There’s something extremely calming about installing a new Operating System. At least, that’s what I used to think, before all the health drama, back when my primary machine had a Microsoft Operating System installed on it and eventually over a year of use it came to a slow crawl (in my experience very typical of Microsoft Operating Systems, especially the older ones). These days I only use MacBooks and, as of yet, have only had to reinstall OSX a single time (I discovered a one time bug when copying gigabytes of files which corrupted the hard drive after it became full without the OS shouting, “Hey, maybe this isn’t a good idea!”). So while there was something about installing Operating Systems, I don’t exactly miss it. But I did love it.
I’m that old.
Back when I was introduced to my first computer an Operating System wasn’t something you installed or even consciously thought about, it’s something that was just baked into whatever floppy disk I happened to throw in one of the Apple IIe’s lined up in the English Department, where I spent a good deal of time learning to program and playing video games while my parents graded papers before taking my brother and me home after school. Nobody thought much of what an “OS” was because you just had a floppy. Push it in the drive, flip down the drive bay door lock, and turn on the machine. Listen for that beautiful loud wack-a-mole Apple disk startup sound then a few seconds later and presto, you were up and running, typically without any clue that there was some magic on that disk making the hardware and software do its thing.
That all changed when I purchased my first PC (Personal Computer) in 1992. I’d been saving up for a year while working at McDonald’s and had spent months researching. Back at the time, there was no clear idea what type of computer would bring in the future. Would it be a Tandy computer, sold by Radio Shack (you remember them, right?). It wasn’t going to be the Apple II, a computer that hadn’t gone much of anywhere after the IIgs had been introduced years and years prior, but would it be the newly introduced Macintosh (which was a wee bit too speedy for my taste, had a small black and white screen, and expensive software)? There were a few other competitors but it seemed, overall, that Microsoft based computers were the way things were going so I saved up about a thousand which I combined with the thousand my parents gave me for attending my high school graduation (long story, but I’d spent my senior year of high school attending community college) resulting in the purchase of my first computer: a 386sx33 with an 82 megabyte hard drive, a CD-DROM (pretty swanky for the day), 2 megabytes of onboard memory, and a 14” Super VGA color monitor. It came with MS-DOS 5.1 (or later?) installed as well as Windows 3.1. For those not tech savvy, there’s a thousand times more processing power in my first iWatch than that old, beautiful beater, but I love it (and wish I still had it!).
Except when I started it up Windows 3.1 would always coming screeching to a sudden and deadly halt.
I spent the next several weeks feeling somewhat frustrated, having spent the largest wad of cash I’d ever spent in my entire life, only to have a computer that wouldn’t do anything outside of a DOS prompt. So in between trying to determine what was going on and commuting forty or so miles away to work the evening shift I eventually decided to fork out another $100 (a week or more’s worth of work for me at the time) on another 2 megabytes of memory. I’d tried reinstalling Win 3.1 a half a dozen times before that with no luck, so it was a best guess, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
And it worked!
I never recall having to reinstall 3.1 after that. It was a weak, but stable, platform. Frankly, I spent more time managing to keep enough hard drive space clean to do whatever it is I was trying to do at the time (yes, I’m guilty of filling it up with pornography, a few pictures which would literally take hours to download!). But the OS was solid. It wasn’t until later when my then x-fiance and on-and-off again girlfriend and soul mate purchased a much faster machine with Windows 95 that I became intimately familiar with the OS installation process. I didn’t know it at the time, but the hard drive they’d installed in her box had physically corrupt sectors, so each time I’d install ’95 it would, after about an hour or so, destroy itself in a different and unique way (that is if I was even able to get to the end of the installation process). After several days and nights performing reinstalls I let her know, the company sent her a replacement, and first time through the now perfected process I had it up and running again for her. For me it was an opportunity to learn about this new, highly anticipated Operating System with this so called Plug and Play thing on it (for those familiar with the Windows ’95 days it eventually became to be known as Plug and Pray before MS got most of the kinks worked out in later versions of Windows). For me it was pure fun: a chance to play with a gadget I couldn’t yet afford.
Today you won’t find me reinstalling an OS on a physical machine, but from time to time I’ll build a virtual machine with some new variant of Windows or Linux. As I mentioned, it can be extremely calming. The process is straight forward. Do x, y, then z. Click the next button. Make some choices to personalize the system. Perform the latest updates. Get antivirus installed. Unlike life, which can be messy, it’s next, next, next, and watch the progress bar, after which I’m left with a squeaky clean, fast running, piece of technology I can do any number of things on. There are no surprises, no disappointments, no confusion, no unexpected heart palpitations. It is what it is. Install, maybe learn a thing or two in the process (especially on Linux platforms), and get back to life. Good, clean, nerdy fun.
Wish everything was that straight forward.