Windows 7

Windows 7 running on a MacBook Pro in VirtualBox – The Ultimate Sin

I think I’ve committed several sins here. I installed VirtualBox so I could set up a Windows 7 machine. No big deal, I’ve done that dozens of times in the past, but now I’ve done it under the OSX using the Macbook Pro work just gave me. I believe I hear a torch bearing crowd gathering outside the castle walls!

Actually, it runs very well, at least so far. I don’t really have anything installed yet, but Windows is quite responsive with just the 2GB of ram I gave it. I need to do browser tests and some of that will have to be done under Windows – curse you IE!! Things are working out pretty well so far. VirtualBox works exactly the same under OSX so getting a machine up and running only took a few minutes. Now, I’m not connecting it to AD or any other MS systems, it’s simply there to connect to the Internet and load web pages.

I’ve wanted to try this experiment for months and so far it’s a huge success. Only the install is done so now it’s time to spend weeks downloading updates, but it’s working so far.

You know, this Mac ain’t so bad after all! And no, this Virtual Machine is not a replacement to using OSX. So far, I find OSX to be perfectly fine. Yes, things are a little different, but then again, Windows 8 and Windows 7 have nothing in common when it comes to UI. Things are almost identical under the hood, but talk about things being different.

Win7onOSX

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A forced upgrade to Windows 8

Because of an foreseen and ultimately catastrophic computer screw up I had to reimage my work machine and start over. To add to the misery of losing an entire day of work I realized I couldn’t reinstall back to Windows 7 and would have to use the new corporate standard of Windows 8. This did not make me happy.

Like Windows 7, the install was quite quick (it took longer than normal because this was a custom build that also included Office 2013) and in short order the new OS was up and running.

First off it presented me with a cartoon representation of Seattle and the Space Needle. Ok, now what? After starting at the screen waiting for it to do something, I realized this is the new logon screen. I thought it was still installing. Apparently the Ctrl-Alt-Delete that we’ve used since NT 3.1 isn’t there. Ok fine, a different way to log in so be it. So I did and saw the Windows 8 for the first time on a machine I was supposed to use. I didn’t like it.

After having a Start bar since 1995, Microsoft decided to take it away. After using Ctrl-Alt-Delete to log in since 1993, that was gone too. But once you log in, Ctrl-Alt-Del is there and you can use it to log off. Classy. That makes perfect sense.

It took less than 5 minutes of using Windows 8 for my hatred of it to be solidified. Everyone kept saying I need to use Windows key and X to get around. Hmm, Microsoft has been pushing the mouse since 1991. So here we are with technology we’ve had and used effectively since 1990 and Microsoft for no particular reason whatsoever ditches them all. Boy, I wish people were as quick to ditch other "legacy technologies" like the 100+ year technology we know as fossil fuels. But I digress.

Now, before anyone gets all uppity saying I’m a Apple or Mac fanboy or that I don’t like change let me offer this. I worked on the Beta for Windows 95 and 98. I worked on the new Shell for NT 4.0 that emulated the Start button on Windows 95. I did beta work for both Windows 2000 and XP. I’ve beta tested Outlook 98, Office 2000 and Office XP. I’ve beta tested Project 95 and Project 98. I’ve beta tested games up to and including Minecraft. I’ve done professional QA work for a couple different tech companies for nearly a decade. I know design docs, I know usability and functionality. I’ve also worked on web sites with tens of thousands of pages. My job was to find bugs and report on how things worked. "Can the use find and use our product" has always been the mantra. I’ll tell you this, whoever though Windows 8 was an upgrade in usability is an idiot! As a friend mentioned, changing for the sake of change is what a cancer cell does.

Windows 8 is not more usable or discoverable than Windows 7 even though Windows 7 is still nothing more than Vista SP3. The UI Windows 8 has does not work for a desktop machine. Tiles may be fun to mess with on a Surface, but they are immensely annoying on a regular screen. Hiding icons on different screens with no real understanding of how to get there is frustrating. Maybe the Start button needed an update, but this sure as hell isn’t it. I found Windows 8 to be non-intuitive and ugly to look at. The flat bars and icons look like they were made by a 6 year old with half the Crayons in the box missing. After working hard to make rendered 3D icons and glassy tones, looking at Windows 8 was like driving a Gremlin after being in a Lexus. Windows 7 wasn’t the most luxurious or best OS in the world, but it’s better than this latest offering.

I was so angry with my experience that I loaded Start8, Decor8 and ModernMix from my Stardock subscription just I could use the stupid computer. I just couldn’t take it. If the replacements had made Windows more efficient and usable I would have liked them. If it would have changed 5 clicks down to 2 or 3 it would have been good. Hiding the UI and making users jump through hoops to try and find out how something works is not good.

I hate Windows 8 and I can’t see how anyone feels this is better than what we had. Out of all the tech people I know, the best complement about Windows 8 is, "It’s not as bad as you think it is." Wow, there’s some high praise.

But I disagree, Windows 8 IS as bad as you think it is. Corporate America may browbeat me with Windows 8, but it will never be on my personal machines. You can keep that garbage to yourself.

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SSD – Not for my OS, but for my frequently used programs

I previously wrote that I wasn’t sure what I should do with my 120GB SSD. Should it run the OS? Should it hold the pagefile? Should it hold the TEMP folder? Well, everyone has an opinion and no one agrees. But I do have an idea.

So here’s what I did.

