Windows Updates gripe

Rant mode = ON.

So ZDNet has a post saying we should not disable automatic updates.

At least they admit that vendors make it problematic.

Here’s what I’m talking about: last week I had to write a check to a plumber and print it on my computer, since that is how I handle that.

What would I have done, if at that moment, Windows 10 had decided it needed a half hour or so to do updates, like it or not? It wouldn’t be the first time that I booted up and found the system was going to stall me while it did something like that. Just a few days later, it did exactly that – fortunately, I wasn’t in a rush then. But still…

The post says “Ideally – and I know I’m asking a lot here – patches shouldn’t require a reboot, or reboots should only be done when absolutely necessary. And ideally, if a reboot is required the operating system should return to the state it was prior to the reboot, complete with whatever apps and documents that were open.” That’s far too weak a requirement!

THAT’S what bugs me right now — I have no control over this when it requires a reboot. That’s obstructive as well as irritating.

Now, I am pretty good about getting updates. And the ones which don’t require a reboot install themselves. But this business of forcing a delay while working up to it is a pain in the fundament!

Until Microsoft and other vendors can find a way to avoid that, they are going to have people looking for ways to disable updates in order to avoid the interruption.

Mind you, I am okay with shutting down and THEN having the computer delay while it works on updating; I can walk away and let it do that and then shut down.

But this tactic of forcing you to wait during bootup is not just a pain, it can actually delay critical work. What if I’m trying to write a check for a service person standing there? (“Just wait a fifteen minutes for the update to complete, and I can charge you another $89 labor on top of the existing bill.”) What if I’m trying to lock the library doors with an app since it’s a snow day, or some other emergency, and the doors will pop open before the update is finished tying up my computer? Come up with your own rush matters, and it’s easy to see how this system is not functional.

Updates will be more popular when they become less obstructive.

Rant mode = OFF.


DVD-R formats and how we can play them

We have faculty who, quite reasonably, don’t see why they cannot play DVDs in the DVD drives of their computers.  Easy to explain, not easy for logical people to understand: they have the hardware but they don’t have the software for it.

Oh, sure, we have Windows Media Player included in Windows….

However, Windows Media Player (WMP) does not come with a decoder, so it cannot play DVDs.  Microsoft will tell you this.  They link to vendors who will sell you a decoder program, of course.

Some of the freeware I’ve used in the past require you to dig into the DVD and select a specific file to play.  That may or may not start where you want, and it’s not what most users want.  Or, you can go find a codec for free that will enable WMP to handle DVDs, and use a little program to tell WMP where you put the codec file.  All techy-type stuff most people don’t want to mess with, and who can blame them?

So, I went searching again, since we’re getting a lot of DVD-R format discs from DVD vendors (example: Films for the Humanities), and I wanted something simple for faculty to use, and for our IT staff to install quickly.  And frankly, I’m a little nervous about things like iTunes and Quicktime as malware attack vectors.

I found one called MPlayer which sends you to SourceForge to download it with a GUI front end called SMPlayer, which only requires you to specify the DVD drive to use — and it has a button to let it go test for the proper drive itself.

So far, it’s the simplest freeware answer (I don’t do payware answers because I’m not paid to buy software — and that is not a solicitation).

Any other extremely simple (as in “for people who don’t understand computers”) software that is suggested, I am open to take a look.

Tipping My Fedora, part 2

[last updated 2009.6.7]

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the biggest obstacles in this Linux endeavor is the fact that I’m doing it over and over, trying to describe the steps each time, and each time I lead up to a Fedora that no longer will load, I have to start over and create a whole new virtual machine.  But some files may be updated, and therefore it may behave differently the next time.

Maybe that explains (in part) why, when I try to get advice from forums, the posts there always seem to skip steps.  After you go through something often enough, it’s certainly easy to leave out steps you’ve gone through before without remembering that others haven’t gone through them yet.

I’ll try to avoid skipping steps here.  I hope.  But I will skip a LOT of attempts to get things to work.

BTW: my work system is a Dell Optiplex 745 running Windows XP Pro on 2GB of RAM.  My personal laptop is Windows Vista 64-bit on 4GB of RAM.

