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ATPM 16.08
August 2010



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by Mark Tennent,

…001 a Space Odd…

I’m a Mac user. There, I’ve said it, just like they do at AA meetings. I’m a Mac user and quite happy about it—as I kept reminding myself last Thursday and Friday.

The task was straightforward. One Dell Optiplex was sitting unused because the person who used that PC left her employ before revealing the passwords. In the Windows world, this means a new system install—at least, that’s what the Dell site said. Of course, with Mac OS X it would have simply been a matter of starting from an installer DVD and resetting the password, a matter of less than five minutes.

No problem, I thought. I test systems on our Macs, usually installing a new beta OS as a background task while I’m doing the morning’s e-mails and dropping toast crumbs into the keyboard. Admittedly, this is onto a second hard drive, but Windows can’t be that different, can it?

First, I had to find out exactly how to get the Dell into a frame of mind where it would start up from a CD. A quick call to my PC guru sorted that one out. Press F2 as you restart and choose from the various options on screen.

But when the machine started, its F2 menu was displayed in 24-point text on a 17-inch screen. I couldn’t actually read what it said because the sentences were cut off on each side. The last time something like this had happened was back in the 70s when I’d gone to see …001 a Space Odd… at the local flea-pit cinema.

Luckily, the monitor lets you adjust horizontal and vertical positioning. Settings were made in F2 by moving the screen display to the left and right, the hard disk was erased and partitioned, and installation commenced at about 9:15 AM.

For the next two hours, the Dell needed constant attention, either to select from various choices offered during the installation process or because it kept forgetting where parts of the operating system were stored on the CD. This was largely because the CD drive stopped spinning so that when the installer wanted a chunk of code, the drive had gone to sleep. It needed the disk to be ejected and then reinserted to force it to spin up.

By 11:15 AM, the screen said 39 minutes to completion. At 12:45 PM, I’d also installed a copy of Microsoft Office. That, at least, went without a hitch. The problem now was that the screen still showed everything in glorious 24-point, 8-bit colour. As the Dell was not connected to the Net, getting driver software was not going to be easy.

The rest of the day was spent dismantling the monitor to find what type it is, searching the Dell site for the correct monitor driver, and trying to download and install using sneaker net and a memory stick. At one point, I had a huge length of Ethernet cable snaking down the corridor to an adjacent office, connected the Dell to the outside world in an attempt to get online.

Then I made a fatal error and clicked on an option deselecting the default monitor. The screen went blank, and I went home.

Day two. A determined disk partitioning and reinstallation saw the Dell running in two hours. This was from the CD supplied by Dell as the way to get your PC up and running and containing all the correct software. Except it didn’t. This time, I searched for video card drivers instead of monitor software. The PC used Intel built-in video, so why the drivers aren’t on Dell’s disk is a mystery.

Nevertheless, now that the correct video drivers is installed, plus various BIOS updaters and such I’d also found, the PC is working better than ever.

Total time, about 12 hours.

Total time to do the same on a Mac? About 30 minutes.

Says it all, really.

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Reader Comments (1)

Gray · August 2, 2010 - 23:14 EST #1
To be fair, Windows must run on a wide range of hardware from a multiverse of manufacturers, and an endless range of internal and external attachments. Mac has the advantage of hardware control, so an OS installation should be quite straight-forward. That said ...

... you forgot to mention the absolute horror of updates, service packs, and patches that must follow the initial Windows installation. I've recently restored XP Pro to a few (elderly) friends and found the online download and install process can add several hours to the process. And as you mentioned, one cannot simply leave the machine: one must "attend" to click the various menu acknowledgments.

Infuriating, simply infuriating!

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