Saturday, December 05, 2009

Adventures in Windows 7

I finally purchased and installed a copy of Windows 7 on my desktop computer. But the whole process was not a very pleasant one. It started at Best Buy about three weeks ago when I saw a Windows 7 Family Pack box on the shelf. I have a desktop and two laptops in my house and the three-license family pack seemed like a good bargain. Unfortunately, the store was out. The box was for display only.

So a week or so later I checked online and it said the store in my area had the family packs back in stock. I thought that’s fine, I’ll just go down Saturday and pick one up when I have time. So I went back over the weekend, picked up the display box, and waited for 15 minutes in line. When I got to the counter, the lady said they had sold out that morning. So why didn’t they remove all the display boxes from the shelf?

Anyway, I trudged back home and started an Internet search to see if I could find a copy in my area. The Best Buy site didn’t even list them anymore. I saw that another e-store had them in stock for $143 so I placed my order. About three days later I got an email stating that they were also out of stock and they had no idea when they would be getting any more in.

I looked on Microsoft’s Web site and finally found a page that said the offer had ended. Ended? I didn’t realize it was a special offer. I thought Microsoft had finally come to its senses and started offering what Apple does with its operating system: A multi-user license at a discount price. I should have known better I guess.

Even on eBay, the cheapest I could find the family pack was about $225 and I was not going to spend that much. I wanted Windows 7, but if it meant settling for just a copy for my desktop, that’s the way it would have to be. So I found a new one on eBay for $84 and I ordered it.

A few days later it came in the mail. I installed it that evening. It took more than two hours for it to install. But first I had to uninstall several game programs from my HP games collection. They were interfering with the install. I didn’t mind; I don’t play games on the computer anyway.

After it installed, it wanted me to configure some options, which was difficult because my wireless mouse didn’t work. The wireless keyboard worked fine, but not the mouse. I rebooted after the options were finally entered and the mouse still didn’t work for a second or two, then it started. I was relieved.

But Windows 7 so far hasn’t been the panacea I had hoped for. I was having problems with Vista. I use the Media Share feature so I can listen to music on my AT&T U-verse television in my bedroom and I also use it to look at photos from my computer on the widescreen TV. But the photo function always caused an error message on the TV and the music would stop every so often to buffer itself.

But at least it was working somewhat. I spent two days on the phone with Microsoft technical support a few months ago. I couldn’t get it to work at all. The technician finally uploaded a patch to my registry that worked, but according to Windows Media Player 11, there was still an error somewhere.

I thought Windows 7 might fix it. But, even though I no longer get error messages when viewing photos, the pictures show up very tiny on the TV screen. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. And the music still has to pause to buffer, so that wasn’t fixed at all.

I will have to get used to the new taskbar layout. I guess it is ok. I did have to take the time to re-pin all my favorite programs to the start menu. And Windows Media Player isn’t exactly intuitive when you have to configure it to do anything other than play a music file, but the old version wasn’t any better.

The main problem with Windows, any Windows, is that it has not reached the level of user friendliness that makes it workable for everybody. I have been using computers at home for more than 30 years. I started with the TRS-80. So I know a little about computers and software. If I were computer illiterate or a novice, I might never have been able to configure Media Share to work on Windows 7 at all. My U-verse unit wouldn’t recognize the computer as being online until I decided to eliminate my connection to a Home Group, which I didn’t need anyway because it apparently allows easier media connections among all your computers that use Windows 7. And since I was too late to buy a family pack, only one of my computers got the upgrade.

Windows 7 might be better than Vista. I’ll find out soon enough. But Microsoft still seems to be a long way from a truly “plug-n-play” operating system. It would be nice if they could figure out how to build an operating system that could automatically recognize any problem and fix it without any user intervention. You could plug in any device and it would automatically find the right driver, and if none existed, it would somehow work anyway using some currently-mythological universal driver that could make anything run even if not optimally. The best operating system is one that you could talk to in regular English and it would understand what you wanted it to do. But, alas, that kind of operating system is probably decades away.

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