In our last thrilling episode, I created a virtual machine in VirtualBox with Fedora 10.  The next step is to be able to control the resolution in Fedora 10 inside VirtualBox.  Better yet, to optimize Fedora to run in VirtualBox.

VBoxAdditions … eventually

Based on experience in several attempts at this, I went to the Applications dropdown menu, selected System Tools, and right-clicked on Terminal.  I chose to send a link for this to the desktop.  Believe me, you’re going to need to use Terminal a lot, and this is more convenient than digging down through the menus to load it each time.

The screen was still limited to 800×600 maximum.  Needed to find a fix for that.  Should be simple, right?  NOT.  There are a lot of people making suggestions in the VirtualBox forum.  None of them worked for me, and some of them locked up the Fedora so it wouldn’t boot up.  I had to delete it and reinstall it.  Several rounds of this ensued.

Loading packages into Fedora

I will consolidate and condense the advice that actually did work for me here:

  1. Load Terminal
  2. type su – (this will turn you into the root user, and the hyphen puts you in the root directory)
  3. type yum install binutils gcc make patch libgomp glibc-headers glibc-devel kernel-headers kernel-devel (this runs installations on a number of packages)

I got a Fedora popup about updates right after this. I approved it to install all updates.  There were a number of them, so I let it go a while and watched the little blinker dot on the VirtualBox hard drive icon flickering at me, sometimes orange, sometimes green, which probably means something for each color.

During this, there is a little open box with a green down arrow at the top next to the double-terminal icon for network activity, which indicates that downloading is going on, at least.  Then the box finally changes to a page in front of the open box, while it tests the changes.  Then comes a plus sign alternating with circular arrows while it does the actual installing.  Certainly resembles Windows in that it takes a while to do updates.  Go eat lunch.  A big lunch.  With dessert.  And gas up your vehicle while you’re at it.  Maybe change the oil, too.

While I waited for all that, I used the System > Preferences > Look and Feel > Screensaver to set it to 30 minutes and not lock me out.  10 minutes default isn’t much time, especially while you’re waiting for updates.

I also tried something from the book, which is to right-click on the top toolbar, and select Add to panel.  I picked a Drawer to add, and then right-clicked on the narrow little thing’s properties so I could widen it out some.  I put on some widgets: a system load indicator (now I had that CPU activity meter!), sticky notes, and a shutdown button.  I added a weather widget to the bar itself.  Now I could open a drawer and use the widgets in there.  Just a slightly different way to get handy widgets out there.

Finally I get a completed message for the updates and the open box disappears.

Now I open the terminal again and — glutton for punishment that I am — I became root again and typed yum update just be sure.  I got “another app is currently holding the yum lock” and after repeating that multiple times, it finally got to check.  Everything is updated.

Installing the VBOXADDITIONS

Now the best advice I found says “By then it’s time for another run at that install script: [root@fedoravm VBOXADDITIONS_2.2.0_45846]# sh – which should run smoothly now, install all the guest additions” — only what does that mean?   (Aside from the minor difference in VirtualBox versions, that is.)

It looks like root (judging by the root prompt of #) is inside the directory.  This is the kind of thing that makes Linux harder than it has to be — the advice skipped steps here.

Okay, right-click on the desktop icon for VBOXADDITIONS and look inside it with “browse folder”.  Aha!  There’s the file.  Now I need to get to it inside the Terminal function as root.

Used the “up” green arrow in the browse function until I got up to a batch of folders, starting with “bin” and going on.  Okay, this is main directory stuff in Linux.  There’s the “Media” directory and the file is in that.

Now that I know that, I can use Terminal and become root with privileges to run it.

  1. Okay, log into Terminal.
  2. Type su without the hyphen, to become root without being in the root directory — I won’t stay there anyway.
  3. Type cd / to get to the main directory.  (Well, it used to work in DOS to change directories.  Seems to work here also.)
  4. Type dir to see the subdirectories folders.  (Another old DOS command.)
  5. There’s the “media” folder.  Type cd media to get into that folder.
  6. Type dir and there’s the folder contents.
  7. Type cd VBOXADDITIONS_2.2.4_47978 to get into that folder.
  8. Type dir and there it is, listed with the other files.
  9. Type sh
  10. it runs!

And now it wants to restart.  Whew!  I do a full shutdown.  Restarts are not a safe bet.

