Buried by details, plus a software rant against Windows 7

It’s been a revelation this week, with my wife being gone. This is her second away trip for the year, and even though it’s not two weeks like the one she took this summer, somehow this time it’s having a bigger impact on me personally, because I’ve been trying to build and maintain a professional writing output level since getting back from Writers of the Future in August. One thing I will say, about these trips — and the additional workload being shifted to my shoulders — they always makes me wonder how single Moms do it for years on end. I have just the one daughter, and she’s an easy, smart little cookie. I can’t imagine multiple kids, much less multiple kids with issues or behavior problems. I think I’d go crazy. So, to all single Moms, my hat is off. You are all working miracles.

Anyway, the week has been a total disaster, and a total blessing, at the same time. A disaster because I’ve not been able to get done even half the stuff I wanted to get done — writing or otherwise — but also a blessing because it’s made me realize acutely how and where I need to reorganize my life and effect some serious changes in how I track, sort, and prioritize all the small and big things I’ve got going on — stuff that needs attending, lest I fall short or wind up causing problems not just for myself, but the family as a whole.

Yesterday I officially began work on a writing-related project that should start bringing in regular money come December of this year. Not much. About what I get from the Army Reserve every month. But it’s writing-related so I get to include it as writing income, and that’s a very big step for me, to have a regular lump of writing money showing up in the mail. But it also means a further commitment that requires proper and diligent attention. Just like my 7 year old needs proper and diligent attention, and my day job, and my army job, and the writing of new fiction. Which is just a very wordy way of saying I’m Bilbo: spread thin, like butter scraped across too much bread.

To that end I’ve been re-reading David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.” It was a complimentary gift as part of a day job sponsored time management class I did in late January, and I am returning to it again because I am really, really needing some fresh, practical ideas and motivation to focus hard and restructure my daily flow.

One of the huge things David hits on is having a reliable “catchment” system that can keep things from falling through the cracks. All the bazillion little and big items, actions, requirements, reminders, etc, all go into the system. If the system is trustworthy, it will not let you forget or overlook things, so that they get done on time and without much mental grief.

And mental grief is something I’ve had too much of in the last six months. Mostly because I have become so overwhelmed by everything I have to do, between all my commitments, that I often wake up in the morning and immediately experience a crushing sense of groaning, dull obligation. Ugh. And I know it’s because I don’t have a properly organized and prioritized system. I carry all of it around in my head, and trying to carry it all around in my head drives me nuts because I wind up worrying about all of it all the time, and I am forever stuck in Covey’s “important urgent” box, or in the “not important, not urgent” escapist time wasting box.

Theoretically, it should be possible to get to the “important, not urgent” box — where everything is handled before it’s a crisis, and there is little or no time-wasting on bullshit because there’s no emotional or mental desire to flee the entire mess because it’s just too overwhelming and difficult to try and grapple with at any one moment. Yes, occasional fires are inevitable, and they have to be put out when they have to be put out. But life shouldn’t feel like a fire, all the time, every day, and that’s what my life has felt like lately: one fire after another, and I’m rather tired of it.

So, much as I’d have loved to drop everything and write a ton as I’d planned, I’ve actually been forced to spend my time — what time I can find in between everything, including being a Dad — trying to figure out and develop my system. And the first step in that process, is identifying any and all possible action items, items requiring attention, reminder items, etc, in my life right now. And this list has grown depressingly long — almost to the point that I want to put my head back under the pillow and hide from it all. Only, I can’t. It’ll only get worse if I do that, and I am all out of energy and patience for ‘worse’ in all its forms.

So, that’s my update on this end.

