Computer re-build

Right after the new year I decided to do a crazy thing and upgrade my computer from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. I liked Windows 2000 and for a long time the XP upgrade was not very compelling, but two things pushed me over the edge.

First, my computer had “winrot”. I searched the Web for a decent definition of winrot. It wasn’t easy. When you start talking about computer operating systems (especially among bit heads) you enter very stormy seas. The adherents for each system assume a “death to all who oppose us” mentality and it is hard to get any straight answers. So I found that either winrot is the bane of all computerdom or everything is peachy and there is no such thing.

Personally I’ve been using Windows since version 3. I had fiddled with earlier versions, but they couldn’t compete the DOS based multi-tasker (sort of), DESQView, that I was using at the time so I didn’t really “use” them on a daily basis. I remember beta testing Windows NT. I’ve been running Vista on a test machine since it was in beta. I’ve been using some form of Windows day in and day out for a long time.

On the other hand, either by accident or design, I have always worked in an environment with multiple operating systems. Along with Windows I have also been using Novell servers since somewhere around version 1.15 (if memory serves). I’ve also mixed in Macs from time to time and a couple flavors of Unix. I have Linux on one of my machines. Oh yeah, when I started out we spent a lot of time getting those new fangled PCs to work with our IBM mainframe. Heck, in college I was programming on stinking punch cards!

Anyhoo, I use Windows a lot, but I’m not fanatical about it. I believe that winrot exists. I’m not sure if it is directly attributable to some basic design flaw or if it is merely a result of being so popular that the endless variety of hardware and software configurations is overwhelming or maybe it is just the law entropy.

OK back to the winrot definition or at least a description. If you install a fresh copy of Windows on a completely new machine things run pretty well and pretty fast. However, as you add software, as you remove software, as you add and remove hardware, as you cram your disks with files, as you upgrade this and patch that, things slow down. Over time things become unstable. You start getting errors. The Windows registry swells. Re-boots (of which there are many when using Windows) start taking forever. Some applications refuse to run at all.

Eventually you reach a point where you can’t stand it anymore. For me this is about every two years. The only fix for all the winrot woes is to completely wipe your disk clean and re-install from scratch. (Upgrading to the next version of Windows without a re-build just compounds the problems.)

This is not easy. First you have to remember where all the disks are for all those applications you have installed – some are in the attic in a box, some are in a file cabinet drawer, some are AWOL. What about all those online upgrades that don’t even have disks? What about all the registration keys? Where are they now? Will they still work if you completely rebuild your machine? Then you have to decide what files you need to save and where you are going to save them while you hack and burn. After a couple of days rummaging, I had a table next to my desk covered with disks and manuals and little scraps of paper with registration numbers scribbled on them (is that a 6 or a G?) and I had a large chunk of my original hard drive copied over to another hard drive.

Then I had to decide if I was going to re-install Windows 2000 or upgrade. I decided it was too early to trust my everyday computer to Vista so that was right out. As I said, I like Windows 2000, however, the writing is on the wall for that system. Microsoft is talking “end of life” and more and more upgrades are designed to only work on XP or higher (or designed not to work on Windows 2000 or lower depending on how you look at it). Some of the “upgrades” involve imaging tools that I would like to use. So I decided to go with XP.

This post is too long already so I’ll warp it up for now. After a couple of days gathering all the disks and stuff, it took me one full day to get the basics up and running (I have a lot of basics) and about a week to get all my software and hardware back in order. It is easy to forget about that little utility you loaded six months ago that you have come to rely on and then one day you try to use it and it isn’t there so you have to search it out and re-install it. Or you try to connect to a certain machine and you can’t because you forgot to save a copy of a file called LMHOSTS and now you have to re-build it by hand. Sheesh.

Sorry about all the computer stuff. In the next post I will actually tie all this back to photography.



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