"I can levitate birds but no one cares."
- Steven Wright

There is a theme to this post.

I've spent the last month cutting up my OS.

Windows XP is around 650MB on the installation CD, expanding to about 1.3GB when you install it on your hard disk - and that's before you install any software. But the core of XP is 85MB expanding to around 200. Approximately two thirds is useless most of the time, and if you can work out which bits of that two thirds is useful to you...you can cut out the junk and get a small, fast, efficient, asesthetically designed and useful system.

If you can work out which bits you need for your software. That's the difficult bit. That's the bit you need six spare days a week for a month for.

I spent most of Saturday installing Windows for someone else.

I get to work generally one day a week, filling in for teachers who are absent/sick/on holiday/doing something better/teaching somewhere else, which suits me just fine. I get just enough to live on, and plenty of free time for things like...um...well, see above.

Like all modern schools, it has computers. And like all schools, it has students who enjoy messing them up. Engineering students don't generally spend their mental effort working out ways to mess up the lathe, veterinary students don't think it's cool to induce seizures in dogs, but students of everything like to see how they can fuck up other people's computers.

Computing students are no exception. They're just better at it.

So, every year after the summer rush, the school computers get sluiced out, reformatted and renewed with reinstalled Windows. This year it was slightly different in that:

(a) It took a day instead of a week
(b) It was done properly by some one who knew what they were doing, and
(c) I put some security in this time

It seems no one had previously thought of using passwords.

So, having spent seven hours (one for each computer) installing Windows 2000, Windows XP and (hack, spit) Windows Vista...I could happily spend the rest of my life never again seeing a yellow bar creeping across a blue screen.

People have never put their laptops on their laps. Laps were designed for dogs, not computers.

Occasionally they put them on tables on trains, or on conveniently raised rocks doing work "in the field" (in fields, anyway), or on the ends of beds, but mostly laptops go on desks. They were originally meant to be portable adjuncts to desktop PCs, but they wound up replacing them.

Nowadays if you're a serious user, you have one laptop on your desk for work, a smaller one in your bedroom for internet and games, and an even smaller one for going on the road. Palmtops, they're sometimes called. Except they don't go on palms either.

And you transfer data between them using USB memory sticks. Everyone's got several memory sticks - one lost under the bed, one lost in a drawer somewhere, one left in a taxi, and the one on your keychain you haven't lost yet.

You can also run software from a memory stick. There are "portable" versions of many (perhaps most) popular programs, designed to be small and self-contained. And this has had one rather surprising but extremely welcome effect....

Because although Windows looks superficially neat and modular, with different separate programs plugged into the operating system, it isn't. Each program is densely intertwined with the Windows core, and the various "extras" you need for the more advanced software - things like DotNet, Visual BASIC, Visual C++, Java, DirectX, Network drivers, sound and video drivers, codecs, QuickTime etc etc.

In other words, it's a tangled mesh of overlaps and interdependencies which no amount of pruning and housekeeping entirely unwinds. In other words, it's a freaking mess.

But portable software isn't messy. You plug it in, run it, and unplug when you're finished. It's clean, simple and sensible. It's what Windows should have been.

And there's absolutely no reason why you can't install it permanently on your hard disk. So that's what I've done.

With a cut down 300MB Windows installation - half of it just for networking - and the same again for DotNet, Visual C++ etc etc, and 2GB of portable-but-permanent software, my antiquated laptop is now a recording studio, video edit suite, graphic design lab, office and browser...and it runs twice as fast as desktop PCs that are supposed to be twice the speed.

Now I've just got to remember what I wanted to do with it.


  1. My cat understands that laps are for dogs (cats, in his case) and not for laptops.

    The minute I place my laptop on my lap, he jumps up and demands his rightful place.

    The laptop must then be shunted off to the side, causing Mistress MJ a crick in her neck.

  2. Ah so that's why the Mistress has a crick in her neck. I thought it might be...no, nevermind.