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The Big Experiment Part 4: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Conclusion) June 29, 2007

Posted by reverseengineer in Apple Inc., Microsoft, Operating System, The Big Experiment, The Other Side of the Fence.
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I suppose it’s time to take a definitive stand, and this is as good a time as any.

I am a Mac user. The outcome of this experiment was never in any doubt, was it? But at least it comes with experience and authority now, rather than just unsubstantiated, uninformed tech bigotry and xenophobia.

Truly, Windows sucks. Without a doubt. Surprisingly though, not as much as I was expecting. But why does it suck at all?

Through no fault of the user, that’s for sure. If anything, the Windows user is complicit only because he tolerates the crap. No one should be made to go through the hoops that Microsoft requires its users. As Peter Finch screamed into the TV camera in Network: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Fight back. Just say no. I think if enough people expressed that opinion Bill and Co. would comply.

It’s horrible that even the most basic things in Windows will screw up. Just booting up is an interesting experience. The simple task of opening or closing a window might bring grief, or installing a simple shareware app might cripple the system. To get the ball to just roll might require additional expenditure in terms of memory and storage, or of video ram; let us not even get into the complicated and arcane field of processor speeds or multiple processor cores. Think Vista, and experience despair.

Why does this have to be? I’ve mentioned this before in the previous post in this series. Windows is screwed up because it’s a step forward and five steps back; trying to live in (and for) their storied and profitable past is taking a major toll. Maintaining a relationship with that which should be obsolete might keep the revenue up and running, but at what cost?

The Gordian Knot analogy is apt. This knotted ball of problems is best cut in half, and starting over is the perhaps the only solution. This requires a penalty that Microsoft and its millions of acolytes mired in the glorious mess might not be ready to pay.

The ugly part is that Windows Vista users are doomed to work on a bright, pretty new system built partly on rotting foundations, akin to dollying up a cadaver with a wig, make-up and a nice dress.


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

The Big Experiment Part 2: The Little Things May 13, 2007

Posted by reverseengineer in Operating System, The Big Experiment, The Other Side of the Fence.
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Not Likes:

1. I am having trouble getting used to the fact that the red X button on the top right of a window shuts the app down – and not merely close the window. Dang. I unlearned it before, now I have to relearn it again.

2. Is the constant rebooting really necessary?

3. Closing the lid and letting the T43 hibernate or sleep instead of turning it off is like Russian Roulette – you never know if it’s going to screw up. Must I resort to physically turning it on and off every time? I miss just shutting the lid when I’m taking a break and then just opening it and jumping right back in without waiting and worrying.

4. The biometric finger scanning is cool, but sometimes it simply refuses to read my digits when at other times a casual swipe is all it takes. Sometimes it accepts the scan and seems to proceed, but sometimes stops and asks me to swipe a second time, as if it got suspicious and changed its mind. Duh?

5. The video output is …chunky. I’m used to the beauty, grace and clarity of OS X’s Quartz Extreme. ClearType? Pwe!

6. What’s with the constant updating? Every. Single. Day. There. Is. Something. Critical.

7. I miss the Apple Key. (Incidentally, the T43 is the one Windows laptop that does NOT have a Windows key.)

8. Sometimes I notice that the hard drive activity light flashes endlessly, even if I’m not doing anything, and the little network activity indicator flashes just as often. (No, I don’t have any background processes set up and running. I’m not a newbie; I’d know the difference.) So WTF is it constantly doing? Viruses hard at work? Nope, I’m clear, according to Windows Defender, AVG and Norton AntiVirus. Are the Microsoft gnomes playing with my data when I’m not looking, changing it around and sending it home so that the other gnomes in Redmond can have a good laugh? It’s making me paranoid. Creepy, man.

9. The trackpad of the T43 is crowned by a set of large buttons with colors (this is apart from the two large ones below it), and there is this red pencil eraser smack dab in the middle of the keyboard. Crowd me, why don’t you? I feel like I’m going to accidentally trigger WWIII with a wayward button press.

10. Sometimes doing simple things, like just dragging a file to a folder, drives the OS into a deep coma, and I face the choice of either being patient and see if it eventually slips from its funk, or just reboot the damn thing.

11. That little viper nest of a billion useless icons (I think it’s called the Taskbar?) on the lower right corner is maddeningly distracting, with all its blinking and dialog bubbles popping up constantly.

12. I miss my Dock.

13. I miss Dashboard and my beloved widgets.

14. I miss jamming the cursor into a corner and seeing my desktop clear instantly.

15. Why does it have to be “My” everything? My Network Places. My Bluetooth Places. My Computer. My Documents. My Programs... I mean, I know they’re mine, am I that insecure that I need to remind myself I own them every time I look at the screen?

16. While we’re on the topic of naming things, why is the trash can called Recycle Bin anyway? What are we recycling?

17. Just the act of installing a little piece of shareware can freeze the whole thing and turn it into an expensive paperweight. Why can’t this billion-trillion-gazillion industry fix such a small thing?

18. Microsoft will only let you update the system via web if you’re using Internet Explorer. Is that childish or what?

19. It takes forever to just unplug a USB flash drive.

20. Control Panel is a crowded, confusing, complicated jumble of potentially dangerous choices. Give me System Preferences any day.


1. I like the games.

The Big Experiment Part 1: Reboot Ad Nauseam May 5, 2007

Posted by reverseengineer in The Big Experiment, The Other Side of the Fence.
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Just to get you up to speed if you didn’t read the posting that explains this series, this dyed-in-the-wool Mac loyalist is currently using an IBM/ Lenovo Thinkpad T43 with Windows XP Professional as his office laptop. *shudder*. (The original post is here, if you’re at all interested.)

