|C O M P U T I N G F O R N O T H I N G ?|
|w e l l , n e a r l y n o t h i n g . . .|
o a list of (mostly) free programs that I use and recommend
o some procedures to set up Windows
o what to do to fix Windows when it goes tits-up.
The program list may not include the very latest because I won't change until I see a clear advantage.
However all the programs I recommend will work quickly and well.
The procedures describe how to set up Windows to be easy to use and reliable.
Those same procedures can be used as a fix-it guide when (not if) Windows becomes slow and unreliable.
I'm not a 'latest is greatest' geek by any means.
My main computer is a tool which serves me.
I don't fiddle with it for fun because changes to programs and operating systems often brings trouble.
For example, I've been using the same anti-virus software for ten years.
I usually keep auto-updates firmly off because experience has taught me that they are far more trouble than they are worth.
w i n d o w s 7, 8 & A n d r o i d
The 'new' OS parts of this site are identical to the original XP pages, except where there are differences - er...
Let me try that again.
The list of recommended programs is very similar, where a program will work, I continue to use it.
The list of procedures differs considerably.
update 2014: I've now used Win7 on my home computer for the last 4 years but not on my work system.
For work I bit the bullet and bought one of the cheap copies of Win8 for my new build at the end of 2012.
Combined with Start8 it makes a good operating system although not without problems (of course).
But the big revelation for me was Android. It arrived as version 4.1 on a new phablet and I was astonished
at what could be done with it on a 5.5" screen.
|d o y o u n e e d M S W i n d o w s ?|
Historically the phrase 'operating system' is an abbreviated version of 'disk operating system'.
This was the software which controlled the permanent memory (usually a disk or drum) of a computer.
The original user interface was completely text-based, so you could argue there actually wasn't much of a user interface at all.
It changed with the advent of the WIMP user interface. (Window, Icon, Mouse, Program).
WIMPs were invented by Xerox, then Apple and Microsoft both produced their own commercial versions and the WIMP became part of the operating system.
Later WIMP interfaces were added to Linux, giving a three tier power/complexity structure:
o Apple - Simple to use & maintain, limited user control of interface,
o Windows - Moderate difficulty to use & maintain, reasonable user control of interface,
o Linux - Difficult to use & maintain, very good user control of interface.
Recently attempts have been made to produce versions of Linux with a simple 'Consumer' interface.
The object is to produce an inexpensive computer which will perform the basic tasks required by consumers without having to put any effort into learning how the system works.
With the falling price of technology this aim is becoming credible.
Look out for Jolicloud, Alex and perhaps Google's Chrome.
U p d a t e f o r 2 0 1 2
The foregoing was written in mid 2010.
Its amazing how much things can change in two years.
There are now several commercial
low start easy entry simple user Linux OS packages.
The most famous is Android from Google.
They are mainly installed on telephones and give a small handset remarkable capabilities.
Also remarkable is that they really can be used by a completely unskilled person.
These are not really operating systems, they are GUIs.
The mechanics of the operating system are hidden underneath the GUI and there is no user access.
Indeed there is no need of it.
Without doubt this is the future of consumer computing.
My own personal favourite is the Microsoft GUI, Windows Phone 7.5.
Its far better than Android and iOS and like Apple, Microsoft are operating a controlled hardware configuration.
That means you get a smooth response in the GUI.
And even better, since Microsoft made a late start, to get market penetration they're giving the handsets away with a contract.
U p d a t e f o r 2 0 1 4
The previous update was written in mid 2012.
Once again, with feeling, "Its amazing how much things can change in two years".
In 2014 the consumer PC marketplace has changed to include a high percentage of tablet computers ranging in screen size from 7 to 11 inches.
There are also smartphones from 4 to 5.5 inches.
The larger smartphones are known as 'phablets' (a portmanteaux of phone & tablet) and combine most of the functionality of both devices.
They all run Google's Android or Apple's iOS, Microsoft having been completely left at the post.
Indeed even Apple is now fading badly in this race.
Consumer desktop and notepad computers are rapidly being relegated to the history books as the general population discovers how easy it is
to use and run a tablet with Android on it.
Android is Google's simple Linux.
In retrospect I suppose it was obvious that it would take a company with Google's money to make this work.
Having written Android for telephones Google found that the same OS worked well in a larger form factor (10 inch) touch screens.
My first experience with Android 4.1 was with a new phablet bought to replace a tottering Win7.8 phone.
After two years with a Windows phone it absolutely knocked me sideways.
Here at last was a computer for the non-engineer.
Together with the advent of good voice control systems Android realises a computer which can do everything the everyday person might need.
Engineers, developers and other professionals may find still excuses to run an MS Windows based computer but they will be very much in the minority.
So in 2014, do you need Windows?
Not any more...
|L i n u x|
There are many flavours of Linux available and they are all free.
Note that Linux is not just an operating system, each 'distribution' includes all the programs that most people could need.
I guess you could call it a computer activity environment rather than an operating system.
