A few weeks ago, I had a horrifying PC moment. For the first time in twelve years of Internet surfing, a terrible virus oddly named Total Security disabled my computer. No programs would open. Total Security left me in a total mess.
The price for excising the virus was $200. Since my XP computer was almost six years old, I thought that seemed excessive because I could get a new unit for about $700.
During my initial panic, Geek Squad Guru Julio Sagastume of West Hollywood's Best Buy kindly devoted lots of telephone time for free as I described my woes. Later he and colleague David McClay painstakingly advised me, and after shopping around I bought a Dell 3055 Inspiron computer. Julio and David also assured me all the files on my virus-laden XP computer would be transferred -- disease free -- for $99.99
Then I brought the new PC home, and suddenly there were problems. Understand, I've had computers for over twenty years, so I know how to set them up. However, Windows 7 didn't accept my HP LaserJet 1012 printer or Creative Cam Live! Pro! webcam drivers, nor my Transparent Language WordAce! German dictionary and True Fonts program, all on CD.
Oddly, it did embrace my Altec headset and Magic Spin DVD burner, both bought at the same time as my webcam in 2006. And the DVD burner CD driver said it was for Windows 98! Windows 7 also admitted my Movie Magic Screenwriter program, my Translation Language German tutorial and -- hold onto your hats -- my Microsoft '97 Office CD. Before I'm disparaged for not upgrading, I found no discernible difference in basic word processing over the so-called improved years, so my program suits me just fine.
More about the need to "upgrade" equipment in a moment.
Re the Windows 7 look itself, I was dismayed all my programs downloaded, including Mozilla, IE 8, AOL 9.5 and Skype suddenly appeared in miniscule font size. As a comparison I turned on my newly cleansed XP computer and everything seemed fine.
However, on Windows 7 if I changed display settings, some pages appeared better, while others' data drifted off the screen. Plus websites had overlapping type or showed words meant to be on one line suddenly hanging orphaned onto another all by themselves. This occurred on my personal website (which looks fine on XP) and also on professionally produced sites such as HuffPost.
So, I called Dell and was pleasantly surprised their offshore employees were mostly helpful. I'm not xenophobic, but I've suffered over several years dealing with folks who don't quite understand our language. Very polite but maddening to deal with. With Dell I got good support even with the 12 hour time difference.
A wonderful supervisor took over my computer by remote control. He saw what I was dealing with and I asked: "Why should I keep this computer? It's one thing to have to switch between the new one and XP for the occasional webcam use or printing, but Internet surfing is constant, and my other programs look horrible."
At first he seemed baffled, but then switched to the troubleshoot area of Windows 7 and found problems in "Add-ons" on Skype, AOL and Internet Explorer. Suddenly the fonts were better on my programs, but the Internet problems persisted. Explorer was far better than Mozilla, but neither pleased me.
He determined in our 3-hour session it might be due to my machine's 64-bit configuration. Haven't a clue what he did, but he did something with Explorer and then affixed the Explorer rendering engine onto Mozilla. In short, I now have a small icon in the lower right of my screen, and if I don't like the way a Mozilla page looks -- 2/3 of the time -- I click on the icon and it changes to the Explorer engine while staying on Mozilla, with its bookmarks and other tabs. Everything now looks great.
Strangely, when I go onto Internet Explorer 8 directly there are still problems, and I have no idea what version of Explorer or what engine he used to fix Mozilla's look. But it's better than it was, and, while not perfect, I'm able to function with more power and speed, while still able to use the XP as a sturdy back-up.
But why does this problem exist? Is there something wrong with Mozilla and Internet Explorer re Windows 7? Why does downloading major programs cause add-on issues that never presented themselves on XP? And if you're not having the same problem, why am I when all I did was turn on the machine only to confront this havoc?
Added to this is my primary beef. I have an HP printer less than six years old, and though I know we live in an age of get the latest thing almost every year -- read that to mean cell phones, cars and other gadgets -- how many of us do that? How many of us -- especially in these economic times -- don't hold onto products that still function well? Okay, if we want an improvement, such as an HDTV with mega-screen, that's one thing. That's something new.
But my printer works fine, prints at 15 pages/minute and is still on its original toner cartridge. I even bought a standby cartridge and have yet to open the box. Yet, despite the Dell technician's masterful attempts, he was not able to install the printer. The Hewlett-Packard website says it doesn't support my printer on Windows 7 and directs me to buy a new one for over a hundred dollars that prints 17 pages/minute -- hardly an upgrade when mine works perfectly.
My webcam is only 3 years old. What's Creative Cam's excuse? Why should I have to buy another one, simply because Microsoft doesn't want to include within its software earlier recognition applications as it used to? On the one hand, it still recognizes old MS Word programs, but not many other programs that did a technological handshake with earlier versions of Windows. Yet in the old days, the first Windows program recognized DOS, and, at least through XP, would not render most hardware and software shamefully obsolete.
My first laser printer (Panasonic 4410), bought in 1993 and used with my DOS computer, transitioned beautifully to Windows 95 and continued to work with my XP computer through today (though I bought the HP in 2004 to gain greater speed and operating RAM). On the one hand, a printer can work for 16 years, but the other functions for less than 6 due to incompatibility, not work performance.
What's the cause? Is it Bill Gates' fault for not incorporating into Windows 7 the driver information his company used to do in successive editions or is he in collusion with software and hardware manufacturers like HP, who also refuse to update drivers so that obsolescence becomes the order of the day and we are forced to buy things we really don't need?
If we get a new state of the art TV, we can still connect our old VCR. If we get a new CD or DVD player we can play our old disks. We can still use a dial telephone on a telephone system that has been transformed with fiber optics and satellite transmission. But a new computer forces you to discard perfectly good machinery.
There ought to be a law preventing the computer hardware and software industry from shortchanging consumers so that we get the full use of our equipment as we do for non-computer related appliances and products. Anderson Cooper should do a "Keeping Them Honest" report on CNN, as should other commentators on NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC and Fox News. There should also be an uproar on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
All in all this new computer experience has been disappointing, extremely stressful and a whole lot of needless hassle.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com.
Follow Michael Russnow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kerrloy