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To xp or not to xp July 2, 2008

Posted by dorigo in computers, personal.
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I recently upgraded my Sony vaio laptop to a newer model – the old one had taken some beating and the DVD reader was not working anymore, preventing the crucial task of installing new useless software.

sony vaioBeing a Sony fan, the choice fell on another 11″ ultra-light model, the Sony Vaio TZ31 MN. It is a nice little thing, with a really bright display and a core duo processor. At less than 3 pounds of weight, it allows me to carry it everywhere without straining my back. And the battery really lasts seven hours straight! Ok, enough advertisements.

The bad thing is that the machine came with Windows Vista Business already pre-installed. It also had a XP downgrading disk included in the package, but I decided I’d give the newer operating system a try.

Bad idea.

Vista sucks. It asks too many questions, which are tough to inhibit with settings hard to locate. It slows down any operation you try to do by performing obscure actions which leave you staring at a blank screen every time you launch a program or try to close a window by clicking the x sign on the top right. It makes things hard for you in several ways. I admit I might just be inept and the cause of my troubles with Vista might be just my own ignorance: but if Micro$oft wanted to create an easy-to-use system, then I’d have to say it failed miserably.

Now, my problem is that as much as I hate this new system, I hate even more to uninstall all the software I have taken the pains to put in the new computer. It took me well over a day of work to copy my folders, reorganize them in a better logical structure, add mwsnap, irfanview, winhttrack, the worldwide telescope, ghostview, cygwin, firefox, blitzin, ssh, open office… Plus, I had to fix IP addresses, register the computer with the wireless network of my department, add printers, save passwords, blah, blah.

Computers… I love them, but they make my life miserable at times! To xp or not to xp ?

…And please don’t say you owe a Mac. I hate macs even more!



1. Anonymous cowherd - July 2, 2008

I owe a Mac. They are great.

2. Peter Woit - July 2, 2008

Hi Tomasso,

Get rid of Vista on the Sony laptop and use XP. I’ve used both on various machines the last couple years. Vista works fine (modulo the annoying popups) on high-powered desktops and laptops, but is bad news on ultralights, where the processor is just too slow for it to work properly. I’ve seen several people quite unhappy with their new ultralights because of this.

I vaguely remember that there may be some way to turn off some of the parts of Vista (“Aero”) that provide eye-candy but are otherwise useless. Maybe doing this can make the thing more usable.

3. Odysseus - July 2, 2008

Any arguments against Ubuntu? You said you had to install cygwin, so why not use Linux right away?
Anyway, if one decides to use MS Software, I’d rather stick to XP.

4. JJD - July 2, 2008

You will be happier sticking with XP. For scientific work, Open Office, and web-related stuff, including firefox and ssh, you should install Ubuntu – you will be able to choose either XP or Ubuntu when you start up. I have had my laptop(s) configured this way for a long time and have been very satisfied. And by using only Ubuntu for Internet access when traveling, you will be safer from viruses and hackers.

5. dorigo - July 2, 2008

Hi all,

thanks for the advice, it is going all in the same direction, and it’s the one I’d like to take, so I will take the pains to downgrade and that will be the end of it.

Ubuntu + xp… I had a double boot pc once, but I found out I did not like the schizophrenic feeling – “oh wait I can’t do that now, have to reboot”.
Cygwin is a great thing. I can run interactive jobs on the linux machines at CERN on the laptop, and it just works fine. Why bother with a double OS ?


6. Giulio Guzzinati - July 2, 2008

I have a dual booting machine (Linux + Vista), but i rarely (never) boot it under Windows. Anyway i understand that you might want to keep Windows for various reasons.
Unfotunately I have no advice fo you on which Windows version you should use.
XP is now really solid and stable and enough secure, Still it’s now an old system, and from now on it will only keep getting full of dust.
And the anoying questions Vista asks continuously are there for a reason: security. While i think the result would piss off anyone in less than an hour it’ still an implementation of a unix-like permission system and therefore protects you very well (as long as you think before you click). And sooner or later you’ll have to compromise with Windows Vista, as I think with Windows 7 things will only keep getting worse. Still I think Windows Vista really sucks. I find it unusable.
If you want to keep using Windows for the time being you should perhaps stick to Vista, XP is a very good temporary option, but you’ll have abandon it someday, perhaps for GNU/Linux. If that’s the software you maily use i really don’t think you would miss MS operating systems.

In the end, the choice is yours.

7. Mike Hall - July 2, 2008


Vista runs ok on my ASUS laptop (but I did ensure I got a fast processor and 2 gig of RAM and it is not exactly small or easily portable).

Your problem could be software “junk” rather than the PC’s hardware spec or its operating system – see this article from PCW magazine which actually deals with a Vaio TZ150N:


Before being cleaned up it was taking six minutes to go from a cold power up to full useability and this was reduced to about two and a half minutes.