Oh, and I am abandoning Microsoft Windows 7. Have had it on the new writing computer in the basement since August, and am fed up with it. Done. D-O-N-E. Windows XP did everything I needed my operating system to do, and it did it in a familiar, efficient manner. Windows 7 seems like an artfully decorated box of crap. Nothing works the way it used to. I have to keep scrounging in all kinds of annoying ways just to figure out how to do simple shit I used to be able to do without thinking. The interface doesn’t work for me at all. I used to think it would just take a little time to get used to, like when I went from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. But unlike when I went to Windows 95, which rapidly proved itself superior to 3.1 within a couple of days, Windows 7 has been nothing but frustration.

So I am simply not going to put up with it anymore. Before I left the house this morning I put my Windows XP disc — been with me almost 10 years now — into the DVD-R/W drive, booted from the disc, told it to reformat the entire partition and re-load the OS, and walked out the door. I’ll have to dicker with XP to get it to load the correct drivers for the new hardware, but at this point it’s a small price to pay to get my computing sanity back at home.

Oh, and I am ditching Office 2007 on that machine as well. I still have my Office XP disc. It too did everything I needed, and it did it well. Office 2007 with its chaotic ribbon system is just not worth my time anymore. Both Windows 7 and Office 2007 seems like idiotic steps in the wrong direction. For me anyway. If Microsoft doesn’t pull its collective head out of its ass on the next versions of these, I am liable to go away from Microsoft products altogether for the first time since I adopted the PC in 1992.

Somehow, I suspect, I am not alone.


19 thoughts on “Buried by details, plus a software rant against Windows 7

  1. After the last time Windows choked on something and slagged the data on my hard drive, I switched cold-turkey to Ubuntu Linux. The only thing I really miss are my PC games. Everything else is good.

  2. For me Windows 7 is ok, don’t really have any problems with it, and it’s definitely an improvement over Vista. but the latest versions of Office I have to agree with you. Oh, they’d probably be ok if I’d used them all along, but when I’ve been using Excel, say, in the same way for going on ten or twelve years, and they suddenly move everything around, without providing a way to bring back the older, much more useable UI, well, it was pretty much an abomination.

    My problem with them is that I don’t use them every day – I find the need to use excel probably twice a month for something, Word probably three or four times a year. Which is often enough to have built up the memory of how to use the things, but not often enough to reset it with any great speed. Each new version of Visual Studio does the same thing, but those I use so much it’s only a few weeks or a month before I’ve adapted to a new version.

  3. I’ve been OK with Win 7 Professional. My wife bought a laptop that had the Win 7 starter edition. That was complete crap. So, she is now using Ubuntu on it/

    As to Office 2007, I don’t know a single person who likes it (this includes a few Microsoft employees). I personally run Open Office on all of my machines.

    I admit that I would switch to Ubuntu for everything except that:
    1. I have software that there is not a good equivalent version that will run in Linux. This software is needed for my profession.
    2. I love using iTunes as my podcast aggregator. I have not found anything that works as well as it does.

  4. You are not alone. I have XP and Office 2003. I haven’t even tried Windows 7 (vista was enough to make me run screaming), but I tried the new Office. Bleh. Bleh bleh bleh. Couldn’t do anything, it was totally counter-intuitive, and I hated it.

  5. Been using Windows 7 Home edition, no problems, although IE8 seems to hang just a bit now and then. Wouldn’t touch the new office with a 10′ pole, not even if you hid it under bacon.

  6. I reckon I know the mental grief feeling, we’ve two kids who’ve just become old enough to start fighting over toys and are very, very active. Outside the eleven hour working day and necessary time required to put family first, it’s sometimes really difficult to achieve much in the writing field. Yet, it still gets done, just slowly. And given many of us are trying to climb that mountain it helps to remember it can be done a step at a time.

    I’ve switched to Win7 at home on both my PCs and after a bit of an unproductive period I’ve become quite attached to it. I won’t give up my office 2003 though: Updating my OS lets me use new hardware, but updating my office package? I just can’t see a reason.

