Monday, September 17, 2012

A Blank Computer, and A Weekend Project with Windows 8

I was handed a challenge on Friday.

It was in the form of a laptop.  The owner had no idea what the quality of the machine was, and wanted to know if it was worth keeping.

That's the problem with Auction Websites.  You can get an amazing deal but you won't know until you settle in and use the thing whether you should go through the grief of trying to send it back.

The challenge with a normal machine is straightforward.  Turn it on, let it come up and settle.  The word I normally use is "Quiesce".  Fifty Cent Word for settle.

That assumes that the machine is complete and not missing pieces.  Pieces like an Operating System.

Many people think that when you pass on a computer to someone else, you have to keep the hard drive because they'll be able to see all your old junk like your cat pictures, and your letter to Aunt Gertie in Nebraska.  You know, that sort of thing.

That just makes life complex later.   Just delete everything of yours, then copy big files to fill the hard disc.  There are plenty of places where you can get free MP3s or Videos to fill your disc.  I'll leave that to you.

It wasn't complete.  The screen was a gorgeous 15 inch screen, brilliant "LED" screen.  The machine had probably never been used, the keyboard still stiff, there was even little bits of that plastic junk that people put on things to protect them.

Just no operating system.

Big ol' 320GB hard drive with nothing on it but digital tumbleweeds.

So what did I do?

Looking at the "Windows 7" sticker happily glued to the case, I shrugged.   That wasn't going to happen since to install a copy of Windows 7 on it, I'd have to get one.  Too much of a headache.   I went to my disc pile and found about 5 different kinds of Linux.

The problem was that Linux really is best on machines that are old enough for the true geeks of the world to have written all those drivers for the new machines.  A year old laptop is great for Linux, brand spanking new and you may have problems.

I did, but enough to prove that it was worth our while to try to find a copy of Windows.

Luckily, Microsoft had that deal where you could try a cutting edge version of Windows 8 out on your "spare" machine and see if you like it.

1) I don't.   Windows 8 is a new thing.  Microsoft doesn't do "new" too well.  It usually takes them three versions to get it right.   Stick with Windows 7 for now.  Windows 8 will be too "raw" for "Mom and Pop".  Let the kids who are good with it learn it.

In a nutshell, Windows 8 has a grafted on Start Page.  Windows 8's Start Page has icons plus apps that are "live" and go out to the internet, swallowing bandwidth and part of your computer to do all that work.   When you click on that live app icon, it could put you on your familiar desktop, it may put you in a new space where the apps live.  It's all very disjointed and uncomfortable.   Quite rough and raw.

Windows 7 is familiar with the Start Button.   It's the same way almost all modern computers work with the person, including Linux, OSX on the Mac, and some really rare operating systems.

2) Since this was a new machine, and had hardware we didn't know was working, this was a gamble.  In the end, Windows 8 had all the drivers, and I was able to prove that every piece of the laptop worked.  In fact, that is what I wrote this posting on.

So get ready, Windows 8 is coming, and you may not like it.  You may.  I found myself realizing that it was like the line in the old Thomas Dolby song "Science" - They've moved it and I can't Fiiind Anything!!!!

Luckily, between this version and the version that comes out in a month, they have a chance to change things for the better.  At least we were able to prove that the machine works, and now it's got Windows 7 on it once we installed the "real" operating system.

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