Saturday, August 8, 2009

I hate getting a new computer

Mea culpa.

My computer died. About a third of my important data was on that computer, without a recent backup.

Yes, that does happen; even to professionals who should know better.

I spent five days trying to ressurect it before I gave up and decided to start over from scratch. I promoted my test bed to be my primary computer and set this one aside to be rebuilt and used in situations where I’ll never trust it again.

Now I have to go about making “a” computer “my” computer again. Two weeks later, I’m finding significant programs I forgot to reinstall and nothing works exactly like I’m comfortable with. Oh, I did have a backup that was about 6 weeks old. Most of what I will weep over losing was a month-and-a-half worth of emails.

What's missing when you get a new computer?


The computer comes with Windows which includes Internet Explorer and Windows Mail for your primary online needs. It probably also included a 30- or 90-day subscription to a security suite. Maybe you bought it with an office program and even a personal finance program. What else could I want for my computer?

The first thing I do is uninstall the bloated security suite and install a cleaner updated antivirus only utility. Then I connect to the internet and run Windows Update.

Now I need a few utilities to work with the computer the way I want. These include Firefox, a compression program such as the free 7zip, a media player such as iTunes, a .pdf reader, and some administrative utilities appropriate to my business. Then come drivers for accessories such as my webcam, scanner, smartphone, and printer. Now I remake my network connections to file storage and printers.

Whew! I haven't even started on the application programs. In addition to an office suite and money manager, I use a graphics suite and a number of tools for web authoring. I'm sure I'll find more programs I need as I use the computer. Fortunately I'm mostly organized and can usually put my hands on the original CDs or downloads and activation keys of my programs.

Now, I've got a functioning computer, but it's not my computer. I keep most of my data on a network drive, so usually I won't have to restore that 100 GB. But some programs such as Outlook Express insist on keeping their data on the local drive, typically in some obscure location you wouldn't think about backing up. Even though I have my Outlook 2007 old mail and contacts data on a network drive, all of its connection settings are integral to the local computer so I have to look up user names, passwords and account settings for a half-dozen email accounts. And don't ask me how much I've personalized Word and Excel. Generally, the more complex the program, the more likely that it saves it's settings and preferences irretrievably in Windows.

Microsoft does offer a couple utilities that purport to help you save and transfer your settings between computers. The Files and Settings Transfer wizard (FAST) collects some important and some trivial Windows settings from your logon password to your desktop color. It also will copy your cookies and favorites from Internet Explorer and the contents of your My Documents folder. The last can take a long time and a lot of disc space if you keep music and pictures, as well as documents, in that folder. I recommend that you point it to a USB hard drive with lots of space. It will not get any data such as I mentioned above that is not in My Documents.

For Microsoft Office, you can also use the Microsoft Office Save My Settings Wizard which is usually in the Microsoft Office Tools folder. It will, with one operation, collect a lot of the more obscure personalizations in Word, Excel, Outlook, and other Office programs.

Both of these wizards apply only to the current user. That means your spouse and kids will have to run it individually. You'll also have to manually move data in Shared Documents. And, of course, they only pick up the customizations in Microsoft programs.

Now that I'm up and running, I can start worrying about hardware productivity features. My new computer did not come with an upgraded video, so I will have to move that from my old computer (if it's compatible) to use dual monitors. Also the keyboard has a slightly different layout that causes me problems. Unfortunately, my old keyboard uses a different connection and I will have to deal with that.

My situation was made more difficult because the old computer completely failed. If you are merely upgrading, you can always go back to the old machine to look at settings or get that template for your letterhead. I was saved, however, by the fact that most of my data is not actually on my computer. Even with a six-week-old backup, there was very little critical data that I lost.

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