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The Big Experiment Part 3: Sleeping with The Enemy June 9, 2007

Posted by reverseengineer in The Big Experiment.
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I settled in the other night to finish some of my pending writing assignments, bringing out the ThinkPad T43 to be my workhorse for this session. Truth be told, I am enamored with the keyboard, and wonder why Apple can’t make something that feels so fundamentally right. (Now I see all the flaws in the Powerbook keyboard, how the keys now seem too thin and have sharp corners that sometimes catch on the corners of the ends of my fingers, and how they don’t have that satisfying click and feel of — hang on. Omigod. I’m being assimilated!)

Almost immediately I began to regret (once more) my decision to use the Windows laptop.

Opening up the laptop, I expected it to get me to the fingerprint security routine which is what it does when you flip the screen open. Nothing. The Sleep indicator light, which is a McTonight quarter moon, just glowed steadily as if nothing had happened. I tapped on the little mechanical button on the upper left edge of the keyboard on the off-chance that it didn’t notice I had opened the ThinkPad up, but I got the cold shoulder. I tapped randomly on the keyboard, and then finally on the power button. Nada. I was contemplating hard-starting the thing but it whirred to life all of a sudden. Huh?

And then it took forever to get me to the biometric log-on screen that wakes it from sleep. When it finally got there, it took me even longer to just get it to resume; normally the biometrics are a hit-or-miss proposition, but tonight it was totally striking out.

Refusing to take the easy way out (which was to do the three-finger salute and then just type in your password like one normally does), I kept swiping my fingers every which way, all four that were enrolled with the system: fast, slow, just right, with and without pressure, at different angles and all the different permutations of the above. I felt skipping this part to use the more conventional password routine was a cop-out, and completely misses the point of having a biometric security system.

During this whole delay, one of the more irritating things was that it would flash the window that I had succeeded in giving the fingerprint scanner a proper entry, but it then just sits there, and then asks me to swipe again. It did this several times, and in the end I had to succumb if I wanted any work done that night.

Then I had to wait for the system to settle down to normal working mode. This is a curious, unspoken thing with the Windows machines I’ve used – it seems like the machine has to go through near-endless hoops of setup before it settles down. The hard drive activity light would flash continually, and there is an interminable lag before anything is actually clickable. Well, maybe five minutes at least.

As a Mac user used to a near-instant response I forget to give Windows this allowance and I click on stuff, think that I missed when nothing happens so I click again, and then once more to be sure. When things finally get going I end up with four instances of Firefox, three OpenOffice Writer sessions and two Outlook Express windows.

“Get going” is actually a bit of an overstatement. The system crawls: windows hesitantly pop in, refuse to work and when you try to drag them aside to see if at least the other apps are working, they leave multiple copies of themselves behind like the frothy wake of a speedboat in the lake, covering everything up and rendering the system useless.

Ten minutes of this pass, which is about all I could stand, but Task Manager and even CTRL-ALT-DEL didn’t work as they should. In the end I was forced to just lean on the power button so it can do a hard reset, the first of several that day. (Later I’d get back on my Powerbook and to download and install a free licensed Mac version of DIVX Pro that was posted on sister blog PWiT, which required me to restart the machine, something that happened rarely. On a whim, I checked to see how long the Mac had been up. Nearly two weeks. It had been almost thirteen days since the last reboot, which was because of a Quicktime Security Update which required it to restart, if I remember correctly. On the other hand I have to reboot the T43 at least twice a day.)

Now before you guys try to helpfully suggest that maybe as a Mac user I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, please note that I was, after all, Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine Philippines at one time, and can assemble a PC from scratch. I know that the Thinkpad’s 512mb RAM and modest video memory are probably the culprits, but man, I wasn’t doing anything spectacularly challenging, for Pete’s sake.

This was a branded IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad without any illegal or pirated software, protected by a full licensed version of Norton 360 and regularly maintained at the software and hardware level. I was just starting up and trying to get a couple of apps going as millions of other ordinary Windows users do every day. Nobody should be made to go through this and made to believe that it’s ok. That’s just not right.

Mac OS X and other operating systems can at least give their users a peaceful and trouble-free first few minutes with the computer before anything goes flaky, if at all. To be fair, once things “get going” with Windows it’s generally all right, but at the back of your mind you’re always wary and thinking, gad, when is this thing going to flake out again; there is that Sword of Damocles hanging over your head threatening to skewer your skull. I can’t work that way.

It’s just a matter of time before the inherent instability brought by a system composed of an OS based on an ancient underlying framework (and forced to do so to maintain compatibility with a ginormous industry making software and peripherals based on this archaic system, and where the players don’t even make an effort to talk to each other to make sure everyone’s on the same page), running on Frankenstein hardware with parts built by dozens of unrelated sub-contractors and forced to work with each other by jury-rigged fixes and drivers and DLLs will bring on any assortment of crashes.

On the other hand, there’s the Mac: hardware and software all built by one company where everyone’s on the same page. And anyone from the outside wanting to make anything for the system is forced to be on that page first before they can do anything. Add to this a constant push to improve things and create new things and make them with class, panache, wit, intelligence and a sense of humor.

But, you say, it all comes at a price. Literally. True. But most folk around these parts buy bargain basement generic/no-name little cobbled-together monsters that come with hard disks full of “free” mainstream apps. Buy branded Windows computers and you find they cost as much as, or even more, than an equivalent Apple computer. What folk are actually complaining about is that there aren’t Mac clones in Virra Mall, and that’s the irritating thing.

NEXT: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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