However, in the next month’s issue the author “downgraded” the cleaned up laptop to XP and got a much more responsive machine (55 seconds from cold boot to complete readiness) so this does seem to be the way to go if you are sticking with Microsoft’s OSs,


8. dorigo - July 2, 2008

Hi Giulio,

the fact that in a few years I might have to change again is no big deal for me. I might be dead by then… No reason for concern for me.
Much bigger concern is what Mike says, for me. 2.5 minutes of startup vs 55 seconds ? Who pays me off the 2 min x 365 x 2 years = one full day waiting in front of a stupid machine ? 24 hours cursing ? No way.

Yes, I’m switching back to xp tomorrow, first thing.


9. Paolo - July 2, 2008

Are you really, really, really, really, sure you can’t just avoid the windoze crazyness and all it’s viruses, worms, reboots, defragmentations, etc? From the list of softwares you provided above only the telescope seems important and you could try xen for that, these days very often you don’t really need a dual boot if you have a solid linux machine… only as a temporary measure, as far as windoze is concerned, if you ask me

10. Ted - July 2, 2008

I’d suggest Ubuntu (and don’t look back), particularly if you already have some Linux experience. Unless you have Windows-specific software that you must use, it’s going to be a much easier experience. When I got a new laptop, I decided that I would go Linux-only. Within a few days, I had all of the kinks worked out, and I’ll never look back.

11. Jo - July 3, 2008

Install XP. Get a virtual machine like VirtualBox. Install Linux in the virtual machine. Voila. You will have like 10-20% performance loss, but who cares about that? You might even run Vista in a virtual machine, if you want to get to know it.

I have nothing against Vista. If i grew up with Vista i would love it. But i didn’t… XP is good, and Vista does not add anything one would NEED or WANT to have. So why change?

12. Guess Who - July 3, 2008


looks interesting. Never tried it myself though.

My take on Vista: it’s fine on a fast machine with plenty of memory (Vista alone seems to eat 1 GB, just to sit there doing nothing) with software written strictly to conform with the MS guidelines. Previous Windows versions, especially the consumer grade ones, were much more relaxed about those, so legacy consumer software tends to break all kinds of rules which Vista wants to enforce strictly. But if you want to, you can still turn off User Access Control, which is the main source of complaints… at your own peril.

13. fliptomato - July 3, 2008

Hi Tommaso – I’m curious why not just run Ubuntu without XP or Vista, as Odysseus and Ted suggested? e.g. Are there issues with Sony using proprietary hardware that Linux systems don’t have drivers for, or is it an issue of software?

(Also, I’m biting my tongue to prevent saying a friendly “nyah nyah” as a newly christened Mac user…)


14. Nicola - July 3, 2008

sorry for annoying questions:

@ Jo
did you ever try VirtualBox? which configuration do you think is better?
1- Win + VirtualBox (Linux running in VB)
2- Linux + VirtualBox (Win running in VB)
I am an Ubuntu addict, but for some job-related purposes, and for dialup internet connection problems, I have to largely use Windows: but what about the every-6-months full upgrades of Ubuntu? Are they easier in case 1 or 2?

@ Guess Who
do you know someone who tried (a) it or you simply found this by browsing the internet (b)? if (a), was it a positive or negative experience?


15. nige cook - July 3, 2008

‘I recently upgraded my Sony vaio laptop to a newer model – the old one had taken some beating and the DVD reader was not working anymore, preventing the crucial task of installing new useless software.’

Is it quiet? Or does the fan have to keep cutting in and out to keep the dual core processor cool? Does it use a speed-step processor which adjusts to demand?

I still have a 6-years-old Sony srx51p/b with speedstep Pentium II (850 MHz max, normally running at 500 MHz for most applications), which is 1.26 kg but has an external optical drive. I’ve had to replace the HDD twice (which is easy, because there’s a direct access cover to the HDD bay on the base), and take the keyboard off to upgrade the ram to 384 MB (maximum), upgrade the internal mini PCI wifi card from 11 Mbps 11b to a 108 Mb/s 11 b/g (mainly to get better signal reception, since the newer wifi card has a better signal booster), and obviously replace the battery a few times. To make it work properly (no lagging) with XP SP2 installed, I have had to change the display to 16 bit colour (adequate for my needs) and I’ve had to disable hardware acceleration [control panel -> display -> display properties -> settings -> set colour quality to medium (16 bit) -> advanced button -> troubleshoot -> set hardware acceleration slider none, with write combining enabled]. A 75% hardware acceleration would be needed for use of a webcam, but I don’t use one on the laptop. It works perfectly for work, and is rugged.

