Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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“Continuous Improvement”

“Continuous Improvement”

“Continuous Improvement” Is a subject I’ve been intending to post about since before Christmas, but just never got round to it. It’s primarily about computers and software, but extends to pretty much all walks of life these days. I’m sure you all know that I am a bit of a “stick in the mud”, and not the sort to rush out and spend money on the latest gadget. I learnt that lesson back in the days of CB radio, when I paid £80 for a new “UK” spec rig, only to see them drop to a third of that within a short time.

I’m typing this on a six year old laptop running Windows XP.

Windows XP Continuous

It does all I need, if rather slowly at times. It has the old style 4×3 aspect ratio screen, which is far superior for web browsing than the current 16×9 widescreen examples. Therein lies a problem – you can’t buy anything like it now, manufacturers obviously assume that every customer spends all day watching films, and needs high resolution displays to suit. Did anyone ask me – did they hell. In fact has ANYONE ever been canvassed by a manufacturer to see what they actually want? No, they seem to rely on focus groups and their development gurus, who, not surprisingly, have a vested interest in keeping their jobs.

It’s not only the hardware aspect which royally pisses me off – software is even worse. As I was saying, this all came about last year, when a friend asked me to give his PC the once over – the usual complaint about poor performance. I first checked how much RAM it had, since it’s normal for companies to skimp on this aspect in the expectation of selling upgrades later. Rather surprisingly this one was adequately specified, so the next step was to use Revo Uninstaller to remove a dozen or more programmes that he didn’t use (many installed automatically by other programmes). I then installed my two favourite “tools” – CCleaner and Defraggler – both from Piriform software. The first took over 3 hours to clear out nearly a Gigabyte of crap, which is one of the pitfalls of MS installations. Having done that, and then de-fragged the hard drive, the difference was amazing.

So far so good, but then I wanted to move his Documents folder to the second partition (which was a surprise to find). Being used to XP I was in for shock since this machine was running Windows 7. I knew that the general principles were the same, and some Google searching explained the steps needed. But what quickly had me screaming with rage was the “improved” file system. In reality it is a major retrograde step, compared to the old Windows Explorer I am familiar with. Simple tasks such as copying/moving files & folders are no longer accomplished with a couple of clicks on handy menus, but require much more effort. I had to do more searching to find this out – it was far from “intuitive”… In doing my research I quickly found that I wasn’t the only one – there are thousands of complaints asking WTF Microsoft? I eventually achieved what I wanted, and returned the machine to a grateful owner.

The following day, with blood pressure returning to normal (merely dangerous) levels, I thought of the implications should (when?) I have to change to a new Operating System. But I had also seen many forum posts mentioning 3rd party applications to give a better file system interface. This is where I have to simultaneously damn the wankers who ruin a perfectly good feature, and then praise the army of private developers who spend long hours coming up with alternatives. I tried a few and settled on “Q-Dir” which not only replicates the old layout, but improves it. And furthermore it comes in a “Portable” version which you can run from a memory stick without having to install. I like it so much I’m using it on my existing laptop, so if I make the move to Win 7 I should be able to carry on as I am now.

That doesn’t alter the fact that I will sooner or later have to ditch XP – I know it’s being supported for another year. The main reason for running the latest O/S is to try and stay ahead of the bastards who delight in hacking into other people’s  computers and attempting to extract money by menaces. This is also related to the number of users of a particular system. It’s no secret that Microsnot is the major player, and consequently the biggest target. From what I read at the technical sites, as XP usage slowly declines, the hackers are putting more effort into the newer O/S’s, so there is always the chance that in another year not much new malware will be written for XP, and it might be worth the risk to carry on…

By now I’m sure there are readers itching to say “Get a Mac”. Yeah, I know, I’ve heard it all before.

