Friday, September 28, 2007

computers: Thinkpad dock, applications, Norton

The new Thinkpad T61 laptop computer for my domestic partner other significant arrived. It's quiet and well-designed.

Its dock is great. Unlike port replicators that require drivers to route signals, the Thinkpad actually brings out the wires, so it's purely hardware and the external video can run at high resolution. Push a button, turn a key and the keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, microphone, speakers, and Ethernet on the desk all connect/disconnect when you dock/undock.

Getting Vista to cooperate with my network and other computers was so awful that I blogged it separately.

I copied over my Dreamweaver and Fireworks applications and pasted in their registry settings, but they complain about missing libraries and fail to export files. The applications that migrated flawlessly were Mozilla SeaMonkey e-mail+browser and Bitpim phone sync, both open source. Simply download the latest version of the app, install it on the new computer, and copy over one data directory. All the effort commercial software companies waste on license checking, registry keys, and serial numbers doesn't add any value to their product and makes it hard to migrate.

The Norton Internet Security that Lenovo provided fought me all the way. Its firewall rules allows "local" file sharing, but its idea of "local" is to hardcode some common private network addresses that routers use by default (192.168.1, 192.168.11, etc.). However I had set my router to a non-standard network address for compatibility with work. Is Norton smart enough to determine or ask you what your local network's address is? Is Norton's configuration able to label an address range as "my home network" so you can reuse it in rules without having to manually change every single one? Will Norton prompt you when its general rules block Windows operations? No, no, damn you Symantec, NO! Networking just fails and you waste hours checking cabling and routers and other computers.

Lenovo has some additions to Vista that just confuse things. Their network security lets you enable/disable "Windows firewall", but it seems Norton Internet Security's firewall runs anyway. They have a network places manager, but it mostly confuses things with another network icon in the system tray. They have a Thinkvantage security center that keeps starting up, with its own upgrade service that didn't work.

Likewise, Intel graphics adds its own monitor control. So there's the Thinkvantage software to choose a layout when you plug in an external monitor, Intel's software to set up your graphics, and Vista's display appearance control panel. They're all covering the same ground! Yet their help explains their relationship to the other competing software.

If this were Linux open source, Intel and Lenovo would modify and extend Microsoft's O.S. code for network management and multiple monitors, they wouldn't have to reinvent it. Any improvements or bug fixes they make would show up in the core software, benefiting everyone.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

computers: love the one your with

The computer industry has created the meme "Computers get slow and gunky after 20 months or so". I know lots of people who buy a new laptop every year or two because, well, that's just the way it is.

Of course that's completely untrue. Run anti-virus, uninstall programs you're not using, run a spyware remover, disable startup programs and services that don't seem to be important (note how these tasks are progressively harder for the average user) and your computer should work for years. I ran a Macintosh 128 with the "kitchen-table memory upgrade" for a decade.

After 8 years, we're replacing a Pentium III 500 Mhz desktop machine.
  • It needed more disk space. 10GB just isn't compatible with today's mega-bloated programs.
  • Contacts search in Outlook 2000 started mysteriously crashing and nothing fixes it.
  • Although the key program SeaMonkey (the latest iteration of the Netscape all-in-one browser and e-mail) works perfectly, lots of utilities and new versions didn't run well on Windows 98 SE, e.g. Photoshop Elements.
  • Network sharing and printing between Windows 98 SE and XP is slow and unreliable.
  • Most importantly, Windows 98 SE isn't getting updates and patches. Most security vulnerabilities are in the browser but occasionally the bad guys find holes in the operating system.
I could have performed surgery to address all of these, starting with the hard drive, but when you're that many generations behind, the software/hardware/documentation to upgrade your old computer is itself out-of-date and unsupported.

So an IBMLenovo Thinkpad T61 with ultra mini-dock is on the way. The hard decision was whether to go with Windows XP or Vista Home Premium. Cnet's laptop buying guide recommended Vista Home Premium. We'll see...

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