Greetings from Damage Labs, where I sit in my storm-hardened bunker while no less than five active tornado warnings cover my area, as the sirens howl outside. Quite invigorating.

Besides that bit of drama, I've been spending the past couple of days attempting to build myself a new PC and get it configured for regular use. That's way more of a task than it probably should be, but I've been trying to document the hardware build and, frankly, the software side of things has been more trouble than anything.

Mostly that's my fault for neglectful, change-resistant user patterns. For instance, my old PC hasn't been upgraded for three-plus years because I wanted to do both a hardware and OS upgrade at the same time, and carving out room to do that isn't easy. The upshot: until today, basically, my main system has been running Windows Vista. Every other PC I use—all of my test systems, my HTPC, and my laptops—has had Win7 for ages but not the main work system where I do my writing, graphing, photo processing, and communication. That situation has mostly been a whole lot of me barely noticing the difference, punctuated by spasms of incandescent rage, a couple of times a week, as I realize how broken some fundamental parts of Vista still are. I've fed my denial on this front by telling myself most of the major issues were worked out in Vista SP2, but the truth is that it's just not right.

So, yesterday, after largely finishing the hardware build (which I plan on writing about soon), I pulled my still shrink-wrapped pre-order copy of Win7 Pro off the shelf and installed in on my new PC. Thank goodness. At least that one hurdle has been cleared.

I still face a lot of other software issues. For instance, the ridiculous fact that I'm still using Office 2000 is a source of shame I'd like to eliminate. I've grabbed the Office 2010 demo and will be giving it a shot. Also, I've jettisoned Pidgin finally, since it has been nothing but trouble in various ways, and have moved (back, after years) to Trillian, which seems to be improved.

Furthermore, I just tried installing FoxIt instead of Adobe Reader, after hearing everyone rave about it. I can already tell you that it won't open some password-protected files I have, but I'm going to try using it exclusively going forward and see how far it'll take me.

My next step is probably to find an HTML editor that works to my liking. In perhaps the most egregious of my sins, I've been using freaking HomeSite 5 for review prep (prior to dumping things in our very nice CMS) since the dawn of time, practically. I think the answer there may simply be upgrading my text editor of choice, EditPad Lite, to the full edition, although I know several other strong contenders have their followers.

On the email front, my long-standing affinity for Outlook Express/Windows Mail is being forced to an end. I've dealt with large volumes of mail (hundreds to thousands of messages daily, or perhaps five times that prior to spam filtering) by using a combination of statistical filtering with POPFile and an elaborate series of mail filters for categorizing messages. Lately, that arrangement has been supplemented by the web-based Google Apps interface, which has many virtues, but I've not yet trained myself to use it properly for certain message types, such as "read now, but file away for action later." Anyhow, Microsoft's decision to strip Windows Mail from Win7 and replace it with Windows Live Mail has forced my hand. Live Mail's interface will require serious adjustments of me, so I figure I might as well learn to use the Google web interface for everything. I think. We'll see how that goes.

This isn't really a change and it's certainly not my fault for neglecting things, but I'd like to extend a rude gesture toward Apple for the difficulty of moving an iTunes library and all of your device info and apps to a new system. Not only does iTunes scatter files over multiple places, but the Apple support knowledge base and the top hits on Google are unhelpful where they aren't outright incorrect or outdated. Fortunately, a friend helped me find the secret key combo to make things work, or I'd have been seriously stymied.

On a similar front, I bought Paint Shop Pro X2 a few years ago, and I gave serious thought to installing the older version 9 this time around. Corel has taken a nice, quick program and turned it into a classic bloatware app, adorned with pop-up ad windows, unnecessary add-on utilities (no, I do not want to install the Ask/Yahoo/Google/whatever toolbar), and start up times measured in minutes rather than seconds, even on a fast, modern system. Guys, if I wanted the Photoshop experience, I would have bought Photoshop!

The short story of my hardware build will be that it's easier than ever to build a really nice PC for yourself, thanks to innovations in case designs, motherboards, PSUs, and connectivity standards. The flip side is that software issues today can be much more vexing, both because of what software vendors are doing to us and what we've done to ourselves over years of continuous backward compatibility and basic complacency.

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