Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shock Of The New

The longish gap between this post and the last has nothing to do with my having become obsessed with ArcheAge. Would that it had! I have not, as it happens, spent so much as a minute there since the last time I wrote about it, for a couple of very compelling reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with any addictiveness or lack thereof in the gameplay.

First off, on Wednesday evening, when I clicked on the AA icon the thing wouldn't run. I fiddled with it briefly then decided to think about it another time and went off to wreak some havoc in WvW. When I came home from work on Thursday and switched the PC on Windows wouldn't load at all so that was most of the evening gone trying to find out why.

I suspected it would turn out to be a catastrophic hard disk failure and that was indeed what it was. Given that the disk in question first tried to tell me it was dying almost a year ago and that I'd turned S.M.A.R.T. monitoring off last December when I'd decided I didn't want to listen to it bleating any more, I'm quite pleased that it lasted this long.

The problem was that my version of Windows was an OEM edition of Win7 that came with the PC so I couldn't just re-install it on one of the many spare drives floating around this computer graveyard we call a home. Since I'm going to need an OS for the new system I was already planning on getting either later this year or next spring, and since I would really much rather have a nice box with a dvd in sitting on my shelves for exactly this kind of occasion, it made sense to buy a new copy of Windows rather than try to resurrect the old one through some convoluted process of recovery.

I was very happy with Win7 and I'd heard so many bad things about Windows 8 that my first thought was to get a boxed copy of the old version while it's still around. After a bit of research, however, (and these days a PC failure has no impact at all on anyone's ability to browse and buy on the internet - I used my laptop but I could equally have used my tablet or my iPod Touch) I found that not only is Win7 already in the Microsoft limbo of "Extended Support" (a fine example of DoubleSpeak ) but it's also considerably more expensive than Win8.

In my day job I sell books for a living. Some of them supposedly set out to help people use various computers, tablets, phones and similar devices that, in my opinion at least, already come with or have access to much better documentation than anything likely to be found in a book published 12 or 24 months ago, but hey, if people want to give publishers money for something that's readily available for free, who am I to tell them to keep their hands in their pockets?

We sold a lot of books on Vista when it was the default OS installed in new PCs and laptops (my laptop came with Vista which shows you how old it is - still runs GW2 perfectly well though, which is just as well because that's what I was asking it to do these last few days - gotta get those dailies done) but when Win7 arrived there was little interest. Sales really picked up again with Win8, unsurprisingly, and as a result I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people about its foibles, flaws and general right to exist (it doesn't have one, apparently). My overall impression has been, possibly uncharitably, that for some people the present is just an unhappy place to live. Things were always better yesterday and that even includes Microsoft Operating Systems.

Same as it ever was
I listen and nod like a good customer service professional but I''m not really in that camp. I tend to think that, at least when it comes to things like technology and entertainment, the past was pretty good, the present is just fine and the future is going to be even better. So I bought a copy of Windows 8.1, which Amazon delivered in less than 24 hours, despite me not having paid for any kind of expedited delivery. Try that in the 1970s and see how far you get.

It took me the best part of three hours to install it, most of the time spent swapping in and out various hand-me-down hard drives, in the hope of finding one that Win8 might find acceptable. In the end I gave up on the make-do-and-mend approach and allowed it to install itself on one of the two drives that had been in place all along, which it proceeded to do  in a perfectly timely fashion. Could have saved myself a couple of hours right there. It's usually quicker just to do what you're told but that's a lesson I'll probably never learn.

Win8 certainly doesn't do itself any favors on a first introduction with all the flat color and a slew of  "apps" for things you know you'll never use plastered across the first screen you see. Having the "Store" as the most prominent icon probably went a long way towards stoking the anger so many new users reported. As a longtime player of F2P MMOs of course it didn't phase me in the slightest.

Once 90% of the clutter was removed, some of it hidden, much of it uninstalled, the view looked much more attractive. The loudly-lamented loss of the Start Menu didn't particularly bother me. I rarely use it. In the same way I like to play my MMOs by mouse-clicking a mess of hotkeys on my hotbars I like to launch my Programs (as we ancients call them) by mouse-clicking a mess of icons on my desktop. In that regard Win8 appears virtually identical to Win7. It took a few minutes to send all the shortcuts over and set up the slideshow but once that was done the whole thing looks and feels very much the same as it has for the last five years.

It took less than a couple of hours to become familiar with how to get to all the supposedly "hidden" stuff , the files and folders and processes that I'd heard Microsoft now preferred we didn't touch. Yes, there are a couple more clicks here and there but last night and this morning I've had cause to fiddle with a whole load of stuff, the way you always do when you move into a new place and want to get it all set up just how you like it, and I've not found it any harder to get to where I needed to be than it was in Win7. Maybe it genuinely was harder to access this stuff in the original straight 8 release but in 8.1 I can't see the problem.

Where I did have some issues was with the colors. As soon as I had the basics done I thought I'd play GW2 and leave the fine-tuning 'til morning but within minutes I had to log out and start fiddling. All the colors were incredibly muted, flat and lifeless and it was quite literally so distracting I couldn't play effectively or with any great enjoyment. Most of the rest of the evening was taken up with changing settings in Win8, on the monitor itself , and on trying to install the latest drivers.

Sharper and harder-edged than before but at least there's some depth.
Under Win7 I never even bothered to install AMD's Catalyst Control Center. I used the drivers on the DVD that came with the last upgrade GPU and those worked perfectly so I didn't see the point. Last night I discovered that 8.1 doesn't play nicely with Catalyst. There are a ton of threads on it all over the interwebs and Microsoft's own verdict is that it's Incompatible.