A couple of years ago I decided to upgrade to a Vaio TX3HP/W (the last lightweight model Sony made which had XP Pro preinstalled). It was a disaster. It has a low voltage 1.06 GHz solo-core processor, and even when upgraded to 1.5 GB ram (the maximum it would take) it was terribly slow at everything, taking minutes to boot and many seconds to load programs and save documents that my SRX (which has a 850-MHz Pentium III) would do almost instantly. It was impossible to reset it to 16 bit colour etc., because the sony default settings would override manual changes and reset it to 32 bit or whatever when it was next rebooted. (I could have installed XP afresh from a Microsoft disc, but then I’d have lost the Sony supplied software and decoder for the built-in optical drive, which was a primary reason for the laptop upgrade.) The battery had a good life when charged and used, but strangely it wouldn’t hold charge when in storage – even when fully shut down the circuit drained a full battery in about a week. I hated the 10.6 inch widescreen which was wider but not as high vertically as the 10.4 inch SRX display, so you have to scroll more, using the terribly insensitive touchpad on the TX3. Sony stopped installing the jogdial scrolling wheel below the mousepad after the SRX series, so you have less scroll control on the widescreen laptops where you need it more! In addition, I didn’t like the flexibility of the TX3 screen housing, which was flimsy carbon fibre, unlike the rigid magnesium alloy of the SRX. I could see a real risk of screen breakage in normal use. So I ended up keeping the SRX and auctioning the TX3 on ebay.

‘It also had a XP downgrading disk included in the package, but I decided I’d give the newer operating system a try.’

Is that just a disc of XP compatible drivers, or the full XP operating system including the key? If you do install XP and the software and drivers on your TZ31MN, please publish any tips for doing so. E.g., does its webcam driver and the DVD drivers work properly with XP?Microsoft stopped selling XP on 30 June, but will continue supporting it for six years:


‘… we’ve decided to proceed with our plan to phase out Windows XP in June. It’ll be a long goodbye. We plan to provide support for Windows XP until 2014.’

The only half decent alternative to the Sony TZ series seems to be the Macbook Air, which has a massive touchpad, is lightweight (3 pounds) and has a 13.3 inch LED-backlit screen in a rigid metal screen housing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcdcJHptvWM

Since Vista is similar in design to the Applemac O/S and offers the same disadvantages to me (e.g., not being compatible with Windows software, since Vista won’t run about half of my software collection, including a lot of old Microsoft software like Visual Basic 6!), I’ll probably make the permanent change to Applemac use for future computing when they come with solid-state HDD rather than mechanical, instead of getting a Vista laptop. Solid-state HDD’s use less power since there’s no mechanical disc kept spinning by a motot, they are less vulnerable to shock, and they’re silent. The prices have come down a lot and although the GB capacity is not as large as a mechanical HDD, they’re adequate unless you want to store a lot of videos on the laptop: http://www.offtek.co.uk/ssd25.php?subcat=99

16. dorigo - July 3, 2008

Hi Paolo,

for most of the time (at my office) I have a linux workstation and the laptop sitting next to it. It would be silly to have both running linux!

Ted, same answer as above. Also, note that I do use MS office applications often, and a few other things (such as an English dictionary) which I can only use with windows.

Jo, good idea – the virtual machine. I will investigate. Thanks for the lead.

GW, I make little use of all the warnings of windows. My dept. has a virus scan on all connected PC with monthly cadence, and I never had problems so far. Plus, I back up stuff frequently, so I am not too scared… Much worse for me is to lose time dialoguing with silly popups of warning.

Flip, I think I already answered that. Plus, enjoy your mac, I am not jealous.

Cheers all,

17. dorigo - July 3, 2008

Hi Nige,

the new laptop seems quiet, I do not know many details about its performance yet though. I can only say good things about the model I have used during the last 2.5 years, the VGN-TX2P. Sure, kind of slow, but the battery really lasts, never observed failure to keep charge (I have two batteries and the second is rarely used, when used it is fully operational even after a month).
I cannot answer about the drivers in the disk, because I gave the laptop to our computer support group here, they’ll do the dirty job for me at this point…

18. Jo - July 3, 2008


I use a Windows host and Linux runs in the VM. But this choice is purely for convenience, defined by the OS I predominantly use.
It works fine for me, i do not know whether Windows is harder to manage in a Virtual machine than Debian.

19. db - July 3, 2008

If you haven’t installed xp yet, try turning off the aero functionality in Vista. The problem with many laptops is that they only have the intel graphics processors which are very underpowered in the face of aero’s demands. Also check you have enough ram (3 gigs is needed for slick performance)

If that doesn’t dramatically improve your performance by all means downgrade. xp will be around for another three years at least, by which time a new OS will be available for your next laptop.

