Computer Support Experience


I was forced to replace my wife’s computer, as it died. The decision was, go cheap or go “good for five years”. The salesperson at Tiger Direct suggested an Acer desktop for the latter. (Disclosure: I have no interest in Tiger Direct, Acer, Mozilla, OpenOffice, MalwareBytes, Microsoft, or any other technology company or supplier except that I may be using their software and perhaps their support. This blog entry is about support, a bittersweet experience that, for the most part, has been surprisingly pleasant and helpful.)

My wife’s computer usage is not that technical nor subtle; I got the old machine up long enough to capture some files, settings, favourites and did the best I could with my knowledge at that time.

It occurred to me that my own desktop, older than hers, could also fail; and that my dependencies on old technology were hugely larger than hers. So, seeing how nice her new computer was, I got a similar one. I then began the migration effort to put all my stuff on the new machine.

It turns out that workarounds are required. Windows XP supported old, very old, programs that won’t run on Windows 7 64 bit. I used old old utilities and self-coded utilities to make XP files I needed accessible under Windows7. One example of my difficulty will suffice.

PCOutline is (was) a very nice program for collecting thoughts. I used it whenever I was uncertain of the final organization of what I was starting, as in writing a presentation or designing a story. Trust me that this program had unique features that I exploited. However, it is not 32 bit and thus canNot run in Windows 7. What to do? Export every outline I really need, one by one, manually, onto a “structured file” format. Run a program I wrote (in 1987?) to convert that format to Script/GML. Run a program I wrote more recently, thank goodness in FreeBasic (which seems to run in Win7) to convert Script/GML to .rtf (Rich Text Format) usable in Wordpad and Word.

My point here is, I needed to run old stuff to get a format usable by newer stuff. And, I was able to do it by myself. The conversion from Script/GML to RTF is incomplete, limited by my needs, uses a large parameter file, and is over 300 lines of FreeBasic code.

I should in fairness give FreeBasic a kudo. The compiler works, the website documentation is good, it does the job – and it is free.

All this to point out that I sort-of know what I’m doing, but have knowledge gaps of various sizes when dealing with Windows 7.  Thus my need for support on various issues.

Kudos first.

I have always wanted to be able to synchronize mail from computer to computer. This is not really possible using ThunderBird from Mozilla. (I have repeatedly suggested that this is a shortcoming, but no workaround was ever suggested to me.) Now I have a new problem: I want to move my eMail, all of it, just once, from one computer to another. I keep the mail on my machine because it includes legal stuff (rejection letters from magazines, for example), support stuff, et cetera. I don’t want it on Google or Yahoo where it might be hacked or lost.

So I went into the Mozilla forums and asked for a way of moving mail from one machine to another. The first response eMail listed several hotlinks, one of which was to MozBack(up?) which in fact allowed me to collect both FireFox and ThunderBird setup on the XP machine, and install them on the Win7 machine. Accounts, server settings, passwords, mail folders and contents; bookmarks, options, startup file. Amazing. I had an answer within a day, and it worked.

Thank you, the Mozilla community, for this excellent support.

Personal Editor 32 / PE64. I was once an IBM employee, and there was a thing called employee-written-software. I contributed a few small programs as payback for value I received. One thing was an editor someone else wrote called Personal Editor, or PE. Later extended to PE2. Later commercialized as PE32. You can find the latter via google search. Once I tried this upgrade, worked around a few minor incompatibilities, and settled down, I found this editor to be ideal (as customized by me) for me (writing, mostly poetry; and driving odd utilities to format and manipulate files).

PE32 sort-of runs under Win7 64-bit, then crashes. So I upgraded to PE64. There was a discount for old users. The program worked. I had installation questions and eMailed Paolo Chiartano about them. He explained why to run it from where and some non-obvious facts about how key files are found. This support, via eMail, was free. It was thoughtful and effective.

Thank you, Paolo Chiartano, for excellent support of PE64.

Ordering of folders. I have a folder called, Jim’s Tools, which normally is icons pointing to programs, directories, specific spreadsheets, et cetera. I normally order this in a specific, idiosyncratic way. Windows 7 will not permit this. You can have icons, and sort them by various criteria, but canNot place them just as you would like. They must be in some “order” by some attribute.

There is a fix for this, which involves registry changes. A supplied, commented, .bat file should do this.

I will back up my registry first, I guess, and try it. I found the answer among others saying that it could not be done under any circumstances. Wild. That someone took the time to create a commented .bat file makes me fairly certain that it will in fact work.

So, conditional kudos for the Microsoft support community. My lack of registry courage will be overcome once I find out how to back up and recover….