Apple_gray_logo Continuous

My answer is simple – I am not prepared to spend a fortune on products from the Chocolate Factory. We also regularly hear the saying “Mac’s just WORK”.  Well maybe they do for many people, but I also know that anyone with a “premium” product is not too happy at admitting when things don’t go to plan. I remember a few years back quietly (and smugly) observing my sister and another family member having all sorts of difficulties trying to transfer some files between their Macs. Something to do with different versions of their Operating Systems… Then more recently the well publicised iOS6 upgrade that didn’t go according to plan. The “improved” system which meant thousands of users couldn’t access the internet, and discovered their battery life dramatically shortened. And the default mapping that Apple changed to their own version, which was inferior to the previous one. Subrosa found her trusty Macbook suddenly ran at clockwork speed, and was advised that it needed a RAM upgrade! This would have been bad enough, but she was quoted a ludicrous price by Apple themselves. Joe Public advised her NEVER to buy memory from them, and linked to Crucial who could supply a suitable alternative for a third the price! More recently Anna Racoon has posted of difficulties with printers not being recognised by the latest OS, so don’t tell me they are perfect….

I think Rosie subsequently discovered that it was the processor which wasn’t up to the job, which leads me to another bitch. There is an old engineering motto:

“Add lightness and simplicate”

A few companies still understand this excellent advice, but generally these days every new version of a product is bigger/heavier/longer/wider/more complicated than the previous one. Yes, laptops are getting smaller and lighter, but at what cost? I don’t think any now include a dial up modem, yet these can be a life saver for anyone caught with no broadband or at the mercy of restrictive regimes. A CD/DVD drive is no longer standard on many, so reloading the O/S is difficult, if not impossible, and how does one play a DVD on that shiny HD screen? Repairing them becomes more difficult and expensive – indeed the latest Macbook is almost a throw away item! Why should Rosie’s perfectly adequate machine suddenly need more processing power and memory? Does the new version offer lots more facilities than before? Does anybody actually NEED them? I haven’t used a fraction of the built in software that XP offers – a basic install of which takes up less that 4GB on the drive. Yet Win 7 needs nearly 3 times this, with faster CPU’s and more memory, and as I’ve already said is actually inferior in some respects! If a real programming expert can tell me why this is so, I would love to hear it.

Which leads me to Linux. I have read hundreds of posts saying that such and such a distribution runs SO much faster on basic laptops like mine. This, at least, infers that they don’t have the bloat which the major manufacturers are guilty of. BUT which one to choose? I tried a Linux “Live” Ubuntu disc a couple of years ago, but it refused to “see” my wireless card, and so wasn’t much use. I discovered that wireless drivers are a particular problem with many Linux distro’s which, consequently, involves more buggering about. I also remember the screen not displaying properly, which made it difficult to reach many essential icons. Linux is billed as a “mature” technology now, but for every favourable report I see, there will be another listing a catalogue of problems. I mentioned earlier the good guys who offer alternatives – a search for “Make Win 7 look like XP” or “Make Ubuntu look like XP” shows that I’m not the only dinosaur who is sick of being fucked about by people who think they know best, so why don’t developers and manufacturers listen?

While I’m having a moan, even the open source community need to stop being so arrogant. I have used Firefox for most of the six years I’ve been browsing the web.

Firefox Continuous

I like the huge range of Addons, and the way they allow it to be customised to my satisfaction. Also the wonderful Adblock Plus – I didn’t realise how much crap this cuts out until I used Safari on an iPad which a family member gave us on long term loan. BUT the Mozilla forums are full of disagreement at the way the project is heading. In particular how they seem to be turning it into a clone of Google Chrome. Yes, it must be hard watching your market share move to another browser, but is that a green light to just try and imitate? I suggest not, and so do many others. If I want a stripped down browser with a limited amount of configurations I would choose Chrome. But I DON’T!!! So why the attempts to force “Tabs on top” which is a major bone of contention? It’s still possible to put them below the Toolbars, which is the obvious place, but it transpires that future versions will probably remove this option. And why keep changing the appearance? If someone wants a custom theme there are plenty to choose from, so leave the basic one alone. In short STOP FUCKING ABOUT WITH THINGS!!!.

I spent over 20 years as a customer facing engineer for a major company, and still remember the sheer terror on the faces of many older customers when I had to offer them a new piece of equipment, because the old one had been discontinued. I know that it isn’t practical to keep supporting old tech indefinitely, but is it really too much to ask that some thought is given to making the replacement work as close as possible to the old one? I fully appreciate that “under the hood” work is an ongoing necessity, in the efforts to try and stay ahead of the security game. But isn’t there some way to keep the visible part the same, even if there are unavoidable changes to the way it works?  I know I am not alone in despairing at the way things are heading.

