Month: September 2009

Dream: Consistent System Performance

Have you ever started up a computer that had a fresh installation of the operating system and a few other applications? I know I have; it’s a great feeling. Things like opening applications, managing files, waiting for the start-up, and all of the other basic tasks on a computer happen at lightning speed…because there’s not a bunch of crap bogging the system down.

I dream of a digital experience where the norm is consistent with that first-time feeling. I don’t want my computer to suffer because of the files I have and the applications I install.

Unfortunately, there are a few key hurdles that need to be cleared before this can be a reality:

Some apps are bulky and slow by nature
I’m looking at all of you indexing services out there. I know you always need to be on, but dag nabbit, you don’t always have to be such a resource hog. It’s an application by application debate…and I’ve waffled quite a bit on email indexers in particular. I weigh the usefulness vs boginess and see where I come out whenever I contemplate an install.

Oddly enough, I think Picasa3 does a pretty good job of staying out of the way when it’s not wanted. Not to say it’s not taking up resources, but it only seems to rear its head when I’m specifically adding pictures (even though I know it must be checking to see if any new file is an image).

As a hard drive gets filled, performance slows down
Nine years in the data storage industry has given me little hope of this kind of thing changing…and running RAID in a netbook (or notebook, or tower PC for that matter) just isn’t a viable option.

I combat this issue by being frugal about what needs to live on my computer, then defragmenting my drive. Though, I must say, my defrag application needs some updating (I use the built-in Windows defrag utility…crackers!).

There’s rarely a good way to know beforehand whether an application is going to kill your performance…and whether the damage can be undone
I’m talking about more than adware…I’m talking about even fairly benign software that installs some intense files behind-the-scenes and doesn’t tell you that it’s going to suck up all of your memory and cpu cycles.

No computer seems to be safe from this
No matter how fantastic of a system I configure, it’s likely to fall prey to performance setbacks.  Whether my system cost a few grand, or was tricked out with extra RAM later on, there was almost surely going to be a greater and growing number of performance issues.

This is actually one of the reasons I bought a netbook this last time I bought a computer.  I’m eliminating the “for what i spent on this thing, it should be able to…” mentality.  The system’s small, and not meant to be a workhorse…so don’t put a bunch of crap on it!

Despite these setbacks, there is still hope out there to help drive toward consistent performance.  Lightweight applications, and utilities that help keep a system lightweight, are the key to making this dream a reality. I’ve been in search of them for years, and there’s still a general lack of good ones.

I continue my search…


Defining Digital Dreams

I want my computer to work and work well. The same is true for my websites, personal blogs, applications. When I was younger, and when I had more time to putz around on my computers, there wasn’t a very precise method I’d use to make decisions about what I’d install, how I’d try to use it, or why I’d bother. I’m much more picky today…for a few reasons.

My time is more valuable today than it was when I was in school. Mainly: there’s less of it free to me, so the time I have on the computer, non-work related, is precious. I really wish I had the energy to spend an hour or two per day checking out new stuff online…but sadly, after 10 or more hours in front of a computer screen at work, I’m not too excited to sit behind the warm glow of my netbook. It happens, but I get irritated rather quickly if things aren’t working.

I’ve grown wary of things that might screw up my system. One of my first such experiences was installing a desktop mod that was going to replace the explorer.exe application in XP (not to be confused with Internet Explorer…I mean the core windows experience: Taskbar, system tray, start menu, etc). I installed this alternative UI, which crippled my machine. It took hours to get it back in action. Obviously this is an extreme case since it was an aggressive change to core functionality, but even benign applications carry a dark side to them…it’s tough to know how much they’ll impact a machine. I stay much more careful than I did before.

The time I’ve spent in the past has taught me that there is a LOT of awful software floating around out there. One of the big differences today when examining this is that instead of downloading software to install, we’re creating new login credentials for another Web 2.0 site. Many of these have great concepts, but don’t follow through on making the experience exactly what it needs to be.

These factors influence a handful of digital dreams that guide the computing choices I make (OS, core applications, hardware, security, backup). I know what they are and how they feel, but formalizing them has proven to be very difficult. I keep looking to a ready-made solution that lifts the weight of computing endeavor self-management off my shoulders…but I’m afraid I’m a little too picky for that to work. It’s a bit like trying to describe a dream I had to a friend; I know what I saw, how it felt, and what it was like, but it’s immensely difficult to explain the experience. That said, I’ll be doing my best to convey the underpinnings of a worthy digital experience and will be posting them here, which will give you a better idea of what I’m striving for.

I wish I could post them all right now…but they’ll be coming slowly over time because I want to make sure I include enough detail to make the dream clear.