Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stumbling Toward Windows 7

Sandra Parshall

Why does every new version of Windows feel like a major life change? How did a piece of computer software acquire the power to thoroughly disrupt my existence?

In the past I’ve “upgraded” (ha!) Windows only when forced to, and the purchase of a new computer with Windows already installed was always involved. I became acquainted with Microsoft’s product back in the 1980s when my first PC, an IBM that ran on DOS and didn’t even have a hard drive, began to feel hopelessly inadequate. The first version of Windows I owned ran on an 80 MB hard drive and left plenty of room for other things. How quaint that seems now.

One by one, my subsequent computers failed as computers inevitably do, and I had to adapt to a new version of Windows with each purchase of a new system. My Windows 98 computer lasted longer than most, and I expected to stay with it until it died. Then we gave up our DSL phone line in favor of FIOS (a waste of money, in my opinion, but that’s another story). My husband’s computer was newer and had XP on it, and it could handle FIOS internet service. My computer couldn’t even connect to the in-house network. I bought a new one, and I liked Windows XP from the start.

When Vista arrived, I heard and read all the complaints about the behemoth that ate disk space and files indiscriminately, and I was happy to stay with XP. Then my motherboard died. Replacing it on an “old” computer didn’t seem worthwhile, so I gave in and bought a new machine with Vista on it. Oy. What a mess. What a headache. Inexplicable system crashes. Inexplicable program crashes. Software incompatibility (even between new and earlier versions of Microsoft programs). Lost files. Lost patience. Lost temper.

I couldn’t go backward, though, without wiping my hard disk and starting from scratch with a new install of XP and everything else, and the very thought gave me a headache. I waited for The Next Big Thing from Microsoft. Beta testers didn’t like what they were seeing and predicted that Win7 would be another disaster, but I figured nothing could be as bad as Vista.

Friends keep asking me why I don’t buy a Mac. It’s mainly because I don’t want to give up software programs I love that will only run under Windows and I don’t want the chore of converting a lot of files. My word processor, Lotus Word Pro for Windows, is dear to my heart. It has features I haven’t seen elsewhere, and whenever I’m forced to use Word or Word Perfect, I’m reminded again how much easier Word Pro is. I’ll put up with Windows to keep Word Pro.

As last week's Windows 7 release date approached, the opinions of the testers shifted. Windows 7 was suddenly something that everyone MUST have.

I wish I could have bought it, installed it, and moved on. Unfortunately, my hard drive has been making odd clicking sounds off and on. I don’t know what the source of the noise is, but I know it’s bad news. I decided to change hard disks, then install Windows 7.

I’d once had CompUSA copy the entire contents of an old hard drive onto a new, bigger, faster one, but CompUSA is gone now and I thought I’d handle the transfer myself this time. I read articles about cloning, printed out instructions from the internet, downloaded cloning software. With a trip to Bouchercon coming up, though, I changed my mind. I would have the Staples tech service do all the tedious work while I was away. I talked to a guy at Staples who said yeah, they could do that. Well, they couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Once they had my computer in their possession, they said that cloning a hard disk was illegal, a violation of copyright, and couldn’t be done. Never mind that Vista itself includes a utility, however cumbersome, for just this purpose.

I was back where I started. I could hire a rent-a-geek, but to heck with techies. I would do it myself. I re-read all the articles and instructions, giving myself pep talks.

I can do this.

Yes, I can.

I haven’t even started yet, and I’m a nervous wreck.

I’m not having major surgery or moving to another state. Those events would be relaxing by comparison. I’m doing something much more nerve-wracking: installing a new version of Windows, entrusting all the precious data on my computer to software I’ve never used before. If I suddenly drop off the edge of the online world, you’ll know it didn’t go well. Please send your teenage kid to rescue me and my computer!

How do you handle upgrades? Are you a Windows sufferer or a Mac snob? How many computers have you owned, and do you remember your first one?


Paul Lamb said...

Mac snob, here. I grew up on PCs and the various incarnations of Windows, but when I finally made the switch to a Mac, I've never looked back. I know people are loyal to their kind, but I've worked with both, and there is no question for me: it's a Mac!

Anonymous said...

If your Vista computer is having frequent inexplicable crashes etc., it is almost certainly a hardware or driver problem and moving to W7 will not alleviate it, although changing hard disks might.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm using Windows 7 now and like it so far. Vista was more of a learning curve for me. Win 7 has some really cool features that they've adopted from technology on Iphones, etc. I'm enjoying it.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sheila Connolly said...

