Two steps forward, one step sideways?

I rely on computers. I used to make my living from computers–as a systems analyst/designer/programmer. I still rely on computers for whatever little earned income I do have: Sure, I could write with a pen and notepad, but I wouldn’t even be able to read some of what I’d written, much less make it readily available to others.

That said…

It’s been a more interesting week than I’d really hoped for; I hope it’s settling down. These are all trivial little upsets and very much firstworldissues, but hey, this is a random blog.

Scene 1: The Toshiba comes unhinged

My wife has a Toshiba notebook that’s about 3.5 years old. She likes it just fine. Even when the case stopped closing fully, she lived with it. Until last Thursday, when the left hinge broke–that is, the screen section came out of the hinge. No way to get it back in.

The notebook still worked (and works), but that was clearly not a good sign, and from what little we could figure out, a fix would cost a little more than a new notebook.

So, after a little checking, off we went to Office Depot–not nearly as convenient as OfficeMax, but after my experience with the local OM not living up to its own promises, I’m not shopping there–so my wife could try out various notebooks, keyboard feel & touchpad characteristics being very important to her. Oh, and since the old notebook had a 14″ 4×3 screen, she probably needed a 17″ screen to get the same vertical resolution (since nearly all contemporary notebooks have 16×9 screens).

She found a unit that was to her liking–another Toshiba, as it happens, on sale at a really excellent price. That solved one outstanding issue: When she’d move from Vista to Windows 7. And, since I’d been ready to move to Office2010 soon anyway, it made sense to get Office2010 for both of us at the same time–there’s a new-machine discount, and OD offered to load her copy as a free extra.

Scene 2: I decide to upgrade to Office2010

My wife still hasn’t actually moved to the new notebook–she spends a lot of time on her primary online interest (Unclaimed Persons, a closed volunteer group currently using Facebook that assists coroners in locating next of kin for those who die without someone to claim the body: a great pursuit for a retired librarian!), and the weekend had various other issues. Maybe today; maybe tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I upgraded to Office2010. Which brought me up short on one thing. I was using Office2007, but still using Access2003, since I didn’t lay out the big bucks for the full Professional version of Office2007. (Remember when Office Pro was bundled with computers?) And, unlike Office2007, Office2010 just won’t install when it sees what it considers a damaged version of an earlier Office.

So…

Scene 3: Undoing Access and Finishing the Upgrade

I was really only using Access for two fairly simple little databases and one slightly more complex one–one for a summary budget of household expenses by major categories, one for a list of books & authors to use when getting books at the local PL (so I didn’t get the same title twice), and one–the slightly more complex one–a summary database of wines, helpful when shopping for new vintages.

None of these could possibly justify laying out the money for Access.

I exported the primary tables (two for Books, two for Expenses, three for Wines) as Excel spreadsheets, figuring I could work with those if necessary. And I thought OpenOffice–which I won’t use instead of Word, but which I had–might provide an acceptable substitute.

Then I deleted what was left of Office2003 and installed Office2010. (Unlike earlier versions, there’s no “upgrade version”–and, at some point, I think that’s sensible. When you’re upgrading from an upgraded version of an upgraded version…well, sooner or later, you’re not going to be able to prove you ever owned the original. I think my original was either Office2000 or OfficeXP.)

The install went fine. I haven’t explored the nuances of Word2010 and Excel2010 much yet; I do like the new File/Backstage replacement for the frankly failed “hide print & file options under an Office icon” button, and I’m aware that there are some interesting typographical options in Word if I actually had any OpenType typefaces with suitable extensions. (Oh, and having the Styles list display as a simple list instead of attempting to show the formatting: What a sensible step back!)

