i despise, detest, disdain, and ultimately disown windows

I loved my old PC. Really. It was a good machine with a good monitor and lots of room to grow. I was as surprised as anyone when my MacBook Pro, which I purchased last September, quickly went from “The machine I’ll use for school,” to “The machine I’ll use for everything.” The PC fell from its august position and quickly became “The machine I’ll turn on if I need some old files.” After purchasing a one terabyte external hard drive in May (thanks, economic stimulus check!) and using it to store the aforementioned old files, the PC became “The machine I never turn on.” It literally gathered dust.

It occurred to me that I could clean the thing up and sell the whole package on Craigslist for a decent price. The PC is now three years old, but still pretty fast by today’s standards, and if nothing else, the price tag also includes the monitor. This will be simple, I thought to myself. Just do a fresh install of Windows XP, dust off the hardware, and place the ad. Easy.

No, not easy. Never easy. Not on Windows. Here’s the thing. Somewhere in my last move I lost the OEM CD that came with the PC, which is surprising. I can’t imagine that I would have tossed out my PC’s coveted Recovery Disc. I still have the manual for a digital camera that I bought in 2003. It ceased working in late 2004 because it was cheap, as sturdy as a pack of cigarettes, and a total piece of crap.

But wait, all is not lost! I may not have the precise discs that came with my PC, but I do have a valid, legally purchased copy of Windows XP Pro (SP2) on hand. This will be as easy as popping in the CD, selecting “New Installation,” and letting the machine handle the rest.

Whoops, no. It’s not enough to let the installer restart the computer for you. You have to possess the lightning quick reflexes to press F2 at exactly the right time to boot from the CD itself. Only then will it be physically possible to erase the entire drive. Okay, minor snag. Let’s proceed.

Things are moving along nicely.

God, is this DOS? I mean, I don’t think it is. I thought XP was the first version of Windows to officially abandon the ancient underlying Disk Operating System. So why does the installer look like an accounting program circa 1986?

Ah, I’ve hit my first restart. It seems we’ve booted into a more graphically-oriented installer. It is, of course, set at a wildly incorrect resolution for my monitor, and there’s absolutely nothing useful on the screen, but at least we’ve moved forward visually to 1992. After about 40 minutes (not bad, in all fairness), the machine finally boots into Windows XP proper. Hooray!

Nothing works.

Well, okay, not nothing. The CD drive works, as well as the mouse and keyboard. Aside from that, this fresh installation of XP has failed to recognize my ethernet card, my wireless ethernet card, modem, audio card, the media card readers that came installed with the PC, and judging by the screen’s choppy performance, my video card. Windows’s complete failure to recognize the majority of my hardware is understandable. I did, after all, purchase a no-name brand. Who’s even heard of Sony?

If you’ve been a Windows sufferer user for any length of time, you’ve been here. You know what’s coming. It’s Driver Time. Step one: get the internet back. Luckily, I’ve kept the installation CD that came with my Netgear wireless ethernet adapater. I’m back on the network in minutes, but not without Netgear installing a network connection utility that is not only useless and redundant, but phenomenally ugly. Seriously, who but a professional network administrator in a business environment needs a graph of their throughput? And why would anyone need one so hideous? This is promptly deactivated. We’re trying to keep the installation clean, after all.

My Device Manager has several entries that feature the icon of a yellow question mark, indicating an unknown device. With the internet restored, Windows is able to update the drivers and correct most of these, except for the sound card and an “Unknown VGA Device.” So, we’re in the clear except for little things like sound and picture. This explains my poor video performance. Windows isn’t recognizing my video card and is drawing the onscreen graphics without any help from the hardware. Luckily, I still have the CD that came with my monitor. I put it in the drive, and up comes a Flash-based menu (why?) that asks me to select my model from a list of—I am not kidding—several dozen serial numbers. The number is written on the manual, so at least I’m spared that problem. I select to install the drivers on the disc.

Windows still fails to recognize my video card, telling me that the driver file contains no usable information. An hour later, it will dawn on me that these are drivers for the monitor, and what I need is the video card. Little wonder it wasn’t working, but why would Sony bother putting in files that it knows are useless?

The mystery of my missing CDs deepens when I realize that I still have the manuals. Still, this gives me easy access to my computer’s model number, which allows me to go to Sony’s website and get lots and lots of software from a really long list. I even get the sound working again (along with another ugly and unnecessary piece of software). At last, I find the video drivers. I install them and the Device Manager ditches the yellow question mark for a proper “Intel Video/Indecipherable-String-Of-Letters-And-Slashes.” Happy, I restart the computer for at least the tenth time.

Darkness. “Signal out of range.” Ach, ze monitor does nussing.

