A Mind Lost

Anything and everything.

Windows 7 Reinstall

I spent the bulk of this weekend past reinstalling Windows 7.  Something was consistently, though unpredictably, taking the OS down and leaving me with a Blue Screen of Death (BSoD).  Analyzing the crash dumps didn’t help much; one time it was something in DirectX’s memory management, at other times it was within Windows itself.  The reported error was initially MEMORY_MANAGEMENT, but after a few of those and some tinkering it changed to good old IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL (I hadn’t seen that one since the early days of XP).

On the whole, I’ve been quite satisfied with Windows 7, far more than I was with Vista.  My initial experience with Vista was tainted after an external USB hard drive enclosure caused the OS to BSoD immediately after plugging it in.  The external drive worked fine throughout XP’s lifetime, and even worked fine under an unpatched Vista.  It stopped working after I’d updated Vista to SP1, causing a problem with partmgr.sys every time it was plugged in.  I never did try that enclosure with Windows 7 as it was a PATA drive, and I’ve since switched everything over to SATA.

Anyway, after backing up a tonne of data I cleared off a drive entirely to give me a bit more room to play with.  My initial partitioning strategy for the OS ended up leaving me with less space than became comfortable.  Gone are the days of a useful program occupying just a couple megs, binaries and data combined.

So after repartitioning and reinstalling a few huge programs (as well as a few hours spent patching one of them up), I started fiddling with drive letter assignments.  C: is, of course, the boot drive (although in this case I left the 100mb partition Windows’ setup program creates alone, previously I’d deleted it and let Windows stick its boot files on C:).  D: has for years been my “music” drive, so splitting a 640gb drive between the two leaves ample room for both.  I rip all my CDs (yes, I do still buy CDs) to FLAC for some lossless luvins, and enjoy a lot of free music (also in FLAC, when possible) from archive.org (particularly Buckethead).  When copying to a portable player I transcode them to Vorbis in an OGG container.

After that, my E: drive is where I stick other multimedia stuff, and F: is my “archives” drive; program installers, registration information, patches, documentation for anything that catches my fancy, various OS distributions in ISOs (generally Linux) that I play with in virtual machines, and everything else that doesn’t belong anywhere else.  That last one’s a terabyte Western Digital “Green” drive.  It’s performance is pretty crappy, high seek times and lower than expected transfer speeds, but it’s perfect for what I use it for (when I first installed it, I tried using it as my OS drive and found its performance was too poor to be used as such).

Anyway, firing up the disk management snapin, I was surprised to find that Windows had decided to install itself on the third primary partition of my OS drive, rather than the second.  Unfortunately, I’m quite anal about the way my system is set up, so having the Windows partition in the wrong spot (and the wrong size, as it had installed on the slightly smaller partition) triggered my OCD.  Naturally I was going to have to reinstall again.  (frownyface)

That’s all done now, and she’s happily chugging along again.  I’ve just about got everything the way it was before, and haven’t had a crash yet (fingers crossed, I haven’t tested it extensively).  I never did find what was causing the bluescreens in the first place; everything had been running smoothly up until a week or two ago.  Unfortunately, I’d upgraded the drivers for everything I could, so it could have been anything that caused it.  Initially I thought it was something to do with the new 260.XX series of nVidia drivers, but reverting to an older driver did not fix the problem.  My suspicion now is that it may have been the latest Creative drivers for my SB X-Fi – I’ve really not been happy with what Creative’s done for the last decade or so, not since my AWE64 Gold EISA card.

All that remains is reinstalling all the “essential” software.  Just to give this post a bit of meat, here’s a list of stuff I cannot function without.  If you’ve never used any of these programs, perhaps you’ll find a new gem to add to your own list of must haves:

  • Total Commander – a two-paned file manager, also called an orthodox file manager, in the style of Norton Commander and its many clones (such as Midnight Commander and Krusader for the Linux console/Windows and KDE respectively).
    I finally registered my copy after having used it for years (since version 2.1 for Windows 3.x, circa 1996!)  I cannot stand using Windows Explorer for anything but the simplest tasks.
  • foobar2000 – my main music player.  It doesn’t want to bugger with my music collection, doesn’t do videos or have a silly skinned interface, and basically doesn’t interfere with what I need a music player to do, which is to play music.
  • XnView – an image browser/viewer/converter modeled after ACDSee, free for non-commercial use.  Also has shell extensions for Windows Explorer (and any programs that rely on Explorers context menus) which provide some easy shortcuts to some of XnView’s functionality, as well as a thumbnail of the image.  XnView (and IrfanView, below) can both interface with Total Commander’s “lister” to decode images formats other than bitmaps.
  • IrfanView – another image viewer.  I previously used IrfanView before finding XnView.  IrfanView feels a little bit faster than XnView when viewing a single file, but I don’t really use it much any more between TC and XnView.
  • GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program.  I’m poor, and cheap, and prefer free software anyway, so my limited image editing needs are handled by this great program.  Previously I used PaintShop Pro back when it was still owned by Jasc Software, but haven’t even looked at it in a number of years (well before it was bought by Corel).  I’m also completely PhotoShop ignorant; I’ve tried it a few times over the years, but my needs are so limited that it was overkill for the tasks I threw at it.
  • Media Player Classic HomeCinema – a media player.  Forked from Gabest’s venerable Media Player Classic, it handles just about every format you can throw at it.  I do not like Microsoft’s own Windows Media Player.
  • VLC media player – another media player; if it doesn’t work in MPC-HC then I turn to VLC.  It would be my default player but for a few minor yet irritating issues I have with it.
  • Foxit Reader – a PDF viewer. I’ve tried a few free PDF readers and always come back to Foxit.  SumatraPDF is also pretty good, though not as polished as Foxit. I also gave the Windows version of Evince a spin, but was not impressed at all (I couldn’t find an option to make it remember its previous window size and position, and was annoyed by its setting several file associations yet throwing an error whenever it tried to open one of those files).
    Adobe’s Acrobat Reader is, in this humble author’s opinion, a bloated piece of shit, a veritable Charlie Foxtrot, that’s not even worth the bandwidth cost of downloading it.
    The only really annoying “feature” of Foxit is the installer wanting to install an Ask browser search toolbar and three shortcut links to eBay.  Usually this sort of nefarious bullshittery is enough to turn me away from a program, even a “free” one, but in this case I’ll forgive it (even Java’s installer pulls this kind of crap).
  • ConTEXT – a freeware text editor, and another one I’ve used for years now for everything from programming to scribbling quick notes.  Its includes syntax highlighting and a bunch of other programming related features, and is pretty small and fast.  I’ve tried various alternatives, but have become so accustomed to ConTEXT’s idiosyncrasies that nothing else really works for me.
    For quick edits from a terminal I still use FTE, although my binary is self-built and based on the old 2002 code snapshot (later releases never seemed to want to compile out of the box for me, and the older code works fine enough).
  • Launchy – a keystroke launcher.  I got used to having KDE’s Alt+F2 quick launcher, and this program duplicates that functionality on Windows just fine.  Sometimes it’s just quicker to slap a hotkey and type a few letters and Enter, rather than having to navigate through several menu entries, to start up a program.
  • TCC/LE – a Command Prompt (CMD.EXE) replacement.  I’ve used its predecessors for a number of years now, dating back to the licensed version of 4DOS included with Norton Utilities through 4NT to its current release.  TCC/LE is the free edition of TakeCommand; while it lacks some of the functionality of its big brother, it is more than adequate for my needs.
  • 7-Zip – a file archiver.  While I mostly use Total Commander to handle archive creation and extraction (see just how handy TC is), sometimes a dedicated program is needed to handle obstinate archives.
  • Mozilla Firefox – if you don’t know what Firefox is, you probably shouldn’t be using the Internet.  I’ve been using Firefox since its inception, from Phoenix, to Firebird, to Firefox.  I’ve tried Opera, Chrome and Internet Explorer, as well as Konqueror, Dolphin and Dillo (plus Links and Lynx, the latter being my very first experience with a browser back in the primordial days of the World Wide Web in the early 90’s).
  • MinGW – Minimalist GNU for Windows, a port of the GNU Compiler Collection and the various other programs required by it, as well as some of the other userspace stuff one would expect to find on a typical UNIX-based system.  The programs work well within both TCC/LE and the included Bash.  I’ve developed quite a reliance on several GNU tools (notably findutils); having access to the same programs in both Linux and Windows is a Good Thing.
    When it comes to the compiler itself, I prefer TDM-GCC as it is generally more up-to-date than MinGW’s, and has two versions of the C++ compiler, one supporting setjmp/longjmp exception handling, and the other Dwarf-2.  There’s also 64-bit versions available.
  • OpenOffice.org – a substitute for Microsoft’s Office Suite.  I am now looking for an alternative since Oracle got their paws on it.
  • VirtualBox – an X86/X64 virtualizer. This allows one to run another operating system (or several, host hardware permitting) inside a virtualized computer.  Good for trying out new operating systems, or just playing.
    Another product acquired by Oracle.  This one will be harder to replace than OO.o, although hopefully someone will fork the OSE version.
  • SysInternals – not a single program, but several that cover a wide range of functionality.  Of particular note is Process Explorer, which provides more in-depth information on running processes than Windows’ built-in task manager.  I also use Contig to defragment single files and directory (sorry, folder) trees.  There’s a lot of other useful programs, so digging around the site is heartily recommended.

That’s pretty much it for now.  I tend to try out lots of software, and tend to uninstall lots of software.  There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but I’m so set in my ways that it doesn’t take much to turn me off of using a program.  I’ve been trying to find a decent substitute for Visual Studio’s IDE (which is great, if far too bloated).  I’ve tried a handful, and so far I’m leaning towards Code::Blocks (Eclipse was just too much).  Unfortunately, finding an editor that supports my preferred indentation style (Whitesmiths, called “peculiar” on Wikipedia) has proven to be frustrating.

Well, I kinda got sidetracked there, but hopefully someone out there will find something useful in all this rambling.

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