Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Ask the Man Who Has One. Or Seventeen.

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Computers suck. Ask the man who has one. Or seventeen.

You haven’t seen much from me lately because I began the XP rampdown a little too late to be calm and systematic about it. It wasn’t evolution, nor upgrading. It was demolition. I will probably be tinkering with the rubble for a good long while, but the explosions have for the most part occurred where and how I intended them.

Before I get into that, take a look at the photo above. I use the Dell SK-8135 keyboard everywhere I don’t need one of my precious Northgates, and I destroyed one a couple of weeks ago by literally dropping a computer on it. (I don’t know if the SX270 got hurt. It’s now in somebody’s recycle pile, and will not trouble this world again.) That left me with no spares, so I ordered a couple of used ones from a surplus house. Both arrived the other day…with logins and passwords taped to their undersides. Heartbleed? We don’t need no steeking Heartbleed…

So we return to the XP crater. The smoke is clearing. Both of Carol’s machines are now used but spotless Optiplex 780s running Win7. My GX620 USFF upgraded to Win7 without a whole lot of argument. My quadcore now has a newer and much larger SSD, plus a new card reader and four new USB ports on the front panel. My new Dell e6400 laptop was a Win7 slab from the outset. I got rid of four SX270s, plus a couple of old Pentium 3 mini-towers that followed me home years ago and refused to leave. I was about to recycle my dead 2001 Thinkpad X21, then plugged it in, scratched my chin, shoved the hard disk solidly into its slot, and boom! Windows 2000 said hi to me for the first time since early 2005. The X21 remains my favorite laptop of all time. Still not sure what to do about that.

There were driver problems, not that that came as a complete surprise. Both my HP 5370C flatbed scanner and my OpticBook flatbed edge scanner came with drivers that refused to install. (Interestingly, my even older HP PhotoSmart S20 slide scanner installed without any grumbling.) HP’s 5370C driver was an abomination even when it was new. The 5370C is a freaking scanner, for cripe’s sake. Why does it need twenty-five assorted DLLs, OCXs, and other dubious squidlies in order to function? Well, I’m in the thick of scanning a lot of paper records for offsite storage, and I needed that scanner bad. What I ended up doing turned out to be a bit of a wonder: I bought the Pro version of VueScan. It rankled me a little at first to have to spend $80 to reclaim a scanner I paid for twelve years ago. That said, what VueScan gave me was marvelous: A common UI for every scanner in the house. (VueScan supports the S20 as well.) The product is well worth the money. It comes with a reasonably literate 111-page user guide, and there’s a book about it too. The book’s on order, and so far I’ve been able to find my way around by (gasp) reading the manual, with less head-banging than I expected. The list of scanners supported by VueScan is boggling. If I ever need to get another scanner, I won’t have to screw with psychotic vendor drivers, nor learn any needlessly different vendor UIs.

Win a program, lose a program. I have a little utility called Jasc Image Commander that’s been with me since the midlate 90s. All I use it for is to crop, resize, rotate, and adjust color on pictures for Contra. Alas, Win7 will have no part of it. Bummer. I installed FastStone and IrfanView and am trying to decide which to keep. Both are more complex than I need, but I’ve used them both before and the jump won’t be too traumatic. So far, IrfanView has the edge.

Win7 itself wasn’t that big a deal. I still have a couple of head-scratchers on the list. The e6400 simply will not join my homegroup. I’ll come back to that once I study up a little on homegroups. I have a weird impression that Win7 is dropping keystrokes on me when I type quickly–and as most of my friends are aware, I type very quickly. This may in part be due to the PS/2-USB keyboard converter that allows me to use a 1991 Northgate on a machine without a PS/2 keyboard connector. Don’t know. Will continue to research it.

I may put XP in a VM in case I need it for something. I’m also keeping one XP-based SX270, not for the sake of XP but because it’s the only machine in the house that can read floppies and Zip disks. Who still has floppies and Zip disks? I do. And they wander in sometimes carrying interesting things.

Still, for the most part, it’s done. Sure, I should have begun sooner. Yeah, I’ll miss XP a little. I won’t miss the boxloads of old hardware that the switchover finally motivated me to dump. And boy, am I looking forward to moving on to more entertaining projects than this!


  1. Steve Stroh says:

    Reading ZIP drives and floppies… if you really want to read them on one of the Win7 machines, just buy a USB floppy drive and a USB ZIP drive. I did this with my new Mac that has never had, never could have ever had a legacy floppy drive, and to my amazement, it worked fine. I’ll guess that it would work the same way with a USB ZIP drive (which are, amazingly, available new on Amazon).

  2. Tom Roderick says:

    I use both FastStone and Irfanview and find that their strengths and weaknesses for what I needed them for. Irfanview seems to be the best at cleaning up some old slides I have scanned that I took in Northern Thailand in the early 1970’s and were processed somewhere over there. FastStone lets me compare two shots side by side on screen and also has better cropping for what I need.

  3. TRX says:

    I’ve never used Jasc Image Commander, but I still have my ancient copy of Jasc Paint Shop Pro, which does all that I want for an image editor. And it runs just fine under Wine. So you could set up a VirtualBox Linux VM and see if Image Commander works there.

    I still have an XP VM which runs my CAD and CAM packages.

  4. Tony says:

    Irfanview is what I have used forever on Windows based systems. The plug-ins that you can install give it some added power when needed.

    1. After much fooling around with both, I’ve decided to keep…both. Irfanview comes closest to Image Commander, but FastStone is useful when you have to scan bunches of pictures for some reason. Both are small and tight, and there’s no downside to having them both at ready.

  5. Rich Dailey says:

    Regarding vintage PS/2 keyboards with USB converters: I experimented for almost a year with various passive/active converters, and was never able to get my favorite 1986 IBM Model M keyboard to work without occasional dropped characters. So I finally broke down and got the next best thing – a Unicomp Classic with no Windows keys (full size space bar).

    Works great, and is as close as I’ll ever get to the tactile response of “Old M”.

    1. Rich Dailey says:

      Might add that the old model Ms have HUGE current draw. The updated USB Unicomp model is less than a tenth of the draw than the old keyboard.

  6. Keith says:

    Two points.

    1. If you are going to install Windows XP Mode, that would solve your problem with the JASC Image Commander program. The page the link you gave points to seems to indicate that Windows XP Mode is integrated with Windows 7 better than installing even XP in a VirtualBox VM would be. Did you reject that approach for getting JASC Image Commander to work for some reason?

    2. I have discovered that on my computer, Windows 7 sometimes comes out of sleep mode in a state that makes it drop characters quite a lot. If I just put it back to sleep, then wake it up again, it has always stopped dropping characters.

    I don’t know whether that is related to the problem you are having. I just wanted to let you know about it so you are aware of it.

    It took me a long time to realize that it was going to sleep that got my computer into the state in which it dropped characters. I was happy to discover the simple solution and stopped looking for an underlying cause.

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