Advantages and disadvantages of Windows 3.0

I hear the question from time to time what the advantages and disadvantages of Windows 3.0 were. Windows 3.0, released in May 1990, is generally considered the first usable version of Windows. The oft-repeated advice to always wait for Microsoft’s version 3 is a direct┬áreference to Windows 3.0 that still gets repeated today, frequently.

Although Windows 3.0 is clumsy by today’s standards, in 1990 it had the right combination of everything to take the world by storm.

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Move Debian to new hardware without messing up networking

One advantage that Linux has over Windows is that you generally can pick up a machine and move it to new hardware. The trickiest part is getting the network card(s) working.

Maybe I’m the only dummy who had a hard time with this. Well, except for one guy who posted a question somewhere, got no answer, then came back and said something rude to the people who didn’t answer and said he switched to FreeBSD. That was entertaining, but not helpful.

Just in case everyone else is afraid to speak up, here’s how I got the network cards working after I imaged the disks from a failing Debian server to newer hardware.

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Windows 10 is out. I say you should upgrade, just not necessarily right now.

Windows 10 is out today. Of course I’ve been getting questions about whether to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10, and I’ve been seeing mixed advice on upgrading, though some of that mixed advice is regarding Microsoft history that isn’t completely relevant today.

My advice is to upgrade immediately if you’re running Windows 8 or 8.1, and to wait, perhaps six months, if you’re running Windows 7, but I still think you should do it. I’ll explain.

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The world’s fastest budget PC

So, a relative’s PC was getting a bit aged, and runs Windows XP, barely, so I talked them into an upgrade. I noticed that Micro Center had HP/Compaq DC5700s for $99. They were standard issue office PCs a few years ago, and there are a lot of them in the refurb channel. We went and got one over the weekend.

“What are you going to do with that?” the sales rep asked. “We only use them as cash registers.”

“Word processing,” I said.

“You sure you want to run Windows 7 on an 8-year-old PC?”

“I wrote the book on running Windows on older PCs. Literally. It’ll be fine.”

I hate calling rank like that, but sometimes it’s what you have to do.

And really, for $99, it’s awfully good. Web browsing is plenty fast, Libre Office runs fine on it, and think about it. Windows 7 retails for $100-$109. So it’s like getting the hardware for free. Or Windows for free, however you want to look at it.

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Things to do for your relatives’ computers this Christmas

I wish I’d posted this last week, since many of us see one set of relatives at Thanksgiving and a different set at Christmas (and perhaps New Year’s). Here are things you can do as preventative maintenance for relatives whose computers could use a little help. Read more

Making gradual improvements, starting with whatever bugs you the most

A long project can be paralyzing at times, making it hard to figure out where to start. A trick that I learned in model railroading is to just work on whatever small percentage of the project that bothers you the most. Then, when that’s done, cycle back, create another subproject that fixes whatever bugs you the most now, and keep making incremental improvements like that until you get where you want.

I’ve used the same trick on home improvement projects, and I applied it to this web site over the course of the last few weeks, doing a series of incremental improvements. It led places I didn’t expect it.
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Go find a hole to crawl into, Techcrunch. And stay there.

It appears that Michael Arrington, the founder of the influential blog Techcrunch, resigned under pressure of AOL, Techcrunch’s current owner. There’s been a big uproar over this, but it all boils down to a conflict of interest. AOL really didn’t have any choice.

The problem is that Arrington decided to found a venture capital fund that was going to invest in some of the things Techcrunch covers. You can’t do that.
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The Nlite-d Compaq revisited

I installed antivirus software on the Compaq today. As expected, it weighed things down–boot time doubled, to 40 seconds, and memory usage approximately doubled, to 212 MB.

I can’t do much about the memory usage. But half the system memory is still available for apps, which should be fine. Upgrading the memory is always an option for the future. The boot time was fixable.I ran Jk-Defrag, which is probably my favorite utility now. Full optimization didn’t take long on a system with so little on it. I used the option -a7 to sort by filename, which works surprisingly well.