Please note that you were not party to a LOT of attempts to get something else to work, before I found this advice.  And even then, it did not tell me how to get to the file in order to run it as root.

Success So Far

This time when I boot, I get a message that the guest OS supports mouse pointer integration and it doesn’t need to capture the mouse anymore, just use it over the Fedora panel.  Oh, joy!  Big improvement there, believe me, not having to swap back and forth.

Oh, and the time is correct in the top toolbar.  That bodes well.

And CTRL-F lets the Fedora FINALLY go to full screen mode, and toggle back and forth (you can’t switch to Windows while in full screen).  All the functions under Machine dropdown menu in VirtualBox now appear to be working.

Looks nice, and windows for stuff like Firefox finally allow the full width of the screen.

And it only took me… was it 10 or 11 attempts? — to get Fedora 10 to run properly in VirtualBox 2.2.4.  I hope it gets easier from here.

I took my notes home and tried it on my Vista 64-bit laptop system.  It worked there, too.  Due to the wide screen, I had to adjust the Firefox window a bit, but it worked properly.

So, it seems I can actually run a virtual machine for Fedora 10 inside VirtualBox on my XP Pro and Vista 64-bit systems.  At least, the basics seem to work.

Venturing into Vista 1: What to buy?

Disclaimer: what I write here is NOT in any way intended to endorse, advertise, promote, or put down any commercial or other product. Anything which might be construed as critical may be based on situations and circumstances which do not apply to anything or anyone else, so please don’t feel maligned or assume I’m looking for a fight. Opinions are mine alone and may be under/mis-informed, just like everyone else’s opinions, which is why I’m writing this on my blog and not the Computer Helpers blog.

This series is the result of a search for a Vista-based laptop in April and May of 2008. All this information is subject to being outdated, limited, or highly debatable.



Some people have children in order to buy toys. I feel it’s cheaper and more dignified to cut out the middleman and buy toys for myself.” — bumper sticker

So, I decided I needed to buy a laptop. Why? (Always make the decision that gets you the new toy first, then figure out your justifications. That’s the American way, after all…)

1. I needed to become familiar with Windows Vista, warts and all, so I could have some understanding of what was going on and how I might be able to help others with it. A lot of our students were buying new PCs for college, and had no idea how to deal with them. I was the one who got a lot of referrals in the library, and I was stumped far more often lately due to Vista.

2. I wanted a portable computer, because I wanted to be able to move to different parts of my home and do some recording from my stereo in another room, or do inventory in my library room (hey, I’m a librarian — of course I have a library room at home!).

3. I wanted a portable computer, because there are times when I would like to do demonstrations elsewhere and putting my software on the Library’s laptops or those available from the campus may or may not work out (based on previous experience). It would also be interesting to see what I needed to do to be able to do something like that, if it’s possible at all.

4. I was starting to run into more and more limits, even after upgrading the memory, on my old XP desktop, and the hard drive was filling up rapidly now that I was getting buying music or ripping it from my CDs.

5. I could learn about setting up a home network by using the old desktop and the new laptop, and share that experience. Also, I could learn how to switch between my home network and the campus network, and any tips for doing that.

All those good reasons, and I get a new toy. What more could a guy want?

Wellllll….. there’s the matter of enough money to buy it, and that’s a factor that many students and faculty have to deal with, too.

So, this is how I went about it, and what happened. And if it goes well or badly, I’ll put it down here.


First, I checked for the requirements for our library automation software and the client software. If there’s something you have to use for anything, be sure you can get it to run on the computer you buy.

In my case, Innovative Interfaces Inc. has a listing for the latest release:

  • An Intel Pentium 4, Pentium D, Xeon, Core or similar processor running at 3 Ghz or faster (2 Ghz or faster for the Core 2 Duo), or an equivalent processor such as the AMD Athlon 64, Opteron 64, or Turion processors with comparable performance. (They said that it would work on slower processors but not as fast. I’m running it at work on a Core 2 desktop at 1.86 MHz without difficulty.)
  • At least 1 GB of RAM (they said if you run anything more at the same time, you’re going to need more RAM memory. With Vista, my reading had already established that anything less than 2 GB of RAM was useless for Vista Home Premium version and up.)
  • At least 500 MB of free disk space (I wanted better than 200 GB, at least)
  • Sound card for audible system warnings and notices
  • A mouse or other pointing device (in this case, a touchpad as laptops usually have)
  • 800 x 600 resolution or better (I wanted much better)
  • A browser (specifically “a modern browser capable of supporting current Web standards” meaning IE 7 and Firefox 2 — which I already was using — or better would be fine)
  • III’s client software

They stated that these “workstation requirements listed are neither “optimum” nor “minimum” requirements. These requirements are realistic recommendations intended to guide a typical library in workstation selection.” They have other requirements if you have a Mac, or run Linux, or whatever, of course.

