Will technology ever catch up?

Archive for the ‘PC’ Category

XP: Happy 5th birthday, Windows XP!

Posted by cascadehush on October 30, 2006

ars technica: Happy 5th birthday, Windows XP!:

After five years, many people consider Windows XP to be getting a little long in the tooth. Yet such is the maturity of the operating systems market that there are far fewer “must-have” reasons to upgrade now than there were in the past. Windows XP brought drastically improved stability, a robust file system, and overall improved performance (provided you had enough RAM) to the general public, making it a worthwhile upgrade from the 9x series in almost all cases. Will Vista offer enough compelling reasons to upgrade? Or will the venerable XP keep chugging along in most people’s homes for years to come?

According to this article, 75% of Google searches are performed using XP and only 8% with Windows 98. But I suspect there are many Windows 98 boxes still out there that are not necessarily used by the type of web surfers that are big on Google searches, but are used for email and online banking.

My point is that 8 years after Windows 98 was released, and 5 years after XP, it still runs a significant proportion of PCs, despite being vastly inferior to XP.

Now Vista is not significantly superior to XP. If Windows 98 has survived 5 years of XP, I think XP will survive more than 5 years of Vista. I think there will come a time when Microsoft will have to start taking drastic measures to move people away from XP. It will eventually stop making XP available to distributors, that is inevitable, but I fear this may be sooner rather than later. There could even come a time when they no longer allow activation, which is exactly why such copy protection is evil.

I don’t consider XP long in the tooth. It is more stable and reliable than ever. I plan on using XP for a long time to come. I want to make it clear that my utter disgruntledness about Vista only increases my respect for XP. In the long-term, unless Microsoft can come up with something way better than Vista, it is likely I’ll be migrating completely to OSX. But I’ll be keeping my XP boxes alive for as long as possible.


Posted in PC, Vista, Win9x, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »

Vista: Still missing OSX’s 2 best features

Posted by cascadehush on October 29, 2006

I’ve been running Vista for a couple of weeks now. I must say I don’t see the point. It doesn’t seem like an upgrade, rather a side-grade. Different for the sake of being different.

Vista tries to include some of the visual flare of OSX but for the most part fails to actually include anything genuinely useful. But it’s not visual niceties for the sake of aesthetics that are OSX’s biggest asset.

There are two particularly silly and amateurish shortfalls that continue in Vista from earlier Windows.

The first problem is it’s continued use of drive letters to identify disks. This idiotic carry-over from the days of DOS 1.0 creates several problems.

You can never tell what drive letter you’ll get when you plug a removable disk in into the computer. This makes it difficult to work with removable disks with some programs, and adds a layer of complexity if you want to automate tasks.

If you install a new HD, your other drives (including optical drives) can be re-assigned and some programs will have to be re-configured or may stop working.

An even more insidious problem is where windows fails to assign a unique drive letter to different devices. I have a USB card reader that I can’t use at work because windows tries to assign it a sequence of drive letters (one for each type of card slot). When some of those drive letters clash with already assigned drive letters, that card slot is unusable. There is no work around for this. It is common for windows to try to assign drive letters to USB devices which are already taken by network shares.

OSX avoids all these problems by using volume labels to identify drives. This allows me to keep my iPhoto Library on a removable HD and transfer it between my 2 Macs. My card reader only shows up when I actually have a card in the device, so there is no hunting around to find the drive letter for the card.

The second problem is the Taskbar. The Taskbar comes to us from Windows 95, and is a great way of switching between about 4 programs. Back then people were grateful to be able to run more that 2 programs without the OS crashing. Any more than 4 and the taskbar is a mess. Even with a wide-screen monitor it’s not really much better.

You can re-configure the bar to give you 2 rows. This is the first thing I do when I use a Windows PC. But it’s still a mess. Microsoft tried to fix this in XP by allowing you to ‘Group Similar Taskbar Buttons’. This is just adding frustration to injury.

Is it any wonder that so many programs offer some method of hiding their presence from the Taskbar by only showing up as a System Tray Icon next to the clock.

OSX has the Dock and it has Expose.

The Dock is great because the user knows where a certain program is. If they want to run Firefox (for example) they click on the Firefox icon. If they have minimized or hidden Firefox and want to get it back, guess where they click – the Firefox icon. If it’s running, OSX is sensible enough to bring the program to the front. If it’s not, OSX launches it. This is next-generation thinking. The user doesn’t have to worry about whether a program is running or not and act differently.

Expose is even better. A user can choose a window by looking at all windows and choosing the one they want. It’s a natural, human way to work. Vista tries to provide a thumbnail view of running programs in three different ways, none of which are as useful as Expose. They could have just ripped off Expose. They should have.

Posted in Opinion, OSX, PC, Vista | Leave a Comment »

Linux: Qt, the GPL, KDE, and GNOME

Posted by cascadehush on October 25, 2006

Linux Today – Stallman on Qt, the GPL, KDE, and GNOME

An interesting article from 2000 which explains some history and demonstrates an interesting mindset. The only thing that ever makes Linux tolerable for me is KDE, so I find it interesting that it has been steeped in so much controversy.

Posted in Linux, PC | Leave a Comment »

PC: BIOS Guides

Posted by cascadehush on October 20, 2006

Here are a couple of good reference guides, if you are trying to decifer the often convoluted world of your PCs BIOS.