Apple have shown that they can sell to a niche market (and get filthy rich in the process!).  I would be happy to pay over the odds if I could get a well built new laptop with a 4×3 screen (or one which rotates 90 degrees from landscape to portrait) so that I can have the maximum useful space for reading web pages. The developers who can offer an O/S which does the basics (which is all many folks need), and runs quickly and efficiently without needing lots of CPU cycles, RAM & power, AND installs reliably without requiring all sorts of tinkering, will get my vote – if I haven’t jumped off a tall building first…

Any takers?

Microdave

P.S. Bucko has just asked me to say

Please don’t forget to give Microsoft Office 2010 a real good kicking. It’s fucking pants compared to 2000 and 2003, all the toolbar stuff is all over the bloody place. And it’s harder to customise.

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13 comments

  1. ‘By now I’m sure there are readers itching to say “Get a Mac”. ‘

    I have Macs. Always have; always will. Never understood the demands of my Amstrad and then the first DOS PCs. All C prompts and whatnot. The Mac interface solved it all and sold me. So I was hooked then and am bound now.

    But all you describe is not solved by having one.

    My Mac Mini is about 6 years old. It works still and does most I need. Even upgraded the hard disk to 500GB with a 500GB backup on Time Machine. It has eaten all my CD library on iTunes and family pictures on iPhoto with room to spare.

    Oddly it does get a bit crashy most on, of all things, the proprietary programs… Safari, Mail.

    But I have no reason to by the new one. I don’t yet need a Terrabyte; I don’t need (want is different) it any faster. And I am sure Yellow Snow Gnu OS is hardly different from my current 10.5.8.

    However… let’s get to forward compatibility (as it was known when I did ads for Compaq, ironically on a Mac).

    I fully accept that if you want all the bells and whistles on a new software, then really you have to accept it needs the latest OS, which in turn needs the latest chips.

    What I have to accept, as what else to do, but don’t like is the cynical complicity on backward compatibility.

    There is no reason a new machine, or software, or OS, should not work going back to the year dot. None.

    I got this Mac Mini mainly because I found that my FileMaker on the old one wouldn’t work with Bento. Then I found that Bento on this one would not work with the old one. So to play with databases I have to have two units and swap files as .csvs to read and play between therm. These are bought and paid for softwares that had a kill switch built in at sale. From near enough the same company.

    I use Safari mainly, but it has a Flash glitch that crashes it on sites showing vids. Which is a lot. I used to have FireFox or Chrome in complement. No more. Why? Because they can’t now operate on my machine as they can’t run with the old OS, and the new OS can’t run on it.

    See you on a ledge. Steve’s gone. Maybe we can still land on Bill or Michael as they leave the building.

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  2. Hi Dave,

    That is a lot to take in, I do like some of the programs you recommend. Very helpful and useful, and of course all free of charge. If you didn’t know of these downloads it could cost you hundreds. Thanks for that.

    I actually like my Desktop, I hardly ever use my laptop except for business and work programmes, but at home its my trusty Desktop. I use”WORD” a lot putting together my continuing fight with the CSA and the Judicial Review Application I am putting together (as part of my effort to STARVE THE BEAST) and making my local MPs life a misery. To support your views on software, I find the 2007 version of “Word” much better than the 2010 version. Its quicker and much easier to use, so I have actually deleted the 2010 version and reverted back to 2007.

    Well that says about all I know about PCs, so I would be very grateful of any advice I can get my hands on, from a liable source of course.

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  3. I think your mate Steve Gibson is happy for his mother to still be using Windows 2000 on the basis that no cunt is writing viruses for it any more, MD., so good thinking there unless you’re likely to be needing the latest software, of course, which I’m guessing you won’t be.
    I don’t know when you last tried out Linux, but it’s moved on a tidy bit over the last few years and the issues you raise have been essentially solved. Get yourself a copy of the latest version of Mint and away you go; should work great straight out of the box unless you’ve got some really obscure chipsets on your motherboard.
    On the subject of ever-increasing hardware specs, I’ve just taken delivery of a Raspberry Pi, the new pico-computer that’s taking the geek world by storm. The designers (from Cambridge, UK) envisaged sales of maybe 10,000 units tops if they were lucky, but in the last 12 months it’s sold over a million! Not bad for a computer which comes with no case, no screen, no keyboard, no operating system, no power supply, no hard drive and no fucking instructions!!! Only the British would have the audacity to come up with a concept like that *and* get away with it! :)
    http://www.raspberrypi.org

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  4. A great posting MD.

