Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
I'm very much hoping that as I become more familiar with this set up - and the change is as big as any I've experienced moving to a new Linux distro - that the difference between OSX and Windows (and openSUSE/Pear) will stop being obvious, and it will just become another computer used for work. In many ways I like the new toolbars in Office 2013, and I've begun tinkering to optimise them for my workflow. At the same time they are suffering some bad design/styling choices, with the text and icons in soft pastel colours that make them fuzzy and indistinct when you're hunting for a function that's not familiar. I may well find this is customisable too, but haven't dug beneath the 'hood' enough yet.
I'm still really aware of my initial feelings as an experienced windows user returning to windows on a 'nice' machine and comparing it to my earliest experience with Apple. Also interesting to note that Apple are a hardware manufacturer that happens to sell software to support its hardware, while Microsoft are a software manufacturer that has never really managed a successful hardware business.
When starting a Mac for the first time, the new user experience is good, with well-considereed choices and pleasing introductions. The bad choices and bits of frustrating stupidity, though present, are well concealed. With Windows the reverse is true, and it takes a couple of hours digging and fiddling to end up with something that's fit for use. This makes no sense to me: if I were a new user, or not technically able and I'd just bought a new laptop, why should I need to know about how to configure screen settings? Why load up the Windows start menu/metro interface with all the stupid and unfamiliar junk in bilious purple squares that most users will want to junk anyway? Why not make software that looks good, guides the user to begin with and works right out of the box? Almost every new Linux install has hardware detection built in, so why not include this by default (or encourage manufacturers like Dell to include the right drivers etc) so that everything is great from the start.
This is turning into a rant, which wasn't the idea, but someone has badly failed to understand how to make their products friendly and desireable, and it's killing an otherwise good business.
As for the new hardware, as one would expect, it's a mixed bag.
That screen is superb, really, and the finer dot pitch (and possibly some upscaling, though I'm not aware if it's happening or not) makes watching DVDs much nicer than on a bigger low res screen. Detail is crisp and sharp, colours clear and the whole very pleasing.
Weight - the XPS15 weighs slightly less than the 13" Macbook (itself a light machine at the time).
Fit and finish - seems very good. There's no creaks or rattles, the ali bits are blemish-free, and although it's a little flexy, important things like USB ports are snug and work right every time (not something that could be said for my Macbook with poor USB port reliability).
Quiet - even when the fans are going flat out, it's still quieter than the Macbook in the same condition.
Quick - despite using spinning rust for storage, boot is fast (about 1/3 the time of the Macbook using SSD) and nearly everything happens *quickly*. It also copes fine with several applications open and doing stuff.
Battery life - I've already seen around 4 hours of doing things that worked it hard enough to get hot.
The less good:
That superb screen - can also make things a little small sometimes, and 16:9 is a stupid consumer video format entirely out of place for business use. Screens should be 3:2 for optimal document handling.
Fit and finish: everything you touch in normal use has a black rubberised coating. Looks good when new, gets shiny fast. This coating is also on the trackpad, and since that's distinctly less good than the apple equivalent, I wonder if this is why?
Temperature - since I mentioned fans. The Macbook would remain cool unless asked to do something demanding, at which point it would warm up. The Dell is warm all the time, though sometimes it will get much warmer too. Different cooling plans and the downside of a thinner, lighter casing?
Quick - but not all the time. It too bogs down a little after processing a few images through lightroom. This I did not expect. Some of it is likely down to the conventional hard drive, and I could hear the drive being accessed each time a block of data for image was re-rendered in Perfect Effects.
Size - after a 13" machine the extra 2" takes a little getting used to, and I wish the keyboard were further forward instead of being near the screen.
Sofa so good - none of the above is show-stopping, and generally it's a great replacement.
Initially I tried the obvious thing: export contacts from Entourage as a tab-separated file, which was then imported into excel and converted toa comma separated file (.csv) before re-importing into outlook. Except it didn't work.