BIOS from A to Z – Tom’s Hardware
The Definitive BIOS Optimization Guide

Posted in Hardware, PC, Troubleshooting | Leave a Comment »

XP: Automatic Updates Warning

Posted by cascadehush on October 20, 2006

Microsoft has started including modem and LAN drivers are part of their automatic updates. Getting drivers from Windows Update has always been a very dodgy practice. Now it seems microsoft want to foist driver updates on users.

Modem drivers are especially tenuous, never change a driver if you have a working dial-up modem. LAN drivers should be less of a problem. I wonder how long it will be before tech support lines start getting floods of call from irate users who’s hardware suddenly stops working.

If you have Automatic Updates in XP switched to automatically install, now is as good a time as any to turn it off. I suggest you switch it to automatically download, but not install. Then you have a choice what goes on your machine.

N.B. It is possible that other drivers have been included in this new update policy, but so far I have only seen Modem and LAN drivers.

Posted in Hardware, PC, Troubleshooting, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »

Win9x: Remove the login prompt

Posted by cascadehush on October 19, 2006

If you ever reloaded an old Windows 98 box, you know how annoying the little login box can be. Windows will tell you that if you leave the password blank that the logon box will go away, but this is a lie, it never does. Even if you are cluey enough to change the Windows Logon settings in the Network Settings, you’ll still find that annoying box still won’t go away. When you read Microsoft’s instructions on how to prevent the logon prompt you’ll see just how convoluted a process it is. No wonder that stubborn little box is so hard to suppress.

What is so appalling about this is that this bug was carried over from Windows 95 up to Windows ME.

N.B When you follow the instructions linked to above, you will get the logon prompt the next time you boot, only this time, when you leave the password blank, Windows actually does what it says it will, and never ask for a password again

Posted in PC, Troubleshooting, Win9x | Leave a Comment »

Are Linux apps crap on purpose?

Posted by cascadehush on October 19, 2006

Are linux apps the result of lazy design, the self-absorbedness of their creators or runaway group-think?

One sometimes wonders if the user interface of some Linux apps are deliberately bad. The intent being to make them in-accessable to normal computer users and thus the secret purview of an elitist club.

Given the astounding quality of some freeware/open source in the Windows and OSX worlds, I can’t help but wonder if this is true. It’s not surprising that the best Linux apps are also cross-platform, like FireFox.

This doesn’t mean every app needs flashy icons. It just means that some kind of convention should be followed so that functions can be accessed logically. It also means that screen real-estate should be used economically without being cluttered.

Posted in PC, Software | Leave a Comment »

Ubuntu – Ready for Prime Time? Not now, not ever!

Posted by cascadehush on October 18, 2006

Because Ubuntu leaves out any software which is patented, copywrited or otherwise relies on propriatary code, most of the useful things one associates with linux seem to be missing. Especially in the area of media filetype support. If you have a collection of AVIs or MP3s, steer well clear.

I don’t know what movie formats the included Totem movie player plays, but I can’t get it to play anything dispite having downloaded several of the suggested codec packs/plugins. I have tried various movies in different formats and none of them play. In the end I downloaded VLC.

Accessing my Windows XP server was a piece of cake, until I discovered that only the gnome file manager seems to be able to access files on the drive. If I try to actually open a file I get an error. The only way to use files is to make a local copy first. So much for Linux being good for networking.

When I try to install nVidia drivers and the control panel to tweek the graphics, I get the option to install one of these but not both. So I can have the driver with no control, or I can have the control panel with no driver to talk to.

Video performance is appaling as a result.

I have never had any problems like this with either XP or OSX. I have wasted an entire evening trying to do a simple task like watch a video.

Linux ready for the mainstream? No closer than yesterday.

If your time is worth nothing to you, then maybe you can figure this out. Otherwise XP and OSX are a bargain.

(P.S. If you are looking for a ‘better Ubuntu’ check out the only version of Linux I have ever run for more than a week: simplyMEPIS )

Posted in PC, Software | Leave a Comment »

Intel Buying nVidia… I hope not.

Posted by cascadehush on October 5, 2006


Rumors were flying today around Wall Street trading desks of a pending Intel buyout of NVIDIA

If Intel Buys nVidia, then we are headed down a path where the major components inside a PC will be made by 2 manufacturers and they won’t be interchangable. You either buy an ATi/AMD/Live box or an nVidia/Intel/Viiv box.

Of course it will never happen.  Even if Intel does buy nVidia, somewhere in the near future this little duopoly-in-the-making will fall apart somehow.  It’s just not how PCs are done.

The most scary thing about this is the potiential loss of the nForce motherboard chipset, which is the best chipset for AMD processors.

Posted in Hardware, PC, Rant | Leave a Comment »

XP: Converting filesystems.

Posted by cascadehush on October 5, 2006

How to Convert FAT Disks to NTFS:

You can convert a FAT or FAT32 volume to an NTFS volume without formatting the volume, though it is still a good idea to back up your data before you convert.

Once you know how, it is easy to convert a FAT32 filesystem to NTFS.  If you ever have to restore an older  system from a recovery CD/partitionr, you will often end up with a FAT32 boot partition.  Some laptops currently still ship with FAT32 partitions by default.  As this article explains, XP has a utility to do the conversion without the need for a reformat, or 3rd party utilities.

Posted in PC, Troubleshooting, Windows XP | Leave a Comment »