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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Still alive after 'upgrade' to Windows 7 HP Workstation and Dream Color Monitor

Old Dell PC (top) replaced by HP workstation

PHOTO: I recently replaced my ten year old Dell PC server tower running the Windows XP operating system, which was built in 2004 (shown top), with a new HP Z220 Workstation PC (shown bottom) running the Windows 7 64-bit Professional operating system. My old Dell Monitor has a 20-inch diagonal 1600 by 1200 pixel display spaced at 100 pixels-per-inch versus my new HP Dreamcolor monitor, which is a 24-inch diagonal monitor with 1920 pixels by 1200 pixels high and the same 100 pixels-per-inch resolution that is large enough to display two full-sized standard pages side by side. Both monitors have much better color depth and screen height than the typical 1920 by 1080 displays that usually only display less than 6-bits per color versus the more than 8 bits per color pixel for my Dell and mew HP monitor. The HP Dreamcolor monitor was designed for businesses requiring high quality color, such as the Dream Works animation studio. I decided to buy one, despite being color blind, because each pixel has a tricolor LED backlight that allows the display to almost match the deep black contrast ratios of old CRT displays, which it helps with my low vision blindness and I can magnify the operating system by 150% to see it better instead of the 125% maximum allowed by Windows with a 1080 pixel high display. The HP Workstation is built for non-stop business and engineering applications (I hope it will last me at least 10 years like the Dell did) and it was custom configured for me with two RAID 1 solid state disc drives, which have no moving mechanical parts instead of the standard old-fashioned mechanical disc drives found in most computers. The RAID 1 configuration writes a mirror image to both drives to increase reliability. Alternately, it could have been configured as a RAID 0 to increase the write speed to a virtual double sized drive, which is important when editing large video and engineering CAD files. What I like the most is the SSD drives can boot up Windows in seconds, which is much more quickly than when using a standard computer mechanical drive.

I had been holding off "upgrading" from Windows XP to Windows 7 even though it seemed like every program I used was griping about Windows XP being obsolete, because I knew it would take me much time to upgrade and relearn a new OS, especially given my low vision blindness. However, I begrudgingly knew that I would have to upgrade my OS eventually because Microsoft had announced they would be quitting the support of it, which would probably result in a security hole being left open that I would not want to worry about.

Based on my few decades of computer engineering design and business experience, I was curious why Microsoft had supported their Windows XP OS so much longer than normal. I was guessing it was because every business I know is still running Windows XP in at least one application, however, I didn't know the scope of this reason until I read the article by Nick Summers, "ATMs Face Deadline to Upgrade From Windows XP," posted Jan. 16, 2014, printed as "ATM's Lurch Into A New Century," BusinessWeek, Jan. 20-26, 2014, p. 37-38:

"When ATMs were introduced more than 40 years ago, they were considered advanced technology. Today, not so much. There are 420,000 ATMs in the U.S., and on April 8, a deadline looms for nearly all of them that underscores how sluggishly the nation's cash delivery system moves forward. That's the day Microsoft (MSFT) cuts off tech support for Windows XP, meaning that ATMs running the software will no longer receive regular security patches and won't be in compliance with industry standards. Most machines that get upgraded will shift to Windows 7, an operating system that became available in October 2009. (Some companies get a bit of a reprieve: For ATMs using a stripped-down version of XP known as Windows XP Embedded, which is less susceptible to viruses, Microsoft support lasts until early 2016.)" (Quoted from Nick Summers, "ATMs Face Deadline to Upgrade From Windows XP," posted Jan. 16, 2014, printed as "ATM's Lurch Into A New Century," BusinessWeek, Jan. 20-26, 2014, p. 37-38)

I was happy to read that every IT manager quoted in the article is moving to Window 7 because this suggests a good probability that my investment in Window 7 will last a decent amount of time, even though the Win 7 operating system is now nearly 4 years old (Win 7 was first released Oct. 2009). I hope to get ten years of use out of it, which might last me until I die.

I have played on computers since the 1950's, when my dad was using a mainframe computer at the University of Illinois for his PhD research in Chemical Engineering, and since 1972 I have been working almost exclusively on HP computers, for scientific and engineering applications, until about ten years ago when I purchased a Dell PC, mostly as a market research experiment. I can't complain because my Dell PC lasted 10 years, although I must note my Dell PC survived this long only because it was a very fast and high-end $4,000 computer when it was new and I also must note it required the replacement or upgrade of the video card, main memory and optical drives during its lifetime to keep it running acceptably.

Today, my new HP Z220 Workstation PC is also a high-end computer system costing nearly $2400 and likewise, costing over $2,000, the HP Dreamcolor is the best monitor you can buy today, even for an Apple Mac, (the HP Dreamcolor monitor is used by professional film animation producers, such as Stephen Spielberg's DreamWorks Studio, who had HP build it for them.)

This begs the question, "Why does a blind man own an HP DreamColor Monitor when he can't see color? Answer, "Because can" and the high contrast ratio of it, which approaches the quality of the old-fashioned CRT screens' deep blacks and whites, and this makes it easier for him to see it with his low vision blindness.

` For the fun of it, and as a market research study, I tried, posing as a real customer and I order my HP computer online through HP's small business sales channel. I was surprised to see their order system is not real-time and it appears to be a Web-based version of a 30 year old HP 3000 computer program. I ordered the HP computer the first week in January and requested two-day Fed-ex shipping. Except for an expected delay due to the configuration of it and an unexpected snow storm in Indianapolis that delayed all Fed-Ex deliveries, the monitor arrived within 2 days, and the workstation arrived a few days after the monitor arrived. However, now that I am nearly blind, it took me two full weeks to set it up and be able to do anything useful.

Prior to me buying the Dell computer ten years ago, I had gotten used to upgrading my computer every 2 to 3 years, starting in the 1960's when my first computer was a plastic mechanical computer that could count in binary from 0 to 7 or three bits. I also grew up playing with my dad's analog computer and one of the first digital computers he used in the 1950's while working on his PhD in Chemical Engineering.

The so-called "upgrade" process has always been difficult, even when you have planned it for it in advance and use systematic methods. I have always hated doing upgrades, which is why I waited so long -- I would have waited longer if it was not for the fact that Microsoft plans to quit supporting Windows XP this year. In fact, I was wondering why Microsoft had supported Windows XP as long as they have, until I confirmed the fact that XP is still inside thousands of ATM machines and other business applications, including one at my dentist's office.

As predicted, this time around the upgrade process was pure hell, but mostly because of the fact that I have lost most of my vision and I have not yet memorized Windows 7 commands and the various windows locations -- it is a pain to have to relearn everything. However, I was delighted to find the HP business computers were still of the quality that I was accustomed to experiencing with HP products.

There are numerous things I want to blog about, but it may take me some time before I am able to do it again. My friends and family are already called me to say they were worried that I had died after they saw my blog's lack of activity, but they all understood why I have posted so little after they learned how I had been spending full-time trying to do a so-called "upgrade" of my computer system.

Hopefully, I can get back up to speed and post some more interesting things in the near future. I am treating every post as potentially my last post, in the event I can't do anymore.