The main OS, Windows 7, is on the 3TB Barracuda. The pagefile (all 16MB of it) is on the secondary 3TB Barracuda. The SSD now holds my most frequently used apps. I didn’t put anything as clunky as Office on there, instead I install apps like Notepad++, Firefox, CCleaner, Irfanview, FastStone Image Viewer, FastStone Image Resizer, WinRAR, FocusWriter and XYPlorer. I run these every day and multiple times a day. It makes sense to put them on the fastest drive in the system. And they do start up amazingly fast. I’m sure there will be other small utility apps I’ll install there as I continue to get this machine set up.

Many people debate Firefox on an SSD. But it makes sense to put it there due to the speed. But what about all the cache files? Well, there is a trick for that. Following these steps I moved the cache to memory.

1. open up about:config (type it into the url bar)
2. type browser.cache into the filter bar at the top.
3. Find browser.cache.disk.enable and set it to false (by double clicking on it).
4. set browser.cache.memory.enable to true
5. create a new preference by right clicking anywhere, hit New, and choose Integer.
6. Call the new preference browser.cache.memory.capacity and hit OK.
7. In the next window, where it asks for the number of kilobytes you want to assign to the cache, just enter -1 to tell Firefox to dynamically determine the cache size.

I’ve just made the adjustments so it’s too early to tell what the gains will be. I will say Firefox does load faster than normal. The fact I only have three plugins doesn’t hurt either.

Moving the graphics apps is a good choice. The constant opening and closing will work well on the faster drive. The main apps like Office that I use, but not all that often will be fine on the main drive.

But it leads me to another question, what about apps like Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Lightroom? Better on an SSD or better on the main drive? Not necessarily used all the time, but will their processing performance be improved by running them from an SSD?

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Curse you power management!!

Ok, help me understand something. When I go into Control Panel and set the Power Options so that my machine is Always On and to use as much power as possible to keep my machine running at full speed with my drives always spinning and my monitor always on, why do my network cards still go to sleep? And further more, who in the hell decided putting a network card to sleep was a way to save energy? Seriously, in the grand scheme of things, what the hell is that accomplishing?

I kept noticing my Windows 7 machine would drop network connections. I set it to be on full power all the time. When I forced it to connect to a website, everything would "wake up" and all would be well again. Seems the network cards (Wifi and LAN) have a Power Management tab of their own and I had to disable the option of them going to sleep. What the devil? That’s an annoying design to say the least. Why aren’t the two related? If I turn off one, it should turn off the others. And why sleep a network card? Do they really draw enough power to make a difference? And dammit, this is my desktop, I don’t want it going to sleep ever!

I’ll just add this to the list of annoyances I have against Windows 7.

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Windows 8, you scare me

I’ve been reading about the upcoming features of Windows 8 and I have to say I’m far from impressed. Now that Microsoft has been handed their asses in the both the tablet and mobile market, they’ve decided to forego fixing the deficiencies of Windows 7 and are overcompensating by making everything touch enabled and mobile ready. That’s a great idea, but I have no use for such things in my desktop OS. I don’t want those damnable widgets I’ve seen on the Windows 7 phone. That is a horrible UI for a desktop. The only cloud feature I need is something as easy and convenient as Dropbox, except more secure. I don’t want everything tied to Internet Explorer. Is the ability to make an ISO something I need to wait for an entirely new OS for? Why can’t I manipulate ZIP and RAR files natively in Windows? Why do I have to use a file manager tool as antiquated as Explorer? Why can’t Windows support multiple monitors correctly and give me a taskbar that stretches across both and the ability to have applications start on a specific screen?

There are so many gaps in Windows that need to be addressed. Microsoft seems to suffer from the George Lucas syndrome. They’ve decided that making something flashy and shiny is more important than making something with substance. Who cares about the plot, make more explosions!

You know what I love about the iPad, the fact that I don’t have to configure it. I didn’t have to set up the network, I didn’t have to load any drivers, I don’t have to wonder if an app I download is going to work on my device. For a tablet, a closed system is actually beneficial. You know things will work. You don’t have to dig into the innards of the machine to bring out functionality. Windows doesn’t work that way. I’m constantly fighting with drivers and configuration issues. Windows isn’t easy, it’s constantly getting in the way of itself. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spend searching for registry keys to turn off the functionality Microsoft says I need.

Here’s another thing, how is Windows 7 better than XP or even 2000? As a user that does a ton of writing, plays a few games, works with the Internet for 12+ hours a day, stores dozens of terabytes worth of data and manipulates photos on a weekly basis, how is Windows 7 or 8 or even Vista better than what I’ve had before? Windows 7 is 64-bit which is great, too bad the rest of the apps aren’t. I’m not really getting an advantage there am I, expect for being able to use more than 4GB of memory, which is itself a double-edged sword. If apps were written more efficiently would I really need more than 4GB? If I wasn’t bogged down with hundreds of megs worth of .Net Framework and runtime libraries would I be better off? If Windows and Office didn’t take up dozens of gigs of HD space would I really need terabytes worth of drive space?

The point is, I don’t want to worry about the OS. I don’t even want to know it’s there. I want it to do its job and get the hell out of my way. I don’t want all this stupid bling on the desktop. I don’t want to search for drivers and make sure apps are compatible. I want to forget about the OS. Hell, I want the OS to be invisible. The less I know it’s there the better. If what I’m reading is true, then I want nothing to do with Windows 8.

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