WRESTLING WITH THE COMPUTER

I spent a day and a night in mortal combat with my computer. It wasn’t my computer’s fault. It was some update that caused something else to malfunction. Like a house of cards, it just went down and stayed down. Wouldn’t boot, wouldn’t tell me what the problem was. Finally, I managed to grab the last few digits of the blue-screen message and determined the area of the problem was graphics, coaxed the computer into backing up to a time before the “update,” and everything began to settle down.

As I near the end of the “free installation” period for Windows 10, Microsoft has become ever more strident in its determination to install it, including trying to install it without my permission.

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Which doesn’t work. It just errors out and makes a mess. This computer with its fancy shmantzy graphics card doesn’t run properly with Windows 10. It slows to a crawl, loses it’s file structure. I’ve attempted to install it four times and gotten fatal errors. It either crashed and would not recover, or it recovered, but was inoperable after a reboot. Enough being enough, I decided I’m fine with Windows 7.

I’ll be glad when the “free installation” period is over and I can stop worrying about sneak attacks on my operating system.

Technically, nothing can install without my permission. My settings decree I have to start an update before anything installs. But Microsoft seems to have found a way around my settings. To keep my computer working the way I want it, I turn it OFF unless I am sitting in front of it. This is inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as having Windows 10 trying to install itself while I am in the shower.

I’m hoping I’ve got it back on track now. These wrestling matches with the operating system are no fun and I absolutely do not want to have to replace this computer. Not only do I not have the money, but I’m happy with this computer. I don’t want the hassles that go with setting up a new one — especially using a different operating system.

I think I’m back. So far, so good.

ONE SIZE NEVER FITS ALL

Just when I think this subject has been dealt with, finished, over and done … it pops back up again. For reasons that remain a bit murky to me, a few large software and other organizations still believe the tablets and mobile phones are going to replace computers. Laptops and desktops … gone. Everything now gets done on tiny little thingamabobs.

side view alienware closeup computer

NOT!

About four years ago, tablets were the thing. Articles everywhere explained why tablets — and other small devices — would replace computers. The laptop and desktop are dead! The techno-pundits agreed: no one would need a computer because everything would be done on a small, portable device.

The short-sightedness of that statement still echoes in the air. Of course it didn’t happen. Sure, everyone bought a tablet. Or two or more. But no one threw out their computer, either. Turns out that each device has a purpose and an appropriate use. It isn’t and never will be “either-or.”

Venu 8 size compared to phone

I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have a smart phone. Sometimes, I even use it. I have a couple of tablets and have had as many as four, including an iPad. I didn’t like the iPad (gasp!) and gave it to my granddaughter who had a valid need for it in school. The others, I passed on to people who didn’t already have a tablet or three. The price of tablets has dropped so much — frequently offered free when you buy a cell phone or laptop — it’s getting hard to give them away.

I have a terrific gaming 14-inch laptop on which I’m working right now. I also have a desktop with a big HD monitor. I rarely use the desktop, but I keep it because you never know. Garry has one too. Ditto.

The big desktop monitor is a touch screen. It used to go nuts if a fly or a mosquito walked across it. I eventually gave up and turned the touch functionality off. It was a viciously difficult angle at which to use ones fingers, especially if you have a semblance of fingernails. It killed my wrists and shoulders.

WHAT ARE TOUCHSCREENS GOOD FOR?

Not much, actually. The little ones are good for checking email and making brief responses … and sending texts. Taking a quick glance at a website. Reading a book. Looking at (but not editing) pictures. Listening to music.

SO WHAT’S MISSING?

The ability to create anything or do any actual work. Too small for a spreadsheet. Without a keyboard, no writer would try to do anything longer than a paragraph or a quick typo fix.

And then there’s the inaccuracy. You cannot edit a photograph — or anything really using a touchscreen.

my office and desktop computer

YOU CAN’T DO “BIG” USING “TINY”

Those who extol mini devices as a total computer solution have never designed a book, made a movie, edited a photograph, used Photoshop (or any Adobe product), converted a book to a PDF or edited a manuscript. I know this because it’s impossible. All other problems aside, little devices are too small.

This is not my opinion. It’s fact. Mac, PC, Android, Linux — size matters. You can argue this until you’re blue in the face. It won’t change anything. Oh, and some of us really can’t read tiny type. Like more than half the population, for example. Far-sighted people and anyone over 40. Just saying.

VIRTUAL KEYBOARDS ARE FOR VIRTUAL TYPISTS

I read an article that explained how you can type just fine on a virtual keyboard. No, you can’t.

tablets kindle iPad

IT’S A BIG WORLD

I like choice. I like having different devices for specific tasks. You can’t replace everything with one thing  and there’s no reason you should.

Diversity makes life interesting. We don’t have to go to the same church, read the same books, believe the same stuff … or use the same computer

One size never fits all.

