Dell Inspiron 1720 Upgrade to Windows 7

Thursday, 12 November 2009 12:36 by salim

No excitement.

This model is not tested by Dell and no specific drivers are available. So, I was a bit anxious about how well the upgrade will go. There were some troubling posts from the Beta/RC period of Windows 7. I decided to try anyways.

So, I popped in the DVD, started the setup. It told me I had three applications that are not compatible (Cisco and Checkpoint VPN clients and RAD Studio 2007). I was not too worried about them and continued with the upgrade.

The installer told me I had over 770,000 files to move, so I was not expecting a fast upgrade. It was not very quick. The whole installation took a little over 2 hours, most of it spent in moving the files. Immediately after the installation, my audio (Sigmatel HD) was not working. All I had to do was to go to the device drivers pane and update the driver. After a restart the audio is also fine.

So, it was a very unexciting upgrade process. Windows 7 however is quite nice. I did not have a lot of complaints about Vista. I don’t have any yet with W7, except that the UAC is turned low. Since I do not use any anti-virus software, I wanted it to the most restrictive settings.

So, now I am running Windows 7 on my Inspiron 1720 laptop without any issues.

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Why I don’t use an anti-virus

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 00:26 by salim

For the last three or four years, I have not been using any anti-virus software in any of my machines at home. We have two laptops and a few desktops all of which are continuously connected to the internet. Both me and Shobha are very active internet users. Our primary communication mode is email and instant messaging. But, after Vista/XP SP2, we made a decision that the cost of licensing an antivirus software and performance penalty that it causes is not worth the protection it provides. Furthermore, we are the only people who use the computer. In the last 20 years or so that we have been using computers, we believe that we have enough behavioral protection against malicious programs and social engineering kind of attacks. My primary browser is still IE (8).

I used to have both Symantec and McAffe antivirus thingies. I also tried a couple of freeware versions as well. The first two are extremely intrusive and makes all sorts of issues during normal operation. It was impossible to run such intrusive and resource hungry background processes in my Audio Workstation. The same with Shobha with her graphic workstations.

Today, just for the heck of it, i downloaded and installed MS Security Essentials. I have been reading about it from the beta stage. The reviews of it were not all positive as we know. But the overall rating was that it is not too far behind in detecting malware. A lot of people praised its small footprint and conservative resource usages. So, installed it and ran a full check of the system. Of course it used between 20-40% of the processor (one core) but very low memory footprint (50MB during full scan with UI open). As I expected, it did not find any malware. So, after 3 years of 12-16 hours of online exposure without any “security” other than my common sense and the basic protection provided by the OS and browser.

I already turned off the live protection. In a few days I will eventually uninstall it as well.

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Struggle with Drivers and Software Updates

Tuesday, 15 September 2009 18:01 by salim

So, continuing the saga of setting up the Vista64 Daw.

I have the following audio hardware that requires drivers

1. ESI Wamirack 192X
2. Mackie Onyx Firewire
3. Yamaha Motif ES Rack
4. KORG microKontrol (rarely used, haven’t looked for one yet.)

I have the following software that potentially needed updates in Vista64

1. Sonar 8 Producer
2. FL Studio
3. Gigastudio (Yes, I know they are gone. I bought it way before they planned a shutdown)
4. GVI
5. SwarPlug
6. iZotope Ozone
7. JMT Orchestrator (MIDI Plugin)
8. Swarshala and SwarLibrarian

So the hunt started.

More...

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64Bit DAW, Finally

Monday, 14 September 2009 17:30 by salim

It has been at least two years I have been thinking seriously about upgrading my music machine (will call it DAW – Digital Audio Workstation, just for the ooomph.) However, so many other things stole priority from my music related activities. The old DAW was working fine for the things i was using it for, listening to music and once in a while to play games.

The old DAW was a Compaq that I got on sale. It was a very nice machine at the time I bought it. But, once I loaded all the hardware and software in it, it started deteriorating. May be I was a bit too over-enthusiastic. It started with three internal sound cards, and later a firewire one. I know, I know, that was too much. The drivers for two of the sound cards, ESI pro and Mackie Firewire where quite troublesome. Despite all that, I did all the demo recording and mixing for both my bands and wrote most of my recent songs. So, it did the job as good as it could. Time just grew past it I guess.

For over two years I have been secretly scheming to get a new DAW. First I went to Dell and customized various configurations. Went to New Egg and started two wish lists that I named “My Super DAW” and “My 64Bit DAW”. During one of these sessions, I found the Studio XPS with Intel i7 processor and decided that I will get either that one or will build one on similar lines.

This is about the same time I decided that the next DAW will be Vista 64bit. I have a very different position to Vista both from ease of use and stability perspectives. However, it is not always easy to get a Vista driver for all the obscure hardware I have. It is even harder to get updates for some of the many of the plug ins. Things get even worse when it comes to 64 bit.