  7. Another vote here for Open Office. It can do 99% of what MS Office can do, and with a familiar interface for anyone who has used the older versions of MS Office (pre-ribbon). The real kicker for me was that it is free. If I was running a business I could justify buying licenses from Microsoft to eliminate the rare formatting problems that can occur going between Open Office and MS Office, but for my home PC and my netbook, free and useful beats expensive and unnecessarily “innovative”.

  8. Thanks for all the great comments everybody. (sigh) I officially wasted my night trying to get my PC to recover its Windows 7 factory image — because the fresh XP installation absolutely choked on the new hardware and chipset. It would not even boot. Something to do with the SATA drive. Now, I’ll be honest, it’s been over 4 years since I was a dedicated hardware man in the tech biz. I’ve been doing application support since then, and have not kept up much on hardware stuff. Suffice to say I was surprised XP would not even boot. I knew there would be driver issues, but to have it not even boot?? Oh Lord… So anyway now it won’t boot to either operating system, and I am so frazzled and ready to shoot someone, I could just scream. This whole boot partition gimmick works great, provided the vaunted function key that gets you to the recovery OS doesn’t poop out — and tonight mine pooped out. Hours trying to load .iso files to CD-ROM to built something that might work, no dice. Tomorrow, I take it to Office Depot to be re-imaged. Man, I am so mad…

  9. SWEET! Okay, it’s 1:15 AM and I don’t know WTF I am doing up this late on a Thursday, but dammit I am obsessive about these kinds of issues — I can’t stand letting a technical problem beat me. So I laced up my tech skills and took one more shot at doing the XP install — using some additional software to tuck the NVIDIA chipset drivers into a customized burn of a standard XP recovery disc, and voila the Operating System has landed! WOOO! Now, if I can get the other drivers to load successfully, I will be rocking and rolling. Okay, yah, I know, geek city. But this is the kind of stuff that pumps me up. That, and watching replays of the Utah Jazz winning two games in Florida the last two nights. Go Jazz! Go XP! (grin)

  10. 90% likelihood that the reason you were having a problem with XP booting in the first place is that the SATA controller was set to AHCI mode – which is it’s native mode – and not IDE emulation. XP can’t speak AHCI without a LOT of tweaking.

    I’ll be honest, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to XP. It’s clunky, non-obvious about a great many things, doesn’t handle widescreen formats very well (especially wallpaper), and is significantly more frustrating when you’re trying to do large copies (for example, Win7 has an option to say “No to All” when copying over files and you don’t want to re-copy stuff that’s already there).

    As far as office goes, from a complete novice’s perspective, 2007 is actually more intuitive in a lot of ways, and Excel at least is far better for folks who use it constantly (the ones I’ve talked to at least), but yeah, coming from a casual user’s perspective, when you’ve been using 0ffice 2000 or 2003 for years now, a lot of it makes no sense.

    Brad, if you end up having to go back to Win7, post what you’re finding difficult/irritating and I can try and point you in a direction to alter it to XP fashions if you’d like.

  11. George, I did look at that in the BIOS setup, but there was no switch for either/or. You either had SATA enabled, or you didn’t, and without it enabled the disk drive never read at all — regardless. I found a way to copy the necessary drivers into a customized WINXP boot disc though, and now I’ve successfully downloaded the chipset and other drivers, and XP is cruising along on the Compaq at an excellent rate. Of course, I haven’t loaded a lot of the program yet. But so far video, audio, ethernet, all appear to be working well. Currently I am DL’ing the mountain of updates that this installation requires — including Service Pack 3. Once all that crap is out of the way, I will throw on McAfee, and then maybe call it a night. Which is not to say you’re wrong in anything you said. If I was a more patient guy I would have probably learned to live with Windows 7. Eventually. But I’ve decided that if a computer program or operating system annoys me past a certain point, I’m just not willing to put myself through the learning curve anymore — at least not for substantial benefit. And I couldn’t see any substantial benefit in dinking around with Windows 7 any further. Not when XP already did everything I needed it to anyway. Too often, Windows 7 didn’t like my legacy software (which I still use) and I was greatly irritated to find that many of the small features of XP that I liked, were either in weird places or missing altogether. Again, not saying you’re wrong. I think it’s just a matter of taste. For my taste, both Vista and Windows 7 just don’t suit me. I liked XP. And since I can now have XP on the new workstation, I am happy as a clam.