I’ve encountered this problem once before, and I know what’s causing it. Somehow, the new drivers are telling the monitor to use settings it can’t handle, and it’s shut itself off in defense. I boot into Safe Mode (with lightning quick reflexes) and check out the monitor’s properties. I can’t change the monitor’s settings in Safe Mode, since to do that, you need the drivers, and Safe Mode doesn’t load the drivers. Catch-22.

I remove the video adapter from the device manager and reboot (again). I go back to Sony’s website and try to figure out what I might be missing. Hey, motherboard drivers. Probably important. I install those. Then I reinstall the video drivers. Then I reboot. Darkness. It is at this point that I lose patience and shut down for the night.

There are still a few things I haven’t tried. I could, for instance, boot into “Safe Mode with VGA Support” (whatever that means) to see if that gives me access to the monitor settings. I could dial back the monitor’s resolution to see if that makes it usable enough to adjust the other setting that’s causing the problem. I could download and install every single package on Sony’s support page. I could hunt down a new copy of the Recovery Disc. I could do nothing and sell the computer as it is, but that would probably tarnish my soul.

What galls me is that Microsoft has had thirteen years, counting charitably from 1995, to overcome things like this. I understand that it’s harder, since unlike Apple they don’t control the hardware, but come on. I remember the days when every electronics company had its own color-coded system for plugs and wires. Somewhere along the way they all adopted a standard system, and now connecting your Sony speakers to your Dell PC is as easy as matching the seafoam green plug to the seafoam green port. It is appalling that Windows XP, the most ubiquitous operating system in the world, is incapable of automatically recognizing essential hardware from one of the world’s largest electronics conglomerates. Compare this with a Windows installation using Apple’s (free!) Boot Camp. Partition your drive by moving a single slider, run the Windows installer as normal, then pop in a disc of Apple’s drivers. Done. Good as new.

I will inevitably fix these problems. I always have. But I shouldn’t have to. I hate Windows.



  1. Lauren wrote:

    Well, welcome to the world of open and free enterprise. Since not all hardware manufacturers write drives before Windows ships or devices are out after Windows ships, it is impossible to prevent this from happening. MAC on the other hand controls everything. That is why you pay the higher price for their goodies and does not let you upgrade at whim. So, you have to balance the two and chose which one fits your life.
    I for one care to pocket the extra cash I save by building my own computers and not depend on any one source for everything. My computer runs all Windows, Linux and even MAC (with some fiddling!) and does each well. So, you may hate Windows, but it is not their fault. They do not control hardware manufacturers, and the hardware manufacturers control their device drivers. But it sounds like MAC works best for you. Just remember to place the blame where the blame really lies.

  2. sociallytangent wrote:

    Three things, Lauren—

    1. While Microsoft may not be directly responsible for Jon’s predicament, they have certainly expended very little of their tremendous resources (time, influence, money) in providing better solutions for consumers. They have left it wholly up to device manufacturers to provide drivers and driver updates and, indeed, made the process of loading those drivers pretty cumbersome for end users. The steps they have taken, namely the WHQL program and driver signing, have been obviously ineffective. While some might argue that they have been hamstrung by their conviction as a monopoly, this does not wholly excuse two decades of shortsightedness and inattention.

    2. Macs are, and have been for several years, quite competitive with Windows-based PCs in terms of price—laptops, especially. When you factor in the lower rates of hardware failure (from Consumer Reports’ testing) and the near-total lack of viruses and other malware, the amount you spend on maintenance over the product’s lifetime decreases much further. In short, Macs are pretty good investments these days as far as computers go. Of course, your needs will dictate the best purchase (or not—hi, Linux!) for you.

    3. MAC is Media Access Control, used solely in reference to a hardware address on network cards (e.g. MAC address.) Mac (note the lowercase) is a slang reference to a popular software platform. Being a technical writer, it bugs the everliving shit out of me when people write the former and mean the latter.

  3. The Tall One wrote:

    Sometimes it’s FUN to wrestle with your computer to do even the most basic things – like turn on. It proves your strength and power. Anyone who seriously wants a computer that “works when you use it” or “is convenient” or “has electronic stuff in it instead of an angry gerbil,” should probably get an apple product. I’ve loved and lost many PCs over the years, and I haven’t lost my appetite for struggle yet! I will not convert until I am absolutely positive that PCs and Windows cannot do ANYTHING that I require of them.

  4. Damian wrote:

    Sometimes, back when I had a computer I had to wrestle with to do even the most basic things, I screamed the F-word a lot. And I was really loud.

  5. GDeeeeZL wrote:

    I like peanuts!

  6. Ian wrote:

    I’ve been in a similar struggle before- in fact, I still am. To this day I have not figured out why my on-board sound card doesnt work, though the drivers are correctly installed and everything.

    But, aye, I love the struggle.