While going through all the forum postings and blogs, I found, to my surprise that a lot of digital musicians intuitively ignore 64bit. Their main complaint is the same as the ones I have. They use quite crafty technique of networking several DAWs using iMidi, lpMidi, Ethernet based audio networking plug-ins and what not to overcome the limitations of 32 bit, mainly memory. I have no intention of wiring up a network and diagnose every latency problem for half of the time I get to write music.

So, yet another Studio XPS offer came from Microcenter, I was again very much tempted. This time, I had a better bargaining chip. After a long dry spell in music, I really wanted to get back to it. In many sense it is a much better therapy to life’s problems than anything else. At the same time, buying a Studio XPS is of much less financial significance (and public ridicule) than buying a Ferrari (or worse, a Ford Mustang Convertible).

There was still one sticking point. XPS does not have a PCI slot. My MIDI interface is on ESI Wamirack and I did not want to get yet another interface. I already have two of them and if I could use it in the new machine that will be the perfect way. Last time I searched for an PCIe to PCI converter, all I could find was one from an obscure UK firm with a dubious looking website for close to $100. But, this time I found several of them. One of them was from Startech, who apparently manufactures and sells every niche cards for $60. I actually found that the lowest price for that card is actually at Dell. For $39. This was the final straw. I gave into my desire!!

Stories about setting it up, finding all the updates, upgrades etc. will follow.

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I am mused…

Sunday, 13 September 2009 11:12 by salim

With the help of a very good friend.

So, I find myself sitting in my work area, thinking about music. I even managed to record about a minute of flute. That is quite an achievement considering what i have been doing for a few months. The good thing is that, I don’t feel horrible listening to what I recorded. That is different.

Sometimes I get so impatient with myself. I take so long to write and record a song. I spend more time dreaming about the song than actually writing it. It is a bit against the agile principles, unless one considers the dreaming itself is the iterative process. It would be nice to keep a paper trail of them.

Anyways, I finished preparing Sonar for the new song, created the tracks, routing, soft-synths etc in me “New DAW :)”. So now all I have to do is write the song one note at a time…

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My Vista does everything wrong... they want me to go back to XP...

Monday, 15 October 2007 00:31 by salim

This is what Madam X (her own impersonation, I suggested Mrs.X) told us about what her computer tech told her.

Madam X is an artist, who has been using Windows XP for a while, and wanted to buy a new computer powerful enough to do serious graphic works. Mac was an option, but since both me and Shobha (my wife) are more familiar with Windows we suggested Vista. She went out and bought this pretty powerful Quad Core HP desktop with 3GB RAM and 1TB Hard Drive. Pretty impressive machine.

After a very brief honeymoon period, she started complaining about mysterious things happening. Sometimes, her computer did not allow her to open attachments of emails that she used to view without any trouble in XP. There was this mysterious problem of font settings never sticking in MS Word. There was other issues with creating labels, printing to her HP Laserjet, annoying popups, bizarre copy paste issues, etc. etc...

She had been complaining about this for a while, we first thought that it is just some teething troubles everybody feels when start using a totally new OS. However, her problems persisted and seemed to become worse by the day.

She had a regular computer tech who used to help her when she had issues before was reluctant to help her quoting his unfamiliarity with Vista. (A decent position I would say.. read on). So she called up the original seller Microcenter and complained about the issues. They told her to bring the machine in to see what can be done.

[The following is a paraphrasing, as we were not with her at Microcenter.]

She was first served by a technician who first did not believe her. He said that the problems are because she didn't know how to use Vista. However, once she started showing him the issues, he agreed. So the manager came in and did a higher level diagnostics. Again, after seeing the problems he was baffled as well. So he started telling her all the issues with Vista. He said that Vista is full of bugs and it will only be fixed when service pack I comes out. It is also possible, he said, that she might have gotten a particularly buggy version of Vista. (You know, like a lemon car). His recommendation was that she should consider going back to XP. Vista might not be the best OS for her, of course she will have to pay to put XP back in this machine. (This desktop is factory installed with Vista).

When Madam X emailed us that evening detailing her visit to Microcenter, we were a bit baffled as well. My wife started using Vista early this year. I had been testing Vista in a few virtual images and recently in my laptop. None of the issues she had been seeing were even remotely familiar to us. In both our cases Vista had been working rather smoothly, except for a Bluetooth driver issue in my machine and some early NVidia driver issues with Shobha's which had been since rectified. We invited Madam X and her computer for a lunch.

First problem, the computer has only DVI and we do not have any DVI monitors. (Yes I know, how sad...). Nor did we have an adapter. After some deliberations, I went out (reluctantly, come on it is a Sunday morning), first to a radioshack as I saw the thing in their website, and then to Staples. I came back and hooked up to our monitor, it booted fine.

