Enhancing Windows 2000/XP stability
I’m always interested in hearing stories from people who have made the switch, if only because I still see a Mac somewhere in my future. Jonathon covers all the major reasons I can think of, although the points relating to Windows XP’s instability are, IMHO, off the mark.
I suspect that “off the mark” combined with “IMHO” is how well-mannered people say: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Maybe I was dreaming when, late on Christmas day, I came home from my mother’s house and turned on the Windows XP computer to check my email—only to find myself running at 800x600 resolution. (It was 1152x864 when I shut down the computer that morning). Windows, apparently, had forgotten my NVIDEA GeForce FX 5600 video card and reverted to the generic video settings. I shrugged my shoulders, reinstalled the video driver, rebooted the computer, and everything looked normal again.
The following morning I turned on the same computer but, instead of the login screen, encountered the following error message:
Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.
Select ‘r’ at the first screen to start repair.
I pressed ‘r” and, in the Recovery Console, used ‘help’ to list the available commands and—because it seemed like a good idea at the time (I wouldn’t want to give the impression I knew what I was doing)—ran the ‘fixboot’ command (although it might have been a better idea to have done a Windows XP Repair Install). The machine booted properly and I copied the few files that had changed since the previous night’s backup to my second internal hard drive.
When I tried to run Norton SystemWorks, the following error message appeared:
The InstallShield Engine (iKernel.exe) could not be launched. The RPC Server is unavailable.
As I’d suspected, my Windows XP installation had gone from annoying through unbearable to unusable in a 24 hour period. It was Ghost time:
- I booted from a Ghost recovery floppy and restored the image of the fresh Windows XP install I did in April.
- I installed the Windows XP Service Pack 2, updated ZoneAlarm and Norton SystemWorks, then made and verified new Ghost images on the auxiliary hard drive and on DVD.
- Where necessary I updated the other applications to the latest versions and created (and verified) another set of Ghost images.
Why am I explaining all this? Because, if you’re stuck with Windows, Ghost vastly reduces the pain of reinstalling the OS and all your applications and utilities.
Over coffee this morning, I asked my friend Karl whether he thinks Windows XP is as stable as Ed Bilodeau implied. “Not at all,” he replied, “but you can make it run reliably.”
“How?” I asked him, although I thought I already knew the answer.
“Restore from a Ghost image regularly,” he said.
“I do it about once a month. It only takes a few minutes because I keep all my documents on a separate partition.”
I knew he’d say “restore from a Ghost image” because I turned him on to Ghost and Partition Magic. But I didn’t expect him to do it every month. Perhaps that’s the key to making Windows 2000/XP run reliably: reinstall the OS every month. It certainly eliminates the Windows half-life problem. Karl’s Windows XP machine never gets the chance to become annoying—let alone unbearable or unusable.
Perhaps my problems stem from having a custom-built PC, albeit one constructed from high-quality components. As Ed correctly pointed out:
…since there are many, many, many more Windows users then there are Mac users, and Windows is running on all-sorts-of-only-god-knows-what machines, yeah, I would expect there to be more Windows people overall who have run into big problems. The Mac systems, built on a stack that is, for the most part, closed and proprietary, don’t have that problem.
Then again, perhaps not, since my Dell PC running Windows 2000 wasn’t particularly stable. The most reliable machines I’ve had so far have been notebooks:
a Toshiba Tecra 500T running Windows 95 then 98; and
an IBM ThinkPad 600E running Windows 2000.
Maybe that’s how you enhance Windows 2000/XP stability—it might even be a viable alternative to the Ghost method—run Windows on what is (effectively) a closed system: a notebook computer.
I’m counting the days until (hopefully) I won’t have to think about this nearly as much.