Dude, I *got* a Dell!

by brian d foy

Related link: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/6837

Last week I bought the lowest-level, cheapest Dell desktop computer I could get so I could test some Perl software and some web pages on Windows.

It got here on Tuesday: at the earliest time in the estimated delivery and quicker than UPS could update its tracking. Very nice. However, I didn't get the flat-panel monitor I thought I was getting: they sent a 17-inch CRT. I looked back at the order and read the fine print. Yep, they snuck the CRT in there under four in-house ads saying I could get a free flat-panel monitor (* if I bought a different computer). Oh well, I only paid $450 and the monitor was just gravy. I already have a monitor for it.

Physical set up is easy, and this computer looks really ugly. There's a plastic facade on the front of the tower that adds two inches, and the monitor and mouse both have cables snaking to the back of the tower. I think I'll have to get one of those wireless mice (or maybe I'll see about adding a bluetooth keyboard and mouse).

The software setup was no problem, and I already had ActivePerl and cygwin (along with a few other things) burned to a CD. I didn't want to hook this think up to the network just yet. I ended up wasting an hour playing Minesweeper. I could play that game all night.

Then I installed FireFox, but not just any version: the Irish version. What the heck, I'm already on Windows, and as the Outward Bound folks say, "Get into what you can't get out of". I'm setting myself up for pain, so let's do it in Gaelic.

That was yesterday. Today, I figured I'll try to connect it to the network. What a pain! I connected to my network through my Airport Express. I ran the Network Setup wizard, restarted, and badda-bing badda-boom, it picked up its DHCP address and router. The only problem was the crappy ISP nameservers which were down. No problem, I figured, I'll just manually add a couple of nameservers. No I won't, I guess. I couldn't find any place in Network Setup to change it. I checked the Microsoft Help thingy, and it returned a document from the MSN Knowledge Base telling me which Registry Key to edit with regedit. Ugh.

I tweaked my Airport Base Station to give out new addresses for the nameserver, restarted that, and restarted Windows (which I needed to do anyway so some other software could do its magic). Now the Windows box is on the network. Well, it's almost on the network. I'm pretty sure I followed the different instructions to create a network share, but no dice. I'll have to think about that later. Maybe I should just figure out how to set up an sshd instead.

Oh well, things aren't so bad. By next week I should be getting some work out of this machine.


2005-04-14 01:15:18
buy XP Pro next time :)
XP Home is deliberately dumbed down to prevent clueless (read non-technical) users from changing things by mistake which make their machines not work.

That's why you can't edit nameservers by hand without taking a deliberate extra step.

At least you don't have to go through a hundred config files and a thousand manpages to figure out what to do though :)

2005-04-14 01:16:03
buy XP Pro next time :)
And before I forget, congrats on getting a computer to supplement the Macs :)
2005-04-14 02:13:41
buy XP Pro next time :)
I didn't get the XP Home version: it was called XP Professional, or something like that.

I didn't get this to supplement the Macs: I got it because people insist on using Windows along with Internet Explorer. I'm not especially happy with dealing with Windows, and I'm not planning on using the computer very much: that's why I got the low cost version. I'll take sympathy over congratulations. :)

2005-04-14 08:09:11
I use the SSHD that comes packaged with cygwin on my home system. Works like a charm.
2005-04-14 08:21:22
Unsolicited Advice
You can degunk the user interface of Windows XP, make it behave more like Windows 2000 and give you quick access to necessary features. The added benefit is that user guides often use Windows 2000 screen shots.

Follow these steps to switch to the "Classic" Windows look:

1. Right click the Task Bar
2. Choose "Properties" from the pop up menu
3. Select the tab that allows you to see the Start menu customization
4. Select the Classic Windows Start Menu radio button
5. Click Customize
6. Check the Expand Control Panels option
7. Check the Administrative Tools option
8. Click OK until you exit out of all the dialog boxes

On your desktop will suddenly appear to icons "My Computer" and "My Network Places". These icons are the simplest way to access numerous features. To access your network options quickly, you can right click "My Network Places" and choose properties. You will find your LAN settings there for the different networking devices you have installed.

