Monday, September 01, 2014

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Atomic Avenue  

A Very Good Week

This has been a really strange fall for me, with everything from a root canal to a car crash to a crushing workload to termites to the loss of a dear friend. It’s with some relief then, that I gotta say that this was a Really Good Week.

It was a week where everything seemed to come together: business has been good (I even got about two dozen orders of my own on Atomic Avenue in the just the past four days: thank you, free shipping option!), we had a great visit with my folks who had come out for Kelly’s birthday, and I finally got a chance to unbox my Playstation 3 and play Guitar Hero 3 with Neil (who’s currently cleaning my clock. Dang, he’s getting good!).

Speaking of which: the PS3 has really been a pleasant surprise. I’d loved the idea of the PS3 when I first saw the tech demo from E3 two years ago, but frankly the price and lack of compelling games put me off. When the price finally dropped to $399 recently, I finally decided it was time to finally make the move to a next gen console. Having cashed in every Amazon gift certificate I’d ever hoarded over the years and more, I’ll admit I was so afraid of being disappointed that I let the box sit unopened on our conference table for almost two weeks before I took it home to play with it.

I had to pick up a couples at the local Fry’s in order to get it hooked up properly, but I have to say I’ve been surprised how really nice a console it is. The graphics are astonishing, the OS hints at some amazing possibilities (it supports printers for goodness sake!), and the networking is first rate. Best yet, I got a chance to look at the included Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray movie and the picture quality absolutely blew me away—even at the measely 720p my lashed-together projector system will support. The movie looked as good or better as when I saw it in the theater.

Later on, I got a chance to try out Resistance: Fall of Man (a beautifully executed Sci-fi/FPS game), as well as bust open the Guitar Hero 3 that just arrived. Both have been a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to try out Rock Band on it (although I fear Kelly will want to hog the drums).

In other miracles: I actually got word that State Farm (the foks who insured the truck that obliterated my VW Golf almost three months ago) are actually getting ready to wrap things up on the claim. (I don’t blame State Farm in particular, but getting rear-ended in a multi-car crash with about six separate insurance companies involved made for a heck of a delay in getting anything settled). It’s a real relief to not be looking forward to another week of calling insurance companies... (knock wood!)

Happy thanksgiving!

The Windows XP Upgrade

Several months ago, I got a fast new computer (officially so that I could do compiles of ComicBase in record time, but my old machine’s pitiful five-FPS Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter performance may also have had something to do me deciding it was time to upgrade). All things considered, my new machine was a pretty good box, complete with tons of memory, a fast processor, dual 500 GB drives, etc.

And Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.

That last feature of my new system was installed out of equal parts convenience (it was easlier to get the necessary drivers installed to make the system recognize my RAID array without the ridiculous “F6/floppy drive” ritual), and a techno-lusting spirit of “embrace the future!” After all, we’d already set up a Vista testbed for ComicBase, and I was using Vista on my laptop without (much) trouble. It seemed time to make the switch and get used to using Vista on a daily basis on my main development machine.

But after four months with the new machine, I’ve taken the plunge and upgraded its OS again... to Windows XP.

I miss the pretty buttons and window borders from Windows Vista, but I have to say that everything else about my computing experience is noticeably better. It’s easier to get to files I want, the system doesn’t constantly prod me to click a button to continue every time I want to change a system setting, and everything’s faster—a lot faster in the case of VB 6, (the programming environment ComicBase is largely written in).

I know as well as anyone that the cause for Vista’s huge slowdowns in Visual Studio are probably an amalgam of older software running on a newer OS, lack of optimizations for various included development tools, etc., and some of this will indeed get worked out over time. But when you work in a given tool (VB) all day long, being able to go from 4 minute compiles to 25 second compiles—along with a complete lack of inexplicable 1-2 minute delays that Vista would insert into the development process whenever a new report was opened or accessed—is the difference between leading a relatively happy existence, and wanting to lay open your veins with a dull razor blade.

Although the months I ran Windows Vista on my main machine were enough to get me accustomed to it, there were few areas where it really shone. More and more, it seems, it’s being compared to the ill-fated Windows Me, and I do see the point. The difference, however, is that Windows Me was actually a (small) step in the right direction from the venerable (but frankly, awful) Windows 98, and didn’t pose as huge of a burden on users and developers in terms of incompatibilities and learning curve. It was a mild waste of everyone’s money, but not actually worse than what came before.

Windows Vista, on the other hand, is a huge effort by Microsoft to move forward in terms of the underlying structure of Windows, with changes to virtually every aspect of the system. Unfortunately, it comes at a very high cost, both in terms of the OS itself ($399 for the Ultimate Edition[!]), its learning curve, and in incompatibilities for both hardware and software. Even as developers, we had to work our butts off to make sure ComicBase ran properly under Vista, making the sort of core changes to the code that were never part of any previous OS compatibility release. It’s a big change.

But what is there about Vista that justifies the cost and effort? A few desirable features to be sure, and a bit of welcome eye candy, but nothing which even a gadget-fiend like myself can really get excited about. Perhaps most damningly, I’d have to say that for my needs and style of use, the interface is pretty fair step backwards. It looks nice, but it requires much more clicking about to accomplish a given task such as changing an IP address on my network connection, or getting to a commonly used folder. Revised interfaces should make tasks—especially common tasks—easier. Too often Vista feels like a bike with the training wheels welded to the frame.

But, as they say, your mileage may vary, and I’m sure there are folks out there that are really enjoying Windows Vista. More to the point, it’s the way Microsoft is going, so most of us are going to end up with Windows Vista on our new computers whether we wanted it that way or not. It’ll come pre-installed. Undoubtedly, service packs and patches will go some way toward alleviating its many annoyances, and the driver and software compatibility situation is bound to improve over time. But for me, I’m shocked to find myself temporarily in the Luddite camp, working smoothly with what I fondly refer to as, “the first Microsoft operating system I don’t actively despise” — Windows XP Professional.

It’s been a nice upgrade from my old OS.