Apple, Authors Life, Computers, M1, Mac OS, MacBook Air, Microsoft, Technology, Windows, Windows 10, Windows 11, Windows Vista, Windows XP

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Has it really been 15 years? I guess so. That was the last time I was in a similar situation – frustrated to the extreme with Microsoft Windows. Granted, there have been interim occasions of dissatisfaction with the powers that be in Redmond, WA, but none rose to the level of my issues with Windows Vista.

In 2006, I bought into the hype for the next edition of latest and greatest OS in the world. I’d been a long term Windows user since 3.1 and as a computer tech, I knew most of the tips and tricks to fix things whenever anything went amiss. Windows XP was by far my favorite version, though Windows 2000 was a close second. It was by far the most stable and Microsoft OS that still offered the ease of connection to USB devices on the fly, a great advancement over Windows NT 4. But 2000 was intended for business. So the mainstream was stuck between Windows 98 and all its issues and Windows ME, with its even worse issues. All Windows XP had to be was better than its consumer OS predecessors, which admittedly was a fairly low bar. Still, anyone who was alive back then and used a computer regularly probably had an overall positive experience with XP.

As Window’s successor, Vista offered lots of eye-candy, gee-whiz features. On the surface it was attractive, but its system requirements for having all those things turned on was staggering. And even then, state of the art machines running it seemed sluggish at times. For how damned pretty it could be, most people didn’t use versions with all the bells and whistles simply because they didn’t need such configurations. Also, there was an extensive and confusing assortment of flavors to choose from. The problem with Vista was that it seemed more like an OS designed by a marketing team than a functional operating system intended for productivity during the day and entertainment during the evening. Essentially most people didn’t get the point of Vista and so, they didn’t buy into it. Unless they just bought a machine with it preinstalled, they didn’t use it. For the majority of Windows users who were on XP, nothing was wrong with what they were using. If they were up-to-date with the security packages, Vista just wasn’t a compelling alternative.

But then, there was me. I worked in a computer store at the time. And that usually meant that Microsoft would issue complimentary discs of the new operating system to employees so that they could experience the differences first and and recommend the OS to customers. For whatever reason, MS decided not to do that with Vista. Maybe they didn’t want all us techies knowing first hand what a bloated piece of crap Vista was. I can’t say. But I managed to get a copy of Vista, the ultimate version with all the bells and whistled because I had a machine at home with the specifications to run it. Once it was installed, it was gorgeous. But it also made my system struggle. It was noticeably slower. After a week or so, I had turned off most of the eye candy in lieu of performance. For the most part I was running Windows XP with a Vista skin on top. It seemed pointless, really. After a month, I’d ditched Vista and reinstalled XP. And a few months after that, I configured a dual boot with a distribution of Linux and discovered that I actually preferred the latter because it didn’t freeze or crash at all. There were entire weeks that I didn’t even once use Windows. Despite the pain in the ass of configuring Linux to suit me (something that has admittedly improved by leaps and bounds since 2007, it was a pleasure to just some home from work and be able to boot up a computer and not need to worry about updates and new virus definitions and all the other intrinsic parts of living with Windows.

So, you might be asking how I ended up using a Mac.

I could blame it on my youngest daughter. Despite having a techie father, she never got the hang of Windows – or rather the Microsoft way of viewing productivity. That’s really why the learning curve for a newbie picking up a Windows computer is steeper than Mac OS. Windows is, in many ways, counter intuitive. A lot of that has to do with the layers of complexity under the hood that allow it to be backward compatible. You see, Microsoft must support a wider range or users and environments than Apple. MS does not have complete control over the hardware their operating system will support. And, even though it is not really necessary to become an expert user in order to function within the Windows environment, it is by far easier for a curious computer user to adversely impact the stability of the operating system than it is with Mac OS, simply because the latter is pretty-much locked down. The Mac side of the computing universe is intended for a different type of user, one who simply wants to be able to depend on their machine working as soon as it’s turned on. Knowing this, I ended up buying a iMac for my daughter.

