Like a well-oiled machine…

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Updated 08/27/2011: This post was originally published on February 20, 2007. It was lost in a migration from another blog but recently recovered from a backup.

I like to poke fun at Microsoft Windows. I’ve been working with it for a long time and I’m well versed in the variety of problems, both software and hardware based, that the “average user” will encounter.

For me, Windows is like the friend who keeps asking “Why me?” when relationships go bad and then immediately gets involved with someone for very shallow reasons and then regrets it all over again. No matter what you do, the friend just won’t take the advice this friend is always asking for and after a while you just stop paying attention.

Microsoft is like that friend in the way that it implements things you aren’t expecting, insists such new things are the best concepts ever realized, and then suddenly removes them just when you’re getting used to them.

Microsoft Windows isn’t really a very bad operating system. In fact, for many years there weren’t very many attractive alternatives for consumers, but in these days of OS X and a variety of Linux and Unix distributions it’s easy to forget. The fact that we can complain about an operating system because we know there are alternatives waiting on store shelves is a powerful indication of just how much computer technology has advanced in a relatively short time.

Spyware is a pain. Any form of malware can give a computer technician a headache. But it’s not my major concern. Why? Because if you take care of your computer you’ll find that you experience very few problems. I’ve known many individuals of the years who complained incessantly about this operating system or that operating system but in the end their major source of frustration was not caused directly by the OS itself, but instead by the hardware they were attempting to use it with.

In the past few years the majority of significant problems I have experienced with Microsoft Windows were caused by hardware failures and not the software. There have been a few software updates that went bad (usually a hardware driver), but all-in-all most of my personal computer problems were caused by a failing hard drive (Windows could use improvement in the way it monitors hardware and reports failures).

You can keep a Microsoft Windows computer operating in good condition by following a handful of simple steps:

(1) Keep your operating system up-to-date by installing the latest updates. The same can be said for many software programs. Enable “Automatic Updates” if you think you’ll forget to install them. Windows system updates are more often issued as security updates rather than updates that add new features.

(2) Install a reliable, commercial anti-virus program and keep it updated. Most programs will automatically update the anti-virus/malware definition files.

(3) Be very picky about the software that you download and install. Read the “End User License Agreement” (EULA) before accepting and look for keywords such as “Third-Party Software” or any wording that may indicate additional software was bundled with the program you are intending to install. In my experience, the majority of spyware/adware programs that get installed on a users computer arrived with another program. Learn which Web sites are best to download software from.

(4) Be careful what you surf for… The classic joke is that you were probably looking at porn, but there are many different Web sites that will attempt to trick you into installing software. These may include Web game sites, free software sites, and often sites that force an annoying number of pop-up windows. If you’re uncertain, leave. If you are searching for something and you think you’ve found a Web page with the information you’re looking for but instead of any content you only see numerous links that are related to your keywords, jump ship. These pages are often nothing more than a way for people to make money by building pages that are generated automatically with advertising but no real content. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the first five seconds it may not be there anyway.

(5) This item could go higher in the list but it takes a little more knowledge to do properly. Turn on your firewall. Install a reliable, commercial firewall program if you’re not comfortable with using the built-in firewall available with Windows XP. Sure, it will add some extra steps to make Internet enabled programs work, but it will increase the security of your computer. If you have a broadband connection go purchase a residential router even if you only have one computer. It will add another layer of protection between yourself and the Internet.

(6) If you use a wireless router at home, lock it down. Pull out the manual and enable the highest level of encryption that your wireless router and computer(s) support. Capturing data over an unencrypted wireless network is easy. Capturing data over an encrypted network is more difficult. It’s not impossible, but would require more technical knowledge and thus reduce the chance of someone capturing your private data.

(7) Don’t be cheap. I learned the hard way that it’s often better to pay a little bit more, or even a lot more, for name-brand equipment. Cheap computer components can cost more in repairs or at the least may lead to many hours of frustration. There are several components I don’t mind buying cheap, but motherboards, processors, RAM and storage devices are not items I would skimp on to save some cash. Sometimes cheap really is cheap.

MacBook

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I’ve spent some time using a new MacBook and I’ve learned some interesting things:

With some scripting the iSight does a good job of taking snapshots when an invalid login attempt occurs.

When booting into Windows XP using BootCamp you must place two fingers on the trackpad at the same time and click the trackpad button to execute the equivalent of a “right-click”.

The two USB ports are too close together to plug in the dongle for a wireless USB mouse and a standard-sized USB memory stick.

When switching between Windows XP and OS X you’ll notice clock sync issues. Set both operating systems to automatically synchronize the system clock with a time server on the Internet. The only other fix I’ve found is to add a registry entry to Windows XP, but I have not done that since it may cause problems.

Apple vs. Microsoft

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I’ve been working on Apple computers for several years. My first significant experience of working on a Mac occurred during my introduction to graphic design at a junior college. At the time it wasn’t a requirement of the class; I used it to work on some side projects. Later, after my first semester at a university I began using a Mac several times a week.

My technical knowledge of Macs (specifically, with OS X) increased dramatically when I began using one in a previous job. A couple of years later I was given one as a graduation present and recently I was given a newer system to use at work. Over the past two years my interest in operating a Windows computer at home has lessened to the point that now I do not own one. I may end up with one at home in the future, but I’m not planning to now.

I have a few friends and coworkers who are familiar with Macs, but most have had limited contact with modern Macs or are more familiar with what were traditional Intel-based operating systems (such as Windows and Linux – now this includes OS X). Some seem puzzled as to why I like my Mac as much as I do.

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