Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Getting a new computer

Several weeks ago my old computer passed away and I bought a new one. It is a nice HP machine that was on sale at Circuit City. "The Deal of the Week" kind of thing.

When I unpacked the computer, I was greeted with a "Quick Setup" poster. This is one of the images on the poster:

Click to enlarge

That's a lot of connectors. I don't know why this image strikes me as so humorous, and ridiculous. Perhaps because, at some point, all of this becomes meaningless. It reminds me of the plaque on the side of the Voyager spacecraft.

The first step was to turn the machine on and jump through all of Microsoft's hoops to initialize and activate XP. I am struck yet again by the fact that Microsoft sells an operating system so fragile that you are required to buy virus protection software -- rather than integrating that protection into the OS and the normal automatic update process.

Next comes setting up accounts and securing the machine.

Next comes a new graphics card. I run dual monitors and like having a fast graphics card, so the one that came with the machine had to go. This graphics card installed fine, but then a day later had a problem -- the left monitor would "go dim" after logging in. It took a couple of hours to debug this, and it turns out that the ATI helper software running in the taskbar was the source of the problem. I have no idea why, but turning off that software in msconfig solved the problem.

Next comes settings. Dozens of little stupid settings. I don't like sounds to play when I log in or switch accounts. I want no sound to play when an error dialog comes up. I do not want automatic updates (because automatic updates reboot my machine without asking). Stuff like that. There are probably ways to automate settings transfer, but I don't have one.

Next comes applications. As far as I know, there is no easy way to move applications from an old machine to a new one. You hve to reinstall all of them from scratch. Each one has settings of its own (Just look at all the settings in microsoft word. Multiply that by a dozen or so applications).

Next comes drivers for hardware - printers, scanners, cameras, wireless network cards, etc.

All the wires left after removing the old machine

Then there is the process of moving all the data. Several hundred gigabytes of stuff in multiple accounts had to be restored from a backup (yes, there was a backup. A recent one. Have you backed up lately?)

The UPS needed to be upgraded because it couldn't handle the new machine. Probably old batteries contributed to the problem too.

Then there is email. And I haven't actually finished that yet. Email is still a work in progress, complicated by an unfortunate spam episode on which I will spare you the details. So I handle email right now with the "web browser" versions of my email accounts. Handling large volumes of email is a real pain, and migrating to a new machine is very painful, it turns out.

Let's say I've spent a total of 30 to 40 hours doing all of this. That's probably low -- it may have taken longer. Why? Because lots of things don't work the first time. Like the graphics card problem described above. Or the printer drivers, which aborted during the first driver install session, meaning you have to figure out what went wrong, back out the aborted install, call tech support, etc. Or the update process (I believe there were 49 Microsoft updates that had to be installed), but after installation the machine didn't work anymore, so they had to be backed out and redone...)

The good news is, the new machine is a nice machine. It is much more stable -- 3 years of microsoft updates on the old machine had not been kind to its stability. And the new machine is much, much faster.

My question is, the process of migrating to a new machine has been getting harder and harder for the last 20 years. When does it start to get easier? When do we get to the point where you buy a new machine, you set it on the desk, all the devices in the room are wireless so they auto-connect and auto-configure, all the applications you have purchased automatically re-install themselves over the Internet, settings move with you no matter what machine you are using, etc.?

Do we ever get to the point where things are that easy?

Try getting a Mac.

Seriously, when I upgraded my wife's Powerbook, the first thing it asked when I turned on the new one was "Are you upgrading from an older machine?" Why yes, I am. Then it shows a diagram of how to plug the two machines together. After about 20-30 minutes, all of her applications, files, and configuration were flawlessly transferred to the new machine.

Like yourself, I am a Windows victim. I just payed hundreds to fix a burned out screen on my ancient Dell laptop specifically to avoid the upgrade headaches you describe. The Mac upgrade experience was pure magic.

Marshall has been repeatedly inundated with the virtues of the Mac and OS X (just read some of my older comments). Marshall knows about the Mac and I think he would actually use a Mac if all of the following occurred simultaneously:

1)A Mac shows up on sale in a wholsale warehouse store AND
2)is cheaper than any other PC AND 3)it seemlessly runs all the applications Marshall has become accustomed too AND
4)is in the mainstream market (i.e. > 3% market share) AND
5)it provides at least 10 other compelling reasons to buy it (NONE OF WHICH IS ABOUT STYLE OR COLOR OR MARKETING BS)

Then perhaps, just perhaps, there is a 1% chance or so of Marshall giving it some consideration.
Thats why I only buy laptops now. You get the hardware you get, you can't really change it, and pretty much everything works in it all the time.

Just migrate your data over, change your settings and you are done.

I find it interesting how some totally wreck their PCs (like my in-laws). All they do with the computer is read email, create word docs and play Bejewled 2 and yet everytime I see them they have somehow trashed their PCs. Maybe they are doing something I don't know about, but after all the registry hacks, 'trial' software and other stuff I have done on my PCs, they always run smooth...

Of course, I have just cursed myself now. :)
I really didn't intend the comment as a troll. Marshall asked "When does it start to get easier?". On the Mac it has; upgrading Mac hardware under OS X 10.4 is generally much easier than upgrading one running OS 8 ten years ago is. As Marshall points out, Microsoft has not made similar progress.