Follow these steps to get rid of the "Ronald MacDonald XP" look:

1. Right click "My Computer"
2. Choose "Properties" from the pop up menu
3. Select the Advanced tab
4. Click on Performance button
5. Select the Best Performance radio button
6. Click OK until you exit out of all the dialog boxes

A great feature in Windows that I wish the Macintosh platform had is the ability to set preferences for all file browsing Windows at all times on any device connected to a particular computer.

2005-04-14 09:36:19
buy XP Pro next time :)
You can change the network settings and add DNS servers very easily without having to edit the registry.

Open up the Control Panel (click Classic Mode to the left) and double click on your Network Settings applet.

Highlight Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click properties.

In the resulting window, click the Advanced button and choose the DNS tab. You can enter DNS entries to your hearts content there.

I'm not a huge windows fan, but they aren't horrible. I would prefer Linux myself. A LOT easier to just edit resolv.conf in my mind then having to remember which graphical way to do everthing under different OSes. But... to each his own.

2005-04-14 11:45:31
buy XP Pro next time :)
Every single Linux distro I've ever installed asked for a nameserver IP during installation. Googling "linux network" gets you to the Networking HOWTO which tells you there's exactly one file responsible, resolv.conf. Pick a more credible example (they exist, to be sure) if you want to make fun of something.
2005-04-14 13:56:52
buy XP Pro next time :)
assuming your network card's driver is natively supported by the kernel . . .
2005-04-14 15:55:48
When I need to test an application in Windows, I run Virtual PC. You can designate a folder in your Virtual PC as shared between your Mac and the emulation. That might save you some networking trouble in the future.
2005-04-14 16:02:20
I've developed on VPC before, and I hate it 10 times more than a real Windows box. It's amazingly slow compared to the real thing, and it gets in the way of me using my Powerbook to keep working.

Computer prices are so low now that VPC doesn't save me that much money. I can run the testing automatically on the PC and let it do its thing while I keep working on a full-speed responsive machine. :)

2005-04-14 16:08:25
buy XP Pro next time :)
Let's keep it friendly here. :)

The various unix distros can be just as bad to the newcomer who still needs to know what to do.

If I were searching Google as a newbie, I might start with "linux nameserver", and those results are no help at all. You already know what you are looking for, so you search for the right thing. A newbie wouldn't know to look for a Networking HOWTO until they found out about HOWTOs.

Not even all unixen use resolv.conf. It's there on my Mac OS X box, but it doesn't do anything. :)

I'm trying to be fair to Windows, and I realize I'm a big dummy about Windows so some things are just me not knowing enough. :)

2005-04-15 01:04:00
Unsolicited Advice
Thanks! Things seem a bit snappier now that I've changed that stuff. :)
2005-04-15 03:08:17
.. you'll get to used to this. You'll find that CTL-ALT-Del are the shiniest keys on your keyboard after a while.
2005-04-15 06:06:45
buy XP Pro next time :)
correct. Nice to be able to access the internet to use Google...

In fact, it would be nice to be able to access your screen to know what you're typing (yes, I've had a Linux install fail to access the screen, the videocard wasn't supported even in text mode).

2005-04-15 07:41:22
Remote Desktop for Mac
If you'll be working on both, Remote Desktop is some cool software from MS (did I just say that?!) that allows you to run a Windows session on a remote box inside a Mac window. Kind of like a faster Virtual PC. I use it here at work when I need a PC for some reason. It even forwards sound through the Mac.

Remote Desktop

Jonathan Gennick
2005-04-15 15:40:16
Depends what you're used to
A few months back I got just as frustrated as you seem to be when I helped my daughter setup her new iBook. It wasn't until her second vacation from school that I managed to iron out the problems getting onto our home network using WEP. I still have some other networking issues to work out next time she's home. Any new interface is frustrating. Mac is no better nor worse than Windows in that respect.
2005-04-15 17:40:44
Remote Desktop for Mac
I'll have to give that a try, although I disabled that option pretty early once I read that Dell tech support could connect to my computer that way (meaning other industrious crackers might be able to too).

I only really need to share files, so I might just set up a web server.

2005-04-15 17:44:03
Depends what you're used to
I don't think anything wins out for ease-of-migration. I tend to think that Mac is easier to learn if you haven't seen anything before (that's jsut my opinion and I know some people think other things), but once you see something your pushed into a view of the world.

My friends that switched from PCs to Macs have as much difficulty and frustration as I'm having learning Windows. :)

In reality, I tell people to get the same thing their friends have and leave it at that. :)