Special Report: Goodbye, Bill Gates
Vol: 59 Issue: 1 Tuesday, August 1, 2006
As I mentioned last week, my PC crashed and went into an endless rebooting loop. Frank spent a number of hours on it before discovering the problem was software, rather than hardware. Although the hard drive is accessible, the XP operating system is shot, requiring rebuilding the thing from scratch.
I’ve tried all the workarounds, tricks and shortcuts to fool the computer into reinstalling without losing all my settings, applications and preferences, which, after all, are what makes reinstalling an operating system a two day project.
So, I bought a new hard drive and began the arduous process of reinstalling the XP operating system (something I find myself having to do about three times a year.) After installing the base OS, the next step is activation. Now activation used to entail having a legal CD and the serial number that came on the package. I have several XP CDs, each with a different serial number. The CD’s are identical, but the numbers are not on them. Clever.
It appears that Microsoft no longer accepts internet activation. The process now involves re-inputting the serial number, which then — by default! — kicks it back as illegal and provides an activation phone number.
On the other end of the phone is a computer which first requires you to read an impossibly long number to it, which then tells you your software is no longer valid and hangs up. Even if the software is being reinstalled on the same system that crashed.
If you dig hard enough, there is a number you can call to get a live person somewhere in Bangladesh who, based on criteria which they evidently make up on the fly, can either provide a legal (again impossibly long number) that will activate the software, or, depending on the mood of the person on the other end, (all of whom are named ‘George’) the activation is refused.
As an option, Microsoft will sell you a new number for $149.00 that will activate the software you already bought once. (Or in my case, four times)
Once the activation is approved, the process of rebuilding begins. First, all the appropriate driver CDs need to be located and installed. That’s a couple hours. After about four hours of downloading improvements from Microsoft, one can begin the process of finding all the software CDs, locating all the appropriate serial numbers, reinstalling them one at a time. Depending on how much software one has, that’s another 3-5 hours.
The following day (having not been able to do any substantial work the day before,) one can begin inputting all the passwords, preferences, settings, etc., which eats up most of that day.
So, after two days of mind-numbing repetitive work, punctuated only by periodic frantic searches for the right CD containing the correct version, and sorting through the conflicts, one ends up with approximately what one had started out with in the first place.
I’m an old hand at this stuff. When I was in the Marine Corps in the early 1970’s my secondary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 8211 Computer Operations. I was working on computers when a computer consisted of twenty tape drives the size of refrigerators, no keyboards, monitors or mouse. The programming was all manually input into keypunch cards, electronically collated and sorted, put into neat stacks in boxes which were then converted to big reels of magnetic tape.
The big reels of magnetic tape were then threaded onto the refrigerator-sized tape drives, which would read the tapes and run the programs. I worked on the COMCABEAST network which handled military and civilian payroll. It took a team of guys a week to write an eight-tape program that the computer would run in a matter of hours and do a job that today would all fit on one floppy disk and would run in twelve seconds on a modern laptop.
When Bill Gates invented DOS, I bought my first computer. It was an Amstrad 8088 with no hard drive and two 5 1/4 floppy disks that cost $1,799.00 and could do basic word processing.
Computers were new, and tech support was ridiculously expensive, so I set about learning how to fix my own. I got good at it, and soon found myself in such demand as a computer guy that I hung out my shingle.
I’ve been working with Microsoft software since before the first Windows operating system was ever released.
I say all that to say this: Computers running Microsoft software were more reliable and easier to use twenty years ago then they are today. I say that as someone who has been there from the beginning.
Reinstalling Windows XP, with all its peripherals, assorted software and individual settings is a nightmare even when all the various peripherals, software CD’s, etc. are at your fingertips. Trying to do it in a cramped RV, when most of the necessary stuff is packed in boxes stored in the external ‘basements’ (external storage compartments) is like moving a pile of rocks from one side of a quarry to the other.
At the end of the day, you are tired, frustrated and all you end up with is the same pile of rocks you started with.
And all the while, you know that one day soon, Microsoft will introduce an automatic update that will conflict with something already installed, crashing the system and forcing you to start all over again. There is a quote I saw some years ago to the effect that, “if a Rolls Royce were designed like a modern PC, it would cost $399, get 1,000 miles to the gallon and would periodically and without warning, crash itself into a tree, killing everyone on board.”
I am tired of working for Bill Gates two days a month for free. I am sick of having to maintain backups of my data that never restore properly. I am tired of hunting for the right CDs.
And the final straw was the requirement I wade through Microsoft’s red tape system via my cell phone in order to get permission from Microsoft to use software I already bought, notwithstanding the license that says the software is granted to me for use in perpetuity.
Yesterday, I went and bought an IMac.
I’ve never had a Mac before and always looked down my nose at them. I bought my Imac for about the same price I’ve got invested in multiple XP CD’s that don’t work without having to suck up to a stranger from Bangladesh to avoid having to pay an extra $149.00 for a NUMBER!
The Mac ads were right. The entire computer is built in to the monitor. It takes exactly one cord to make it all work. It has a built in microphone, camera, wireless network interface, wired network interface, etc. The only peripheral device I needed besides the monitor/computer was a keyboard/mouse and my wireless router. It comes with one CD that restores the entire OS, including all the associated software.
From the time I ripped the sealing tape from the box it came in, to being set up, on line and fully operational was 14 minutes. I timed it.
There was nothing else to do. It is impervious to most virus threats, truly does work right out of the box, and comes with five years technical support (that the guy at CDW says is free because hardly anybody ever really needs it.)
I have never used a Mac in my life, so it took me from 7:00 until 7:45 before I had a working knowledge of how to use it.
Forty-one minutes after I opened the box, I was in a voice/video connection on Yahoo Messenger with Hal. And best of all, one can live the rest of one’s life without having to use Microsoft software.
It appears to only have one downside. I can’t use ‘my computer ate my homework’ as an excuse anymore.
Goodbye, Bill Gates. I shall not miss you.