Here's a similar take on the Windows virus / security mess.
Get a mac.

As I've switched over and outfitted entire household with Macs, I can attest to the fact that opening up a new Mac is a joyous experience. Plug it in, and 10-15 minutes later, you are done. Presto.

No need for antivirus, spyware protection, etc...

And it runs everything I need and as a web developer, is more suited for me (comes by default with Apache/PHP/Perl/Python/Ru web scripting tools, GNU C/C++/Objective C compiler, Apple developer tools, etc.. Macs feature Adobe suite and Microsoft even makes office suite for it, though I steer clear of Microsoft products unless needed (like required for commercial stuff sometimes when Word/Excel docs are neccesitated).

About the only thing missing are games and with Boot Camp (for intel macs) I can run Win XP on there if needed for gaming or other esoteric applciations.

And the cost factor -- all I can say is that (a) Macs anymore really arn't priced that much higher - look at the features and software bundled vs. Dell (not counting build your own where you can realize significant savings), and they're quite competitive but the more important point is (b) that I find it silly that people would sacrifice a battleship full of time to save a couple hundred bucks in lieu of a superior operating system and much less of the annoyance factor -- I am still using a 4 year old powerbook that runs as good as the day I bought it. No need for defrags (journalized filesystem), anti-virus, etc....

Macs brought the joy of computing back into my life.

If it weren't for Mac OS X, no doubt I'd be cobbling by with a dual boot Linux/Win setup. But the big disadvantage with Linux (I like it better than OS X in many ways, of which freedom being the biggest component), is the display fonts and look. Mac superior to both Linux and Windows. Its antialiasing blows away both and getting anti-alias fonts work without lots of tinkering in Linux proved difficult for me. May not be much of a factor for many but for me and my poor eyesight, it makes a huge difference.

Price comparison between Mac Pro and Dell Precision...

Shattering the price advantage myth...
I don't know why they give you that chart, since all you need to do is only plug cables in where they fit without breaking or being forced, and to use the color coding when there's more than one port that's the same. I'd keep it myself, but only because I think it would look cool on my wall.
Because of the obstacles Marshall has described and the flexibility that is required with today's "Power Users", virtual machines are going to the next big thing to hit the end user market. VMWare's P2V product allows the encapsulation of a physical machine into a virtual machine, which then becomes portable... very powerful stuff. It has already saved my team at Citrix a significant amount of time and money. Granted, there is still significant work to be done to roll out an end user product (to support dual monitors, etc.), but there is a market for such a product and the technology exists. Stay tuned...
there maybe one day where all our data currently stored in our own hard drive mybe stored online. I mean think about it, we can get our emails using email software or we use hotmail through the web browser. Therefore, it doesn't matter what physical system you will have.

Of course, some people may want to store data on their own drives.
buy a Mac!!!
sorry for the repeat post, but just wanted to respond to e. bruce shankle iii comment:

made my comments before reading the previous comments...

i am merely responding to marshall's question: "Do we ever get to the point where things are that easy?"

and the answer is "already there, if you purchase a mac". granted, some of the desired features he expounds on (auto-install from internet) work a tad different - i.e., moving to a new mac just means following a wizard or drag + drop (OS X is so much cleaner when it comes to managing applications in addition to safer & more secure).
I’m overstating the obvious here, but we all know that the Windows OS has been more popular that the MAC OS. Incidentally, this has also made the Windows OS a great target for hackers and virus developers. Why would these criminals spend a great deal of time developing a security threat to an OS that is not as popular? If / when the MAC OS becomes as popular as the Windows OS, MAC will be experiencing very similar vulnerability issues.
Macs are built on Unix/BSD, and while they are not foolproof to hackers (i.e., root kit), the *nix OS underneath is much more robust and secure than Windows. It's how filesystem is structured and administrative privileges and stuff in Windows that's turned on by default (though Windows is improving in this regard).

Still, most Windows apps are built that they need admin authority and that is the Achilles heel. In OS X (as well as other *nix), most all apps don't run with admin privileges and you only need admin privileges to install software.
you want features you get cables. You want loud speakers you get a power cable for that.

The I mac is basicly a big portable. and you wil buy a monitor with every machine and have minimal expandability.

But PC's can do better.

The I mac is basicly a big portable. and you wil buy a monitor with every machine and have minimal expandability.

But PC's can do better.


iMac is only one product in the line...

Mini-Mac - plug your own keyboard/monitor in
iMac - all togehter which suits some users just fine
Mac Pro - performance and cost < equivalent Dell machine (up to 2Terabyte HD and 16G RAM).
Macbook - entry level notebook
Macbook Pro - serious laptop, state of the art
For migrating settings from an older machine you can use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard:

Accessories -> System Tools -> Files and Settings Transfer Wizard
Now for some retro!

I was the lead at Amdahl in porting Unix to VM, running under MVS.

At the time (1977) the OS was 400K and main memory was 6 - 8 megs. cache was 128K bytes. And the machine cost $3.5M - $7M.

19' ft. long, 2' ft.wide, 6' high.
Weighed 2.6K lbs.

Quitcher bitchin.

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I see all these dissimilar connectors at first time. free antivirus download
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