Now, since the store where I worked sold Apple computers, I was familiar with the Mac OS enough to show the basics to anyone who bought a system, even though I’d never owned one myself. But after giving my daughter the standard tutorial, what surprised me was how quickly she was up and running with her new computer. In less than two hours, she was doing things on her Mac that she had never mastered on her Windows PC. And after a day or so, she was at a level of comfort approaching expertise. It got me thinking that the Mac OS’s simplicity might be a solution to my greatest frustration with Windows. Plus, it was much easier to find and install applications for a Mac than it was at the time for Linux. So, about a month after my daughter began using her iMac, Dad bought an iBook, which was more than I needed for my experimental venture into the other side of the computing universe. And I began using it as my daily driver.

For the next six years, I was a Mac guy…until a MacBook Pro – one I ended up after my son changed computers – stopped working in 2013. The sticker shock of replacing it nudged me back toward the darkness of Windows. I bought a Microsoft Surface tablet and a keyboard as my next personal computer solution. Although I hated Windows 8 that came installed on it, it did make some sense whenever I was in tablet mode, which I rarely used. As soon as Windows 10 was released, I immediately upgraded it. And though I have always had mixed feelings about Windows 10, I grew to understand and mostly tolerate its quirks. However, within a few years, I was back to using Linux again for everything except the handful of work-related things that required Windows.

This summer, with the next iteration of Windows looming in the near future, I downloaded and played with a developer version for about a month. I was not as impressed as I would need to be in order to want to upgrade. In fact there are some ‘improvements’ I absolutely abhor. Plus the requirements of TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot for the final release version feel particularly onerous to someone like me who would be dual booting between Linux and Windows just because I prefer using Linux. Staying with Windows 10 is an option, of course, but support for it will eventually expire in 2025. And so, I began rethinking my essential needs for a computer. The more I did, the more attractive the relatively new M1 MacBook Air seemed. Not only is it light and portable, which is something I’ve always desired in a laptop but have not had since my MS Surface Pro died, but also the M1 can run for hours on a charge allowing me to unplug in a realistic and usable way. Also, I can travel with my daily computer without it weighing me down or worrying about where the nearest charger is when I’m in an airport waiting to connect with a flight. At 13 inches for the screen, it is compact enough to fit between my belly and the next seat back when riding a coach.

Mainly, I wanted the MacBook Air for doing my writing. I wanted to be able to get away from my desk, maybe go downstairs to work on edits – or – sit in bed and compose a chapter or two. Whenever the world returns to some semblance or normalcy, perhaps I can take a walk to a coffee shop to do some creative writing. So far, I’m loving the new machine. The keyboard is excellent, the best experience I’ve had with a laptop. The touchpad, though I usually opt to use a mouse, is by far more functional than any I’ve used. Thus far, I haven’t needed to default to a mouse, so who knows? I might actually turn into a trackpadder.

I’ll still be using a dual boot machine with Windows and Linux on it to do a lot of my work. But already I have shifted some tasks to the MacBook and generally think I could do everything from it if need be. Beyond being a composition and editing tool for my writing projects, it has the power I need to edit and produce the videos Christine Gabriel and I do for the Pandaverse Book Club’s The C & E Show. I plan to test that in the near future, so check back for updates on my Mac adventure as my saga continues and evolves. For now, just knowing it is possible even when I’m traveling is a huge advantage.

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Geek Week Special: Twenty Years On A Computer – Part 1

As a computer geek I have officially proclaimed this a Geek Week and as such I’ll be posting a nostalgic story about my personal evolution with computers. Some may find the references to older hardware quaint. Others may empathize with my quest for knowledge as I recount going from computer novice to computer guru. But I think anyone who has ever used a personal computer will be able to relate to a lot of this.

Actually, it was twenty and a half years ago that I started to use a personal computer. It’s just that except for playing solitaire most of the time I sat at my desk staring at the Windows 3.1 screen filled with icons wondering why I ever paid $1600 for a machine that substituted for a deck of cards.