The operating systems included Windows® NT 4.0 (service pack 6a or later), Windows® 2000 (service pack 2 or later), Windows® ME, Windows® XP, or Windows® Vista (Business or Home). (They did not, however, specify Vista 32 or 64 bit, which came up later.)

So, any really decent laptop that ran Vista well should suffice. What else did I need to look at?

Oh, sure — I considered the possibility of buying a Mac (very seriously considered, in fact) and having a dual boot of Vista and the Mac operating software. Then I looked at what it would cost just for the laptop, and that was that. Nice operating system, expensive hardware. Some people have hacked desktop PCs so Mac software would run, but I didn’t want to get into trying to make a laptop do that.

Plus, while I do not consider myself a Windows “loyalist”, Macs aren’t perfect either. And Linux versions are still limited in what can be run on them for my personal purposes, and required more setup to get the full benefits, from everything I’d seen. I’d like the option to also boot a Linux “distro” to try it out, but not as a primary operating system at this point.

Price: I started out thinking under $1,000, but ended up thinking under $1,500 for the graphics and hard drive size I wanted, along with other wants. I still had to add the service plan costs to that, plus a good wireless router. Oh, yeah — I’ll have to research routers for this project, too.


Did I want lightest weight, or go for big screen? The way I expected to use it, a big screen would be better. I wear full-lense glasses for use with computer screens (which saves me from that notorious crook-neck you get from trying to use bifocals with a computer). Okay, look for 17″ screens.

That narrowed the field quite a bit right there. Yes, I could have gone larger, but I wanted to be able to carry it myself…. so under 10 pounds would be a good idea (17″ laptops seemed to run 9 plus pounds), especially inside a carry-on case with other stuff, running through the airport to make a connecting flight (based on experience, of course) and then (I hoped) fitting under an airliner seat in a suitcase (a little commuter jet).

A higher resolution would be nice, but not that vital for me. I’m not trying to cram a detailed wide-angle view of a photo editing session or a game battlefield on the screen all that often, so I could go with a lower number here compared to what artists or gamers want. I’m using 1024×768 normally on a 19″ desktop monitor, and that is about as high as I usually want it. Higher than that, and I might even reduce the resolution if I needed to.

Brightness is a factor, especially in varying light conditions. Having some fancy name for it, however, didn’t really tell me much. Most of them seem to be “Brightview” or “Ultrabright” or “Eye-blinding” or something. Most reviewers just checked to see how it looked in direct sunlight, or something like that. I tended to pull the screen out into the bright store lights to check for things like glare, since most stores frown on you hauling their display items out into the parking lot.

Yes, a larger screen does use up battery power faster. But after spending a conference trying not to trip over the extension cords of laptop users sitting on the ends of rows by the wall, so they could plug in…. it didn’t seem to be as big a factor. Get a big battery, and/or get a spare battery and charge it. Plus, there are ways to reduce the power use somewhat even with the screen.

Oh, yeah — be sure you can get a spare battery for it, too. The battery is absolutely guaranteed to die, even if the rest of the gear holds up, so be able to replace it. Laptop battery life can be measured in time span, whether you use it on battery power much or not, so once it gets old enough, it won’t hold a charge even if you didn’t depend on it much.


RAM? Random Access Memory, nowadays expressed mostly as “SDRAM” for the latest type commonly available, is part of the intelligence of the computer. As I explained to an elderly lady who asked the difference, “I GB of RAM is just barely thinking, and 2 GB of RAM is twice as smart”. (Hey, I do analogies people can understand, if they are not interested in high-tech explanations.) Usually comes on a “card” or pair of cards, and preferably should be balanced on each card if you have it on two cards (2 GB on one, 2 GB on the other, say).