All the names came over, and just 1 field with phone numbers: all the rest were blank.
OK, not to be put off, I deleted all those, then created a new contact with all the appropriate fields filled in: emails, various phone numbers, postal address etc. Export to a .csv file - all I got was a name and 1 (mobile) phone number. All the right headers were there, but none of the additional data I'd entered. Nuts.
So back to google - in more than 1 sense of the word.
Microsoft will import data from Google - if you link accounts (Meh, but OK for now) - which in retrospect I probably didn't need to do, but it DID make it easy for me to find and access all the contacts Google stores from my phone (you can imagine how much I don't like this because of privacy, though I DID know Google stores ALL my information anyway). There were a LOT of duplicates there (>1100 contacts) and I spent 2 hours this morning going through and editing, deleting and combining contacts to get down to a list that STILL has duplicates, somehow (Randall - your details are listed 5 times!). The final step after the editing was to export contacts as.... you guessed it.... a .csv file. The option was there to export as a .vcard file too, so I did that straight afterward).
So went back as usual, did the 'import as .csv file' and was offered for the first time, choices over what fields I want in my contacts list. Hit OK and bam, there's all the contacts, addresses, multiple email addresses, phone numbers, the lot, all where they should be.
I wonder if I'd have been better off just sertting down to plug them in by hand (the answer is yes, in that I could have got the lot in - 700 odd - in a working day, though it would have been mind-numbing). But at least now I have contacts it feels like I can continue to work properly: being contactless is unsettling.
Monday, 26 May 2014
Last week Chris had to get up very early one morning, and being 'good' I kept her company. The expectation was that I'd arrive at Trow Pond around sunrise, but when I got there it was tipping down. So instead of beautiful, inspiring sunrise shots, here'S Trow pond in the wet and chill.
Sunday, 25 May 2014
The little Philips laptop has a VGA-out socket, and that together with an old Acer 19" monitor means that I can work on a desktop system again. A little tweaking, a bit of fiddling and *bazinga* I can work in clamshell mode with less hassle setting it up that with the macbook when I first had it
Debating now whether to set up the NAS tonight or wait until next week, so I will have a data store for backups. I have both drives from my desktop machine still intact, and apparently readable, so I really should make copies ASAP. Not sure yet whether I will actually ever get another desktop, since I have 3 laptops available now, and don't *want* to spend more money.
Oh yes, that I have a wealth of gear here I can use when I need stuff.
Saturday, 24 May 2014
I've been increasingly aware of issues: once I was sat in the livingroom having just started it on the windows partition, heard a 'click' and then seen it go directly from login to blue screen of death. The Linux side has been reasonably OK until this last week or 2 when it suddenly refused to print, and then I started seeing warning messages about USB failure.
My initial assumption was that openSUSE had received a bad update & was struggling a bit (actually that started a while back) but when I then found that I couldn't copy my files to another drive I became much more concerned. Various attempts with drives formatted different ways and connected through SATA, external USB etc all failed, as had using a live linux OS for copying, so I decided to do a fresh rebuild using the old machine I'd had until a couple of years back.
Used PC components apparently don't store well.
With fiddling, I could get the old machine to post OK and access the bios, but it wouldn't get as far as actually searching for a boot drive (Stopped at the DMI line in posting).
So I have a small stack of hard drives sat on my desk waiting for data recovery to archive drives, then wipe & reinstall, but that will be AFTER the hardware issues are fixed. And I'm getting too old to enjoy crawling on the floor un-plugging & replugging stuff for the 7th or 8th time. I still have 3 working laptops (Dell Boy, the Macbook and my old Philips knock-about machine) but none have the multi-terabyte HDDs inside that I want for backup purposes. I do have an HDD to UBS drive caddy and there is a D-Link NAS device upstairs, so I could use the Philips as a pass-through device to transfer data to the NAS I guess (about 1Tb of data at 10-20Mb/sec, wonder how long that would take?).
Meh, as Johanna C would say.
