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John Walden Explains The Problems He Encountered Using Windows By John Walden
Published August 2001


As a means of personal therapy, John Walden explains what he learned from spending the New Year with Windows pains.

Love 'em or loathe 'em, computers are at the heart of many modern recording studios — indeed, in home or project studios the computer is often the key piece of equipment. This is certainly true of my own studio: my PC acts as MIDI sequencer, audio recorder, sampler, and occasional video–editing suite. In terms of pure hardware grunt, it is reasonably well specified to perform all these tasks. So why did I spend a full four working days last New Year, and a further two days during March, trying to get the damn thing to work reliably?

Towards the end of last year I upgraded from Windows 98 to 98 SE (using Microsoft's official upgrade CD) in order to get better support for both USB and FireWire. Over the next week or so, the computer that had previously been rock solid began to be a tiny bit temperamental, even occasionally crashing. I set about some routine troubleshooting to cure this minor irritation. Gradually, however, this troubleshooting developed into a full‑blown system rebuild as I battled to get to the bottom of the problem (I've managed a number of computer networks, so I'm not a total novice when it comes to looking after PC systems). In the end, having re‑installed the OS and all my software at least three times, on New Year's Day and with an SOS deadline looming, I just gave up, reinstalled Windows 98 First Edition, and hey presto, I had my stable PC back. I was extremely frustrated that Windows 98 SE had got the better of me.

During March, and without an SOS deadline approaching, my taste for self‑abuse got the better of me and I decided to try again to get 98 SE installed. I encountered the same problem, only this time the crashes were much more frequent. The system was, essentially, unusable. Finally, after spending eight hours trawling the web sites of my motherboard manufacturer and graphics card manufacturer, as well as Microsoft's support site, I started to make some progress. I narrowed the problem down to an incompatibility between the particular combination of the BIOS on both my motherboard and graphics card when used with 98 SE. Armed with tech support and FAQ documents, and new BIOS versions, a few hours later I had a stable PC running Windows 98 SE. While I was pleased to have resolved the problem, I was traumatised by the experience, and very annoyed by the amount of time the whole process had taken.

So what are the lessons I've learned from this valuable character–building episode? Firstly, I've begun to realise just how 'professional' the PC in my studio is. It's certainly capable of making professional‑quality audio recordings that can be commercially released, but with other studio equipment, professional means 99.9 percent reliable and a single manufacturer to turn to who will sort out the other 0.1percent quickly and efficiently. To put it bluntly, consumer computers are not professional devices in a recording context. The only way to get close to achieving professional performance and support for a music computer is to buy a complete system (hardware and software) from a specialist retailer and let them maintain it for you. However, for most home and project studio owners, this also means some disadvantages, including higher costs. (By the way, while the wider range of component manufacturers for PCs probably means they are more likely to suffer this kind of problem, this is not just a PC or Windows issue. As demonstrated by Paul White's editorial in the February 2001 issue of SOS, the Mac OS can also show its temperamental side when it feels inclined.)

Second, computers need more regular attention than your average outboard unit, mixer or dedicated digital recorder. Following the accepted guides to good practice will definitely help to keep things running smoothly. The creative options a computer can provide are awesome but, at some stage, the musician in you will undoubtedly have to acquire some technical knowledge about the operating system, hardware and software you are running.

The bottom line? If you're considering putting a computer at the heart of your home or project studio, do it with your eyes wide open and expect to administer generous amounts of PC TLC on a regular basis.

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About The Author

Aside from writing occasional pieces for Sound On Sound, John Walden spends his time trying to reassure his neighbours that he is just trying to sing, and not in need of urgent medical attention.