So, Vista Basic (which is described by many people as “no better than XP” can run on 1 GB, but to run Vista as recommended, with all bells and whistles, you need at least 2 GB. An extra GB could help, especially when running several programs at once (which I sometimes tend to do). Then there’s the 32 bit/64bit difference…. Anyway, I would probably prefer at least 3 GB, even if the cards aren’t balanced. If I get the 64 bit Vista — which can handle 4 GB — I might as well go for the 4 GB.

Hard drive storage

Hard drive? In the future, you’ll start getting a choice between a spinning hard drive and a solid state (which would be less vulnerable, especially in a laptop), but not yet in my price range. So, two considerations right now: capacity and speed.

Most of the newer PCs are Serial ATA drives, a.k.a. “SATA” drives. They start at a speed of about 5400 rpm and go up to about 7200 rpm, for regular purchases.  I figured I could stand a slower drive if I exchanged it for capacity — more room. I wanted at least 200 GB of storage space, and more if I could get it. A lot of laptops may be fast and have great components otherwise, but have only 160 GB. A few combine a couple of 160 GB drives for a total of 320 GB, which would be fine. Or, if there was space (which may or may not be the case in a laptop), perhaps I could add a second drive. Or just replace the drive entirely. Be able to do that kind of replacement easily — that’s a good qualification, if you can find it.

Can you run something from it, say a video or movie you copied to it? If so, that’s probably fast enough for me.

Graphics, graphics, who’s got the best graphics?

The graphics card turned out to be a big deal, and a major turning point. I had to read up on those from a number of sources to get the latest information. I got a lot of different opinions.

I finally decided that getting a card that did a half-way decent job of running games (according to some reasonably well-researched sources) was important, and it was probably the best way to judge graphics. Well, at least one way… at least it let somebody else do all the testing for me, so I could read their reviews.

One tendency now is for PC manufacturers to combine the graphics card with the rest of the system by sharing memory, and maybe even combine it with the rest of the system. Lighter weight, lower price — and it tended, from the reports I saw, to slow down the graphics. A lot, in fact, by comparison with the better cards that were dedicated solely to graphics with their own graphics memory.

Okay, so a separate company making the graphics card would result in better performance. I did a lot of comparisons, and staying away from the ultra-high-end cards that true fanatics drooled over, I narrowed it down. And, I went to the stores and checked out the PCs that used each kind, when possible.

Example: NVIDIA has a group of cards called “GeForce” and then a number, and then a letter code, such as NVIDIA GeForce Go 8800M GTS. Generally speaking, a higher number = better card on this brand. Now, in the store, just for an example, I compared a laptop with an 8600 card and one with an 8800 card, one right after the other. The 8600 had a slight perceptable delay in responding to the touchpad, while the 8800 moved immediately. Of course, experts will say there’s a lot of other factors involved, but I wasn’t going to use these cards in isolation, or try them out in different computers — I wanted a setup where everything together did what I wanted, as fast as I needed (within my price limits, of course!).

Laptops often had that hesitation (at least in my price range!), and I suspected that it would start to bother me in time.

I Googled a lot of graphics card names, and read evaluations of them, and I learned one thing: gamers always think there’s a faster card out there than whatever you’re asking about. I wasn’t trying to meet their high standards, however — just use them as a way to find a card they could barely tolerate (at least) for the latest graphics-heavy games, which should mean I would probably do great with it. Anything I would use, even if I played a few games or did some Google SketchUp design with this laptop, would be much less rigorous (any games I get tend to come from the bargain bin, so they’re not that demanding!). Even on the 8800 card, though, I found two different versions, one of which was not as good as the other (according to the gaming fanatics). Making a choice here would be difficult.

It helped if the card had its own memory on it, rather than borrowing too much — or all, which would be worse — from the system.

I did, however, want it to handle DVDs and movie downloads well, and watched for that. It seemed that was an easier standard to meet for most cards, so it wasn’t as much of a problem.


