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Archive: 11 August 2003

Windows Pains

Even in the bright, shiny, translucent world of Mac OS X, Windows haunts me like a vengeful spectre.

Upon deciding to strike out on my own, I knew I’d have to buy a laptop.  The older-model TiBook and two-months-old Dell Latitude both belonged to AOL Time Warner, and they would want them back.  When I went somewhere to speak, or to train, I would need a portable computing node.  I would need the ability to carry everything needed to deliver my presentation: all the slides, the working files, the examples.  Too often have I seen speakers show up assuming they could run their presentation via the net and be told, “Sorry, the connection is down.”  Or arrive with a CD-ROM they burned containing everything, only to have the presentation machine absolutely refuse to read the disc.

So I bought a new 1GHz TiBook, with the gracious assistance of a local Apple employee.  It’s shiny on the outside, and shiny inside too.  After a quick hard drive repartition and reinstallation of both OS X and the Classic OS, I spent a couple of hours adjusting the OS look to at least vaguely resemble my old Mac’s desktop, customizing the Dock and System Preferences to put the important things within quick reach, and learning how the new OS works as compared to the Classic OS.

Then I installed Virtual PC 6.  And the pain began.

Please realize I have very little against VPC6.  It does a stunning job of recreating a Windows operating system right there in a Mac OS window.  If I launched a Classic application, I could run three completely separate operating systems on the same machine.  Slowly, of course.

But anyway, I installed my Windows 2000 Professional edition of VPC6, and there it was.  Windows.  Mocking me.  Can’t live without me, eh? it sneered.  In a sense, no, I can’t: I need to be able to test designs and templates and CSS techniques in Windows browsers as well as Macintosh browsers.  And I need to be able to test in different versions of Internet Explorer.  To do that, you either need multiple Wintel boxes, or one Wintel box running Virtual PC for Windows—think about that for a minute—or one Macintosh running Virtual PC for Macintosh.  In the latter case, I’d also get OS X, which I haven’t been running but need to, since Safari is a serious browser that deserves to be taken seriously.

Economically speaking, there was no contest: one laptop that gave me everything I needed.  Aesthetically speaking, there wasn’t much of a choice either.  TiBooks are just so darned… cool.

I fought with virtual Windows for almost 12 hours yesterday, trying to make it behave with some semblance of normalcy.  Discovering that I’d done something sensible yet still horribly wrong, and having to start over, more than once.  At least with Virtual PC, a badly botched installation is no big deal: you just throw away the drive image and empty the trash can.  It’s like reformatting the hard drive on a Windows machine, except it takes less time.  You can also, once you get a drive image set up as a baseline, copy it to new images and make changes to the copies.  So I can have images with IE5.0, IE5.5, and IE6.  I can also install Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Firebird, and all the other Windows browsers.  (I’ll probably install them into the IE6 image.)

But getting to that point, making my life easy, was amazingly hard and deeply frustrating.  And I’ve been using Windows 2000 Professional on a regular basis for the last two years.

At least VPC6 has a “go to full screen mode” that will let me present my presentation slideshows using Opera, as I’ve been doing for more than a year now.  I was very glad to see that feature.  Now, if only the software had a “shrink drive image to eliminate unused drive space,” I’d be a really happy camper.

Oh, and the next time someone tells you how bloated Mozilla or some other browser has become, kindly point out to them that the install package for Internet Explorer for Windows 5.5, Service Pack 2, is 84.1 megabytes; IE6.0 is 76.7 megabytes.  Even at T1 speeds, those take a while to download—almost as long as it takes light from the sun to reach Earth, in fact.  The only reason nobody ever complained is that nobody had to download Explorer.  Funny, that.  Imagine if Microsoft had been required to offer Explorer for download instead of bolting it into the OS.  I wonder how many copies would be in use today?

August 2003
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