    Screen aspect ratios: Yup, the old style 4×3 is far superior for web browsing than the current 16×9 widescreen. I always smiled at the way 16 x 9 was marketed to the gullible masses as “Widescreen” with its positive connotation. I always referred to them a “Low Height”; 16:9 vs 16:12.

    One other apt old Engineering Motto is “If it ain’t bust, don’t fix it.”

    I agree that there’s much more great free software from the Windows community than the Apple fanbois. CrapCleaner is brilliant, as is Revo. Other great ones are SpyBot Search & Destroy, and, NetMeter. That last App just sits visible on top of other programs visibly showing real-time traffic along your internet connection. Invaluable for recognising when uploads & downloads have finished; but more importantly, shows if a download is taking place when you don’t expect it, allowing you to cut your connection if malware is suspected.

    Windows is in many ways more-logical than OSX / iOS, and less-arrogant than the Cupertino mob. At least when a Windows update is issued, it doesn’t unilaterally delete 3rd-party Apps. Like when iOS6 deleted Google-Maps & You-Tube without so much as a by-your-leave. Oh how the community laughed at the pathetic Apple-Maps substitute.

    One thing where Apple is unassailable is product design / engineering quality. But as you say, “Quality Costs”.

    Another area you touch on is Browsers. My choice is Opera. I use it on both Windows & Macs. It’s simple, efficient, fast and been responsible for introducing many ‘new’ features subsequently copied by other browsers. To those who haven’t tried it, I heartily recommend it.

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    • Fully agree on the aspect ratio aspect, Joe. ;-)
      Seriously, I wonder how coders manage with widescreens as they’re completely the opposite orientation for what you want for writing code. Must be a pain in the arse to keep scrolling up and down constantly. I wonder if anyone makes a ‘tall screen’ for such purposes; something that’s like 2 or 3 times as high as it’s wide?

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  5. “Mac’s just WORK”. Well maybe they do for many people, but I also know that anyone with a “premium” product is not too happy at admitting when things don’t go to plan.

    Ihear all you say, Dave and don’t disagree but sorry – my Mac simply does keep working the way it was meant to.

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  6. Have to agree with you re ‘continuous improvement’. I think it stands for ‘continuous improvement in the amount of money my company can rip you off for’. Having lived happily for years with a laptop on XP & office 97 I bought a desktop – with Vista & office 2010. The desktop kit itself was really good but both Vista & office 2010 were a pile of pooh imo. Still wearing my ‘please kick me, I’m a user’ T-shirt I bought another laptop with an i3 processor, Windows 7 & Office 2010 (only version I could find). It was much faster than my old laptop, Windows 7 was marginally better than Vista but Office 2010 was still the same old pile of s**** it had always been. Continuing under the influence of too much Christmas cheer, I splashed out on yet another laptop with an i5 processor, Windows 8 & Office 2010. Windows 8 is a complete abortion. It’s main purpose seems to be to collect your personal data & browsing habits & send it willy-nilly to 1.) the computer manufacturer 2.) the software provider 3.) every possible advertiser in the known universe. It also wants to update everything automatically – I had to hunt hard & long to find out how to stop any of that – and tries to persuade you to use one login (courtesy of Microsoft) for all your apps – probably so they can gather & collate all your data more easily before they a) forward it to the authorities b) sell it. The i5 processor seems very little – if any – faster than the i3 – despite doubling the memory & so far I’ve managed to lock myself out completely (I’ve been told that one of the Wndows updates inadvertantly overwrote the password file – dont know how true that is) AND it doesn’t always boot up – just rebooting it is the cure apparently – nothing about the fact that it should boot firdt time round. Cost up, quality down, snoopers charter seems to be the way forward…..

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  7. MD, you do not want to use Win8.

    We’re switching to it at work but only because it was on the special offer at £25 and we want to have a proper file server with proper security and our current set up is WinXP and Win7-home so we’ve saved nearly £1000 with the number of copies we bought – at 5 per credit card!

