Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New computer

Is black and shiny. Lots of RAM. Is Windows 7. Is not a Mac. All these good.

It's been nearly 10 years since the last completely new computer, and that was bargain basement stuff that ran on Windows ME and got updated to Windows 2000 as soon as decently possible. For the last four years I've been using a secondhand Windows XP PC, which was the bee's knees when it arrived but since then the bee has grown steadily more arthritic. Upgrading is always at least mildly fraught and in this case it was hanging over me throughout our trip in Sweden, due to the computer arriving the day before we left.

In fact, it's been possibly the most minimally fraught upgrade yet. Everything important has been installed, a few little-used programs remaining to be added when and as. Documents, photos and music backups all just fell into place (even if I did have to reinstate the playlists manually in iTunes, as it couldn't read the library file "because it was created by an earlier version of iTunes". Well of course it was, you fool; you're the one asking me to upgrade by a decimal point every couple of weeks ...). Unlike the old machine, the new (22") screen can display a double page spread in InDesign CS4 of the Delightfully Dotty Car Club magazine that I design and edit, with fully legible text rather than grey blurs. I looked at the spread and felt that warm glow within that says there may be trouble ahead but it's dealable with; the worst is over. That was the primary objective: everything else is gravy.

I like the design of the interface. Of course, "pretty" <> necessarily "more functional" - the TARDIS console can't really travel in time, you know - and the computer would work equally well if the tops of the windows were solid and opaque so you can't see the desktop behind them, and if the close and minimise buttons didn't glow slightly as if lit from within - but it ties in well with what the machine actually does. For the first time ever I am forced to use the words "nice piece of design" in the context of Windows.

This is Windows, though, so obviously it can't do everything perfectly. It finds new ways to insist on being helpful: like when you call up Task Manager to kill a frozen programme (it still happens), it tries to diagnose the fault after you have told it you just want it to drop the programme where it is and walk away. It also keeps asking permission to install stuff, or rather, to make changes to the hard disk. Oh, come on! When did you ever ask that before? And when did I ever say no?

I've had to say goodbye to some old friends which are no longer compatible on a 64-bit system. My Windows Cardfile address book, which has been with me ever since Windows 3.1, couldn't hack the new oxygen-rich atmosphere and so perished. All the data was backed up and has been copied into Google Mail contacts, but even so. The principle. And some long cherished games have gone the way of all things, but I hadn't actually played any for a long time. They were just junk on the mantlepiece, tedious stuff that you have to move and dust around and never use but you don't throw them out because they're there.

I have previously ranted about Office 2007, and just because Office 2010 is three years older, don't think that changes anything. However, after careful consideration it didn't really seem uninstalling it just so I could install my comfortable familiar copy of Word 2000 (which came with the ME machine, if I remember correctly). Into every life a little clunky software must fall.

Further fraughtnesses arose in finding that I hadn't put the installation disc for the old Actiontec wireless router with all the other disks, and anyway the router was't compatible due to its desire to connect to the main computer by USB. The new router from Virgin (also shiny, also black) has two aerials and WPA2 encryption and four ethernet ports: in fact everything is done by ethernet rather than trying to be clever with USB ports. All of these are good things too. During the installation process, run off an .exe file rather than an .html file as advised in the documentation, I only had to guess (not being told) that I had to turn the modem off and on again twice.

Round about now someone always starts trying to extol the virtues of Macs or Linux because "they just work" or "they're modern technology" or some other equally vapid reason. What these people never get - are incapable of getting - is I don't care how it works. I don't care if a little goblin climbs up behind the screen every time I press a key and inks in my chosen letter (in reverse writing, obviously) on the glass while another follows behind it colouring in the pictures. And I don't care if this process is inevitably fatal, like a bee stinging, so that having performed this task the goblin then falls to its death and is blown away by the internal fan. It does what I want, when I want it.

So, looking forward to what 2020 might bring ...


  1. How on earth did you find out about the goblins? I'm never going to get a job now you've made that public...

  2. All that dust behind the fan had to come from somewhere.


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