Friday, 23 May 2014
So rather than email, I'd like to say 'thank you' to certain people at this time, especially the creator of the image 'hard ottage'. You know who you are. ;-)
So back to the laptop and Wait - how I've begun to read my abbreviation of Windows 8. That's not at all appropriate, and after the pedestrian Macbook this thing generally flies.
The REAL challenge has been how to import emails from the previous computer, and frankly, it's made me get a bit sweary inside my head at times. Back in the bad (read 5 years ago) days Microsoft offered Outlook for windows and entourage for OSX, and although in many ways they were similar, they stored and archived emails in incompatible formats (this may still be the case, but Office:Mac now uses 'Outlook' too, and I've not seen conversion tools for that).
So Outlook on windows uses the .pst file format and entourage the .rge archive format.
I was loath to pay for a converter program if I could help it for a one-off use (ain't NEVER going back there) so tried some of the various web rememdies and free conversion tools. Apparently it's possible to extract emails in .eml format from entourage by dragging & dropping on the desktop, but there's an upper limit of 200 emails per operation. I have >20,000 emails in 132 folders (yes, I do file them inbox is bloating at around 2500 emails) so that would mean probably 150 drag and drop operations with the chance of missing something important or creating multiple copies of junk.
Spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, then another couple this morning. I'd found a 'free' package that promised to convert emails for personal use from a few different formats. Entourage wasn't listed, but Apple Mail will import entourage email and it was, so off we went. That was a curious experience, because there were no progress bars available so had no idea if it was working until the fans started running hard on the Macbook for about 25 min. So the program was installed, 3Gb of exported Apple Mail .mbox files copied across and comnversion process run.
Outlook 2013 does not import .eml files. it would open them from individual (randomly named) files, but not import them.
Now in theory I could have attempted to im,port them into outlook express/microsoft mail/whatever they call it these days, but after multiple conversions between formats and stories on the www of corruption & reformatting happening, AND the time all this was taking for little forward progress, I decided to call it a day.
So about £22 bought me a tool that would stop me playing silly beggars any more - well, mostly.
See, when you import an entourage .rge archive file into entourage it brings across all the calendar appointments and address book too. Not so here. Next workaround then.
Entourage will apparently export contacts in a.csv file, which turned out to be a tab-separated file, and again, not compatible with Outlook. Now the quicker-witted will know that excel can import and convert tab separated files into excel spreadsheets, then export them as .csv files. Neat. Except where someone was too lazy to type contact phone numbers with spaces included into contact information - then in some contact detail cells Excel removes the first '0' and treated the rest of the number as a big integer. So my present task is to go through and put the '0' and spaces back in, checking through hundreds of contacts and thousdands of phone numbers.
This has made me a little more sympathetic to the W8 haters, because trying to find and work with unfamiliar tools when you're under time pressure isn't fun, and I'm very grateful for the space to learn & set up the new OS. I'm also getting used to a new keyboard, which is odd after the previous apple-specific device (different spacing, different placement of some keys, much longer key travel) which adds to the sense of a different environment. I have to say too, that settings in the new office suite are enormously extensive and complex, and while I admire the sheer sophistication built in, I can't help but feel this is all quite un-necessary for most people at work. It's made setting up mail accounts in Outlook more involved (messages can now be saved to unique outlook archive files for each account) and I sapent an increasingly angry 10min looking for 'undo' on the ribbon in excel, only to find it's on the title bar.
Learning and having unique experiences should keep a mind young - I hope it's true. It IS nice to use a computer that doesn't make you want to cross your arms and start humming while it sorts itself out, though.
I also notice the previous post about this was full of typos and spelling mistakes. C'est la vie, and this one probably will be too.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
It is very disconcerting to spend a couple of hundred quid & receive a small empty box. Medialess software is horrid, even if it's less wastefull, because you never feel like you have anything for your money, and it's all far too subject to the whims and success or failure of the vendor. Even worse, with Microsoft Office and many others there is no chance to download and burn a disc, since you download an installer that then installs direct.
