Sunday, November 3, 2013

Win 8.1 Dispatch: Of Clouds and Virtuous Cycles

Finally getting around to upgrading to Windows 8.1. I very rarely upgrade before the first service pack, especially for workaday machines, but a driver issue made upgrading a little more urgent than normal. Once the primary workstation has been upgraded I've tended to shortly thereafter upgrade all home machines to make working remotely easier. Plus the habits of an OS tend to become second nature; I don't want to have to maintain two different modalities (one for work, one for home).

I started the upgrade (Windows 7 to Windows 8.1) of the home desktop box at 10:34pm. By 10:49 pm the entire process was done. I don't mean "you can see the desktop but can't do anything with it" done. I mean "logging onto facebook to post how fast this was" done. The desktop box is pretty well stocked (core i7 920, ssd-only storage, 12 gigs of ram) but it's by no means a beast.

Over the past few months I've gradually migrated all documents, pics, videos and the like to Skydrive (also a fan of gdrive and google docs but that's a post for another day). Ditto for programs that I've become accustomed to having installed on every machine: Notepad++ (formerly Ultraedit), Paint.net, 7zip, etc... Because the bits I care about are in the cloud I can finally feel comfortable wiping and reinstalling the OS without fear of a herculean, days-long-til-it-feels-right chore to get back up and running.

In a sense this lowered barrier to reinstalling the OS mirrors the recovery oriented trend in software engineering. Skydrive and the internet in general are providing the persistent store. Since Skydrive is limited* to 25gb I don't keep the bigger application bundles (office, windows itself, Cakewalk Sonar, etc...) on it but download them (and store them on a 1TB freeagent drive plugged into the wifi router) as needed.

The less time it takes to reinstall the OS and key apps the more likely I am to use this as a solution for the inevitable problems that creep up from time to time with any complex piece of software. 10 years ago wiping and reinstalling the OS + Apps was at least a 4 hour time commitment (usually longer) that lingered on for weeks while hunting down the various apps and settings it took to make the system feel like home. Under those constraints it makes sense to spend a few hours hunting down the cause of a glitch because a few hours is shorter than a few days.

Since then I've reliably installed windows 8.1 from USB 4 times in under 15 minutes. I expect there to be far fewer glitches that *have* to be tracked down (unless it's one that captures my interest). And over time I expect it to counteract the "don't install any software unless it's from the manufacturer" ethos that has crept into windows land because the OS + Apps situation was so precarious (of course race-to-the-bottom preloaded TSRs* didn't help).

I upgraded my work laptop last week but over the weekend discovered that it's still using a spin drive! (7200 RPMs but still, a spin drive!). So I swapped out an 80gig SSD that was lying around and proceeded to reinstall (as an aside, keeping intel chipset series 4/5/6/7/8+ drivers on a USB thumb drive really helps here). Lo and behold Windows recognizes the name of the machine (I used the same name) and offered to speed up the process by using the most recently saved settings for it! Not just desktop background or bookmarks/favorites either. It even remembered the File History backup location (on the freeagent plugged into the wifi router).

Ordinarily I'd be wary of using a drive so small (80gigs isn't very much after Windows and Office) but another consequence of cloud storage is that I'm realizing I need much less space on the laptop. The things I care about are either on Skydrive (and have started making it the default documents location - another awesome Win 8 feature) or can be downloaded from other sites (e.g., the app store, cakewalk.com, etc...) as needed. Skydrive is limited to 25gigs and, because it's contents have to be downloaded, is somewhat self-limiting. Less space on the laptop makes the wipe-reinstall scenario even faster. A virtuous cycle :)

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