Friday, July 31, 2009

A Good Windows Experience?

I have had at least two people tell me that windows works very smoothly for them, and that it handles whatever they need to do with it. I've been programming since long before there was windows, and I have NEVER had that good experience. In my experience, it's always been true that windows slows down (clogs up) over time, requires additional software to keep it running acceptably, requires virus/spyware/adware protection, and that a BSOD is an uncommon but familiar experience to nearly all windows users (especially programmers).

My best experience so far was my wife's computer several years ago. She bought antivirus sw and a mail program, never ran IE or Outlook. Used OpenOffice. Installed/uninstalled nearly nothing after that. Surfed. Emailed. Played PySol. It was good for a couple of years until I installed some dev software, after which it slowed down and got wonky. I learned to leave her computers alone! Recently, she converted another windows laptop to Ubuntu to escape Windows wonkitude.

Since I have to use windows now and again, here is your chance: SCHOOL ME. Teach me how you run windows without having to prop it up with additional software and never have crashes or slowdowns. Tell me what software you run, and how you manage install/uninstall. Explain how you don't have to reimage the machine every couple of years (or more often).

The funny thing is that I am being open and honest about this. I would love not to have to reboot my work laptop or suffer weird networking behavior or crashing programs. So please, elucidate!


  1. I install every piece of bizarre software that strikes my fancy. I've got at least 6 full featured IDEs and 5 browsers(more out of ADD boredom than necessity.) I've got shell extensions up the wazoo.

    I run mysql, a web server (apache), DB2, google's search engine, automated backup software all the time.

    I'm running vista on a 2 year old gaming rig and cranking the graphics performance while all of the above (servers) are running.

    It just works.

    The "click 5 times for every security allowance" thing annoys me a bit. But it just doesn't happen that often.

    No bluescreens, no crashes, no spontaneous reboots.

    It just works.

    Dunno what to tell ya. I'm not going to sing it's praises and get the windows logo tattooed on my forehead.

    But I beat this machine like a rented mule and it stands up fine.

    (Oh, never done a reformat/os refresh. Ill advised I know. Just haven't gotten to it.)

  2. Could it be that I've bought the wrong computers every single time?

    Have had gateway, dell, asus, lenovo, emachines, all kinds of brands. I'm not a modder or overclocker, and I don't install games or gaming hardware.

    Maybe it's *not* modding up the sound and video that makes my machines wonky? But then what of the laptops?

    Hmm. Still totally in the dark.

  3. Maybe Mad Will is running Vista 64-bit?

  4. Dunno. It really is very strange. I've certainly worked with windows in enough server environments to have seen all the stuff you're talking about. You couldn't get me in a room with an exchange server with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch unless I was there to blow the thing up.

    But on the desktop? Smooth as silk.

    The problem is that when windows is in "break a nail" mode the problems are all but nondeterministic.

    If you can think of any tests you want to run, I'm certainly down with that.

  5. Is maybe tottinge running Windows ME with the XP wallpaper and theme?

    Or maybe tottinge needs to build a low end system from name brand parts and install Windows 7 on that? It could very well be hardware.

    Or maybe tottinge needs to go to madwill's house and watch him do stuff. Then tell us all the secret.

  6. Tim,

    I share your pain, and have nothing but cynical grins when it comes to Windows. That said, for reasons of "don't fix what ain't broke" and some minor external device compatibility needs, I still use a couple of Windows machines.

    I don't get bluescreens or crashes at and have been running the same Windows instances 3 and 2 years without ever re-installing.

    My tips:

    - Use VMWare for things, like: trialling new software, especially stuff u don't know you will keep.
    - Uninstall anything you don't use, and then keep a clean registry (I use RegSeeker freeware)
    - Don't use Outlook.
    - Use a chat client that integrates all the protocols (Digsby, in my case)... having a client for each is pig slow because each one loads up 100MBs
    - Turn off unused services (there's plenty of docs on the net to show which ones are likely to be waste)
    - Find and kill programs that start at startup: adobe_speed_launch, java_updatemanager, ati hot panel programs (u never use them, and killing them doesn't stop the drivers working).. Best way is to find the [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run] and cull thins from there. Eg: if you ever install iTunes you also get two startup .exe's that autorun, which you don't need if you don't use and iPod.
    - Be wary when running printer/camera installation disks. They want to install a gadzillion mini apps, often with shell extensions, startup progs etc. Choose carefully, or uninstall afterwards when u know you don't want them.
    - I dont use Norton/Symantec virus scanners.. In my personal experience they are very bloated and when developing they cause a lot of read scanning against all the files you are dveloping with, classes, compiled versions, IDE files etc. I use AVG (throws up annoying nag screen once a day, but it's the least intrusive to my OS that is free)

    Thats the majority I can think of..

    I ain't singing MS's praises by a long shot, but it's manageable .. after all it can't manage itself.

  7. Hmm... good points.

    Yeah, the more I think about it I really do a fair amount of startup and 'unnecessary service' maintenance. Most of the blame I put on the kitchen sink of crap I install rather than windows.

    Nice recommendations. Yeah, I haven't used outlook in years. I just don't like the way it 'functions' but I'll bet it drags systems to their knees quite readily.

  8. I confess that I am on my third work computer since 2002, and I have had to rebuild my latest one once. I cannot ENTIRELY blame M$ for that, because it picked up a terminal virus/trojan/worm thing from an unsecured wireless network at a hotel in Canada early this winter.

    Since all computers were notebooks the other two mostly crashed due to hardware failures. (I guess that is what you call tripping over a conveyor and falling onto a concrete floor) ;)

    Anyway, my addition to the suggestion list is that whenever you install any new software you try to set it to start-up manually. Then go to the service control panel and set ALL services that are not an essential part of the OS to manual start-up. This does two very important things:

    1. It makes the computer start much faster.

    2. It dramatically reduces the baseline memory usage, since any services that you don't need are not running all the time.

    Other hints:

    Never leave a Windows computer running unattended, particularly at night.

    Install a good anti-virus. Our work insists on using Symantic (formerly Norton), but for personal use I much prefer Avast. Avast is much more proactive and it will frequently catch malware before the bad software manages to trick you into installing it.

    I have taken to the habit when I am on the road of connecting to the hotel wireless network ONLY long enough to send/receive email, and then shutting it back off immediately. So far this year at least THREE of our people's computers have suffered major malware attacks from hotel wireless networks. Two of those attacks required a full reformat/rebuild to recover.

    Good luck Mr. Ottinger. As usual if you are any of your team are...

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