Friday, October 16, 2009

7th Time’s the Charm

Looking forward to Windows 7

There was a time, years ago, when I was much geekier than I am now. Yeah, that’s hard to picture, I agree. But I was. I used to get high marks on the Boot Magazine/Maximum PC annual geek test. I knew the codenames for all the different Intel and AMD processors. I knew facts and figures about the most specific details of computer technology. I built my own PCs. And I beta-tested every version of Windows from 98SE up through Windows XP Media Center Edition (which was GREAT – Microsoft sent the testers an entire HP PC, because it needed to have a TV Tuner card and a remote control. No, we didn’t get to keep it. More’s the pity – it was a nice computer). That was then.

Now, I’m a nub. One of my students asked me this week what size files on a PC are broken up into when they’re written to sectors on a hard-disk. I couldn’t remember. I still don’t. I recall that it varied based on the size of the drive volume and whether you were using FAT or FAT32, but the actual size eludes me. I still haven’t bothered to look it up, whereas once upon a time it would have eaten me alive until I knew the answer. And I haven’t beta-tested a new Microsoft O/S in many years. I practically missed Windows Vista completely. My wife’s PC here at home has Vista, but I almost never use her machine, not least of all because the damn thing’s got Vista on it. What a dog.

I mean, Vista’s got some decent features, but none of them seem to be quite fleshed out. For example, where there used to be a nice logical file path and a drop-box that listed all available drives plus the folders on your desktop, there’s now some convoluted thing I can’t even figure out. And I’ve been called pretty smart by some.

Here’s another brilliant Vista feature that didn’t impress me – the parental controls to block access to various unapproved websites. When the kid tries to browse there from their account, they get a pop-up message that it’s blocked. It does give the option to have a parent log in with a password to allow it, but if you use it, it doesn’t just allow it for that time – it permanently unblocks the entire website! So instead of letting me temporarily unblock YouTube so my kid can watch a particular video while I stand there looking over her shoulder, then have it default back to being blocked for times when I’m not in the room, I get one shot to either crush her hopes of watching the movie or I get to yield all future control. Nice one, Microsoft!

As such, it’s not really all that surprising that I’m not terribly in tune to the new Windows 7 Operating System, which hits the shelves next week. But what I’ve heard of it sounds pretty decent so far. I know that Microsoft’s INTENTION is to make Windows 7 their redemption for the general failure of Vista, so it ought to be an improvement. On the other hand, you know what they say about the road to hell.

But I need a new PC for my writing office – I have the desk all ready to go and I’ve been holding off buying a PC until Windows 7 was finally available. And I’ve been down the “build-it-myself” road and decided it was enough of a hassle that I don’t do it anymore. The last few times I’ve wandered over to and put together a system and they dropped it off on my doorstep a week or so later. This time, they actually called me! Dell agent Addie Wilson of India somehow sensed that I’m ready to buy and called me up. Supposedly he can treat me right on a new system, so it’s time to get busy configuring this bad boy. I want the beefiest system I can get for the least amount of money. And I’m getting a fatass external hard disk with a nice built-in backup utility I can use to ensure that the stuff I write is always safely tucked away in the event of catastrophic failure. But I won’t buy that from Dell, most likely. Their peripherals are always overpriced. Now I just hope that Windows 7 doesn’t follow Vista’s example. The first batch of reviews for Vista were pretty darn good, too. It was only after the initial wave that things went sour. I don’t want sour – I’m hoping for sweet. We’ll see.

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