I worked in retail management, so I didn’t have a lot of free time anyway. The computer was something I resisted buying for as a long as possible because I’d heard they become obsolete really fast. It was January when my now ex-wife decided we needed to look for a computer, ostensibly for the kids because our son was seven going on eight and our oldest daughter was in kindergarten while my youngest was in preschool. I suppose it sort of made sense. We could foresee that the kids were going to grow up in a world of computers and we wanted them to have every possible advantage in life.

We went to the nearest Nobody Beats The Wiz store in Meriden, CT. It was just a few miles from where we lived in Wallingford. They were having a sale on some things, as always and were offering special financing on their store credit card. We had one of those too. I’d heard about PC’s and Macs, of course. The store carried both platforms. I didn’t have a side in that battle because I never thought I needed a computer. The store carried both so I figured we’d get the story and make a choice.

I liked the way the Macs looked as opposed the variety of PC’s but in my wife’s logic PC’s were better because there was more software titles available. As we perused aisle after aisle of boxes of PC software she continued to make her point. Then she stopped at the section for Mac and pointed out how few the options were, with a waving gesture and a vocalized, “See.”

I shook my head. “It looks to me like everything you need to do on a computer is pretty much covered right here, though.” I pointed out that the couple of software vendors representative supported the Apple platform very well. “I mean how many different word processors do you need for a computer?”

“We need PC. It does Windows.” She explained in her customary truncated way with a Korean accent. ¬†She didn’t see my point. ¬†Neither did she want to acknowledge that Microsoft, the maker of Windows for the PC, was one of the software developers for Macs. Her mind was made up and I knew form experience there wasn’t a point in debating the matter further. The number of software titles available was the only reason we ended up looking at PC’s as opposed to Macs.

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The salesperson was helpful enough in supporting her cause. Personally he owned a PC and claimed that everyone he knew who had a Mac complained about having compatibility issues with PCs. Then he went over the differences between IBM’s line of computers and the various ‘clones’. “We buy the real thing,” my wife said. So we opted for the IBM Consultant line of computers. There were essentially two models we were deciding between. One sported a zippy new Intel Pentium running at a blistering 60Mhz. The price for the latest system including a 14 inch monitor was $2400. The other was last years state of the art checking in at $1600. I was thinking along the lines of getting the best available because it would have at least a year less obsolescence, but the salesperson said there was a error in the Pentium’s math co-processor. Not that it was really going to cause any problems for anyone using it for a home computer but that soured my wife on the Pentium. Also she saw the Intel 486 25MHz model as a viable alternative, kind of ‘on sale’. It looked almost exactly like the Pentium model, ran all the same software and it could be upgraded with a chip to run at 50 MHz. In fact, the salesperson explained we could upgrade the modem from 300 baud to the lasted thing which was a 28,800 bps deluxe modem – except that he said the fasted online services available used either 9,600 or 14,400. The system came with 4MB of RAM and a 170MB hard drive. The RAM could be upgraded as could the hard drive, the salesperson explained, but the system used something called disc compression to more efficiently use its space so it was like having 240 MB of room.

All those numbers and options swirled around in my head. At the time I barely knew anything about computers. When I was in college we used mainframes to write batch programs on punch cards. Right before I graduated the upperclassmen in computer science were allowed to use the CRT terminals to process their programs. I had been pretty good at writing programs, though. So I sort of fancied the idea of maybe buying the software for writing programs for a PC and selling them on the side.

We got the system home, unpacked, hooked up and I turned it on. It booted up successfully to the Windows screen. Success! Now what?

“You figure out,” my wife said. “You show kids.”

Six months after the purchase, I was still trying to figure out a lot of things about the computer. For one, why did I needed AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve? Couldn’t I just use one or the other of them for connecting to this thing called The Internet so I could start sending and receiving emails? Oh, and by the way, who was I supposed to be sending emails to anyway? Except for a few guys at work, I didn’t know anyone who had a computer. Which one of the online services was better? That was the essence of my dilemma. The few times I had been online using Prodigy, I noticed how slow things seemed. I tired AOL but couldn’t figure out how to use it. And Compuserve had all these things called Forums that I didn’t understand.

