Two weeks in: Not cursing, more productive

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I decided to try using my new notebook PC as my only PC–using it as a mini-desktop, with my Sony 19″ LCD as a secondary display and my wireless Microsoft Natural keyboard and mouse as primary typing and pointing tools. (The keyboard on the Gateway notebook is actually just fine–but I’m really used to the Natural, and with the way I have my desk set up, the notebook’s keyboard is too far away to use. As for the touchpad…well, I could adjust the “tap” sensitivity, but I’m so used to a good optical mouse…). I wrote about it here and here and here.

So how’s it going? Am I cursing at the notoriously “broken” Windows Vista, desperately trying to downgrade to XP, and swearing at all the ways that Office 2007 disrupts all my learning from Office 2000? Finding that apps won’t load properly, that things behave mysteriously? Have I realized that notebooks really aren’t made for everyday use?

Nope. Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder about all those claims that Vista is broken. Other than my wife’s occasional glitch with Wifi shutting down under battery power (a known problem that doesn’t affect me, both because I’m usually on AC and because, since the notebook’s two feet from the DSL modem/router/wifi box, I’ve got it plugged in via Ethernet).

Here’s what I’m finding, in no particular order:

  • I was having one odd and extremely minor issue at startup, but couldn’t tell whether it was Vista or the Intel graphics driver: The monitor would always come up as an extension to the right of the notebook (primary display), and my desk layout really necessitates having it on the left. No big deal: One mouse click, a drag-and-drop, another mouse click, and it was fixed. But: after a week or so–I’m not sure how long–the problem went away. Vista consistently comes up now with the dual display exactly the way I want it: The 1280×800 notebook primary display on the right (and displaying the desktop shortcuts and the taskbar), the 1280×1024 monitor secondary display on the left, wide open except for the desktop picture.
  • The notebook comes up a lot faster than my 5.5-year-old XP desktop did: something under a minute (maybe 45 seconds for full startup?) instead of 2-4 minutes Timed: 90 seconds as compared to 4-5 minutes). Shuts down faster, too. Applications start at about the same speed, but file opening is significantly faster, probably because the virus scan isn’t loading a single CPU.
  • Last time the weekly virus/spyware scan started up, I didn’t even notice–there was no slowdown in applications. I’m generally finding that applications always run at full speed; that second CPU really does make a difference.
  • Technically, if Hz is all that counts, the notebook’s a step back from my old PC: 1.67GHz rather than the 2.2GHz of my old desktop. But that’s nonsense: The old desktop was a Pentium (4?), the new one’s a Core 2 Duo, and each of those two CPUs does a lot more per cycle than the old one. Technically, the new hard disk is slower too (5400RPM rather than 7200RPM), but there’s nothing I do where that seems to matter–and, of course, with 3GB RAM (I used to have 756MB), I’m not doing much of any paging to disk. I’m also using Intel integrated graphics where I used to have a graphics card (but, of course, a 2002-vintage graphics card)–but since I’m not a gamer, I don’t see a problem. I let Vista decide how much eye candy to use; I’m happy with the results. When I’ve tried doing a little graphics work, it’s certainly faster than it used to be.
  • Compatibility hasn’t been a problem, except for the Acrobat 7 situation discussed last time around–and that was an Acrobat 7 incompatibility with Word 2007 more than a Vista problem. Otherwise, I’ve been astonished at how well very old software has installed and run. As for Vista and the builtin utilities, so far everything seems to be better than for XP.
  • One very pleasant surprise: I was led to believe that Vista Home Premium doesn’t include Windows Backup–but maybe Gateway made special arrangements. It’s there, right in the Tools tab for the hard disk, and it works just fine: Differently than XP Backup, but equally well. (I’m backing up all text files to a flash drive; very fast, very easy.)
  • I always used to use PowerDesk instead of Windows Explorer. While there’s a PowerDesk 6 that runs just fine under Vista, I find I’m usually using Windows Explorer instead–and when I found it a nuisance to get to the directory structure where I store everything, I found that dragging the highest-level directory up to Favorites took care of the problem immediately. (It’s a long story, but all of my data directories are under a “d\” directory…I’ve never used My Whatever except for MP3s.)
  • I rarely take time to play it, but the new Solitaire is much more sophisticated than the XP version…
  • Then there’s Word 2007 and Excel 2007. (I rarely use PowerPoint, and I’m using Access 2003–and, if I ever want it, Publisher 2003.) I already knew from looking over my wife’s shoulder that I wanted Word 2007, and I’m quite happy with it. OK, so the “quick style set from template” doesn’t work quite as thoroughly as I’d like, but there’s a trivial workaround for that, and it’s something that wouldn’t affect less template-oriented users. It’s clear that the ribbon exposes functions more thoroughly and logically; once I realized how easy it was to minimize the ribbon (when multiple on-screen applications make space difficult), I was completely sold. (Want to minimize the ribbon? Just right-click on the menu line, check “Minimize the ribbon”–I know, that’s pretty arcane, but…–and you’re left with the menu line, the quick access toolbar above it, and nothing else. To restore the ribbon, just click on any of the menus (Home, Insert, etc.) I find Word working more smoothly than it was before. The new live-preview features are nice ways to stay out of trouble… OK, I haven’t tried save-as-HTML yet, to see how it compares with Word 2000, but so far I’m really quite pleased. As for Excel: It worked before, it works now, I think it’s more logical, but I’m not a power user in any case.
  • And the productivity gains from a two-screen setup with easy drag-and-drop to place things where I want them! When I’m working on the PALINET Leadership Network (have you signed up yet? give it a try!), it’s much faster to be able to devote a big chunk of screen space to a source document while I’m editing it in the wiki than it was to either use smaller windows or tab back and forth. But that’s nothing compared to what I was doing this afternoon: A project that required a good-size Firefox window, plus an Excel spreadsheet, plus a tall (but slender) Firefox window sitting on one site, plus a third wide (but not necessarily too high) Firefox window sitting on another site–and, ideally, with all the windows fully visible simultaneously. I just couldn’t make that work on my old PC, but with the dual display it’s a snap.

