December 11th, 2pm
So in late November, I cracked and bought a Vaio P11Z/B as a travel typing machine. (Half price, two year extended warranty thrown in — they were discontinuing it. What can I say?)
It's a nice piece of hardware, except for the software. It came running Vista, and lumbered with Sony's usual crapware. There are also fun issues surrounding the GMA500 graphics chipset and Linux — hopefully they'll be fixed in 2010, but in the meantime, I'm being cautious and not switching OSs on the machine immediately. Vista is a horrible parody of a real operating system, but it also came with a voucher for an upgrade to Windows 7 — and the upgrade path allows you to keep your apps and data in situ (no reformatting needed). So for the past couple of weeks I tweaked the machine, tapped my fingers while Vista took forever to do anything, and waited for the parcel to arrive.
Well, it came yesterday.
Step 1: there's a 9Gb Vista OS restore partition on the Vaio. It'd be a good idea to back it up to DVD, wouldn't it, and claw back the 20% of my available disk space it's using, wouldn't it? (I could even install Linux in that partition.) Cue collision #1 with Sony's crapware. They provide a utility for burning backup system restore DVDs. It doesn't work: I tried with three different external DVD burners and four different sets of disks (including +RW, -R, and +R). The drives work — I burned a data DVD with one of 'em — but the Sony utility horks and dies every time. (Oh, and it's such a piece of shit that it runs in a non-resizable window and if you rescale the UI to a sensible number of pixels per inch the buttons you need to click are clipped. So you can only run it with the screen set to 96dpi ... on a machine that has a physical resolution of 200dpi. Cue bleeding from the eyeballs.)
Step 2: So I proceed to do the Windows 7 upgprade without a lifebelt. Oka-a-a-y ...
Step 3: Follow the instructions in Sony's leaflet and de-install a bunch of Sony crapware that derails the Windows 7 upgrade. Reboot three times in the process (because some of the installers won't give you an option to reboot later).
Step 4: Start the upgrade. Watch as Win 7 checks ... then quits, warning you to remove three other pieces of crapware and ensure that there are at least 16Gb of free space on the hard disk. Okay, some of the crapware was my fault (iTunes, Skype) ... but what kind of OS needs 16Gb of free space to install? Scratch head, jump through hoops, go back to Step 4.
Step 5. Over a period of six hours, Windows 7 installs itself. Then it reboots. Bombs to a DOS prompt: "one of the filesystems needs to be checked. Press any key to avoid running chkdsk. You have five seconds ..."
Not being stupid, I leave chkdsk to do its stuff. It has now been running for (checks clock) around 16 hours. It's spitting out lots of lines of the form "Inserting an index entry with Id 999999 into index $SII of file 9". Well okay, a quick google reveals that it does this if the filesystem is set up for disk indexing and it thinks the index is corrupt. Interrupting it would be Bad, so I don't do that. Such a shame that I switched indexing off on Drive C: for performance reasons (read: 1.33GHz Atom processor wheezing and groaning under the weight of Vista).
Ellapsed wall-clock time on Windows 7 upgrade so far: 22 hours.
Still to do: finish chkdsk run, reboot into Win7, enter activation key, switch to Sony's driver disk, install drivers (rebooting three times), deinstall any unwanted Sony bloatware (rebooting to taste), reinstall iTunes and Skype.
(Brief discursion: the only reason it isn't running ubuntu is that my initial attempt to get the Intel GMA500 graphics accelerator working (on Netbook Remix 9.10 via Wubi) ended in tears before bed-time, so I was waiting until I've got Win7 up and running before nuking the Vista restore partition and making another serious run at Ubuntu. Reason for upgrading to Win7 first: because Sony's borked Win7 upgrade installer insists on the Vista restore partition being occupied by, er, Vista, or it refuses to run.)
Worth noting is the time to upgrade from OS/X 10.5 (Leopard) to OS/X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) on a supported Mac: 40 minutes on average — I did it to four Macs in an afternoon. (And before the Windows-users leap in to say "but that's only a service patch", no it isn't. New BSD kernel, new thread despatcher, large lump of new subsystems, Rosetta separated out as a separate installable module, and so on. It's as much a new OS relative to OS X 10.5 as Windows 7 is relative to Vista.)
UPDATE: Elapsed time so far: 28 hours. chkdsk is still hamsterizing the flywheel. It's now added around 375,000 index entries ... assuming it's rebuilding an index for the entire FS, with one record per file, it's got another 500,000 to go. Groan. The only time I've ever seen Linux or OS/X's filesystem checker fsck pull a stunt like this, it was trying to recover a RAID-based filesystem that had been mangled by massive memory corruption ...
FLASH UPDATE: Just as I finished typing the above update, it rolled over to say "Repairing the security file record segment" instead.
Gosh, the excitement is killing me.
30 hours and counting on the Win 7 install.
chkdsk.exe has finished
hamsterizing the flywheel inserting index entries in the security file record segment, and is now hammering the hard disk while maintaining NSA-grade close-lipped silence.
I think it has simply run out of excuses and is staying shtumm to avoid self-incrimination.
(I'm used to filesystem checking algorithms on real operating systems that run in seconds to minutes on devices an order of magnitude larger. This is a sick joke, right?)
December 12th, 2pm
chkdsk has, for a miracle, finished squirrelizing the cat tray or whatever it was doing for nearly two days. Got downstairs this lunchtime to find the Vaio had rebooted and was waiting patiently for a registration key. It is running Windows 7, and for a miracle had cleaned up an extra 11Gb of disk space — I started the install with 16Gb free, and it's now showing 27 free.
Now to mess with the driver disk/BIOS update/other miscellaneous crap.
Fifty hours and yes, I now have a Vaio P running Windows 7, fully patched and updated and mercifully free of re-installed Sony bloatware. The actual Vista to Windows 7 upgrade took around 12 hours of wall-clock time, of which about 2-3 hours was preparation (uninstalling incompatible apps and drivers), 7 hours was execution, and the rest cleanup and post-install. The remaining 38 hours was disk checking.
The Vaio is still chittering away re-indexing the filesystem, but by tomorrow it should be done. As it's no slower — while indexing — than Vista was while twiddling its thumbes, I shall call this a win, and declare the upgrade complete at 50 hours ellapsed, wall clock time. I might have been able to squeeze another six hours out of that if I hadn't gone to bed while chkdsk was embalming the corpse of Vista, but what the hell.
For the past three days I've been on the road, and I have to say that a Vaio P, with Windows 7, makes a usable — if very sluggish — platform for email and web work. I wouldn't want to write a book on it (the screen's about 20 centimetres wide and 10 centimetres high) but for web and mail it's more than adequate ... if the software didn't let it down. It's like dropping a two and a half ton truck body on a Ford Fiesta's mechanicals: nothing good will come of this. So the search for a lightweight alternative operating system is on.
Next week ... I'm going to make a bootable external hard drive with a restorable image of Windows 7. Then I'm going to try and squeeze Ubuntu into the Vista restore partition and get the GMA500 drivers working. Spraying Ubuntu over an existing partition should only take an hour or so (call it an hour for the install, then two hours to slurp up the updates over my ADSL line), but it's anybody's guess how long the other job will take. At least I won't be bored ...
If Ubuntu and the GMA500 prove to be fatally allergic to one another, there's always Mandriva (who claim to include a GMA500 driver in the proprietary stuff that comes with their for-money batteries-included version).
Microsoft: providing pointless hamster-wheel exercises for gearheads since 1976.