Its the opposite of MS Windows and Apple systems, where you're expected to pay extra for the programs.
To try out Linux I used two older computers; a Toshiba Tecra 8200 and a Tiny 636.
Neither of these has anything strange about their hardware configuration.
I divided each hard drive into three 'partitions'.
Two for Linux and one with WindowsXP Home in it.
The Linux Distributions I used are 'Puppy' and 'Ubuntu'.
A n d r o i d
Android is indeed Linux-based and comes with a collection of programs (apps) but in no other way does it resemble the old-style Linux distributions.
I'm devoting a whole section of this site to it.|
L i n u x 'P u p p y'
Puppy is famous for being a very small and fast installation.
At a pinch it will fit in less than 100MBytes.
It achieves its speed by; loading entirely into memory, cutting out all superfluous features and by writing very efficient code.
The results are astonishing.
When I installed it on a really old computer (a 150Mhz Pentium I) it took a tiny amount of hard drive space and went like a rocket.
It also worked well on both the Toshiba and the Tiny.
The only problems I had were with setting up the boot loader (called Grub) on the Toshiba and Tiny.
In fairness, on a single OS computer, you don't need Grub.
I used Puppy to bail-out the broken Ubuntu on many occasions.
Much to my surprise it had every program I needed and a few I wasn't expecting.
The user interface is good and can be customised far more than Windows.
The initial release (v4.2.1) I tried would not work with either of the USB WiFi dongles I had and would not recognise a dual monitor setup.
Release 4.3.1 is better and even more impressive.
It took a manual installation but this version did work with a PCMCIA WiFi card I had kicking around.
L i n u x 'U b u n t u'
As I write this at the start of 2010, Ubuntu is the popular distribution of Linux.
It is very complete and operation is very similar to MS WindowsXP.
Ubuntu has every program you could ever need in the distribution.
They aren't all installed becuse there are just too many but they are on the disc, ready for installation as required.
For some reason Ubuntu have chosen a ridiculously ugly brown theme and desktop as default, but this is easily fixed.
I never tried Ubuntu on the old 150MHz computer because its too big for the drive but version 9.04 installed and ran very well on the Tiny.
With the Toshiba I had a lot of trouble persuading Ubuntu to run the monitor at full resolution.
It took about two full days of research on the Ubuntu forums to sort this out.
Ubuntu worked well until it was updated to release 9.10 and I tried to do an upgrade.
For no apparent reason this made it boot only on one attempt in five on the Toshiba.
The update refused to even to see the existing Ubuntu partition in the Tiny.
I gave up at this point.
The user interface is far better than anything Microsoft have ever produced.
It's good looking, clear and almost completely customisable.
It comes complete with any program you could ever want.
Ridiculous permission requirements.
Poor driver availability.
Udates which don't work.
Hardware changes cause major problems.
Its now April 2010 and Ubuntu's new release (10.04 LTS 'Lucid Lynx') is out.
The Tiny is doing duty as a Windows7 test machine.
So I wiped the Ubuntu partition the Toshiba and tried to install Lucid on it.
The install went well but once again left me with an 800x600 postage stamp display in the middle of a 1400x1050 screen.
Being a real clever chap I had failed to make a backup of the xorg.conf file (the display setup file) I had worked so hard on for the last install.
So I had to start again.
And once again it took two solid days of research and rewrites (using Puppy) to create a new xorg.conf and get the damn driver working at full screen.
Was it worth it?
The new Ubuntu boots one time in three now.
Once it gets running its a real knockout.
The new interface design (Radiance) looks great and works brilliantly, far better than the tarty Windows7 effort.
The idiotic password/permission requirements are still getting in the way.
I'm going to put some source files on and try to do some coding with it, then we'll see.
|M S W i n d o w s|
How do the various flavours of MS Windows compare?
W i n d o w s X P
Can be free:|
o Scout round for an old computer that's been thrown out.
o With the advent of Vista Service Pack 3 (aka Windows7) lots of them have XP licence stickers.
o If you can find the old owner ask if you can have it.
o Read the code and remove the sticker.
o Even if it comes off in pieces keep the sticker.
o Keep at least one piece of the hardware from the old computer.
o Borrow a CD and Install XP on your new machine, then register it using the sticker code.
o Sellotape or glue the sticker onto its new home.
Failing that, shrink-wrap copies of XP can be purchased on eBay now for £25, which is not a lot.
Which version to get.
WindowsXP Home Edition is lighter and faster and my choice in most instances.
It supports multi-core processing but not multiple seperate processors.
If you need to connect to a domain-based network Home Edition is not suitable.
Having said that my installation of WindowsXP Professional Edition cold boots in 45s and warm boots in 6s.
Thats with a loads of programs and a very complicated menu system.
Look in the 'processes' section of this site for instructions on how to set up and maintain WindowsXP.
Fast and reliable if you set it up properly.
Does need a fair bit of configuring to get it working properly.
Microsoft WindowsXP Home Edition, for the time being at least.