All in all, I think I’ll like it just fine. Later this week, maybe, I’ll explore a bit more to see what typefaces besides CalifornianFB have been added, whether I want to use them, and what else is new and interesting. (I accepted a default installation. I’m never sure whether that’s the right choice…)

Step 4: Trying to use OO Base as a Replacement for Access

Actually, that’s not quite right. I did do an initial attempt–creating .ODB files that link to the MSOffice .MDB files–and verified (a) that I could open all three databases, (b) that the reports had either disappeared or turned into tables, (c) that cross-table linkages had disappeared in the process.

Before attempting to resolve those issues, it was suggested that I switch from OpenOffice to LibreOffice. After discussing the reasoning, I concluded that just having less to do with Larry Ellison was reason enough, so I downloaded LibreOffice 3.3, deleted OpenOffice, and tried again.

Yesterday, despite some frustrations, I managed to build a report for the Expenses database that provides the same summary by category and grand total that’s the whole reason for having the database. It’s not as pretty and it was clunky to build, but it works. What I cannot get to work, so far at least: having the “category” column within the Expenses table limited to, and prompted by, values within the Expense Category table, a linkage that was in the Access database. Maybe it’s because this particular Base database is really acting as a connector to the .MDB database, but there seems to be no way to do this, at least within existing tables.

I can live with that, at least for this table.

Before lunch today, I made a typical every-three-weeks library run to take back three books and get three more–as usual, one non-genre fiction, one genre fiction (mystery this time, since it was SF/fantasy last), one nonfiction. For nonfiction, I’m cheating: the library had a book on OpenOffice 3. Aha! Maybe that will help.

Then came home and, after lunch, sat down to work on this. When I’d gone to put the computer in Sleep mode before running the errands and having lunch, I got a Windows Update, which meant shutting it down entirely. That’s OK.

Step 5: Something goes very wrong–fortunately, temporarily

Turned the computer back on. The background came up, as did all five items in the tray (W7 is much better than Vista in this regard), all six icons on the toolbar (some standard, some I’ve added), all 29 shortcuts and icons on the desktop (which I really should trim some day, but I guess 29 isn’t terrible).

Clicked on FireFox. The little circle spun for a couple of seconds. Then nothing. Did same for Windows2010. Same non-result. Well, let’s open TaskManager…whoops, same result.

Restarted the system. No luck.

Powered down. If it had come up one more time with the same results, I would have hit F10 during startup and gone to the previous restore point. Fortunately, the third time was the charm. Slowly, at first, programs came to life. Everything seems back to normal now. (Well, I haven’t tried *everything*–but if non-MS programs, MS contemporary programs, and 15-year old programs all work, chances are it’s good.)

So, then, taking the book in hand and trying to modify tables to use links…

No luck. Maybe I’m dense, maybe I’ll try again later, but so far, it looks as though compatibility with MSAccess databases is limited. That’s no great surprise.

In one case–the most complex database, probably not for very good reasons–it turned out to be most sensible to combine the exported Excel tables into a new and simpler Excel database, which–among other things–allows me to use typefaces I like while entering and updating data (I can’t see how to change LO Base’s table typography; again, maybe I’m missing something). In the case of the expense database, losing the category prompt list is a nuisance but not fatal. In the case of the books database–well, it never really amounted to anything anyway.

So there’s an afternoon pretty much shot, with no real progress…but hey, I could afford to waste an afternoon.

Step 6: Profit!

I know, that’s supposed to be Step 3 or Step 4, and in this case it’s nonsense–almost. If one proposed project is approved, I’ll need OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and I’m pleased to see that its import of Word files is a whole lot better than it used to be (last time I tried this, OO threw away major portions of style-based formatting).

Otherwise? Back to writing, browsing, being grumpy on FriendFeed, virtual slot poker, all that good stuff. And maybe reading the OO book in more detail and seeing what I’m missing. Which is probably that I can only *add* a new field that’s based on a set of values from another table, not *restore* a table linkage lost in the so-so “compatibility.”

Hmm. My Gateway notebook–my only computer, used as a two-screen setup with my old-but-beautiful Sony 19″ 4×3 LCD display–is probably 2.5 or 3 years old. Hope it holds up a little longer…

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