This Week at Mobile Tech Manor #61: the Creeping Crud

mobile-tech-manor-large-21It is the end of another week and that means it is time to share the week at Mobile Tech Manor with you once again. The week was a typical one, lots of mobile gear and a lot of thinking about how I use it. I am always trying to improve my work methods, and looking to find new ways to get things done. Maybe it’s a failing on my part, this constant reaching for the best. Maybe not. I did learn a new way to do something this week and that was great.

I sent a cool gadget back where it came from, and already miss it a great deal. I noticed my “go-to” mobile device had changed. I also started having an uneasy feeling about Windows 7, as I have noticed some things that bother me about how it works on mobile computers. Come on in and I’ll share my week with you.

Creeping crud

I have been using Windows 7 since the early beta days. I lived through a number of beta version updates, and watched the OS get better and better each time. I grabbed the official RTM version when it was first released, and have used the “gold” version of Windows 7 on quite a few computers in Mobile Tech Manor. I really like Win7, and find it easily the best version of Windows yet. I have been especially impressed with how well it works on mobile computers, notebooks, netbooks and UMPCs, something earlier versions didn’t always do.

Win 7 handles mobile scenarios better than either XP or Vista did prior. It seems to sleep and wake up much faster on every computer I’ve used it on, and even hibernation has worked well when I’ve tried it. I don’t usually use hibernation but I’ve used it to try it out on a few computers.

Users of Windows prior to Win 7 are no doubt familiar with the “creeping crud” phenomenon. Windows XP and Vista start running slower over time, until eventually the system gets so slow something has to give. The crud can be especially pronounced on notebooks, with systems eventually getting extremely unreliable at sleep and resume.

I have seen mobile computers start taking much longer to go to sleep or wake up with older versions of Windows after enough time passes. I have been told that it is a result of the Windows registry getting bloated to the point that it interferes with basic operation. The only effective solution is to wipe the system clean and reinstall Windows. Not a good solution, but the one that works consistently.

I have been impressed with how smoothly Win 7 runs on every computer I’ve tried. Things happen quickly and as expected. The systems just work. I have been keeping a keen eye on every system with Windows 7, given my experience with older versions over time as I have described.

I am now approaching a few months with Win 7 on some computers, and I am getting increasingly nervous as they are starting to exhibit symptoms of the crud. I am seeing systems occasionally take much longer to go to sleep or wake up, with no ascertainable reason. A notebook will sleep and resume perfectly dozens of times, and then for no apparent reason will take up to 30 seconds or longer to sleep or wake up.

It doesn’t happen often, but the fact it happens at all scares me a great deal. What I am seeing is exactly what I would see with older Windows versions in the early stages of the creeping crud. Everything runs fine like clockwork, and then gradually things start happening and slowing down. If the crud I am seeing in Windows 7 progresses like it did in older versions, it is going to be more of the same. That scares the hell out of me.

I am also seeing that on lower-end computers, like netbooks and UMPCs, the first time I open a folder in Windows Explorer it can take an inordinately long time for the folder’s contents to display. The system just seems to hang for what feels like a very long time, with nothing seeming to happen. The rest of the PC is running fine while this happens, it’s just the Explorer windows like the file manager folders. This is just the first time an Explorer window is opened, after that all folders open and work fine. It’s like the system has to cache everything once, and that process is so slow. This sometimes happens on PCs with decent components, but it always happens on netbooks and the like.

Don’t misunderstand one thing, I really, really like Windows 7. It is the best Windows yet, and the usability improvements are awesome. I grab a Win 7 system over XP or Vista every single time I have a choice. I am, however, getting a very uneasy feeling based on actual observations over time as I’ve indicated. I know that some will jump in with the standard explanation that it’s the vendor’s hardware, or the drivers at fault. That may very well be but the fact is it is business as usual. If it is going to be as difficult for vendors to keep their components or drivers running consistently under Win 7 as it was under XP and Vista, then it’s business as usual.

My “go-to” computer

I have a lot of different computers in Mobile Tech Manor, and the stable is always in flux with new ones coming in and others going out. I rotate all of the notebooks that I evaluate to give each one a fair shake, but over time there is always one that becomes the one I grab when I’m heading out the door. The “go-to” computer. It is always a notebook that is highly portable and that performs well in many different circumstances.

The go-to computer currently is the Lenovo ThinkPad x200 Tablet PC. The x200 is as small as can be, and that makes it very portable. It is also a good performer, and handles everything I throw at it. It is a good pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook, and is much smaller. The 12-inch screen is a good size to fit the small package, and yet displays at the same resolution as the bigger MacBook (1280×800).

The x200 has become the one I almost always grab as I head out the door. It fits in the smallest bags from the collection I use, and I have no compromises to make when bringing it. I find no downside for having brought it, and that is huge for me.

It also has extra abilities that no other notebook in the Manor has — the rotating screen chief among them. There are many times that it makes more sense to put the x200 in slate mode and work away. That’s the mode where the other special ability comes into play — the touchscreen.

Windows 7 does multitouch very well, and that is very evident on the x200. It is natural to sit comfortably with the x200 in slate mode, interacting with the PC strictly via touch. It is such a good way to work that I often grab the x200 around the house. I can’t express how nice it is to sit in the big comfy chair, touching the screen to make things happen. This computer is not only the go-to computer when I hit the road, it’s often the go-to PC for working at home too.

Kicking out the Hero

This week I returned the HTC Hero to the folks at HTC. I am thankful they sent it to me to evaluate, and to share that experience with you. The Hero is an awesome smartphone, and I already miss it a great deal. I can’t think of anything it couldn’t handle for the few weeks I used it, the mark of a good tool.

Coolest thing on the web

I don’t often get into cool stuff on the web but I was blown away by one thing I simply must share. It is sort of mobile tech — it’s the Python from WaterCar. It is a very cool car built around Corvette parts, and it is totally amphibious. From speeding on the highway to 60 knots on the water. That is simply awesome, if you’ve got $200,000. It is the way to have a mid-life crisis on land AND sea.

e-Books of the week

I had a good week with e-books, from the latest in one of my favorite series, to an unpublished novel written by a friend. The former was Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman. This is the latest novel featuring Alex Delaware, and it was as good as the rest of the series. It was great to hang with Alex and Milo once again. These books don’t come often enough for me.

The unpublished novel I am enjoying a great deal. It is a good science fiction story, and I found an unexpected way to read it. It was sent to me in DOCX format, and that presented a problem at first. I don’t have Microsoft Office installed on a single computer in Mobile Tech Manor, believe it or not. I didn’t have OpenOffice installed on any of the handheld computers I would normally use to read an e-book, either.

So what did I discover was the easiest way to read this e-book in DOCX format?  WordPad. Yes, that old text editor that is slightly better than Notepad. I didn’t realize that WordPad could handle the newer DOCX format, but it does and it’s been the easiest way to read this e-book. I learned something new this week, one of my true joys.


You have shared my week at Mobile Tech Manor, I hope you found it time well spent. Until next week, same bat time, same bat channel.