Reviving a slow XP machine

Lately, my trusty XP desktop has been grinding to a virtual halt. Things were getting so bad that I’d decided to trash the lot, and do a fresh install. But having made the decision, I got brave enough to do some radical / drastic spring-cleaning – sure, what did it matter if I borked it? I was going to reinstall anyway! – and it’s actually been enough to bring the thing back to life. Not quite as zippy as a box-fresh installation, but certainly back to acceptability.
A few tips I’d like to share from the experience:

  • There really aren’t more than a handful of software applications you really, really need. I made a list of barely 20 things I absolutely had to have if I did a fresh install (and 6 of those were web browsers).
  • CCleaner is a marvellous piece of freeware, which will wipe your Windows machine clean of all sorts of stuff that simply doesn’t need to be there. It also includes an ‘advanced’ (?) Registry Cleaner, which identified and sorted out hundreds (literally) of issues for me.
  • One particular area of agony was the time it took for Windows to draw up the list of ‘All Programs’ under the Start button. As a workaround, I started using Launchy – which effectively puts a ‘command prompt’ inside Windows. Press Alt-Space, start typing the name of what you want, and it’ll present a list of suggestions. Pretty quickly, you’ll find the right programs are coming up when you type the first letter. It’s a remarkable timesaver, and so efficient I’m still using it, even after reviving the machine.
  • On similar lines is the experimental Firefox addon, Ubiquity. As with Launchy, a ‘hotkey’ brings up a command line interface, where you type pre-determined commands to do online things. Some of the reviews have been glowing; personally, although it’s certainly clever, I didn’t find myself using it much. So as part of my spring-clean, I uninstalled it… and was amazed at the speed increase I saw in Firefox as a result. I can’t say for certain that Ubiquity was slowing things down; but there is mention of a known bug in the current version, which may have been causing my problems. I’ll be back (probably).
  • There are so many good uses for a service like Dropbox: an online storage / backup / syncing service, with Windows, Mac and Linux clients, plus a pretty web interface. 2GB is free, 50GB costs $99/year. It’s very tempting.

And finally, one that won’t be at all contentious…

  • Linux is ready, but the IT industry isn’t. I was beginning to think it’s time to finally ditch Windows. I’ve been tinkering with Linux on and off for 10 years; and there’s no doubt now that Ubuntu, Fedora or various other distributions are now up to scratch. Was this the moment to go Linux-first, with Windows as backup – be it dual-boot, or ‘virtual machine’? In the end, I bottled it. Partly because I’d revived the Windows installation, but mainly because there were going to be issues with many, perhaps most of my peripherals.I was able to find long, tortuous workarounds to make most (but importantly, not all) of my kit mostly work; but that’s not the point. I don’t have the time or energy to put up with lengthy, intricate installation processes, or accept limited functionality, when we know it would have been plug-and-play under Windows. True, there is a part of me that would fancy the challenge; and I dare say, for most hardcore Linux types, that challenge is (the main?) part of the attraction. But it’s too much to ask of mere mortals.Don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-Linux in principle, and I actively want to make the switch – probably to Ubuntu, since you asked. But I need people like (quick glance round the room) Dell, Apple, Garmin and (ha!) Microsoft to catch up. Make your kit work with Linux, guys, out of the box – and we’ve got ourselves a revolution. In the meantime, I’ll have to satisfy myself with occasional playing in Sun’s VirtualBox.

Eee redefines mobile working

Asus Eee vs Acer 'laptop'I didn’t go into London this afternoon expecting to buy a new laptop; but confronted by a shop which actually had the Asus Eee in stock – and at RRP too – I couldn’t resist. I’m now the very proud owner of an A5-sized Linux-based ultra-mobile PC… and the initial reaction is very positive indeed.
It’s undeniably cool, and feels much more solid than you’re entitled to expect for £219. The little keyboard takes a little getting used to; but the screen is fantastic, and the sound is better than I expected. The machine itself is remarkably lightweight, and the compact (mobile phone style) AC adapter is a pleasant surprise.
Inevitably you’re going to find yourself using Firefox most of the time, so it’s an immediately familiar user experience. The custom front-end is simplistic but perfectly functional; and it’s (apparently) dead easy to enable a more conventional Linux desktop if that’s what you want.
I can’t immediately see a catch. Smaller and lighter than a conventional laptop, with all the functionality you need, and a rock-bottom price tag. It redefines mobile working, simple as that.
If you fancy one yourself – good luck. There’s a great website which checks online retailers for availability: but be warned, they tend to sell out in minutes, unless you’re prepared to pay a hefty premium.