I mentioned to one of my computer savvy friends at work how slow my computer seemed when it was connected online. He told me to upgrade to a 14,400 bps modem. He said 28,800 was wasting my money since no one used that yet. And the best thing about the faster modems was that they could be used for faxing things in a snap. I could create faxes on the computer and send them out. Oh, and I could buy a scanner and use that along with a printer and my PC would act just like a fax machine.

So, I paid $1600 for a deck of cards and a fax machine. What else could this thing do that was useful?

Somewhere along the line I noticed a word processor was included in a program called Microsoft Works. My friend at work told me Works was an office program for homeowners. He said businesses use programs like Lotus 1,2,3 or Office. The idea occurred to me that something I could do with my computer was take those boxes of typed pages that I had produced in my effort to write the great American novel and somehow convert them into files stored on the computer. That way I edit them without literally cutting and pasting paper. Yeah, that was how editing was done back in the day, you know? Finally, there was something sort of useful I can do with this $1600 machine.

The kids for whom the PC was originally purchased had watched me use it a couple of times. My son played solitaire on it. The girls weren’t very interested in sitting in one place long enough to learn much about it. None of them were yet using computers int he classroom. My boy expressed interest in playing some video games if I’d install them. The ones he wanted said they’d work on the computer.

I took a vacation week in the middle of the summer. It was a slower time of year for my departments, so they wouldn’t miss me much at the store. I decided to return to The Wiz and ask a bunch of questions and make my computer useful. First order of business was upgrading the hardware as much as possible. Second was buying some software to entice the kids to using it. Third was getting a printer and maybe a scanner because my wife was thinking about starting a business and she could use the computer for sending and receiving faxes.Also someone at work said there was a way of scanning a page of text and having the computer convert it into a digital file using optical character recognition. I wanted to do that to all those typewritten pages.

When I arrived at The Wiz I looked for my salesperson from months ago, but it was his day off. His boss was there, though. We talked about modems first. His take on it made some sense. Eventually everyone will be using 28,800 and it wasn’t that much more expensive Also adding in the extra memory would make the computer faster as well as dropping in the DX2 math coprocessor that make my machine purr at 50MHz. Oh and there was a 540MB hard drive available. I could have plenty of room for storing all the files I’d be creating with my scanner as well as the new ones I’d be writing. There would even be enough room for storing all my wife’s business stuff for whenever she decided what sort of business she wanted to start.

Oh yes, I bought some games. I needed to get the kids using the computer. After all, wasn’t that why we bought the thing int he first place?

After spending a lot of money that first day of my vacation I had a whole week to get all that stuff installed and working. The memory turned out to be a snap, literally. With the system restoration disks that came with my computer the manager at The Wiz assured me that installing the larger hard drive would be a breeze, especially since I had next to nothing stored on my original hard drive. He suggested I keep it in a drawer just in case the new hard drive ever crashed. I could boot up the system with that. Although it took a while to feed in all those floppy disks in the proper order the hard drive install proved to be simple as well. Getting the printer installed wasn’t that hard either. The scanner, however, took a phone call to IBM tech support. They walked me through doing it, for a fee, of course. It required adjusting some things in what they called BIOS and to do that I had to enter the dreaded Setup Menu that they warned me never to enter unless I was talking to someone in tech support.

After all that, I figured I was pretty savvy. I was ready to tackle the modem install. It said int he instruction that it should be pretty easy. Just set it up the same way as the existing modem. Well, it wasn’t that simple. It urned into a major pain in the butt.

Adamantly I refused to call IBM tech support again because paying for them to explain how to do something that should be user friendly seemed absurd. After all, once they explained about the serial and parallel ports on my machine and something about the COM Port in BIOS, I was able to get the scanner working along with the printer.

