Saturday, August 30, 2008

Move-in day VI

This has been different than other years. Fewer issues but they are harder to troubleshoot.

Move -in V

Now that i'm a bit calmer, let me explain. I had spent nearly an hour trying to connect. Norton 360 was on the machine and prevented it from getting an IP address or talk to the DHCP server. It took me ages to try to uninstall, since it seems to do nothing unless you wait 10 minutes (and this was a fast machine). ItLs taken over 15 minutes and it's still uninstalling.

No excuse for that.

Move-in day IV

Symantec software is garbage!

Move-in Day III

Good news, everyone! The problem I mentioned in the previous post just went away by itself. It was just a matter of patience (though there may be an issue with the switch - one wing of the building i'm in has similar problems.

One student showed up withou XP service pack 2, which is several years old. I'll have to dig up a cd with it.

Move-in II

It got busy fast -- one computer that couldn't seem to get any connection. Couldn't find the answer to that, but the student was pretty nice about it. Another had a bad cable, exacerbated by a ptoblem with Office that kept trying and failing to install something (I have no idea why it was set up like that).

The third was easy - the network card was turned off. It's part of Dell's setup that makes some sense, but is a pain for us.

Move-in Day I

Once again, it's move-in day.

Freshmen are arriving on campus as I type, and soon I'll be in the residence halls helping them get their computers connected.

We hire student helpers to handle most of the job -- passing out instructions, answering questions -- but there are always complications that we couldn't foresee.  So I'll be there to help figure out why people are having problems.

I'll be reporting throughout the day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Software Graveyard -- MultiMate

One of the early PC word processors, MultiMate was a pretty solid success.

They did something very smart in their design of the software:  they made it look like the Wang word processing software that was popular on minicomputers of the time.  If you knew how to use Wang word processing, you could learn MultiMate in a few minutes. A template that explained the function keys was all you needed.

This allowed businesses to switch to PCs without having to spend a lot of time retraining their users.

Another feature of MultiMate was that it loaded one page in memory at a time.  This seems like an inconvenience (and it was -- if you accidentally pressed PgDown, you'd have to wait until the page displayed, then press PgUp and wait again), but it made sense.  In a time when few computers had hard drives and memory was limited to 256K (that K, not Meg), it allowed long documents to be created and edited.  You didn't have to worry if the 200-page document could fit into RAM -- it would.

Still, what made MultiMate popular also contributed to its demise. People who came to computers without experience with the Wang didn't care that they were similar; they wanted just to be able to use a word processor.  In addition, MultiMate was slow to add features and printer support that other word processors had as standard.

When Windows came along, MultiMate's parent company, Ashton-Tate, decided not to bother with it.  It seems to be gone completely (the only software I could found with that name is used to manage the mating of cows by ranchers).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Software Graveyard -- Remember these?

Silicon Valley Insider has listed some of Tech's forgotten brands --25 software and services that were very popular at the time, but which have been forgotten.

The list (with my comments):

  1. 1. AltaVista -- THE search engine before Google came along. First online translator with Babelfish.
  2. 2. Amiga -- Very popular home computer.
  3. 3. Atari -- The top gaming system for a number of years.
  4. 4. Broderbund -- Their software was everywhere. Where in the world are they now? Probably in the Print Shop.
  5. 5. CDNow -- The of CDs; now just amazon.
  6. 6. Commodore -- VIC 20. 20 K memory! What power!
  7. 7. Compuserve -- Information service; killed by AOL & the Internet.
  8. 8. CueCat -- One of the stupidest ideas ever.
  9. 9. Cyberian Outpost
  10. 10. Divx
  11. 11. Egghead Software -- Your mall computer store.
  12. 12. eToys -- of toys. Or tried to be.
  13. 13. Geocities -- Everyone's first web page.
  14. 14. Inktomi -- Search engine software. Googled.
  15. 15. Iomega -- Drive maker. Their Zip drive external drive was going to be the next big thing. Stock was big until hard drives became bigger and the bubble burst.
  16. 16. Lotus -- The most popular business software of the 80s. Best selling title for years. Botched the changeover to Windows and let Excel take over.
  17. 17. Lycos -- Nice search engine, but no match for others.
  18. 18. Netscape -- First serious web browser. MSIE overwhelmed it; became irrelevant once Firefox was introduced.
  19. 19. Packard Bell -- Cheap (and lousy) computers were sold everywhere but computer stores.
  20. 20. Prodigy -- Online service from Sears with crude graphics; competed with Compuserve, but AOL killed it.
  21. 21. Silicon Graphics
  22. 22. Tandy -- TRS-80 was one of the first home computers
  23. 23. Tomagatchi -- Virtual pets. An idea whose time had not come.
  24. 24. U.S. Robotics -- Top modem maker. Remember dial-up? Built-in modems were the beginning of the end.
  25. 25. WordPerfect -- The top word processor, replaced by Word (and still beloved). Bad marketing hurt them, as did the move to Windows.