This series is being written to chronicle my experiences using Windows again, extensively, from a standpoint of a Mac fanboy. I realize there are thousands of you used to working on both (particularly the MacIntel crowd), but this series is for those breast-fed and weaned exclusively on Macs, or former PC users who dropped Windows years ago and haven’t looked back since (or those few impenetrable Mac bigots – you know who you are). A lot of us fanboys tend to snipe and shoot gleefully at the Windows world, often from an uninformed, knee-jerk canned response because we feel that is normally what is expected of us. I have to admit my personal bias sometimes clouds my judgment and it was a great struggle especially in my line of work as a tech review editor.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised most of the time during my first week using the Thinkpad. Let me say right off, those of you looking for smug confirmation of your worst fears won’t get it here. At least not for now.

I guess using a good quality, branded high-end laptop with licensed software colors my impressions greatly. If I had been using a heavy, clunky budget laptop with pirateware I figure my experience would have turned out very differently.

The day I got it, I loaded up the included software from the dedicated partition in the hard disk. It went without a hitch. There were a few tedious configuration hurdles and the inevitable reboots to get the thing running. This included enrolling some of my fingers for the biometric security software that was a novelty at first. (More on this in a bit.) The first sign that I was in for a long and drawn out process was when the upgrading of the system software started.

This being a year-old model, the built-in software was of course behind the times, and the machine made me go through hoops through numerous upgrades and updates, which was for some reason not packaged in one ginormous update but doled out in bits and pieces, some big, some small, and most of them requiring me to restart the system. For the platform rebooting ad nauseam was par for the course even until now; nothing had changed. This was made a bit more unbearable by the fact that the biometric system had me scan my finger in before it could reboot, and back then I was still getting the hang of it; I must have have scraped off several layers of skin from my fingers on the sensor by the time I was through.


Heresy April 28, 2007

Posted by reverseengineer in Microsoft, Notebooks, Operating System, The Big Experiment.

Far below us, the rims of ice edging Hell’s lakes of fire are hardening and getting thicker. The flames will dim and the damned’s breath will fog. Fur coats will be in short supply. Sometime soon, Satan will finally slip on the thick snow on his morning rounds of the cooling sulphur pits and break his neck.

Why? This rabid Mac fanboy, this former two-year Chairman of the Philippine Macintosh Users Group, this current owner of four Macs and four iPods and a Newton, this early adopter of numerous Apple first-iterations, this Bill Gates heckler, this Mac-A-Doodle blogger …is using Windows XP on an IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad T43.

Wait, there’s a backstory. In the magazine company where I’ve been working for close to two years, I have not had a computer to use. Until yesterday. I have refused the desktop Windows boxes they’ve been trying to assign me all these months, holding out vainly for an office-issued Mac. No joy; only the Art Department boys get the tricked-out Intel iMacs, and the F.A. guy is the one gets the shiny new Mac Pro.

So I’ve been using my Powerbook since, bringing it to work everyday and generally beating the heck out of the poor thing. Been feeling a little down looking at the wear and tear it’s been going through and having nothing to blame but my own stubbornness and recalcitrance. Well, the past few months I’ve been softening up and thinking about succumbing to the inevitable. What the hey, I thought, a lot of my comrades with new Macs are regularly double-booting into the Twilight Zone anyway. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to going through with it.

Until yesterday, when they bribed me with the Thinkpad.

It’s not a big chunky beige box with a cheap monitor and plasticky mouse and keyboard. It’s sleek, jet-black and fancy with three magic letters on it that anyone, even Mac fanboys, would respect: IBM. And it’s a notebook that’ll let me work anywhere and won’t take up valuable real estate in my tiny office. Hmmm.

It’s a nice machine, despite what my gut instincts scream out. The ThinkPad T43 has been an Editor’s Choice of PC Magazine (the Philippine Edition of which I used to edit), and is considered one of the emerging classic business machines with surprising longevity. Trim, compact, stuffed to the gills with frills. From a little lamp at the top of the screen to light the keyboard in dark work areas to a biometric fingerprint reader on the deck. From dedicated keys for flipping between webpages, a rocker switch for scrolling up and down, a hard-wired blue key for model-specific support called “Access IBM”, that red little eraser-nubbin in the middle of the keyboard, to great battery life – it’s even got a surprising snappiness to it.

But still.

Anyways I’m taking the plunge and using the ThinkPad as my work machine starting today, and give my Albook a well-deserved break. I will also take this opportunity to do the big thing: live with the enemy, and see how it really is. We Mac heads scoff and mock (it’s fun, right?), but we do it from a safe and sanitary distance. In this age of detente and convergence in the OS world, I’ll see for myself how it really is, and I’ll chronicle the experience slowly, in bits and pieces, over the coming months in Mac-A-Doodle.

I got the ThinkPad up and running tonight, downloading shareware and configuring the thing, tweaking the settings, getting the wifi to run, putting up firewalls and running anti-virus software and ad-and-spyware blockers, and rebooting countless times and getting confused and mixed up – but still becoming pleasantly surprised a couple of times despite myself. I’d forgotten how fun this mess could be. Already I have a bunch of stuff I’m itching to say, but we’ll save it for the next entry in this series, which I’ll call The Big Experiment.

All I can say now is, I composed this post entirely on the newly set-up ThinkPad, and it ain’t so bad.

But we’ll see, won’t we?