20. marco - July 3, 2008

Sooner or later you’ll give Apple laptops a serious try and eventually stick to that. In the meantime, get Ubuntu πŸ™‚

21. Guess Who - July 3, 2008

Nicola: I found andlinux online a while back when I was trying to decide on what to use after Ubuntu decided that an old dual boot AMD system of mine was no longer worth supporting (now it runs OpenSUSE). I don’t know any users personally, but they have a forum:


TD: http://www.google.com/search?q=turn+off+vista+user+access+control

If you do this and run as administrator, it should be pretty much like XP.

Looking at the specs for the TZ31, I see it has Intel graphics and a 1.2 GHz CPU which probably is doing some dynamic underclocking trickery to maximize battery life (7 hours?!?). So it makes sense that Vista’s eye candy is sluggish on it and I agree with DB that turning off Aero should help (if it’s on by default with that configuration – not sure about that).

22. Chris' Wills - July 3, 2008

Well everyone else had said it, upgrade to XP.

My other suggestion, though it may be too late is don’t do what I did and use Office 2007, naty cludgy thing compared to the previous Office.

I’m buying a seperate laptop just so I can load Access 2003 on it, MS kindly removed some nice features when they introduced Access 2007. Can’t export Reports to Excel, you have to build forms by hand if you want any flexibility afterwards etc and those silly fixed ribbons in every program now.

Yes, I know, use a proper database. Tell my company, not me :o)

23. dorigo - July 4, 2008

Hi all,

yes, I just turned the machine in to the computer administrators in my dept, and I’ll get xp with all the bells and whistles back in place. Also, they’ll put in Office 2003 as Chris suggests.

GW, well, yes, CPU power is not exactly what these machines are optimized for. I still love them, they weigh so little you really bring them everywhere.

Cheers all,

24. Juan - July 5, 2008

Takes ~two hours to upgrade from one Mac laptop to the next: the time to transfer your data with one single click and a firewire cable. Everything works and feels just like before after that. Same if your disk crashes and you are using Time Machine (part of OS X).
Sorry, but it is the hard reality of things. I use PCs all the time, but strictly for DAQ, the one thing you can do with them -because they are cheaper-.

25. Dimitri Terryn - July 7, 2008

These ultra-light models are definitely interesting. I have a 17″ Macbook Pro that is essentially a desktop replacement in the office, but now that the department got me an iMac I’m seriously considering saving for a Macbook Air…once the second generation models come out πŸ˜‰

26. dorigo - July 8, 2008

Hi Juan, I am happy there’s people enjoying their mac out there. I just can’t bring myself to like the design and overall OS style. And looks to me are important!

Dimitri, how heavy is the Macbook Air ?


27. Gordon Watts - July 9, 2008

Interesting. Lots of people pushing Ubuntu. I tried it, and it failed — but the reason is that all of HEP does their stuff for Scientific Linux, which is an off-shoot of red hat. So lots of stuff is distributed as an rpm. It is possible to install things with rpms, but it is a fight. There are also missing utilities. So if you want to run HEP software on a ubantu machine be ready to sink a bunch of extra time. Scientific Linux is the simplest thing to use, but not nearly as “neat” as ubantu. Sad; the few days I spent with Ubuntu I really liked.

I have a 6 month old Lenovo X61t, with the slowest processor for a long battery life + 2 gigs of memory. Vista runs just fine on it, and I have linux running under a VM. I have no virus scanners installed, and run a malware scan about once a month. On the other hand, I did wipe the machine clean when I got it because of all the crap that Lenovo had installed on it. I will never go back to XP. I don’t hate Macs, but, like Tomosso, I get much more efficient on Windows (I have plenty of experience with all three OS’s).

28. dorigo - July 9, 2008

Hello Gordon,

I do not know the Lenovo, I’ll give it a look. My wife needs a light laptop, and if we find something less pricey than the sony vaios I’d be happy – but I fear they are not much cheaper.

And, it’s Tommaso, not Tomasso or Tomosso ! πŸ™‚


29. Astacus - July 10, 2008

I’ve now taken down three Sony TZ’s – two ’31 and one ’21 to XP. No problems, everything working, and way better performance and user ‘feel’. It is the way to go, imho.

30. Astacus - July 10, 2008

forgot to say – ran on a single charge on a flight from Delhi to London – 8hours-ish – this is very impressive. They are very light, and are so easy to carry around.

31. Windows Vista - April 3, 2009

I am using vista for over a year now, still not okey with it. I surely miss XP. Anyway looking forward for SP2 to be released. πŸ™‚

32. dorigo - April 3, 2009

Well yes, the future will be brighter – but I am still pissed that in order to escape from the vista doom I had to downgrade, losing some of the functionalities of my brand new sony vaio laptop. The patches do not fully work!


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