. So back to shutting down - laptop is currently unusable.

Next step was to bring the laptop up in Safe mode and try to do a System Restore. Took a few tries to figure out the right key to hit at startup to stop Windows initialization but finally got there and restored back to the earliest restore point, which had been 2pm Sunday. This took awhile but allowed me to boot the laptop all the way up into Vista and to find that the frickin System Restore hadn't considered the "Download" folder to contain personal files, so I lost the damn executable.

Downloaded the exe again, this time from MY laptop, and burned it to CD. I had also installed an outstanding patch before trying to load SP1 and thought maybe it had caused a problem, but now with the system restored it was no longer there, so I tried installing SP1 again. No luck. And once again I couldn't boot due to the Windows Genuine Advantage message. Reboot, Safe Mode, System Restore.

In the meantime, from some of the reading I'd done I thought there might be some previous optional patches that I had not installed that might be needed for SP1, so I went back in to Windows Update and decided to install all of the optional patches that were presented. Each of these steps is taking a considerable amount of time of course, so by this time it is well into the evening after I've taken a break to take J to evening services at her church and I've slammed down a couple of Bass ales at my "church" while watching LeBron James and Paul Pierce duke it out. I've been doing other things at the same time, but this is really getting annoying and I've gotten no closer to getting SP1 installed.

So, patches are on, I reboot and before I've even tried to reinstall SP1, I've got a Windows Genuine Advantage violation again. Unbelievable. Reboot, Safe Mode, System Restore. It's 1am and I'm no closer to having SP1 installed than I was at 2pm.

So now I'm exploring other options - blow Vista away and install XP, set up a dual-boot with Vista AND XP or even install a user-friendly Linux distro with OpenOffice since the primary uses of the laptop are web, email and document editing.

As far as Vista goes, I've bought three machines in the last 9 months that were preloaded with Vista. One was the Dell laptop - lots of problems. The second was a refurbed Gateway desktop for me - I immediately blew Vista away and started playing with various Linux distros but I've since reinstalled Vista to try to do some troubleshooting for JennySlash and for the third system I bought, a similarly-configured Gateway refurb that I gave to Mom for her birthday. She had no end of trouble with it and finally gave it back hoping I could get my money back for it. Not a good track record. As J said last night, what do people that DON'T have an IT professional in the family do?!

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