As promised, my sad saga of spending my President’s day wrestling my Windows XP box…and why I am increasingly happy with having switched most of my computing to OS X after twenty years of being a Microsoft OS user.
When I discovered that the Slimserver software wouldn’t run on my two-year-old Dell at home (though it ran on both of the other XP machines I tried it on) I decided that it was time to try to heal Windows on that box. There had been other signs of advancing decrepitude that happens on Windows over time – applications had run increasing sluggishly, and the view of files in the Windows Explorer now longer refreshed themselves when I renamed files or created new folders.
I decided my first task should be to see if there were problems with the Windows registry. I downloaded a copy of Registry First Aid, which I had seen glowingly mentioned in Preston Gralla‘s weblog on O’Reilly (heaven forbid that Microsoft should actually provide a tool to clean their own operating system).
Running Registry First Aid told me that there were something like 500 (!) errors in my Registry, mostly due to references to files that no longer existed. The free version of RFA only fixes up to fifteen problems at a time, so I gladly parted with the $21 it takes to get a fully registered copy, and told RFA to go off and fix the problems.
Sensibly enough, the software suggested strongly that I either set a recovery point or do a backup of my data and settings before allowing it to mess with the registry. Being a paranoid sort of fellow, I decided to do both. RFA helped me set the recovery point for Windows’ restore utility with no problem, and then offered to call the Windows Backup utility to backup my files.
There’s not a ton of data on that machine that I really need to protect, but the stuff that is there is critical – Michele’s files from her consulting, her non-work email, our growing digital photo collection, and our financial records. All of my previous backups have been accomplished by me manually copying the folders I want to CDs, which works just fine. But in this case I figured I might as well try out the Windows backup utility.
Backup started off by asking me what directories I wanted to backup, so I told it all of Documents and Settings, and off it went… only I soon noticed that for every second it ran, it was adding 3 or 4 seconds to the estimated elapsed time of the operation. When it got to the point that the estimated time for the backup exceeded 24 hours, I told it to cancel the operation … only it wouldn’t stop.
Finally, after waiting about fifteen minutes to see if it would cease and desist on its own, I invoked the Task Manager and cancelled the Backup process. Then I decided to reboot and try again… but Windows told me that there was a file open that needed to be closed before it could shut down. Of course I had no way to close a file (or even see which file was opened by which process), so I yanked the plug (can you share my frustration now?).
After starting up again, I reran RFA, and this time told Windows Backup just to backup a few critical files. This time Backup hung entirely, leading to a repeat of the same scenario up to pulling the plug.
Upon the third restart of the machine, I decided to make a copy of my files the old fashioned way, and then let RFA fix the registry entries, which it did promptly.
The end result is that the machine seems to be performing much better, feeling snappier. There have been a few odd moments since (like last night Internet Explorer kept crashing on me when I tried to view the All Music Guide, though it worked just fine with FireFox).
But I have to think that there’s better ways to build operating systems than by having a central Registry where software registers itself but that doesn’t police itself when software is removed or modified. My repeated experience of Microsoft’s software, whether system software or applications, is that they build incredibly complex systems (wayyyy more complex than I need or want) that work really well about 70% of the time.
It’s too bad – I remember the clean performance of the original version of Word for Windows, before it became the incredibly bloated beast it is now. And I loved the first couple of versions of Visual Basic, which was a wonderful, lightweight, visual programming environment – now look at Visual Studio – sheesh.
The Mac isn’t a perfect environment, but it sure feels a lot simpler and more reliable than my current experience of Windows.