Mac OS 10.6 and Windows 7

Two new OS releases in the last month and I’ve installed them both.

My 10.6 / Snow Leopard Mac installations went smoothly though I’ve heard of friends who had issues during the installation.  I did a reformat and fresh install as I do every time I install a new OS, not that it’s necessary but it’s good to know where you stand.  Plus, it’s an opportunity to look at what I have on the machine and how it’s organized, and think about a better way to arrange things.  I reinstall all the applications either from the DVD or download.
The major issues I had with 10.6 were with Java incompatibilities.  I can’t connect to our VPN at work, though this is partly due to the VPN server software not being upgraded.  Still, one would hope that changing versions of a language didn’t break anything.  I had another problem with a commercial Java-based imaging application, though the latest update fixed this.  
Overall the changes in 10.6 have been minor.  The machine does boot faster though I don’t often do this; the workstation stays on and the laptop goes to sleep between uses.  Programs perhaps load a bit faster.  I don’t like the new Expose arrangement where all the mini windows are scaled to the same size, and arranged in a grid rather than in their approximate positions as used to be the case.  I’ve always thought that people remember sizes and locations well – such as looking back through a newspaper for an article you’ve read, and remembering about where on the page it was.  The new Expose behavior removes these visual cues.  Hopefully they’ll make it an option to turn off the new look.

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Windows 7 was a bit harder to install.  Though I’ve had a Mac since 1985 I don’t knock Windows, it’s a good operating system.  Neither do I disparage Vista which I’ve been running since it came out, with no problems, and find it better in every way to XP.  I did have problems installing Windows 7 though.  I did a fresh install, which I consider essential when upgrading Windows.  In fact, once a year I reformat and reinstall, just to get rid of the detritus that has accumulated in the interim and is bogging the system down (this is one aspect of Windows I don’t defend).  
In this case I had trouble getting the installation to start at all, the installer kept quitting.  Once I got the install running, it would proceed to the final stage then freeze at “Completing Installation”.  I’d leave it there for an hour and nothing would happen.  This seems to be a common problem as there were lots of accounts of it in Google.  There were various suggestions to work around this problem:
  • Unplug USB devices
  • Disable USB in BIOS
  • Turn on SATA AHCI in BIOS
  • Reduce RAM to below 4 GB
  • Burn the installation DVD at lowest speed
  • Remove option cards
  • Upgrade BIOS

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Of these the consensus seemed to be that Windows 7 can’t handle USB keyboards during installation, and you have to find and use a PS/2 keyboard.  What decade is this again?  Fortunately I have a Napolen Dynamite time machine and was able to go back to 1982 and find a PS/2 keyboard.  I don’t know how people without a computer museum will cope.
Since each installation attempt was taking over an hour, I performed all the recommended hacks and left the installation running overnight.  Whether it was the 1980′s keyboard or the leaving it for 12 hours, it eventually ground through the process.
On the surface, Windows 7 looks and behaves a lot like Vista.  It seems a little faster.  It has the same insanely complex file protection labyrinth and kept insisting that I, the sole user and installer of the computer, “do not have permission” to delete my own files.  And when I used Internet Explorer once, as I always do, to download Firefox, double-clicking on the file I just downloaded gives me the message “Windows cannot access the specified file.  You may not have the appropriate permissions”.  I don’t know why I defend Windows sometimes, I think it’s more that I’ve lowered my expectations as to what it can do.

Tracked that problem down eventually.  I hadn’t actually reformatted the disk as I should have, and while Windows put in a new copy of the Windows and Program Files directories, it kept my existing directories on C such as ‘tmp’ and ‘cygwin’, both of which I’d be using again.  But these directories now belong to an unknown user despite being in my home directory.  There is a very lengthy procedure I got through to reset the directorry ownership, and file permissions, and ‘effective file permissions’ because file permissions in Windows can mean almost anything, and whether this directory should inherit properties from its parents, and whether its subdirectories should inherit from it…and it gets more complex from there.  After messing with this for an hour I did what I should have done initially, plug in the 1982 keyboard, boot from DVD, and this time delete and recreate the disk partition to be sure all my old files are dead and buried.  I’m used to this sort of awfulness as a result of running Windows Server, but now it’s made its way to desktop Windows.