My laptop came with Vista, but I haven't experienced the problems you mention (knock on wood--and that's not an endorsement of Vista).

What troubles me about Windows 7 is that they expect you to scrub your whole disk and start over. I'd be terrified of losing a lot of stuff along the way (all that stuff I can't remember installing). And I use an off-site storage facility, just so I know it's not gone forever. Since I had an external hard drive crash on me, I don't mind paying for peace of mind.

I do enjoy the current Mac commercial, where they run through decades of PC promises. Too true!

Sandra Parshall said...

I've heard too many complaints about crashes from other Vista users to believe they're all hardware problems. When I say "crash" I mean a freeze-up, and that happens a lot with Vista on my computer. I have plenty of memory, a fast processor, and a big hard disk, but Vista gets cranky if I have two programs open at once. I can count on the system to freeze. Then I can't even shut Windows down normally. I have to shut down the computer manually.

About a third of the time, when I turn the computer on in the morning I get a screen asking me which OS I want to use -- and Vista is the only one listed.

The tech support people (several of them) I spoke to at Dell advised me to save all my files to an external disk, reformat my hard disk, reinstall Vista, then reinstall all my programs and restore my data. In other words, start over from scratch. If I have to start over, I'd rather start over with Win7.

Joyce said...

Sandra, the tech people gave you good advice. That's just what I was going to tell you to do! My son is planning on buying 7, so if he likes it (he's our resident tech expert) we'll probably switch all our computers from XP to 7.

Btw, resident tech expert told me that the reason there were so many problems with Vista when it first came out is because it was really a beta version. They wanted it released quickly and didn't bother waiting until they got everything right. Sounds like they learned their lesson. 7 is supposed to be great.

Marilynne said...

PC snob here. I like having a free choice of programs on my computer. I'm almost totally a Windows Shop and I'll buy Windows 7 once they get the kinks worked out.

My Vista doesn't crash, but it white's out the screen. I think it's a memory problem. I can fix that, but I thought I'd wait until I was ready for Windows 7.

I think your "computer nerd" didn't know what he was talking about. He can clone everything, but the software. He can install that on your new machine if you provide legal software.

My guess about your Vista crashing is that you're working it to the limits. Can you file off some of your work on a CD or DVD? Just mark it well so you can find it again.

You also need to do regular updating and housecleaning. There again, a good computer tech will be happy to do that for a price. If you have a teen nerd in the family, try them first.

So, yes, I love Windows. I did have a jump when I changed to Vista, but I jump with Microsoft, one jump at a time. When you don't keep your software up to date, it's harder to make the next jump.

I know, that's more than you wanted to know. You just want to write and publish, but to do that you've got to keep your tools sharp.


Sandra Parshall said...

The entire contents of a hard disk can be copied onto a new one. I've had it done before when I wanted a bigger disk. Afterward all you should have to do is re-activate Windows, and even that may not be necessary.

I wish the freezes and "white-outs" (I get them too) really were the result of low resources, but I have 4 GB of memory and a duo core processor. Honestly, Vista should be able to handle two programs with low resource needs being open at once. And this has been happening since the day I got the computer, before I installed much of anything. The support techs kept talking me out of demanding a replacement disk with a fresh Vista install... until I ran out the warranty period.

The Microsoft compatability check showed that everything I have is more than adequate to run Win7 (which uses less resources than Vista). My trackball wasn't compatible with Win7, but today I got a new one that is. I need to download a new driver for my wireless internet card, then I'll be ready to proceed. There's *so much* you have to do ahead of time just to upgrade.

Jean said...

I'm not a Mac snob, but I've become an enthusiast after decades of resistance. I'm running a mixed environment now -- Mac OS X, Windows XP on three machines, and Windows Vista on hubby's laptop. When my Windows machines die (which has never happened, but they do eventually get hopelessly outdated), I'll switch to Mac.

Hubby, like you, is a devotee to Lotus Word Pro, so he will stay on Windows.

Lyn said...

Mac here. We have, um, 7 Macs an 3 PCs here, though the PCs don't get much use. All the PCs are running XP, FWIW.

The ONLY thing I miss about PC is WordPerfect. I loved the fact that you could see every formatting command, if you chose. Priceless.

First computer? Apple II+, about 1980. Then some years of PCs so hubby could learn them for work, made the leap home to Mac about five years ago. Never leaving again. But I don't recommend them for everyone.