WHY TABLETS DIDN’T REPLACE COMPUTERS

A few years ago when tablets were the next big thing, there were articles everywhere explaining why tablets would replace everything else. All the techno-pundits said no one would need a computer because everything would be done on a small, portable device.

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It didn’t happen. Everyone bought a tablet, but no one threw out their computer.

I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have a smart phone. Sometimes, I even use it. I have two tablets and had as many as four until I gave two away.

tablets kindle iPad

I have a terrific 14-inch laptop and a desktop with a big monitor. I rarely use the desktop, but I keep it because you never know. The big desktop monitor is actually a touch screen. It used to reconfigure itself when a fly or a mosquito walked across it. I turned the touch functionality off and use a mouse. If I hadn’t been able to get rid of the touch technology, I would have been forced to defenestrate it.

Warning: You cannot edit a photograph — or really, anything — using a touchscreen.

my office and desktop computer

I’m sure those who extol mini devices as a total computer solution have never designed a book, made a movie, edited a photograph, used Photoshop (or any Adobe product), converted a book to a PDF or edited a manuscript. I know this because it’s impossible. All other problems aside, little devices are too small. You can’t edit a big thing on an itty-bitty screen.

This is not my opinion. It’s a fact. Operating system is irrelevant. Mac, PC, Android or Linux, size matters. You can argue this until you’re blue in the face. It won’t change anything.

VIRTUAL KEYBOARDS ARE FOR VIRTUAL TYPISTS

I read an article that explained how you can type just fine on a virtual keyboard. No, you can’t.

IT’S A BIG WORLD

If I’ve got room in my house for every kind of device, surely there’s ample room in our world for everything. Personally, I like choice. I like using different devices for different tasks. You can’t replace everything with one thing  and there’s no reason you should.

An office

One size never fits all. Diversity makes life interesting. Let’s celebrate our differences. We don’t have to go to the same church, read the same books, believe the same stuff … or use the same computer

If everybody would quit trying to force their opinions on others, life would be better. For everyone. So live. Enjoy. Let everyone else do the same.

IT WAS A FINE AFFAIR, BUT NOW IT’S OVER …

Four hours after I finished installing Windows 10, I restored Windows 7 Professional. Why, you ask? How fair an assessment of the operating system could I make in only four hours?

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Well, for a start, the boot time on Windows 10 is a return to the bad old days. Remember when you could turn on the computer, make dinner, eat dinner, wash the dishes… and when you got back, maybe your system would be ready to go? It’s that bad.

I’m not talking about a little bit slower. I mean a solid five-minute plus boot time.

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There are lots of bells and whistles on Windows 10. I deleted as many of them as I could, but I couldn’t get rid of nearly enough. This is supposed to be a professional system, yet its loaded down with music, movies, TV, games, more games, travel sites. Everything is entertainment-oriented. Nothing useful for work. Nothing.

We all use our systems differently, but there’s a reason I have had the professional versions of Windows.

Microsoft still hasn’t recovered from their belief that every computer should contain a party that never ends. Assuming a party is what I want, I’m entirely capable of finding it. I hate bloatware and Windows 10 it full of it.

The one thing in the package of ‘goodies’ I liked was the Solitaire Pack. I miss solitaire, but I can live without it. All the other crap? The addition of Xbox does not compensate for the loss of “preview” in the right-click pictures context menu. I don’t need special tiles for television, movie, news, maps, weather and the Microsoft store. I can easily make my own links to those sites in whatever browser I use.

Maybe all this crap is why the system is so abominably slow to boot?

As usual, they’ve scrambled the menus. Typical of software designers, if they can’t make something better, they can at least make stuff you need hard to find. I had to go hunting for the power controls (Restart, Shut Down, Hibernate, Sleep, etc.) and the Control Panel. They moved the Startup controller to the Task Manager which was merely annoying. What was wrong with where it had been for the past 20 years?

The Windows 10 audio controls are even less intuitive than they are in Windows 7. Some of them are — far as I can tell — missing. Maybe they’ve moved them elsewhere too.

Good things? Yes, a few. It’s a huge improvement over Windows 8. If I had Win 8 on my computer, I’d be thrilled with Windows 10.

My Adobe applications open and load faster in Windows 10, and the WiFi connection seems more stable. The task bar icons are nice and streamlined. I don’t know that they’re better, but they are different.

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Windows 10

I started installing Windows 10 at 10:30 am. I finished at 3:10 pm. Just short of five hours including errors, restarts, and many reboots. Although 99 % of the installation is automatic, the other 1% is critical. Had I not been there, the installation would have crashed and burned, likely leaving me without a working operating system.

It took just 15 minutes to restore Windows 7 Professional. No one can say I didn’t give it a try.

