Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Cheapness

September 2004

By Mike Gould

I had no choice. My work requires it, and updates are a fact of life in my business. I'm a Web designer. I have to check my work in bad browsers run by a questionable operating system. I bought a Windows laptop.

Hi, My name is Mike and I bought a Windows Laptop.
That's how it went with my support group. As most of you have gleaned by now, I am a Macintosh guy. Not just any slobbering Macintosh fanatic, mind you, but a professional slobbering Macintosh fanatic. I do my Web design, coding, digital photography processing, Word and Excel behaviors, surfing, email, younameit free from the Windows taint. As a result I work very efficiently, very quickly, and without viruses and crashing to worry about - but you knew that.

But due to the manifold sins and wickedness that is Internet Explorer (IE), I need to see my sites through Windows glass. The way it works is that I design a site to the Web Standards promulgated by the WC3, the body that allegedly determines how the Web works. I use a text-based tool, BBedit, to write my code. This has a built-in code checker that keeps me honest. Then I post a draft of the site in my Web space at mondodyne.com, and visit it there from a Windows box to see what needs fixing.

I have been doing this from an old Compaq desktop I bought 5 years ago (I am, after all, a bi-platform, dual-booting, slobbering Mac kinda guy). But this wasn't giving me a true picture of what the rest of the world sees, and I was tired of the slowness and clunkiness of the Compaq. And since laptops are all the rage, that was what I was determined to get. (Plus I can tuck the laptop under my work counter when I'm not using it and no one will see my shame.)

Here's a tip I give all my computer-buying clients: read the ads in the Sunday Ann Arbor News. Check out Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot, maybe Staples. One of them will have what you want cheaper than the others on any given week. This Sunday, Best Buy was the winner with a truly insane deal: a Toshiba Satellite A65-S1062 laptop for $600 (after rebates). I had been putting off the dread chore for months, but this was too good to pass up.

This puppy has a 2.7Hgz Intel Celeron CPU, 192M of RAM, a 40G hard drive, combo DVD/CD-RW drive 15" monitor, and a slot for a wirelessness. Out came the little plastic card and home went the new laptop.

The theory is: go for the lowest common denominator. There are a lot of Joe-40Megs out there, and if my site looks good on their systems, it will probably look good on any system.

Initial impressions
So I have grudging respect for this laptop. It weighs and bulks twice as much as my much-used Mac G4 Titanium laptop, the screen isn't as nice, but it's not going traveling anywhere other than under my counter top and IT COST $600!!!

It came loaded with Apple's Quicktime player, which is a plus because I post a lot of video in that format. It has a nice utility from Toshiba for checking out the hardware and software, and most importantly on any Windows box, it came loaded with Norton Anti-virus and a firewall.

Before I plugged it into my network, I fired it up and configured the EZ Firewall program. Next up, the network wizard worked its magic; it found my router, got an IP (internet protocol) address, and was good to go in minutes. Almost as fast and easy as on a Mac! Then I connected to the Internet and went straight to Norton for the latest anti-virus updates. Then I went to Microsoft ("Mount Doom" itself) and made sure I had all the latest patches installed for Windows XP Home Edition. Since I'm not going to be running email on this, and I'm on the other side of a router, I think I am pretty safe.

The next task was to put it to work: visit my stable of Web sites to make sure everything looked the way I remembered it. Fortunately, most of my sites looked pretty good from this viewpoint. I had one problem on my buddy Madcat's site, a garbled image that was the result of an errant centering command in the coding. It looked good on a Mac (which we both use), but crumpled in Windows IE. A quick fix and all was well. As I said, I do check my site in various flavors and vintages of WIN IE but I hadn't checked this one site in a while and a recent upgrade to IE messed me up.

To complete my test suite, I added additional browsers: Netscape, Opera, and Firefox. It was good to see that Windows let me install Netscape without any fuss; I guess it feels rightly that Netscape is no longer a threat. It is an unfortunate fact of life on the Web that all browsers have quirks and kinks (and in the case of IE, down-right bugs) that make sites look different depending on what platform, browser, and version of browser you are surfing with. Manifestations of this range from the annoying (text borders that don't line up properly) to the disastrous (a crucial feature that just doesn't work in some browsers). I try to keep my sites simple; surf in, find what you are looking for, become edified, leave satisfied. But I'm continuing to explore the wonders of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a technology that is revolutionizing the coding of sites, making them easier to maintain, faster to download, and better to face the browsers of the future. Unfortunately, the browsers of the present are still spotty in their support of some of the features of this, so multi-platform site checking is a must. So I got this PC laptop. And it cost $600.

Needless to say, not everything is working perfectly. I still can't get the laptop to talk over the network to the HP JetDirect card plugged into my laser printer, and for some bizarre reason, animated gifs don't move in any of my browsers. I know they work on other Windows boxes, so there is something here that I will have to tweak.

But over-all, my reactions have been positive. Would I switch from my Mac for serious work? No Way. Would I recommend it to anyone as a regular-use computer? Nah - get a Mac; it'll serve you better in the long run. But for one dedicated task on (or under) my counter top, it's the perfect solution to monitor an imperfect Web. Did I mention that it cost $600?

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com. And he doesn't really slobber, just drools a little bit when he gets excited.

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