    So I’ve tried it and it’s an abomination. Basically it’s Win7 with a whole load of added interference to make life difficult. From Win3.1 -> Win7 there is not much change in how things work. A basic user of Win3.1 could switch to Win7 without too many problems. But using Win8 they would be lost. They wouldn’t even be able switch off their PC.

    The fact that there are programs to re-implement the start menu shows that M$ have made a huge cock-up.

    Linux distros are getting better and better. Ubuntu is very good and with LibreOffice can provide all the functionality a small office would need.

    I think this is the beginning of the end for M$. Companies like them get so big that they become supertankers who can’t change direction to cope with the change in the market.

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    • “MD, you do not want to use Win8″
      I have absolutely NO intention of doing so.

      “They wouldn’t even be able switch off their PC”
      Yep, I’ve seen that discussed at many sites.

      “The fact that there are programs to re-implement the start menu shows that M$ have made a huge cock-up”
      And ones to make it look and work like Win7!

      “Linux distros are getting better and better”
      I’ll have another try sometime. It was Ubuntu that didn’t work properly when I tried it. However that was v10.something, and the latest is v12. I might even look around for a S/H lappy just to experiment with.

      There is a further matter which hasn’t received much publicity in the more popular media – UEFI Secure Boot. This is M$ efforts to exert more control over the market, packaged as a security improvement. As I understand it, all new motherboards are equipped with this, which makes installing Linux (or any other O/S extremely difficult. Ways are being found to get round it, but they are far from straightforward. I don’t think you can even boot from a “Live CD”, which presumably also means no way of re-installing a corrupt O/S from an image via a rescue disc. I am happy to be corrected on this one.

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      • I’m not a Windows user much these days, Dave, and it’s just as well as I have been informed that future versions will be cloud-based with dire implications for personal privacy. If they’re crippling new hardware so it’s harder to install non-government-approved operating systems, then perhaps it’s time to buy up a bunch of ‘old fashioned’ hardware whilst it’s still legal to own :)

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  8. Windows 9 has a sign your newborns over to the MMMMMMR vaccine contract which is bundled into the trillion page T&C..

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  9. Max

    I love your style and this blog, but you must calm down. I gave up on Windows and bit the bullet and bought a Mac – they are not a premium product, I think the time and money I have saved since changing over has made every penny worth while.

    However you like so many PC owners just do not get it – you cannot compare a Mac to a PC – I always relate it to the Model T Ford and a modern car, yes you cannot service every part with spanner and a hammer – but why do you want to? I just want to get from A to B.

    And before you say I am just an Apple fan – I am not, I just bought an Andriod tablet and really think it is an excellent product – because it just works. I also us Windows at work were we have a whole department to keep them sweet and that’s ok too, I quite like Windows 7.

    With age comes wisdom – life is just to short for reinstalling and fettling Windows!

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    • @ Peter – A few things. Firstly Max didn’t write this story, I did. He IS a Mac user. Secondly I knew what would happen if I just set out to do a PC vs Mac rant. Thirdly if you read it again you will see that I’m taking aim at the entire computing industry, M$, Apple, Linux and the Open Source community. They are all guilty (in my opinion) of change for the sake of it, to some degree or other.

      The first comment from JunkkMale confirms my suspicions that Apple are not paragons of virtue, and can screw things up just as capably as M$. This post at Slashdot has plenty of comments from corporate users who are NOT happy with a very recent “silent” update which is causing all sorts of problems.

      Maybe you are happy to “Just get from A to B”, which is your choice. But you will probably be the guy sitting in a shiny BMW unable to move because there is 1″ of snow on the ground. You might then also be pleased to see me when I come along with my 22 year old Fiat Panda 4×4, and tow rope. That’s the sort of person I am, and why I’m prepared to get involved with what’s “under the bonnet”, and hopefully learn something in the process.

      There is simply no denying the relative exclusivity of Apple products, which would be lost if everybody switched to them. It would also mean the malware writers changing their targets, and there are exploits about, even if only a handful at the moment. Nothing is secure if enough effort is put into breaking it, and this aspect greatly concerns me with regard to the increasing use of mobile devices for just about every aspect of modern life.

      I damned if I will “swipe” my phone at a till to pay for something – it would be pointless anyway, being as it’s 8 years old…

      Microdave.

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