Breaking Windows

Tags: — Jeff @ 19:00

As part of a flurry of needed changes to my laptop, I had to back up all my data and reinstall everything from scratch about two weeks ago. I’m certain I do this far more often than the average power user does (once every several months) and certainly far more than a normal user would. It’s a good way to enforce good storage habits (keep files compartmentalized so that my files are separate from my program files are separate from my application install packages), and it forces me to make a backup every so often because the hard drive’s getting completely wiped.

I rarely have problems doing this. Thanks to my handy custom install CD filled with all my favorite downloaded programs and my use of only a small amount of software, getting back up to speed usually takes only a few hours. The end result is a faster system and a satisfied me.

This time, tho, I’m having two big problems. The first problem is with printing using KLP, which is used to print to MIT printers (which doesn’t directly cost me money). For whatever reason, when I print using KLP I get pages of Postscript code instead of what I want, and I don’t know why.

The second problem is far more serious: Windows is randomly shutting down on me. Before the system reinstall, it worked perfectly. It also worked perfectly for a time after most of the reinstall had taken place. I suspect some program in the MIT software I installed is causing the problem, but I don’t know which. It seems to be triggerable by either jarring the computer or simply using it normally for a length of time which varies from minutes to hours. (I had hoped the problem was just a virus, as I usually don’t have a virus scanner installed because I don’t download many files and stay up-to-date on Windows security patches, but a virus scan showed it wasn’t.)

Combined, these problems make Windows completely unusable for me. If I boot, the computer shuts down very shortly afterward. If I am actually able to use it for a while, I can’t print anything I need printed. In fact, the only real reason I even try to boot Windows is to flush the email inbox read count back to a low number (I use IMAP, but because I’m afraid I might run out of my 250MB of space sometime — yes, it’s that bad — I have most of it stored locally). (This won’t be a problem after Thunderbird supports cross-platform profiles, if and when that happens.)

If Windows were the only operating system on my laptop, it would be completely unusable. Thankfully, however, it’s not — I have Fedora Core 3 Linux installed, too. Fedora works perfectly (showing that the shutdowns are a Windows-specific problem and not a hardware problem), so I’ve been booted in Fedora almost constantly for about a week. With the preponderance of good software out there (a web browser, an office suite, Windows emulation for use with some essential Windows-only software, and Linux-oriented freeware galore), I’ve had no problems during this time, either.

When and how will I get Windows working again? With Thanksgiving coming, I have the perfect time to do so, so until then I’ll likely only use Linux. (If Thanksgiving weren’t coming, I don’t know when I’d do it – maybe a weekend if I could make the time.) The how isn’t such a big problem either — I’ll just reinstall (again). While this solution certainly isn’t optimal, it’s also the most guaranteed to work, which is what matters most when reinstallation requires a few hours’ time.

Windows usually works for most things (and don’t get me wrong, it’s worked pretty much perfectly for me since I started using XP), but when it doesn’t, I know where I’d be without Linux — in the same sorry spot as most of the other people on the planet without knowledge of the available options.