My stubbornness persisted for much of the rest of the week as each day I’d wake up and wrestle with different ideas of how to get the modem working. It seemed so simple in the instructions but what it said in the manual wasn’t working at all. I resorted to calling the modem manufacture’s tech support, seeing as it was their product I was installing and tech support for that should be free fir the first month, right? After trying a few things, changing some jumper settings not he card, they gave up, punting to IBM because, according to the the guy on the phone, everything should be working so there much be some conflict, maybe between IRQ’s – whatever those were.

Well, after a week of frustration with this faster modem thing and getting it to plug into properly to what I now considered a made-for-adults puzzle, I was ready to pay the money to learn the secret. IBM tech support confirmed it was an IRQ (Interrupt Request) setting that needed to be adjusted. Also, they explained that since we had changed settings to install the scanner and printer I needed to reassign the COM ports on the modem. It sounded complicated, but tech support told me how to get into the system setup menu in BIOS again make some changes and, once I did that, everything worked.

You’d think that I’d never want to crack open the case again, just leave good enough alone. But after learning how to tweak things a bit I was hooked. I had made my machine significantly faster while upgrading its storage capacity and made it more functional – even if a month after all the expensive upgrades no one but me was using anything I’d installed – except my oldest daughter had tried using the Disney software in DOS that, despite my having installed more memory continued to tell her she was out of memory. Every time she wanted to play the game I had to close out of Windows and reboot into DOS. Sometimes it would play fine but other times it would not.

After asking my friend at work about it he explained how DOS memory worked and that I needed to edit my AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to free up memory. Just when I thought I’d figured out everything about my computer, now there was this new wrinkle. Pursuing the solution would take me on an adventure that continued for years. Ever in pursuit of a more powerful computer to do this or that better than my old one, at the end of the journey I became a self-taught computer technician…and that’s another story for next time.

#personalcomputers #computers #geeks #Windows #DOS #upgrades

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The Way To Write (In Case You Were About To Ask)

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Something I have done most of my life, starting around age twelve or so, is write. First with was with pencil or pen and paper. Eventually, sometime toward the conclusion of high school when I was on the school newspaper staff – I graduated to composing on a typewriter – do you remember those things? I never took typing lessons in school. Those who edit my work can attest to that fact. But writers find a way of communicating through whatever means is available and at the time a typewriter was the best thing I had to work with.

At some point when I was in the Air Force, the job I had signed on to do required that I type 25 words per minute and that needed to be accomplished trying in the correct way – not hunt and peck or any of my advanced three finger variations on the theme. What was interesting was that I proved to the course instructor that I could type between 50 and 60 words per minute my way. But he insisted that as per AF regulation I had to do it his way to pass the course. After a week or so of intensive training I reached 26 words per minute the ‘right’ way and subsequently went back to doing things my way for the remainder of my brief AF career. In the process I published a 400+ page, award winning unit history and two fairly lengthy AF regulations (one training and one for cataloguing, storing and disposing of classified documents), typing the wrong way.

There is no right way or wrong way to write, though. It is as individual as your preferences for breakfast cereal or whether you drink beer, wine or water. You really choose what you need to do.

While I was in the Air Force I started using a word processor as opposed to a typewriter. Yet when I left the Air Force I continued to write on a typewriter for another six or so years. Writing was a hobby I did on my time off whenever I wanted playing father to my kids or doing all the dad projects around the house. My ex may rue the day she talked me into getting a computer for the kids. I ended up using it most of the time. After deciding it was an expensive thing to use for playing Solitaire, I began creating MS Works files of my novel in progress – something I had been working on since 1977. That began an adventure in learning everything I could about personal computers to the point I could fix darned near anything that went wrong with either hardware or software, build custom configurations of friends and eventually working a a computer technician from time to time. But a lot of that served to feed an ever increasing desire to handle my needs as a wannabe writer.

Currently I work with a old MacBook Pro. I prefer a real keyboard so I have one plugged into the USB port. And I have composed three novels on this machine and edited/revised six others in the five years I have had this computer, three of those were composed on a PC using Linux with Open Office. One my first two books were done entirely on a Windows based PC.

Although I have used Windows for many years, I am more comfortable with Mac OS now. However, I use MS Office for Mac for most things I do as a writer and a publicist.