And it's slow, subject to the slings and arrows of connection speed. Nasty.
Software vendors - if you're reading this, if you sell software as download only and a competitor has an equivalent product with physical media, I shall always choose the physical media option. Download & direct install only = no sale, as far as I can manage it. King Cnut? Sure (and that's not an anagram:-( )
So I've exported all my emails to an entourage archive file and now am transferring across all my data to the FAT disc partition on my backup drive ready to upload to the new machine. I wonder if Outlook will import Entourage mails?
I am naive in my old age. Of course outlook won't import files from an Apple computer, even one running microsoft software. Suggestions on the internet instruct that one can drag emails into suitably named folders on the desktop, however there is a limit of 200 mails per drag & drop, and I have >20,000 emails (and that's with regular culling of junk)
Apple's Mail program will however import entourage emails, and while reluctant, will export them in mbox format, albeit slowly. I can hear the fans spinning up now as it labours with the conversion. From there I may be able to use a 'free' program to do the conversion, or may have to import into Thunderbird and then convert. I did find one converter that would charge me $30 and claimed to do the job OK, but that seems a bit steep for a one-off conversion (even if my time is worth more than that) so it will remain a last resort.
I won't say 'never again' but it's not terribly likely I'll go back to a Mac. Maybe. ;-)
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
I had trouble ordering software yesterday, and the same problems repeated today, with the corporate CC being rejected. I *think* it's just run over the credit limit (which wasn't ever very high) and will begin to work again next month. At least MO is on the way now.
This afternoon's adventure was persauding it to work in clamshell mode.
I can see why some commenters have been so vitriolic about Windows 8 now - the control options for many functions seem to be legacy running right back to windows 2000 in some, but not all, cases. So working through control panel, when selecting power settings and behavoiur when the lid is closed you never quite know what kind of dialogue you will need to deal with, and in the case of behaviours when the lid is shut, there are 2 lots of dialogues, both covering the same things anyway.
What is even odder is that some of these dialogues resize to match the screen resolution and some don't, so one moment the dialogue with be screen-filling, while the next it will be so tiny it's hard to interact with at all. Is windows code now so vast that it's not possible to go back through and provide a unified look and behaviour? It certainly doesn't look professional after OSX, and TBH looks pretty bad compared to XP. Having Dell and Intel panels too doesn't help, because they also look as though they were made to look a bit like native windows controls, and then a bit not. Nvidia also has a control panel, but they do their own thing and there's no confusion.
The good, the bad and the yellow-ugly.
There are 2 things that are really striking about this laptop. One is the low weight and slim construction, so that there is the same weight as the Macbook, but in a thinner & wider body. It's a really skinny minny, and that makes for less thick metal therefore more flex when handling. It's not horrid and creaky like so many ligh (and not so light) laptops, but the flex is still there. I DO like the low weight though, and it's a good trade off.
The second is that screen. At native 3200:1800 it's incredibly sharp, clear and lovely. There's a setting on the 'Mobility' control panel for colour called 'Splendid' which makes anything with yellow or orange in it look like it's had WAY too much artificial tan sprayed on, and turning this off helped enormously. There's also a sort of monitor calibration feature that allows adjustment of certain factors, but that doesn't allow one to save different profiles. S'okay, I can live with doing it 'right' once & leaving it.
There are 2 things less good. The screen is REALLY glossy, to the point where there is always a reflection behind your head, but even that wouldn't matter if the screen didn't have a yellow cast to lighter areas when moving ones head up or down - even top & bottom of the screen look a bit yellow compared to the middle. Not a problem for normal use, not so good for image editing. Oh well.
Overall I *hope* it will be good & well-behaved. It seems a decent device, so lets hope.