Do I assume everything will be perfect? No. This is a computer and I’m using a variety of software; I assume there will be some glitches. But so far, you can color me happy and productive.

Oh, as for the notebook itself…well, I only use it 3 or 4 hours at a time, typically, and I’ve found that even after four straight hours, the hottest part of the case isn’t much above room temperature and the noise varies from totally silent to a whisper-quiet fan. Except, of course, when I’m running something from the DVD burner; that’s a noisy beast at times (although not always–actually playing a DVD isn’t particularly noisy, but installing software can get a pretty good buzzsaw going). If I do want to listen to music, the earphone jack’s right on the front of the notebook and, as it should, cuts out the little speakers automatically.

Fact is, except for installing software and the clatter of the keyboard (I’m a heavy-handed typist, apparently), the office is quieter now with the notebook on than it was with the desktop PC off–because the old speaker system that I used with the desktop had a subwoofer that was always on and had a low, soft hum (masked by the PC’s fan when it was on). Since I really wasn’t listening to the speakers any more, since it’s now really convenient to plug in headphones, and since two screens do take up more desk space–well, the Altec-Lansing surround speakers gave me great service for 8+ years, and now they’re in the garage. Time changes.

I’m probably using a little less power now when not running the PC, and not much more (and maybe less) when I am using it. When I’m not, I’ve got the printer and the notebook’s AC adapter/charger on a power strip and I just turn off the power strip, so there’s no standby power at all. I turn off the LCD monitor, and I don’t believe it has any standby power with the switch off. And, presumably, the notebook has lower-power components than the old desktop–at least if the fan noise is any indication, it’s putting out a lot less heat! (And, to be sure, my office now has four 16-watt CFLs instead of four 60-watt incandescent bulbs…)

One of these days, I might yet start up the silly project I’d planned to do ever since I got the XP system: Trying some of the 40 or 50 old title CD-ROMs (all of them from the mid to late 1990s) to see whether they’d run at all and how they “feel” on a newer system. These are all CDs designed for Windows 95/98; jumping to XP means the CDs couldn’t access hardware directly–and Vista is even more virtualized than XP. Will I ever get around to that? If I do, you’ll read about it.

One Response to “Two weeks in: Not cursing, more productive”

  1. walt says:

    Three weeks later, including the one-hour SP1 install…

    My only complaint has nothing to do with Vista and may not be new to Word’07: The fact that you can’t limit a Replace All to a highlighted area. That’s a damn nuisance. Otherwise… Better, faster, whatever. Count me happy. The old PC hasn’t been turned on in at least a month.