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Windows 7 Professional

The deal-breaker was the extremely slow boot time. It was this slow with an empty startup file and after deleting as much bloatware as I could. If they had less junk on the system, it would probably move faster. It couldn’t move much slower.

I am pretty sure it would have run well enough after booting, but I do not like the hybrid “Start Menu.” It has pieces of the classic Start Menu, plus those hateful tiles they couldn’t give away in Windows 8. What makes Microsoft think something I hated in Windows 8 would be more lovable in Windows 10?

Although the version of Windows 10 I installed was officially the professional version, my best guess is that it’s identical to the “Home” edition.

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Will I try it again? Not soon. Maybe if they assure me they’ve dealt with the problems by first acknowledging there are problems. I’m sure there’s an up side to Windows 10 (especially if you are coming from Windows 8), but for me, it doesn’t outweigh the bloatware and slow boot time.

INSTALLING WINDOWS 10 – FINALLY

I won’t be dropping by to read your posts today and for this, I apologize. But I’ve got a great excuse.

It is the first day of November and autumn is fading into winter. Taking courage in hand … setting aside a whole bundle of concerns about how this upgrade would affect this computer … I upgraded my laptop for which I still owe a ton of money … to Windows 10.

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To say this wasn’t an action taken lightly would be a massive understatement. I waited until I could get testimony from people I know and trust that they had done it. That their computers were still working weeks or months after installation. That they hadn’t lost their applications or data. And most of all, that they were pleased with how it worked compared to Windows 7.

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It turned out to be as scary as I expected. It errored out during the download. Eventually, I deduced the problem was I had to set “Windows Updates” to allow automatic installation. I changed the setting, after which the download picked up where it had left off.

A bigger scare occurred during the actual install. It stopped, announced a fatal error because it had encountered my video board. This was one of the things I was most afraid would happen. I have some highly specialized hardware and associated software in this machine. But, surprise! It rebooted, apparently found whatever it needed, then continued.

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All of this took considerable time, but I knew this was going to be a lost day anyhow.

Finally, when it had downloaded and completed it’s “preparation,” it got lost, couldn’t find the computer’s identifier. I think it was actually having trouble connecting with the router.

Finding the connection has — especially recently — been a frequent problem. Charter Communication’s WiFi is unstable. Not to mention the company is doing a lot of work on the poles and wires all along our road, from here into Rhode Island.

Then, after it rebooted a couple of times, but couldn’t get itself organized, I turned it off and rebooted it cold. After that, it found the WiFi and successfully identified the machine.

So far as I can tell — about 10 minutes after completing the installation — it looks okay. All my applications seem to be where they ought to be, though I have not checked to see if they are actually working.

I started this installation this morning at around 10:30. It finished at 3 in the afternoon. Four and a half hours. I had to be here to monitor it and make sure I didn’t need to answer a question — there were four or five questions to be answered along the way. It’s almost entirely automatic … but not quite.

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Questions pop up and if there are any problems — as there were with mine — you need to be there to tell the computer to try again, to reboot, or whatever. Otherwise, I think you might wind up with some serious problems of incomplete or corrupted installation of the operating system.

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How is it going to work? I don’t really know yet. Will I like it? I guess I’ll find out. Am I glad I did it? I don’t know that yet either. I’m glad I’m done sitting here and monitoring the process. Talk about watching paint dry.

You will please forgive me if I don’t go and read everyone’s blogs today. It’s late, I’m tired. Tomorrow is another day. I’ve got my fingers crossed that when I got to turn this machine on tomorrow, it is still alive and kicking!

RUNNING MICROSOFT’S OBSTACLE COURSE

Four computers in this house run Windows 7. There were more, but the kids moved out, so it’s just Garry and me. We each have a desktop with a big, high-definition screen. We don’t use either of them.

Instead, we each have a laptop, which we use all the time. There’s nothing wrong with the desktops except they live in our “offices” and we have chosen to live in the living room. That’s why they call it a living room, right?

alienware side view computer

Together. All the time. If we are awake and home, we are on the love seat, or maybe in the kitchen, but this is comedy central, where it all happens. The dogs, the laptops, the big TV … and us.

At the end of July, Microsoft shoved Windows 10 out the door and into the waiting, eager arms of the public. Of which we are two, or maybe four, if you count computers rather than people.

Everyone in the world got a little symbol telling them they could upgrade as soon as it came their turn “on the great queue.”

We didn’t get the little symbol. Not on any one of our computers and while this didn’t worry me initially — I’m in no great hurry to install a new operating system on four computers — eventually I realized that I was not going to be able to avoid this giant communal computer upgrade event.

What to do?

I went to Microsoft’s “What do I do if I didn’t get the little upgrade doohickie in my system tray?” page. They carefully explained what was eligible (any legal copy that isn’t a bulk licence) of Windows 7.

Check.

So why didn’t any of my computers get the signal that “we’re good to go?”

