The Adventures of Systems Boy!

Confessions of a Mac SysAdmin...

A Brief Foray Into Windows

I just had a rare occasion to use a Windows XP machine here in the lab. Oy, was it painful! All I wanted to do was take three simple screen shots — just three — for an instructional article I was writing for our community.

It took a half an hour.

I started, of course, by logging in to a Windows box. That went fairly smoothly. Type my name and password, and, sure enough, I get in. So I open a new window by going to the Start menu and clicking "My Computer," although it's not my computer. It's anything but. Still, "My Computer" gets the new window open. I take my first screen shot by hitting the "Print Screen" key. Yes, Windows has a dedicated screen capture key called "Print Screen." Hit it and it sends the entire screen to the clipboard. Not to a file, mind you. To the clipboard. Next you'll need to open up some kind of image editor. I chose the venerable Photoshop CS3. Opened the app, created a new document, and hit control-v to paste my screen grab in. Good (if a bit of a pain in the ass) so far. Next I made some settings in my open window, and made another screen grab. And once more for good measure.

In Photoshop I decided that it would be best to save my files to my centrally-located network home account, so I hit the save button and navigated there, named the file, and... The Save dialog crashed. After waiting about five minutes I decided that the only thing to do was to force quit Photoshop, which I did, losing all my screen grabs and necessitating beginning the entire process anew.

Windows XP: Definitely Not My Computer
(click image for larger view)

The next time around I saved each of my screen captures locally as I went, and that seemed to go okay. Next I just wanted to copy these documents to my network account so I could access them from my office Mac, but the copy failed, producing a meaningless error message. Looking through my files, however, it was clear what the problem was. Apparently, during the crash Photoshop had spewed about three thousand temp files all over my home account, and these needed to be deleted before Windows would copy anything over.

So, I began the process of deleting these three thousand or so files by selecting about six hundred of them and hitting the delete key. I kind of like that Windows' delete key actually deletes stuff. That's a nice touch. What I didn't like was that deleting 600 zero byte files was going to take four minutes. But what was I to do? I went ahead with the file deletion. Four minutes of sitting and watching that miserable, 8-bit trash deletion progress bar — you know, the one where the trash files fly through the air and dissipate in a big pink sparkle — is enough to turn just about anyone's brain to mush. Which is probably why, after it was all over I went ahead and switched to list view (though there seems to be no way to make this setting stick across windows) and selected the remaining 2400-or-so files, right-clicked and hit delete.

Eleven minutes?! Argh!

With some time to kill I decided to log in to an adjacent Mac. Once logged in the Windows brain-fog cleared and it dawned on me: I could just delete the files from the Mac! And it won't take eleven frickin' minutes!

And by golly, that's just what I did.

Eleven seconds later I was able to copy up my files from Windows to my network account and get on with my life.

When I think of how easy all that would have been on a Mac I'm appalled. Absolutely appalled. Windows is ugly, flimsy and crash-prone by comparison. And the user experience is dead-awful. It's no wonder I avoid it like the plague.

God help the Windows Admins! You have my pity.

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6:41 PM

Dealing with permissions on Windows, in a mixed Mac-Linux-Windows environment blows. I'm sure Mac-only or Windows-only would be easier. Mac only is what I prefer. For simplicity and peace of mind. It just works. Well, most of the time.    

9:02 AM

Man, I would love to go Mac-only. Not because it would be so much easier, but because everything would work so well. Windows in our lab is such a kludge. Admittedly, this is because we follow more of a UNIX type model for permissions, authentication and home accounts. But it's a better, less proprietary model. (Remember when Macs were constantly being accused of being proprietary?) Windows Roaming Profiles, for instance, do everything backwards: home account files transfer to and from the server rather then being read directly from it like in the *NIX world. It's a nightmare to manage, and only Windows is this way. The solution seems to be to buy Windows servers. Their OS is just like their browser: willfully crippled unless the entire world bends to their will. Which, until recently, they've been doing.

So we've gone the other way. Partly on principle, partly because our purchasing department couldn't get us Windows Server for about three years and we needed to move on a solution. (I believe they are a Windows-only department, incidentally.) Our system works pretty well, but I don't think anyone does much on Windows but 3D work. The Macs are the real workhorses and are used for video, audio, graphics, web development — pretty much everything else — AND they do 3D as well. With very few problems.

So yeah, a Mac-only lab would be wonderful. I don't think it's in the cards, though. As long as there's a strong demand for Windows in the lab (and there probably will be for some time) we'll offer it to students as best we can. Boy, they sure don't make it easy though.


11:31 PM

Something to know which will make the actual process of getting a screenshot on Windows heaps easier:

Pressing the 'Print Screen' Key will copy the Current Screen into the Paste Buffer.

Pressing ALT and the 'Print Screen' Key will copy the Current Window into the Paste Buffer.

Then all you need to do is paste the buffer straight into Photoshop, Word or Paint etc


11:36 PM

Windows + E opens a new explorer window
Windows + D goes to the desktop
Windows + L locks the PC

Alt + Space + N Minimises a Window
Alt + Space + X Maximises a Window    

12:22 AM

With very few exceptions, Macs are awesome 3D machines. When I said we were all Mac, I mean for 3D (maya, zbrush, modo, lightwave) and 2D (shake, photoshop) and editing (fcp, motion, color). The exceptions are Zbrush3 which still isn't out for Mac and some people who claim Maya is better in Windows. Any Windows only peeps learn quickly that Mac only works too, and works well.    

12:24 AM

And just to add I spent far too much time fixing a Mac (that is dual-booting Windows) because the video card had been swapped out. Macs don't freak out if you change the video card. PCs act like the world just ended. OMG! Windows is a waste of my time!!    

12:52 PM

I still wish Windows' dedicated screen capture key would actually produce an image file, rather than requiring me to open an image editor and pasting the buffer. When you have to make several screen captures, this is a huge time suck.

But thanks for the key-commands, Steve. Very useful.


10:10 PM

Couple of tips for those Mac users forced to use a Windows box.

- Alt + PrtScrn captures only the active window, however, you may wish to hit the right hand Alt instead of the left or you might trigger one of those crazy accessibility options.

- Use Paint, it's quicker then Photoshop for screen grabs. START->All Programs -> Accessories -> Paint. Click the tools menu Attributes and set the default picture size to 10 pixels by 10 pixels. Then you can restart Paint and it will always fit your screenshot when you paste it. You can save as and set the file type to PNG format. Use file new for the next image.

- In Paint, you can click the line button, thicken the line, then click the circle button and finally click the Red color swatch. This will allow you to draw red circles around things in your screenshot. Use the line tool for arrows, etc.

- Paint can crop images pretty easily but not as Easy as in Leopard's Preview Instant Alpha...

Yeah screen grabs are much easier on the Mac. On Windows, if you have to do it all the time there are third party utilities to make it easier.    

11:05 AM

Thanks, James!


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