Computing was supposed to make life easier

Sometime Tuesday, my laptop crashed. I don’t know exactly what happened, except when I woke up, the machine had powered itself off and would not get past its POST. I power-cycled the machine several times, expecting different results. No, I’m not crazy; computing is just that nondeterministic.

I undocked the laptop and tried again. This time, it had made it past the BIOS select screen. (See!) Anticipating the usual 5 minute boot cycle, I went to get breakfast.

Something horribly wrong happened when Windows 2000 tried to bootstrap itself: “a missing file.” The error message wasn’t going elaborate, but it did suggest booting from the system disk and using the “recover” option. Yurp. I took my computer to work where I could tend to it and still be productive on my other machine.

The “recovery” option is a waste of time if the operating system is horked because it depends on a floppy disk-based system backup. You know, those little square things that hold “up to 1.44Mb?” Yeah, I’m sure I have one somewhere among my pile of cassette tapes, 1/4″ cartridges and 9-track reel tape. I had to reinstall the OS.

Installation was designed for the the least common demominator of circa 1999 PC. My first task was to jack the video resolution to something beyond 640×480, but I needed a special driver. On my work machine, I downloaded two of the meaty service packs (SP4, Internet Explorer 6), the video driver, and the wireless LAN software onto CD to get started. Each requires a reboot. Thank God I had something better to do while this was happening.

When the machine connected to Windows Update, there were 28 critical fixes, 7 recommended fixes (including the stupid “Journal Viewer”), and six driver updates. Super. That’s just the operating system..

Installing my set of applications, their patches/service packs/drivers/add-ons, freeware, and shareware took a couple of nights. During that time, I’ve run the various spyware, anti-virus, and disk utilities trying to diagnose the original problem. Everything looks chirpy.

Now for the obvious questions:

  • Didn’t you have a backup? — Yes. Although backup these days is a complicated concept. The registry backup was about a month old, but was on a separate hard disk partition, safely inaccessible from the “recovery” CD. I had actually forgotten about that until the OS was mostly reinstalled, but am not confident it would have helped me much. I had backups of my email and original application CDs. The license keys for everything was the tricky part — I had to go back to three of the shareware vendors.
  • Why didn’t I install Linux? — I had given it some thought. When I tried Red Hat a year ago, support for my wireless card wasn’t there. Earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have hesitated to recompile the kernal to get something working, but I haven’t kept up with it and frankly, I don’t want to. Which reminds me:

    If there are any awstats hackers that want a smallish project to help track link spammers, I’m interested in two small modules and am willing to toss in $50 each for them.

    Linux is an option for next time, especially since is supposed to be very stable now and Firefox rocks.

    A second reason is I still have a lot of data I need to move, and Linux support for NTFS is lacking. That will be taken care of next.

  • What about Windows XP? — Several reasons. It’s true that Windows 2000 hits its first end-of-life milestone in June 2005. I didn’t want to spring for a new license only to have to re-buy it again if I get another laptop. (Its price is built in.) I’d love to have one of those swanky 17″ Mac PowerBooks, but shelling out another $1,000 for the hardware and re-buying all my applications is a steep price for industrial beauty.
    Except for this experience, Windows 2000 has been very stable and securable. I don’t have that level of confidence with Windows XP.
  • Why not give up computing and become a garlic farmer in British Columbia? Don’t tempt me. Computing was supposed to make life easier.
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