W i n d o w s V i s t a
My opinion of Vista is best summed up by the late, great Tommy Cooper:
Patient, "Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this!"
Doctor, "Well don't do it then."
W i n d o w s 7
You have to try things out when you hear good reports about them.
The reports said that Windows7 was genuinely better than Vista.
Well it could hardly be worse.
So I upgraded my old Tiny with a 2600+ Athlon processor and 1GByte of RAM and installed Windows7.
The install went OK and the finished result impressed.
On a high resolution 1080p screen it looks very good.
Unfortunately you do need a high resolution screen because Windows7's fancy semi-transparent graphics are real screen eaters.
Windows7 also tends to create windows which are much larger than they need to be.
You have limited customisation possiblities which is a shame because 'Quicklaunch', a feature of the XP interface I used a lot, has been deleted.
You can, however, roll your own without too much trouble.
The machine on which I installed Windows7 is pretty old but there were no problems with drivers.
That at least seems to be one lesson well learnt from the Vista debacle.
Is it fast enough?
On a machine which will run XP at warp 8 - Windows7 is adequate.
It is usable but no more.
Its not as bad as the early days of XP when Microsoft claimed that XP would run with 128Mbytes of RAM.
So it did, but as soon as you loaded a program XP started paging to disc and the whole thing ground to a halt.
The claim of 1GByte for Windows7 leaves plenty of headroom for applications.
So though the response did not impress it didn't get any worse with a few applications and files loaded.
I'm sure anyone used to Vista will find Windows7 to be speed-pig heaven.
It does seem to have lots of that.
I haven't had the slightest problem in the three months I've been running it.
The Windows7 GUI can be annoying and frustrating but, touch wood, I've yet to see a BSOD.
Update: The installation is now six months old and Windows7 is locking up when I try to close it.
Update 2014: A different computer and Win7 is three years old and so reliable I don't even think about it.
I don't think anyone at Microsoft know what the word means.
Every time without fail, when they release a 'new' operating system Microsoft move essential functions to a new location.
Windows7 is no exception.
It took me two solid days of search and research before I was confident I could run the system.
I think this is marketing rather than making their best efforts.
Microsoft are looking for product differentiation.
And to get it they have to do things in strange ways since all the best ideas have long since been used by Linux and Apple.
Have I turned off all the fancy semi-transparent fripperies? Er... No. I do actually quite like them.
Will I put Windows7 on my main computer? Also no. I have no problems with XP, why change?
Is it better than Vista? Oh yes.
Is it better than XP? Not yet.
update 2014: Will I put Windows7 on my main computer? Yes, I did.
Is it better than XP now? Yes.
W i n d o w s 8
When Microsoft offered Win8 at cut-rate prices I bought a copy to try out on the new build for my studio.
I knew about the touch interface and knew I would have to get rid of it.
Having done that Win8 is still on my studio machine eight moths later.
It hasn't annoyed me quite enough to go through the aggravation of removing it and installing Win7.
Though its been a close run thing at times.
I started by running it with updates turned on etc., just the way you're supposed to.
Right up to the day, about 5 months later, when a set of Microsoft's finest disconnected me from the internet.
By the time I'd worked out what was wrong and backed out of the updates I'd wasted an entire day.
So no more updates.
And its run very well since then.
Quick, reliable and everything visible using GodMode and Start8.
|C o n c l u s i o n s|
Linux still has problems finding drivers for new or old hardware.
If you've got the time and spare hardware Linux can be rewarding.
If you have a project to complete don't touch it.
If you have no experience with Linux and you want to try it:
o Download the latest production release.
o Try it on an unimportant computer first.
o Or get a new hard drive, replace your current hard drive with it, then install Linux.
Then try it out exhaustively.
If you're lucky enough to get a good installation that works well don't change it.
Don't update it, don't change the hardware, just use it...
Having two different installations of Linux on the same computer is a good idea - you can use the one that's still working to try to fix the one that's just gone tits-up.
My installing this on a working computer is about as likely as my winning the lottery.
And I don't do the lottery.
The best of the bunch.
If you're willing to take the time to sort it out, its not bad.
My main criticism is the removal of the Win7 backup programs.
That and my suspicion that it stores sensitive information on the cloud may persuade me to take the time to get rid of it.
The new contender - I'm currently trying it as a replacement for Windows 8 on a desktop...
Last update: 12th July 2014
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p r o c e d u r e s
Microsoft have never had the faintest idea of how to design and explain a user interface, you only have to look at an Apple computer to see that.
I've always complained about how badly WindowsXP is set up when first installed and Windows7 is no better.
The icons are jammed together, the taskbar is locked in place and too small to use properly.
Though with Windows7 you can at least change the colour.
This is caused by the fact that Microsoft is populated by engineers who designed Windows to be an engineers toy, then tried to make it easy to use by giving it big letters.
The best way to make 7 easy to use is to run it on a large, high definition screen and then follow my setup instructions in the 'procedures' page of this website.