The first thing I noticed was the number of things that popped up immediately on startup. There was this HP problem solver (or answer wizard or something) on top of the screen, which Madam X said did not answer any of her questions. Then there was this weird warning from some SuperSpy or something else Spyware program. Then there was a flashing screen of Symantec. Ok, first action - cleanup.

So I went to the startup programs and found some very interesting things there. First one ofcourse the SuperSpy thingie, which her Computer Tech installed promising absolute protection. Then there was an HP Toner Order Reminder (Sic), the answer wizard of course, and a couple of other quasi adware programs. We unselected all and restarted. Better, we can see the desktop now.

First Problem - Word does not obey default font settings

She uses MS Word 2003 for all her documents She does not like Times new roman (neither do I) and wanted all her documents to be Ariel. In her XP machine, she could create any new document and it always opened with Ariel. In Vista, she tried to change the font, but every time she opened a new document, the font went back to Times New roman. By the way this was the clinching issue for the Microcenter guy. (He called it totally bizzare and unexplainable)

Remedy, modify your default template (normal.dot). She must have done this when she first started using Word in her XP machine. But time is such a funny phenomenon that filters out only the crucial part of our experiences!!! So I started looking for normal.dot. Strangely enough it did not come up in my search, so Shobha started looking for it and within a second told me to look in Users/MadamX/Appdata/Roaming/Microsoft/Templates. Of course, there it was. So I opened it, changed the normal tag from Times new roman to Ariel, saved it back. We created several new documents and made sure that it is always Ariel. So, the first baffling bug in Vista is resolved.

While this was not too hard to find out for me and Shobha, there were a few things that were not very intuitive in these operations. For example, I would think that word should be smart enough to recognize the user behavior of changing the normal font to Ariel every time a new document is created. Second, I was unable to find a way to save the default template changes back. I am certain that i was able to do this without much effort earlier. Finding it in a hidden folder is not the easiest of things.

Second Problem - E-mail attachments that used to open are now cannot be opened.

One of her mailing groups used to send news letters that had extension of the month number to it. These were word documents, but, may be because it was saved from Mac did not have an MS word registered extension. So, when she tried to open this file, as usual the dialog came up warning her about the danger of opening this unrecognized file (with a lot of binary data ofcourse). When she said to go ahead, it showed the second dialog asking her to select a program to open it or look in the net to find a program. She selected to pick one from the list.. Boom, a dialog with a lot of red comes up telling her that windows cannot open this dangerous file.

Ok, this is frustrating. If Windows Mail knew about this file being a suspicious one and prevent her from opening it at the end, why did even go through the other two steps!!! Anyway, we told her that when she gets these kinds of files, that does not have a word icon to it, save it to the local folder and then open it from there. And this is not a good advice. The protection one gets from within Windows Mail against malicious files is not available from the explorer. But in this case, the sender is a trusted source. Once it is saved, one can follow the traditional way of picking a program to open the file, which in this case is MS Word. Once again, a bit un-intuitive that it first gave the user an impression that this process can eventually succeeded, eventhough Widows Mail could figure out that it is not the case. The messages were a bit too cryptic as well.

Third Problem - When a new mergemail document is created and gave the address in the first dialog box, print it does not do anything...

She showed me this, and yes, it does not (apparently) do anything. We repeated the step a couple of times, until we found out that if we want to see the new document, we need to press the New Document button after entering the data. Well, this time, it is equally a user error. The UI could give more information about the possibilities, but the help was very comprehensive. So I cant put the blame on Microsoft.

Fourth Problem - After creating a new label document, you cannot copy selected text. When you do a highlight, right click copy and paste operation, data previously copied was getting pasted. Whatever she does, the it never copies the intended text. In this case, we actually found that she was right clicking outside the selection, which in turn was unselecting the already selected text. Interestingly enough the Copy menu was still enabled. However, when you move to the next cell and right click paste, nothing happened. (We did not have a previous Clipboard content).

Shobha took over from me and gave a thorough lesson in copying and pasting and various tricks and tips. Thus that problem solved.

There remained other mysterious problems about backup (the desktop shortcut of backup turned out to be an XCopy batch file) and something else.

We finished the session by removing several programs including the SuperSpy ware and toner reminder (can you be more blatant!!!) and some other unused programs, set up windows backup to her removable hard drive etc.

Well, everything is fine for about 12 hours now. I am sure she will find other unfamiliar areas as she explore more and more. I am also sure that she is going to teach a thing or two to the expert who tells her that it is all because Vista is buggy, and she needs to go back to XP.

We, on our part, once again will be rewarded in hell for helping the Evil Microsoft Empire!!!!!

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Categories:   Secret Garden
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