Monday, September 22, 2008

SOFTWARE: Default Dumbness

This week's Chaos Manor Reviews over at Jerry Pournelle's site, talks a lot about the basic concept of installing Windows programs to the default locations. There's very little to recommend in the practice and lots to recommend NOT DOING IT.

I tried, and failed, to set my machine up correctly during the initial setting up of Nuklon. I knew the default install of Windows would take between 2 and 4 gigs of space. The pagefile file would be equal to my memory, so that was another 3 gigs. And temp directories would take another 4 gig chunk, about the size of a DVD. Thus, I needed 11 gigs. I upped it to 15 gigs just in case.

THEN, I installed all my programs and data on OTHER logical drives. D: ended up holding most of my data and F: held most of my programs. I simply did not install anything to C:, leaving it as pristine as could be. And yet, somehow, C: ended up running at near capacity because no matter WHERE you say to install to, most installation programs still leave detritus strewn all over the C: drive. And it's not just Microsoft that ignores your wishes. Firefox, the browser you SHOULD be using to read this, installs lots of itself on C:. And heaven forbid you try to change where it's email cousin Thuderbird resides.

When I DO eventually transition fron Nuklon to Popeye, I will be upping C:'s space to 50 gigs. That should buy me between 2 and 3 years of some peace in terms of not over-flowing C:

Some reasons why to NOT install programs on C:

Bluntly, the less you have on C:, the easier it is to backup. If it doesn't take anytime at all, you will backup more often. And C: is the most fragile of the drives on your system. It gets the most wear and tear. It has the boot sectors. And malevolent programs frequently screw up that partition. It is SO EASY to simply go back to the most recent backup you have and tell it to restore the C: drive, rather than fiddle around trying to recover files, programs and your life as you know it from a crashed C: drive. Trust me. It happened earlier in the year here, and I was 15 minutes from laughing in the face of disaster.

Also, the scum-sucking dregs of society that send out virii and trojans, often depend on your programs being exactly where they install by default. You can save a few bytes by assuming Microsoft Office is in the default area, if you are writing a macro virus for those programs. Oddly enough, that assumption is as good as a good anti-virus program in those cases. And we all know how many virii used the default Outlook address book in the default location over the years to spread their little bundle of no joy.

Separating data from programs means leaner, meaner backups. Meaner as in quicker. That's good. Also, if you have a family who shares, it's a lot easier to share the D:\Data folder than arrange for each other to get access to some Stygian level of folders in that MyDocuments catchall. Setting up your OWN sub-directory structure instead of trying to read the mind of whoever makes decisions on things like this at Microsoft, is a winner for quickly finding what you want to find. For example, I think I have a logical structure to my data folders and tried to convince my Dad to follow my rules. Not only did he ignore me, but he set up his music folders in a manner that would make a World War II Enigma Code Breaker sweat. But he can find any of his music whenever he wants. Works for him. And HE's the one using the computer.

As much as installers want to install stuff you don't want to know about in a location you don't approve of, at least installing into an APPS folder, like the one I have on Drive F:, means you have a reasonable chance of tracking down just what is installed on your computer. For me, the Borland Database Engine program was installed to F:\Apps\BDE, making the administrator program for that easy to find. On the other hand, I could have installed it to the default location, which puts it in: C:\Program Files\Borland\Common Files\BDE. Dontcha just love Microsoft's new-found penchant for putting spaces in folder names? Makes writing batch files way more interesting than it should. Regardless, as with data, install programs to a hierarchical system that makes sense to you. Don't assume Microsoft knows better.

It doesn't.

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