I can add some others -- GEnie, WordStar (and Wordstar 2000), Multi-Mate, Lotus Symphony -- but these are names that will soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Essential Freeware -- Defraggler

I'm not a big fan of defragmenting a hard drive. Back in the days of DOS, it was often a useful task to help improve performance, but now it isn't all that important to the average user.

Why do files get fragmented? Because of how files are saved. If you have an empty hard disk, your file gets saved in one section of it.  The next file gets saved in the section next to it.

Now, suppose you want to add to the first file. You can't save the data in the next section -- the new file is using it. So you save it in a section separate from the rest.

Generally this was not a problem, even in the DOS days.  But if a file was spread out in too many sections of the hard disk -- fairly common as files got bigger -- the computer could slow down as it picked up pieces of the file from all over instead of one location.

Defragmentation moves sections of files so that they are all together. In the DOS days, you could see better performance. Nowadays, it doesn't matter as much:  hard drives are faster.

Windows has always had a defragmentation tool, but it was difficult to use. You needed to shut down all programs (including your screen saver), since if a program accessed any part of the hard drive during the scan, it started all over from the beginning. Since it could take an hour to defragment, it was frustrating if that happened 45 minutes into the process.

And, this meant you couldn't use your computer. Defraging was an overnight process.

That's why I was impressed by Defraggler. It's defragmentation done right. It's not bothered if the computer accesses the hard drive during use; it merely ignores files that aren't free. It also gives you the option of defragmenting individual files or directories.

It was developed by the same people who created CCleaner, so it runs simply and easily.

This is finally a way to balance the difficulty of defragmentation with the need.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Update your Computer

Remember -- students must have all their updates installed before coming onto campus. This includes all Windows updates plus all updates for your antivirus.

To make sure you're updated, leave your computer on over night. New updates will be downloaded. You will see an icon in the system tray (near the clock) that alerts you to this.  Click on it to make sure you've installed the updates.

For a quicker way, go to to download and install updates immediately.

You'll need to do the same thing for your antivirus software. There is usually an option to do an update, select it and install.

If you're not up-to-date when you come on campus, you'll have to do it then.  Better to be ready than to have to take the extra time to get on the Internet.

The Ultimate Steal has returned

Last year, Microsoft offered "The Ultimate Steal" for college students -- Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate -- for only $59.95.

It was supposed to be only for a limited time and did end back in March. But evidently it was a success, since Microsoft is making the same offer this year.  If you go to the Ultimate Steal website, you can sign up for the offer.

Like last year, this is only for students with a .edu address, and you may have to provide proof that you're attending classes. But it is a big savings (a quick check shows this package can cost over $350).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why so slow?

The slowness issue is one we're always having to deal with. People complain that their computer is slow to start up.  There are generally four types of slowdowns, and all have different solutions.

Slow to reach the login prompt.

The most common cause of this is that software is being installed. We generally release software and updates on Thursday. People are good about leaving their computers on, but sometimes a restart is required. You turn things off Friday, then when you restart on Monday, the software needs to be installed, so it takes several minutes to reach the prompt.

The best solution is to restart the computer when you go home instead of just logging off. It will install the software and be ready to go the next time you log in.

Slow to reach the desktop after logging in.

This is generally due to having a large profile.  It wouldn't hurt to use something like CCleaner to clean up unnecessary files.

Slow before you can start working.

This is usually due to software starting up.  If you have a lot, it can take some time before it's all ready.  One option is to use Startup Delayer to manage your start up.  Another is to uninstall any programs you don't need to run at startup. For instance, you can manually start AIM instead of doing it automatically on each startup.  The less running at start up the better.

Always slow.

This may be a virus or spyware problem.  It may be worthwhile to do a scan at Trend Micro's Housecall to see if there's anything causing trouble.

Another potential cause is lack of memory. Computers require more memory each year, and what was ample five years ago is barely enough to do anything today. If you notice your hard drive is constantly running, that's a good sign there's a memory problem. Buy new memory (or a new computer) and many of these problems will go away.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The S-L-O-W Computer

Many of you have been away for awhile.  Often, a long while. That's fine, but it can cause problems when you first start up your computer.

I&TS and Microsoft are always pushing out updates to Windows and to other software. If your computer has been shut off, these have not been installed. So when you log on, it may take a very long time before you can use the computer as the many updates are put onto your computer all at once.

Eventually, all updates will be added and things will run smoothly. However, it sometimes takes several logons to install everything (one update will require another one be installed first, for instance).

If you're patient, eventually everything will be set.  One way to reduce the issue is to leave your computer on (but not logged in) when you leave for the day. That will allow software to be installed overnight.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but it's necessary to keep your computer up-to-date.