I wanted a DVD read and write drive, too. It had to handle DVDs and CDs, and I preferred to have it use DVD-R format, since I already had a DVD-R recorder and I wouldn’t need different discs. These days, rather than have multiple CDs, more PCs have DVD-something drives anyway. I wasn’t into editing, but if I got into it, that would be useful. If it printed a label directly on the disc, that would be nice, but it wasn’t vital — you have to buy special discs for that to work.  Best would be DVD plus-and-minus R and RW, as well as CD-R and CD-RW designations.  Of course, the CD capability is almost assumed now, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check.

There are still some laptops around with the HD DVD format… and how long you’ll be able to buy DVDs for that is not worth guessing, IMHO. Blu-Ray? Prices on that pushed the total well above what I could spend, plus — I don’t even have Blu-Ray on my television yet. Wait for prices to come down, and stick with the more standard original DVD format. After all, HDTV doesn’t really impress most people until it is on a large enough screen, which certainly is not on a laptop.


The CPU would most likely be a dual core, preferably one designed for use in a laptop so the power requirements would be low. Dual cores (two CPUs in one, basically) really weren’t being properly used that much at present since the software hadn’t caught up to take advantage of it, but predictions were that more software would have this option or requirement in the future. Something at least 1.83 GHz seemed like a minimum, 2 GHz better, and so on. III’s requirements seemed to prefer 2 GHz but didn’t rule out something slower.

My old XP system, a Hewlett-Packard, was based on an AMD CPU, and I noted that the new SP3 (Service Pack 3) just out for XP was having problems with those. So, I became a little wary of HPs with non-Intel CPUs just because of that. Otherwise, my old AMD-based desktop had done fine by me up to now and was a bit cheaper than the same thing with an Intel CPU chip. I just wouldn’t be in a big hurry to get SP3 for it.

Networking and the router connnection

I would need to buy a wireless router (that also handled wired connections, for my older XP system) in order to make the laptop portable, and to share files with the older computer. (More on that in a later post.)

So, I needed to coordinate the wireless in the laptop (which would be the higher standard) with the capabilities of the router — if the laptop I ended up with didn’t do something, there was no use buying a router that did, since the laptop would be the more demanding computer.

And that led to the wonders of the cryptic “802.11a/b/g/n” code and what I needed my wireless to use.

The standard for networking is set by the IEEE 802.11 code for wireless local area networks (in my case, what I would be connecting to at home or at work). Not leaving well enough alone, the code was revised to allow for an “a” standard, and then a “b” standard, and then a “g” standard.

(Why the gap between “b” and “g”? Why do we never hear about Preparation A through G — only Preparation H is advertised….?) Even that’s not enough, because at this point, a draft version of a new standard designated “n” is available. (And no idea what happened to standards “h” through “m”, either.)

So, if you get the latest and fastest — that would be “n” — you might get a version that wouldn’t quite match the final non-draft version of “n”.

Fortunately, this stuff can be set up to use “g” or “n”, whichever is available.

On the down side, one reason “n” was developed is because “n” can use the radio frequency range of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. “b” and “g” can only use 2.4 GHz, which is the same as a lot of cordless phones, baby monitors, Bluetooth devices, and microwave ovens. “a” could only use 5 GHz, but that didn’t travel as far.

So, use “a” to avoid interference, but “b” or “g” to move further away but risk being scrambled by somebody microwaving lunch or making a phone call. “n” gives the advantages and disadvantages of both frequencies, but it’s faster than any of them — provided that the manufacturers of both the laptop and the router didn’t have different ideas from each other, or the final “n” standard, about how it should work.

(Apparently there’s some reason why they can’t just use another frequency that goes further and isn’t as heavily used, but I didn’t bother with it — I had to accept the choices offered. Maybe the baby monitor makers grab up all the good frequencies before anybody else….)

Draft “n” would give me the fastest connection, if I was willing to risk it. Since I can always change my phone if it argues with the laptop (phones are much cheaper), I don’t have a baby monitor (I’ve never hooked up a monitor to a baby, but I understand finding compatible plugs can be tough if the baby isn’t VGA or RCA-equipped), and I can adjust my use of the microwave to allow for my computing needs, it didn’t seem like an insurmountable problem.

Also, with hard-wired connections, a “Gigabit” router would send data faster, although I doubted that was going to be a major factor in my network, since my old XP system wasn’t all that fast to begin with. Still, the speed of the data was usually a bigger factor than the speed of the computer.