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
First off, there were hiccups with Dell actually taking payment, and the credit card (business) was refused. Then there was an email from someone in Dell that had clearly been pasted together from several other emails, all in different fonts and with spelling & grammatical errors, so that I thought my details had been passed outside & I was being scammed. After best part of a week when I'd tried phoning (I HATE calling call centres where I can't understand a word due to poor hearing and speech processing) I'd almost given up and begun to look around for something else. Then I had a call from someone at Dell, we went through the CC details again, payment went through & I got an order confirmation.
So it arrived this morning. Small, plain brown cardboard box just big enough to hold a 15" laptop and power supply. And apart from 2 tiny leaflets (quickstart guide and warranty info) that's all there was in the box too - no 'case candy', discs of any kind, letters from the chairman thanking me for my purchase, advertising bumph etc etc. The laptop didn't even come in a plastic bag. Packaging manufacturers nil, environment 1 I guess.
Now, in the past I have already set up several W8 machines, so though I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it was with great trepidation that I took it from the box. This is still an expensive bit of kit for me, and if I didn't open it then it could still be returned.
First impression was very mac-like with nice aluminium lid, however flip it over and the carbon fibre bottom is pure Dell, with little vents, slots, rubber feet and all the lumpiness and weak design values that seem to be typical of PC manufacturers everywhere. After a Macbook, every PC seems to have been made by people who a) love plastic and b) have to design stuff with visible crevices and protrusions. It does, however, look very pleasing from the top and not so bad underneath as many models with its carbon-fibre base.
Weightwise it's pretty much exactly the same as the unibody macbook, but feels slightly lighter because it's larger and thinner (and distinctly less solid) kind of like a gigantic Macbook air. A look at the edges showed 2 USB 3.0 ports, headphone socket, mini-display port and HDMI ports on the left, 2 more USB ports (1 X 3.0, 1 X 2.0) plus SD card reader and security socket on the right. There's no RJ45 network port, but wireless is nearly ubiquitous now, and much less of an issue than it was 3 or 4 years ago.
The one bit of design that seems VERY dumb is the power cable, because the connector is a skinny jack that sticks straight out about 3cm before becoming flexible. Making this with a right angle so it protruded no more an a single centimeter (ha ha - Safari doesn't recognise the word centimeter) would have been sensible for a machine designed to travel, rather than sit on the MD's desk all day. Apple - your magsafe power connection wins this one with ease.
So, first start up.
The machine was created with a disc image that simulates the final steps to set up W8.1 after installing, so we go through the basic info about user ID and password, location, language and time, security and making sure all my personal data isn't sold to microsoft and Dell associates, then the screen where microsoft try to force you to create an account before letting you bypass the account requirements in a nasty and devious manner.
Finally the start screen appears.
It seems a bit small.
And there are large black bars either side too.
Where's control panel.
It is, however at this point that I become grateful a second time round for buying a refurb, because all the cruft and junkware that normally goes with a new machine (Bullguard aniti-virus? Bullsomething ;-) ) is absent. All of it. There's a Dell utility package to supply hardware-specific updates and the various Intel and NVidia driver specific packages, but outside that no symantec malware, no Norton stuff to slow the system to a crawl and crash legitimate apps. Just virgin W8.1.
So we re-size the screen from 1024:768 to 3200:1800 and I have to find some reading glasses to enable me to read text on dialogue boxes. But darn, this screen is AMAZING in the quality of images and resolution it presents. moving back to my main monitor - a Dell U2412M, itself a very good budget screen - I can see pixellation in the text and coloured fringing around fonts.
Eventually, somewhere along the line windows realises that I've changed screen resolution and re-sizes everything to make it readable with the naked eye.
Then we do 900Mb of updates, which downloads far faster than I'd have expected, but installs as slowly as one might have feared. ;-) While that happened I went through and set up the trackpad & so on - the default setting (middle of the slider) is really insensitive, and adjusting it to near max sensitivity makes it much closer to the Macbook trackpad, though still not quite to that standard. At least it's exactly the same size, which is really good (wouldn't have bought it otherwise - small trackpad is a dealbreaker)
After the updates, as I was starting to change the programs in the start menu to ones that might be useful a black box appeared containing and orange arrow and information telling me to swipe in from the side of the trackpad to control different aspects of windows.
