Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A brief story

So because of our recent move, Vicki and I have had to buy a new router and re-arrange the connections between our computers. Where her computer was once wired to the router directly, my computer used a USB wireless adapter to connect to our network. That's basically switched now, so I had to install the USB adapter's drivers on her computer -- because Windows or the adapter manufacturer, for some reason, have totally missed the whole "plug and play" thing that USB accessories are normally so good at.

This led me to three separate attempts to install the driver properly on Vicki's desktop, which had a three-or-four year old install of XP on it. None of these worked. I suggested that we finally reformat her HD and reinstall Windows XP, something that we'd been meaning to do for months now. Except that the registered, original XP install disks I have no longer work properly, so we end up with a partial install of XP that refuses to authorize. How do we authorize? By getting the desktop to talk to the Internet -- something it refuses to do wired or wirelessly.

So, because I didn't want Vicki to have to endure any more time with a Microsoft-induced boat anchor than necessary, I installed Ubuntu 9.10 (which I've been using on my laptop) as a stopgap measure. In contrast to XP's procedure of 1) Pray it works 2) Swear a lot when it doesn't, the procedure with Karmic Koala was, well, what it should be with an OS install in 2009:

1) Select "install". Answer a few questions, none more advanced than selecting one of three partition options.

2) OS installs.

3) Plug in wireless adapter.

4) Mirabile dictu, the wireless adapter works from the moment you plug it in, find the network correctly, and prompts for the password. [This strengthens my belief that the problem was on the MS end, not the USB manufacturer end.]

Now, this is unfair to Windows XP because I'm comparing a 2009 OS to a 2001 one. Fine, but Microsoft has always had the resources to make an OS that works well. I take the fact that most people who've used it tell me that Windows 7 is actually quite good an indication that Microsoft is actually taking the threat of users abandoning them seriously as Apple becomes more of a threat, not that MS has suddenly achieved what was impossible before.

Sadly, I can't convince Vicki to go without XP for too long -- too many MS-specific apps that she needs -- but it will be enough for now.

And generally, I can say that I've now used Ubuntu for the last two years almost continuously, including some pretty heavy use to finish my Masters, and found there was little that I couldn't do on it except of course play Windows games. And the one moment of total digital failure -- when my desktop ate all the data on my USB drive, including two months of interview tapes -- was the result of XP, not Ubuntu.

There are still kinks to it -- it doesn't talk well with my big-screen TV -- so that's really the only reason any of my computers have XP on them still. That and my desire to keep killing Nazis/Soviets/Insert bad guy here.


Catelli said...

The one thing that XP has an issue with on USB is remembering all devices you've ever plugged into that computer.

Same thing for wireless networks incidentally...

For USB related issues, do the following (order is important):

Uninstall any drivers you have installed for the device experiencing issues.

Unplug device you are having trouble with.

Run a CMD prompt (Start, Run, CMD or select from the start menu)

Type in the following string:
set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 (ENTER)

Type in devmgmt.msc (ENTER)

Windows device manger will load, but now it can show you devices that USED to be installed on your computer. To view these, click view, show hidden devices from the menu.

Devices that no longer exist are greyed out (as a rule) Check under Disk drives, Other Devices (may or may not exist), Storage volumes, and Universal Serial Bus Controllers

Right click greyed out devices and uninstall them (make sure you know how many storage devices you have connected and what they are, and don't uninstall them)

Reboot, and reinstall the device according to manufacturer recommendations (either install driver, then plug in device, or plug in device reinstall driver. That order is important to.) About 75% of the time, this fixes issues for me. Another 10% of the time I'm going through the registry and deleting keys for devices and/or software that didn't uninstall using the above method. The last 15% of the time I'm reinstalling XP.

To be fair, this happens to me with Linux too. With USB and/or wireless XP and previous Linux versions could be extremely finicky.

john said...

I think you'll understand if my response is something along the lines of, "God didn't mean for us to live this way!"

I had problems with older versions of Ubuntu (in my experience, the most user-friendly of the Linux distros) but the latest two versions (9.04 and 9.10) have been really phenomenal.

john said...

Oh, and of course thank you for the advice. Next time...

Catelli said...

Oh I hear you. But things may be a changin'!

I just went through two Windows Vista to Windows 7 in place upgrades that went smooth as silk. Damn near 0 issues.

Did the same thing this week with Ubuntu. 0 issues.

Two new OS releases doing in place upgrades without issues? That's unheard of!

Catelli said...

Oh and feel free to pop a question my way if you experience issues with Windows again. Depending on availability I may be able to help you and avoid that dreaded reinstall.

Sometimes I can work a miracle.

Othertimes? well no promises ;)