I would have to come back to this stuff later, once I selected a laptop, in order to pick a router.


Okay, what else?

  • USB ports — as many as possible, but I could multiply them with a separate router hub that plugged into one of them.
  • a output port for a monitor, so I could connect one if I wanted it. It might also let me use a dual monitor setup, which would at least look cool even if I didn’t really have a need for it. There were two basic standards in the past, VGA and the DVI, but the DVI was dying out due to the introduction of the television HDMI connection, so VGA would be okay.
  • HDMI, come to think of it — once I had a digital TV, with an HDMI port, so I could play anything from my computer to my TV, if I wanted to. Either that, or S-Video (not quite as good but more versatile for TVs at this time).
  • A card reader might be nice, but not vital. I have a digital camera that uses xD cards.
  • A modem might be nice, but not that vital except in hotel rooms, these days.
  • A Firewire connection would be optional, but handy. Officially known as IEEE 1394 ports, these were (I read) originally intended for Macs but show up on PCs. Since they’re faster than USB, it’s a good place to connect an external hard drive.  There are two speeds, but the slower one is more likely to be useful at present for connecting.
  • Speaking of hard drives, if the laptop has a SATA hard drive, an eSATA port would be nice as an alternative to Firewire.
  • Webcam? Not such a must. Some of the separate ones have more features. Still, would save buying one.
  • Comfortable keyboard layout. Not all laptops have this. I prefer a split ergonomic keyboard, normally, but I could make do with a decent keyboard alone on the laptop. I wanted to try it out, first, if I could. Some laptops have weird placements on keys to get used to — I have no idea why. The touchpad (which I was used to already) had to be decent, and responsive.


These days, manufacturers put a lot of “free” software on for you. There are two kinds: manufacturer software, to help you use the PC in a manner they hope won’t allow you to mess it up too quickly, and the other kind, often referred to as “bloatware.”

Bloatware is stuff that is usually advertised as “free” but is really “free trial period” stuff. You can actually pay some store’s tech people to remove it (or at least get it off the desktop and out of the menus), or get a program that will remove it.

I’m not impressed by a program that refuses to be uninstalled unless you install it first (and maybe not even then…. ) such as the Symantec Norton products.

(Admitted opinion here: I had a bad experience with Norton way waaayyy back in Windows 3.1, and haven’t heard too much in favor of them since then. They are often reported to have a lot of compatibility problems with other programs, seem to frequently conflict with Microsoft’s updates — more than most programs, anyway — right up through Vista, and I tend to avoid Norton software in general. Your mileage may vary, however — if so, I’m happy for you and don’t worry about me.  Norton is often recommended by magazine reviewers.)

And “Adobe Acrobat Reader” is free, so come on, manufactureres, listing that is not a big deal.

Microsoft Works? Librarians here hate Microsoft Works, for the reason that students would show up with stuff in the proprietary and unique Works format and find they couldn’t print it anyplace on campus. “Go home and save it in another format” is not good advice when it’s 5 minutes before the class when the paper is due. We finally managed to get a copy of Works on one PC here in the library so we could convert those, but it caused years of headaches and frustration for students before that.

(Admitted opinion here: Microsoft deliberately, In My Humble Opinion, made the default format in Works incompatible with everything else so they could tell people who complained of that very problem that “you should just buy our (more expensive) Microsoft Office Suite instead, like you use at the office/university, and not have that problem”. No wonder a lot of manufacturers ended up putting the WordPerfect Suite on instead. Another admission: I much prefer WordPerfect over MS Word, like it or not, if they’re going to put a suite on the computer for me.)

I’m thinking I might stay with Jarte and OxygenOffice (the upgraded OpenOffice), however, for small and suite software instead of Microsoft Office.  They’re both free and quite functional for what I usually need, and OxygenOffice can import Office Open XML (Microsoft Office 2007), Works, my old WordPerfect files and  WordPerfect Graphics graphical files too.

And whether they use Microsoft Money or Quicken, they always seem to put on whichever one you don’t use to balance your checkbook.  Maybe I can find something free for that, too.

I was hoping to use mostly freeware and open source software on this, when practical, as a demonstration of how to save money (as if I needed another reason for that!).

And of course, the big software question comes down to Windows Vista, in the next part of this.

So, off I go….