November 15, 2009

Easing Operating System Installs

For many years I have been a fan of periodically wiping my computer and starting clean. This process originated with my first computer that could get on the internet. I began downloading all kinds of stuff from games, to utilities, to OS enhancements and with each new installed program the system would crawl a bit more.

At this time in the mid-90's company's were putting out products left and right promising to speed up your PC, make your applications work better, and return valuable disk space. I tried them all and they all had one thing in common they were useless, for every CPU cycle you got back two were wasted by the program, for every bit returned two were used, and so on.

Then there were mas the malware, notable pieces such as Michelangelo Virus and Melissa Worm came out in the mid to late 90's. With these notable pieces of malware came the media hype and exposés on hackers and their work. People became frantic about virus protection and internet security and products like Norton and McAffee became household names, and required installs taking even more of that precious hard drive space and CPU clocks.

I finally became fed up with all the smoke and mirrors and snake oil and started to reinstall the OS and applications. I tried as best I could to make the process as painless as possible and have all my applications backed up before doing a reinstall so I could start installing them immediately. This cut the time down after the install but I still had to locate them on my computer or the latest version on the internet and back them up to CD.

Throughout this time people had advocated making recoverable images of the system using programs like Acronis True Image or Norton Ghost. I have always thought this was a silly, pointless endeavor. First it takes nearly as long to reinstall the OS as it does the image. Second OS's are constantly getting updates and that is the first thing I want installed, I do not want an application interfering with an OS update or opening a hole before I have time to patch it. Third applications are constantly being updated and new ones coming out the whole reason for the reinstall is to be clean and fresh now I have the old and new version of every app installed and I just wasted all the time I was supposedly saving by restoring from image.

That process remained a yearly event around New Years continuing through Windows XP. When the first year of XP rolled around I did not even think about reinstalling everything still worked pretty well. For the first time in almost ten years I found I was upgrading my PC more frequently than my OS. When I did a major upgrade I still reinstalled everything just to be on the safe side. This still involved backing up some applications and finding others, with the internet became much more accessible and searchable it became easier but never painless.

With Windows 7 coming out I thought I was in for the same adventure. Then I found a new tool called Ninite which helps ease the application install process. What Ninite does is allow you to select from a fairly large base of applications then it will build an installer and install all those applications for you at once. The installer checks whether you are running a 32 bit or 64 bit OS and decides on the optimal version, during the installation process it will choose all the defaults and select not to install any browser toolbars, aware, or spyware. This site saved me so much pain and time during my Windows 7 install, it did not eliminate the pain but it sure helped out.

Thank you Ninite!

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