Sunday, September 14, 2008

Adventures in Computing

Having spent the greater part of last week and especially the last two days installing Ubuntu, applications and various other things, I've noticed a few things...

1) “Compaq” has terrible user’s manuals! The whole paper manual focuses on troubleshooting which presupposes the use of Windows Vista and recommends sending out for help a lot. The more technical manuals are sent on the HD instead as a printed copy. While I appreciate the stance of putting the user guides on the computer to save paper....That doesn’t exactly help people who don’t plan to ever boot into Windows. The “Acer” laptop I bought came with a better printed manual: system specs, repair tips and troubleshooting that doesn’t presume their customers are half brain-dead. The only problem was they sorta hid BIOS setting info. That is tucked away in other sections which didn’t impress me because the BIOS info was the first and foremost piece of info I needed from the laptop manual. While I’m at it, I’d just like to say the manual for the “Dell” tower that died was always useful. That book was a great example of a thin, well-written instruction guide which informs users of exactly what they need while also giving the tools to learn more.

2) “Acer” makes good laptops but for completely inexplicable reasons they cover their products in stickers! I had one sticker for the wireless brand, two for the processor chip(s?), the “Vista” sticker and a sticker with a list of system specs (which repeated most of the info on the other stickers). You know, if “Acer” put all that on the box instead, I wouldn’t have to spend 30 extremely annoying minutes getting the stickers & glue off the computer with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip.

3) 2Gb of RAM is a noticeable improvement over the 1.5Gb I was used to. With the extra RAM in both the new tower and the laptop, Compiz Fusion really looks amazing. Not to mention, every desktop switch and window opening has a certain “pop” to it.

4) I’m insanely grateful that I took the time before my Japan trip to install Puppy Linux on a USB drive. The OS and the utilities that come with it have been extremely valuable in preparing for the data transfer from the old HD. If it wasn’t for Puppy, I might have had to use Vista for a couple days (shudder). Not to mention, Puppy was the easiest OS install I have ever done. Due to the time constraints to prepare for my trip, I didn’t get the opportunity to tweak Puppy into everything it could be. Still, even the standard install with a couple cosmetic tweaks proved very useful.

5) Having played around with Vista in the store, I can now say: It really does suck. Visually, it’s quite striking. However, Ubuntu has similar visuals so that’s not really a unique selling point (I know it’s likely that Ubuntu was probably influenced by Vista visually and not the other way around). Still, Vista does everything Ubuntu does only in the most annoying and condescending manner possible. While Windows broke down and increased their theming options, they are still pretty tightly controlled. While Vista has lots of settings & menus, it’s still pretty “let me hold your hand while we do this, because changing the color of your windows is so mentally taxing”. With Ubuntu, there’s a lot more control over what’s present and how it is configured without the talking down to the customer. The only area where I would say Windows has an unquestionably good thing going on is the Windows Media Player. After my recent search for a music/media program, I have a newfound appreciation for how WMP combines all music & media tasks in one place. It’s not as configurable as the Ubuntu music applications but it’s also a lot more seamlessly functional.

6) I’d never done a straight-up install of Ubuntu. All my previous experiences were loading it on machines with existing configurations. Since there was nothing fancy required for the laptop, I just wiped the Windows install and put Hardy on instead. The actual install was shockingly easy; it took less than 30 minutes with no errors. The only hard part was getting the laptop to boot off the CD/DVD drive before Vista jumped in and started “configuring”. However, since I have a very specific suite of applications, I wasn’t really done with the set-up(s) until tonight. Here’s a quick summary of what I did post-install on both the laptop & the new tower:
REMOVED: Evolution, Rythymbox (someone made this easier to delete – thanks?)
ADDED: Thunderbird, Compiz Fusion, AWN, Last.FM client, Songbird, Ubuntu Tweak, VLC, gNomad2, several games, Octave, misc small applications & dependency files
TWEAKED: AWN applets/launchers, DVD Playing Firefox Add-ons, Emerald Themes
While I had planned to clone my previous HD, having done a clean install for the laptop I realized how messy (for lack of a better word) my old HD was. As a result, I decided to do a clean install for the new tower also. However, I still need to import some of my personal data from my old HD. This is on hold due a lack of proper cable which will allow my old HD to talk to the new computer.

7) Whatever I say about "Compaq" manuals, their case layout is brilliant. Whoever designed the brackets & cages inside this Presario PC really thought about how people would have to move around and take it apart to upgrade the machine. It was very easy adding my old HD inside the case (if not connecting it). In this respect, the did a much better job than Dell did. It was a complete pain getting my old HD out of the Dell case!

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