Wasn’t “ComputerWeek” once a publication full of hardware deals and stuff like that? Seems like it was, but we’re reaching back into the 1990s with that one.
Regardless, I’ve certainly spent a lot of time around computers this week. Not that I don’t normally; after all, I work with them for my job, which has me sitting in front of one for at least 8-10 hours a day. But this week I’ve been engaged in a lot of fussing around with hardware and software, researching compatibility, coming up with contingency plans and even overclocking my own workstation here at home (something I haven’t dabbled with in some years). It’s to the point where today feels more like a Thursday or Friday than a mere Wednesday.
Since this past Sunday, I’ve put most of my efforts toward setting up my dad’s new notebook computer. It’s a Toshiba Satellite A505, if I recall correctly, which he will be using as his main workstation during his upcoming work-from-home efforts. This is actually a really nice machine — 16-inch ultrawide screen, backlit keyboard with full numeric keypad, excellent sound (for a notebook, especially), slot-loading DVD burner and a number of other cool things. There’s a lot of attention to detail evident in the design of this machine, the kind of attention I never saw Dell put into anything. The form factor and weight are a little unwieldy if you want to carry it around a lot, but as a desktop replacement it’s a good size.
The problems I’ve been having, though, aren’t related to the Toshiba, really, but to the Palm Treo that my dad uses as his phone, master organizer and PDA. This Treo runs Palm OS, and I’ve since come to learn that Palm completely dropped the ball with their Palm OS-based product line. The new laptop shipped with Windows Vista 64-bit, so as to take advantage of the preinstalled 4GB of RAM. Unfortunately, Palm’s support for 64-bit operating systems (and Vista in general) is woeful, to the point where you cannot even plug your Palm Treo into the computer via USB. There are no drivers for the USB cable.
All this means you have to sync via Bluetooth, but the Toshiba Satellite A505 doesn’t have Bluetooth. So we had to make an emergency run to Best Buy to pick up a micro Bluetooth adapter. (For reference, the Rocketfish RF-BCDM4 works right out of the box with Vista x64, using Microsoft’s own built-in drivers — and as a bonus, it’s ridiculously tiny.) Despite having to travel to the neighboring city to find a Best Buy that had the thing in stock, we finally got one, loaded it up and it worked great. So I thought our Palm problems were over.
I was wrong. While HotSyncing my dad’s Treo via Bluetooth worked perfectly, the Palm Desktop software did not. The issue is that Palm Desktop version 4, which he’s been using for some time now, doesn’t work in our configuration. Palm claims it doesn’t work under Windows Vista at all, a claim I seemed to refute by installing it successfully on my own Vista-based machine. The problem, though, is that Palm Desktop 4 doesn’t support Bluetooth syncing, and Vista prevents you from using USB syncing. In other words, I can’t see any way to friggin’ sync the phone under Desktop 4. So, Palm advises that you upgrade to Palm Desktop 6.2 instead. OK, fine. I downloaded it. It’s two versions newer, so it must be better anyway.
Boy, was that an asinine assumption. Palm Desktop 6.2 is way worse than Palm Desktop 4. This is perhaps the first time I’ve ever experienced a full-on software regression. The biggest problem is that version 6 completely drops the color-coded categories feature in an astounding display of poor judgment. It’s also missing the Expenses and Notepad apps. Tasks no longer have the “Repeat” function. Birthdays are no longer supported in Calendar. And there’s also a superfluous pmTraceDatabase failure message on every sync (which at least Palm has issued a fix for). This is unconscionably bad. Horrible, actually.
Unable to believe it, I started reading into the lore behind this and discovered that Palm’s former software unit spun itself off in 2005 and mismanaged itself into a takeover by ACCESS company of Japan. As I read it, ACCESS now has control of Palm’s operating system and software, and is directly responsible for frakking up Palm Desktop so utterly and completely. Palm Desktop 6 is so bad that most people these days are syncing their Palm OS devices with Microsoft Outlook 2007 instead.
My dad could do that; his laptop has Outlook 2007 on it. The issue is that he’d have to get used to something completely different that he’s never used before, which — given everything else he’s got going on right now — is one more complication that is not needed. While having to continually learn new things is part and parcel of working with computers in any way, shape or form, even I find it maddening when I’m forced to change my ways because of some company’s incompetence. (A less egregious example in my own sphere would be the UI cock-ups that Adobe has integrated into their most recent version of Photoshop, which I briefly spouted off about a few days ago.)
Anyway, I think we’ve reached a point of some closure on the Palm project for the time being, in that I think my dad will start using Palm Desktop 6 and see if it’s bearable — and if it isn’t, I can help orchestrate a switch to Outlook 2007 when Apple and I visit my parents’ house this coming September. But that was just one line-item on our list of requirements for getting the Toshiba notebook prepped for work, the most important of which — migrating over all of the data, files and settings from my dad’s current computer — has to happen either tonight or tomorrow.
While this has been going on, I’ve also been preparing to make some changes to my own computer hardware and software assortment. Tomorrow, if Microsoft holds to their schedule, the Windows 7 RTM will be available to me through my company’s MSDN subscription. I’m going with the 64-bit edition (the beta of which I’ve been testing for a few weeks) to replace this terribly slow, badly aging Vista 32-bit installation that I’m running now. Because I’ve been in need of some more RAM for a while, this morning I ordered 4GB of OCZ Blade-series PC6400. At first I had hoped to combine it with my existing 2GB, but I’ve read so many horror stories about fully-populated DIMM slots with my particular motherboard that I’m not expecting to have any luck there.
Additionally, in a stroke of obsession that I’ve come to learn is typical for me, I decided yesterday to try a minor overclock of my system. The objective was twofold: Increase the CPU clock and synchronize the FSB:Memory ratio at 1:1 for optimal performance. I accomplished both with ridiculous ease, bumping the FSB from 266 MHZ to 333 MHz in one step with no voltage adjustments needed. With the RAM running at DDR2-667, this equals a 1:1 ratio. Since the RAM is rated for DDR2-800, the timings have been tightened up for lower latency. Given the multiplier of 9, the CPU — which runs at 2.4 GHz standard (266 FSB x 9 = 2400) — is now running at 3.0 GHz on stock voltage with absolutely no stability issues as yet. And I must admit, the system does feel perceivably faster at times.
So, fresh off this success, I hope I have as much luck with my Windows 7 installation, which I’ve scheduled to take place over the weekend. I really ought to do a final bit of testing first, frankly, but there won’t be time. And I usually persevere, so I’m going to jump right in and work out any kinks later. Nothing like living dangerously! (Well, a nerd’s definition of such, anyway.)
And then, sometime before our trip in September, I’ve got to repopulate my Dell laptop with my business applications so that I can work while away from home.
I think I mistitled this entry. It should be called “ComputerMonth.”