It isn't, as I discovered this morning. (I gave up last night as soon as I'd bullied the monitor into displaying colors I could just about live with and spent the last two hours before bed drinking a well-deserved bottle of Merlot and defending South East Tower from NSP's repeated attempts to take it by hanging on to the coat-tails of NPC Commander Siegerazer). You just need to enable .Net 3.5 in Win8. It's not enabled by default since 8.1 uses something it likes to think of as a more up-to-date version but which AMD refers to as "unauthorised".

Once I'd done that Catalyst installed just fine and after tweaking some settings I have all my colors looking bright and vibrant as I like them. I can also see a whole lot more detail, something about which I may have more to say in another post. ArcheAge is also working again although I did have to download DX9 before Glyph and Win8 would talk to each other. I'm guessing 8.1 only bothers with whatever the latest version of DX is (is it 11 now?) because new.

There will, no doubt, be many more such escapades along the way as I discover by doing what does and doesn't work. I am still pondering whether to copy over my bookmarks or start afresh and whether to bother investigating and recovering what was "lost" on the failed drive or just forget about it and move on. As a rule of thumb if you can't remember you had something you probably aren't going to miss it all that much.

Providing no more hardware fails this little episode probably means I won't be bothering to upgrade until next year. Another rule of thumb is that you're always better off postponing any IT purchase as long as possible because (natural disasters notwithstanding) when it comes to technology your money is always worth more tomorrow than it is today.  I should get a considerably better deal in April than I will in November - fingers crossed.

Until then, this hard drive failure has had unexpectedly fortuitous consequences. I now have a lot more free space on the two remaining drives (I deleted the old Image saves that took up three-quarters of my 1TB disk). I have a clean, unbloated install of an OS that I find I rather like. I have a DVD drive again (for most of the last year it's been disconnected to make room for the third internal HDD). And my games look better than before. It almost feels like I've upgraded already.

Turns out this cloud was nearly all silver lining.


  1. Having just spent the last couple of days uninstalling Windows 8 from my daughter's notebook and installing Windows 7 I think you may have buyers remorse sometime soon. My daughter labored with the factory installed Windows 8 for six months before coming to Daddy offering to cook lunch and then wheedling my help to get something sensible on her new computer so she could actually do some work (Web Design and Publicity stuff) with her Notebook rather than having to take work home and do it on the Desktop I built for her.

    1. So far I would almost go as far as to say I prefer 8.1 to 7. Heretical, I know. I'm finding it a lot easier than I expected to customize it to my tastes so far. Of course 8.0 itself was supposedly quite different so I imagine I am floating happily on the lake of tears wept by the early adopters.

  2. I am waiting on Windows 9 since the announcement is so close. I wish the Android/Linux/SteamOS/ChromeOS weren't so fractured. I would absolutely love a barebone OS that still plays all the games I want.

    I can dream!

    1. If I hadn't have been forced into it I probably would have waited for Win9. I can upgrade if it looks worth it.

      Android is the pits. I am very likely to buy an iPad when I replace my current, cheap tablet, even though I don't much like Apple and i{ads are very overpriced. The simple reason is no-one seems to want to write or publish good games for Android but they will for iOS. No point saving a packet on the hardware if there's no software worth running on it.

  3. I actually love Windows 8 and have no complaints. The performance increases are great and the usability is fine. Windows 9 is going to continue the trend of Windows 8 and only go deeper down that rabbit hole. Getting used to it now might serve you well.

    1. That was my thinking - no point just crossing your fingers and hoping all this new stuff goes away. That's not going to happen. Might as well meet it head on.

  4. Windows 8.1 is amazing and rumour has it if you have 8.1 you get 9 for free. Take that to the bank!

    I use a Surface Pro 2 and love it. It does everything except the hardcore gaming. Windows 8 shines on touchscreen but I still use it on my gaming laptop and as my desktop for work. Didn't take long to get familiar with it and really glad I moved to it.

    Surprised some are having issues, haven't heard much in that way!

    1. A free upgrade would be great but it doesn't sound like the Microsoft we all know and...know. I'll believe it when I see it!

  5. Grats on your W8.1. I hope you keep continuing to love it.

    I've been reading about it and it seems love/hate thing is a hit or miss depending on outside factors like which programs you use, what you use it for, where you are located and how comfortable you are with automated stuff.

    I've used it for couple of months and was happy with it performance during gaming sessions but sadly I had a lot of problems when using skype. it is my primary way of communicating with my friends and it was very inconvenient using skype on an application-based os. I could only use it full screen (or I can split the screen but that made my desktop thus my work area smaller), I had no way of closing it during my busy times, I had to keep it on screen if I want to send files, and small irritating things like that made me increasingly cross with W8,1 .In the end the deal breaker for me was that I could not control everything.

    Hopefully it goes better with you.

    1. I've never used Skype so that would have passed me by completely. 8.1 comes with Skype pre-installed as an App though, so you think it would be optimized better than that. It was one of the many unwanted pre-loaded Apps I hid or deleted. Hid, n fact, since I can imagining using it one day - unlike the various and somewhat bizarre news feeds MS saw fit to include as defaults.

  6. How interesting that our hardware failures hit about the same time (I'm going to post about mine soon).

    It's very good to hear the community (possibly) overreacted to Win 8 but you give me pause when you describe not missing the start menu. I'm the opposite. I have no icons on my desktop. Just various temporary files that get put away someplace else later, or deleted. Mostly I wonder how long the Windows OS will continue to last as a consumer vehicle - it might end up really dumb and force me into some *nix, or just stupidify me into being an idiot gamer instead of an intelligent one. The future is unknown.

  7. Built a new gaming PC a couple of weeks ago and decided to install Win 8.1. Best decision I made on the build. Like you I did have to install Catalyst in order to get playable frame rates. The mess of code Microsoft passes as video drivers choked on rendering anything even on low settings.


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