  12. I have to say, I didn’t think W7 was awful, but I never really used it that much – just a bit of playing around on a mate’s laptop. That said, I’m with Jim Foster: Go Linux! (Though, I personally think that LinuxMint is a big improvement on Ubuntu) .

    I made the full switch-over about 5 years ago and I don’t think I’ve ever regretted it. Straight-forward to install on almost any hardware, can very easily duel-boot with multiple Operating Systems and, for the most part, really easy to use. As with most things, you’ll always have a few hair-pulling moments here and there, but they’re few and far between.

    On the MS Office front, I’ve have to agree with you fully. From what I’ve seen with each new “upgrade”, most of the apps in the office suite degress with each new release. Office 2000 was the last version I used and it was atrocious. OOo does the job for me, most of the time. And there’s always AbiWord to fall back on for older machines.

  13. Hey, that’s cool, glad it’s up and running for you, at any rate.

    Re: legacy software, I got confused for a minute because there’s an XP compatibility mode, but I forgot that for some (incredibly DUMB) reason, it’s only available on Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions.

    One of the things I think Microsoft did wrong around about Windows 2000 was splitting desktop OSes into “professional” and “home user” flavors.

  14. Shane, if Windows 8 (or whatever they call it) isn’t much better — for my tastes — than Windows 7, I am seriously considering Ubuntu. However, since I’ve now got Windows XP running wonderfully on the new Compaq 5500 I may not be needing to get a new computer for several years, so Microsoft has plenty of time to earn me back with the next iteration(s) of the OS. It’s going to be hard to leave a lot of programs behind and switch to a new OS but that’s a decision I thankfully don’t have to make for awhile. Office XP does all I want it too, and is familiar, so I am a happy, happy camper as of Friday morning.

    George, yes, I tried to get that Virtual XP software to run, but discovered my edition on this PC was the stripped-down “home” version which couldn’t do it, so a lot of my 16-bit applications — yes, I still use a fair number of them, and am loathe to put them out to pasture — wouldn’t run under Windows 7. But, as noted above, all is well now. XP screams on this new machine, the fasted I have ever seen it, even with a full suite of my usual apps, and a few games too. As upset as I was yesterday, I am whistling Dixie today. Nice to have the familiarity and functionality back. And I have my tech sleuthing and chickenwire skills a good workout — haven’t had to do something like this in years. As always, I was royally pissed in the moment, but I learned a ton about how the new hardware works, driver support across platforms, and now I even know how to cutsomize a Windows XP install so that I built my own recovery disc — something Compaq no longer includes with store-bought boxed computers.

  15. XP? Heck, I still have a box I run Win2K on. A couple of times a year, for tax software. (And yes, alas, the latest tax software probably won’t install on it. Cursed forced upgrades.) The last computers I bought, last Christmas for the kids, were refurbs with XP installed.

    For myself, though, Linux has been my OS of choice since about ’97.

  16. If I migrate away from Windows, it does stand to reason that I no longer have to be married to PC hardware. I’ve worked a bit on the recent Mac OS and have found it serviceable. But with XP running nicely on the new machine — after about 24 hours of major heartburn — I think the impending divorce from PCs and Windows can be delayed, at least for a few more years.

  17. When I heard Windows Vista was coming out, I bought an OEM copy of XP and another of Office XP. The bugs were finally getting cleaned out of XP and I wasn’t going to start all over on Vista. I was right, they brought 7 out in a year or so because Vista was so bad.

    I have a laptop with 7. I came that way. The rest of my stuff is Linux and XP.

    Works for me.

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