Great, that's useful.
I demonstrate that I have read and understood by swiping in from both sides, top & bottom, flicking between start and desktop etc.
The box does not go away.
I restart. No box.
30sec later box reappears.
I run through every setting I can find, looking for a way to remove this B*st*rd box that's occupying my screen. No amount of clicking with various combinations will remove it.
Nothing will get rid of it.
I am quite cross and about to google for an answer when it just goes. Weird.
Setup continues, unspectacularly now. My credit card is refused again by Ebuyer when trying to by microsoft office - never had that happen before, so maybe dell have started a trend.
There's nothing else fun or entertaining to report - just the routine of installing software, printer drivers etc. Hopefully once Office is on there & I can move emails across (I sense a 'story' coming up there) then I can settle down with it for work.
Signing off - from the macbook - for now.
Wednesday, 14 May 2014
We are in the new Bicester Sainsbury store, shopping with our friends. It's got the feel of a temple to the consumer gods, and a place to come and worship, even if you don't buy the stuff.
What's kind of odd is how the place always feels empty, even though so many we know have told us it's their preferred store. Hopefully well escape soon and return to our peaceful house of plenty.
Monday, 12 May 2014
Mike is napping gently just 10 feet away after a long day out at Blenheim followed by a vast Chinese style meal. Chris is busy crafting in the kitchen with Marleen. I'm just sat at the computer typing quietly & feeling fat & lazy.
Tuesday, 6 May 2014
Monday morning opened up my emails, only to find 4 emails, apparently sent from Dell, each with the same send time of Friday night, yet received at various times on Saturday. Apparently the company credit card had been declined, and would I reply and contact the person named to arrange an alternative payment method? Looking more closely, I could see different fonts had been used to construct the email, and then the grammatical errors began to stand out.
Now it could be that there really is someone called Sayed Khaled working for Dell, and he really does want to help me complete my order and get the replacement computer to me. But I can't turn off the alarm bells going off in my head yet - seems far more likely Dell have been compromised in some way, and this is a scam.
I've emailed Dell using the contact information that came with the order confirmation - lets see what happens. If payment really HAS been refused then I'm sure they'll be in contact legitimately, and the worst thing I lose is a few days.
Saturday, 3 May 2014
Thursday night I broke a small chip out of a tooth, lower back left, in my mouth. I know when it happened because I found what I thought to be a piece of cherry stone in the food I was eating, and only later realised there was some tooth gone. Thursday it was there, but not a problem, a change in my mouth.
Friday work, fine. I don't normally talk much, and although I could feel a sharp edge against my tongue, it wasn't a big deal.
Friday night I was out with friends from work, having to talk. Suddenly my tongue was constantly catching, to the point where a few times it actually snagged, and I found I couldn't speak well. And it was sore.
I went to bed, woke up, tongue still sore. Saturday. Nuts.
So this afternoon I got a small file, washed it, then went to work. Tooth enamel laughs at fine, older files (somewhere I have some diamond files, but couldn't find them) but eventually reduced the sharp edge enough that it no longer caught. Result!
Next week I'm going to have to bite the bullet (yeah, I know) and see a dentist. Linea - you are the ONLY dentist I'm ever happy to see!
Thursday, 1 May 2014
In line with my comments a couple of weeks back, I've stopped using Firefox here because of the Eising resignation issue, and decided to give safari a go as the native Mac browser. I like to have a lot of tabs to different sites up, though with only a few actually open at any one time, and in Firefox, opening a link with the browser closed simply opens a new tab for the link while remembering all the others that had been open. In the same situation safari simply opens the new tab while forgetting all those that were up previously. I can go back through history, but it's messy, and likewise if you have hundreds of bookmarks it isn't that great.
So is there a way to make tabs persist, or should I ditch safari too?