“Try this little application to check if you are eligible.”

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I did. On all four computers, it said “NOT ELIGIBLE” and then, a few more clicks to get the message: “Because this computer isn’t up to date.” I’ve got all my computers set on auto-update. It isn’t MY fault that they reject one out of three downloads Microsoft sends.

I sighed. I whined. Then, I started updating. Everything. My husband’s was easy. He was just missing the most recent updates. Installed, rebooted, and voilà. There was the flag. Quickly, I put him on the queue. Microsoft will let him know when his wife can install his new copy of Windows 10. Oh boy. Something to look forward to.

Garry in his office

Next, I updated my laptop. That took a little longer and I had to install all the updates I’d rejected because I don’t use Internet Explorer and didn’t see the point in updating it. I bit the bullet and installed everything, even the crap I thought was a total waste of time and hard drive space.

The symbol appeared and I signed up.

The recalcitrant desktops were another story. Garry’s hadn’t even been turned on for the past few months, so it was missing updates for probably a year. I got it started, rebooted, it started downloading more. I rebooted. When the third round began I went to the next room and confronted my desk top, the one with that great, big super high-definition screen that I don’t use anymore because it’s got everything I want in a computer except a decent graphics board.

Office by window light - Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

I set it to updating. It updated. Then, after a reboot, it updated more. Another reboot. More updates. I needed coffee and this morning, its caramel macchiado, so I ambled to the kitchen. And totally forgot about the struggling computers in the other rooms.

Many, many hours later, as the sun was sinking in the west, I realized I’d forgotten to go back and check the two desktops.

Both were awaiting a reboot. I remember when Microsoft used to just reboot them for you, like it or not. Even if you were in the final edits of your great American novel, your computer would turn itself off and reboot. Apparently enough people threatened to burn down Microsoft headquarters after losing significant work. Today, the “Reboot now?” prompt sits in the middle of your screen. Waiting. Like refugees from the Nazis at Rick’s place in Casablanca. They wait, and wait, and wait.

I rebooted. Wouldn’t you know it? One more — I hoped final — round of updates. I got them started. Went back, watched a rerun of NCIS, then returned, rebooted, rebooted

Triumph! Both computers displayed the white flag of surrender. Eligible at last! Talk about overcoming obstacles. Wowie zowie, this household is ready to rock and roll.

computer and keyboard

I signed up both computers for Windows 10, noticing as I did it that it was the same email addresses I had used for the laptops because (tada) we each have two computers, but only one email address per person. I hope that doesn’t confuse Microsoft.

Surely (and don’t call me Shirley) we can’t be the only people to own more than one computer, right? I mean … this isn’t 1980 where people still think a family can share one computer (ha! how long did that last!).

And so it went. Overcoming obstacles 101. Four computers updated in one day. Am I ready for an “attagirl” or what?

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE FROM MEMORY LANE

Unwilling to even think about today’s daily prompt, I offer this instead. Just food for thought. Or paranoia.

After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.

computer gargoyle

Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new operating systems. Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used weird languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then … everything changed.

First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but soon enough, it got better. And then better again.

There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen that spit out paper.

This was the Amstrad!

Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!

I worked on this machine in Israel using the first word processing tool, WordStar.

For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was do see.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

My first personal computer.

To get on the Internet , you turned on the computer and the modem. Went to the kitchen. Prepared dinner. Cooked dinner. Served dinner. Ate dinner. Cleaned up. By the time you got back, you might have managed to connect. Or not.

My first PC. I think everyone had one of these at some point!

Then suddenly AOL popped up and I got a really fast modem, a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall.

My old 486 ran for 10 years. It wasn’t fast, but it sure was durable.

At age three, she could run basic applications. It’s like electricity to us: something you use that’s always there, always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember so far back.

Memories of days of yore … but not halcyon I fear,

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced.  More than 30 million of them sold.  I had one of these, too.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalog shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras, and GPS units. I have three computers — desktop, laptop, and Kindle. Garry has the same arrangement . There’s an extra Kindle or two lying around, too.

Six computers and only 2 people. All it takes is a brief interruption of connectivity to leave us wandering like wraiths, without form or function.

Now, it’s about “the cloud.” Same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “new” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instant. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade expensive applications and volumes of data. You don’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory, and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

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The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are out? What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline?

My bank was hacked. BOA had to send me a new bank card. Lands End and Adobe were hacked too. I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised. Lots of other places too over the years, places that were “unhackable.” I know I’m not unhackable. I just figure I’m lucky and don’t have anything worth stealing.

If your ISP is down, you’re out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say overloaded systems go down like dominoes. I’m all in favor working with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us too vulnerable?

If you put too many eggs in the basket and the basket falls — and it will — eggs break. In which case you don’t have an omelet, just a mess of busted eggs.