To help the memory usage a little, I yanked the Microsoft Office stub out of the startup group. All that does is preload some of Office at boot time, so Office apps load faster. But modern hardware negates it. With that running, Word loads in about two seconds. Without it, Word loads in about two seconds. Windows XP’s prefetching gives the same benefit for free, so there’s no point in wasting memory on the Office startup piece.

The two changes dropped the boot time to 30 seconds, which is pretty good, especially on a conventional drive. A minute is typical for a stock Windows XP system, even on new hardware. Solid-state drive manufacturers brag about how their products can boot XP in 30 seconds.

I wonder how fast they’d boot if they’d been installed off my Windows CD?

Memory usage and boot time will jump some more when it comes time to actually use the system–scanner drivers and digital camera software need memory and take time to load. But that’s OK. My goal was just to reduce the overhead somewhat, since antivirus software is an absolute requirement these days, and its overhead is only going to go up. I ran across a year-old stash of virus definition files recently, and today’s files are more than 50% larger. The number of viruses out there is growing, and they are becoming more complex.

VMWare’s P2V is mildly disappointing but can still save the day

The order came from higher up: Migrate these seven servers to VMWare. That would be easy if you were running Linux, FreeBSD, OS/2, or basically any operating system not made by Microsoft. Give me an OS/2 hard drive out of a 386 with Microchannel, and I can have it booting on a P4 in a matter of minutes and probably have it operational in half an hour.

But Windows ties itself to the hardware too tightly. So you need a $10,000 software package to migrate it. That package is P2V, which stands for "PC to VMWare." I assume.Actually it’s a $2,000 software package with $8,000 worth of training. Whether you need that training, well, that’s another story.

P2V advertises that it’ll take an image of a server, replace all of its hardware drivers with drivers for the hardware VMWare emulates, and off you go.

It does the most critical part of it just fine. It doesn’t matter if the original server was SCSI, IDE, or something nasty like RLL or ESDI–unlikely, but I’ve seen what desperate times sometimes cause to be put into a production server–and it’ll get it booting on VMWare’s emulated LSI Logic SCSI card.

The biggest thing it doesn’t do is migrate your TCP/IP settings to the new network card. If you happen to have an AMD PCNet-based NIC in the server you’re migrating, you’ll have no problems, but the chances of that are slightly better than my chances of finding an 1897 Carlisle & Finch train set at that estate sale on Itaska Street this weekend. More likely, you’ll have a 3Com or an Intel card in your source server.

That may not be a problem for you. But if you’re migrating a web server that’s hosting twelve dozen sites, each with its own IP address, you’ll be stringing together some curses after paying that kind of money.

Worth it? It is in the sense that a telephone saves you thousands of dollars in travel costs, so you could justify paying $600 for it. If you’ve got a fleet of aging NT4 servers and an expensive maintenance contract to match, and it’s over someone’s dead body that the applications they host will go away, you can save that 10 grand in a fiscal year, get those servers moved to newer, better hardware that’s cheaper and easier to maintain, and get them moved in less than a week. It could take you nearly that long to get NT4 running on brand-new hardware. Once.

So, yes, you can justify it to your accounting department.

As far as the time involved, there’s the time it takes to image and re-image the server. That depends on how fast your network is. There’s the time it takes to build a helper VM that P2V runs on. It’ll take you about 5 minutes per server to set up the VMWare instance. If you’ve got new hardware, it’ll only take a few minutes for P2V to run. Then you have to boot the VM, reconfigure anything that needs reconfiguring, boot it again, and repeat until you fix everything that’s broken. Sometimes that’ll be nothing, and sometimes it might be a lot.

I budgeted 4 hours per server. A couple of them took less than an hour. A couple took 8.

Do I wish it were a better product? You bet your boots I do. Was I glad to have it at my disposal this week? You bet that Carlisle & Finch train set I’m not gonna find this weekend I am.

Thanks to P2V, I get to do something fun this weekend instead of building servers.