Sharing drives between computers. This is not a kudo. I have been trying to do this for a week or more, and could not achieve the following:

Windows 7 computer shares three drives (partitions). Windows XP can “net use” and see and modify those drives. The computers are both on the same router.

May I note that I have done this between XP computers for ages. I am not a novice at drive sharing, but suddenly I am at Win7 drive sharing.

I solved this myself after much trial and some insightful advice from my son. I did post my solution on a Microsoft website.

Open Office, and Linking spreadsheets. This is not a kudo. I used to use Lucid3D for financial spreadsheets. It had one very nice capability: I could track the history of an investment, through years of re-investment, in a simple spreadsheet. I could cause the top row of this spreadsheet to be “=” the current, latest row, on a cell-by-cell basis. Then I could have the Main spreadsheet have a single row which “hotlinked” the simple spreadsheet top row. Repeat for every recurring investment, and you have my basic tracking system. One summary, many contributors.

Imagine my surprise when, with luckily-formed google searches, I found out that Microsoft Excel could do all of the above, albeit slightly differently. copy, edit, past special, paste link. tools, edit, edit cells in place – off. It was just as good as Lucid, in a more-standard (Lucid went kaput in about 2003 I think) program.

So, by hand, I recreated my entire Lucid3D spreadsheet suite of files in Excel. I am using an incredibly old version of Office, which I did not want to install on my new Win7 computer. So, of course, I installed OpenOffice. And used my Excel files therein.

This is weird. If I do the “excel” incantation to link a new previously un-linked sub-spreadsheet file row, it generates completely different cell references than those created by Excel and then re-saved by OO. There is no option comparable to “edit cells in place” to turn off: from Excel I could “jump” to the linked spreadsheet with a double click; from Open Office I cannot.

I posted this minor problem on the Open Office website and got …. nothing. As I said, this is not a kudo.

Acer, Hotkey Utility. This is not a kudo.

I need ctrl-f12 as I use it at the very start of a PE64 editing session. This utility captures that keystroke and starts some fool game program. Opening the utility seems to show that ctrl-f1 goes to the utility, and SomeKeyStroke goes to the (whatever that is). You cannot take a hotkey out; you cannot see the hotkey used, and the utility claims that it will choose a hotkey for you. This is, for me, gratuitous crap. So I asked Acer support how to disable this without using add/remove programs to un-install it. I do not want to have to turn this off every time I decide to run my editor of choice, eh?

You would not believe the suggestions I got. Disable services.exe was one. Take it out of start menu, a second: it is not in start menu, or it would have been deleted already, eh? Of three responses, two suggested I go to the Acer fee for service web site.

I tried to point out that I was an Acer user, but had never needed support before, and was disappointed in the level I was getting.

I bought my first Acer, a netbook, against the recommendations of almost every tech guru I know. Can’t add memory. Can’t change the hard drive. Not literally true, but it is, apparently, a b…ch to do so on this netbook. Luckily the drive has not failed.

The netbook has proven itself on several trips, and on frequent (xcopy) synchronizations between desktop and netbook. (see issue above.) Despite detractors’ comments on battery life, I find it pretty good.

I bought our second, and third, Acer because the components seemed to be pretty good – cpu, memory, and decent graphics card.

I will probably consider Acer on a later purchase. AND, I will not forget that a very simple support request: how do I stop a hotkey utility from being loaded automatically – was met with bafflegab, for-fee suggestions, odd warnings, plus mis-advice.

Acer computers are, imho, a mixed bag. If you intend to upgrade your netbook, I am told there is a nightmare video showing how hard it is to get at the hard drive or memory. If you buy your netbook “as-is” you are probably OK.

I cannot help remembering that my daughter is using my very very old IBM laptop. Its hard drive died, and with some software help and a new drive, I set it back up. When she took it over, we went to Tiger Direct and they upped the memory from .5 gb (more than standard) to 2 gb.

My point: a human being could upgrade an IBM laptop, at least my old version. I am told often that Acer netbooks cannot be upgraded with reasonable effort. This would seem to make the original build more complex as well, eh?

Tiger Direct. This is a kudo.

Installed memory on my, now my daughter’s, IBM laptop. Maximized the available memory. (More that I thought could be installed.) Got it working for a ten buck fee. Good.

Sold me the hard disk I upgraded in same laptop, ages before. Good.

Many other interactions. Pointed out which cables were cheaper (packaging). Had Brother 7820N cartridge at reasonable price. and on and on.

I should point out that I don’t use “tiger direct” direct; I go to the physical store. I find them to be fairly competitive, and often helpful. That’s pretty good for a store that’s much bigger than, say The Source.

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