Early Days – Uses of Computer

As mentioned in a recent post, much of my earliest computer use was some form of gaming, mostly freeware but some purchased.

For personal letter writing and other kinds of business uses, Apple Works was the go-to program. One particular use of Apple Works in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s consumed a significant amount of my free time. I organized a fantasy baseball league and served as its first statistician. I kept all the league stats in spreadsheets and manipulated and printed weekly reports for each owner using the database function. As I think back, I almost have to laugh at how relatively primitive it was having to manually enter the stats of every American League player (taken from sports section of the Tuesday edition of USA Today) into a spreadsheet. A colleague, who was statistician for a companion National League based fantasy league, used dBase and was able to download the data and avoid the manual labor I went through, but my operation was not that sophisticated. And, as I remember it, the data available for download was not in a compatible format for my use.

Very early, one of the primary reasons I bought a computer in the first place was I wanted to learn how to write programs, possibly for use in my teaching at the university. In an earlier post about my game programming/coding I detailed some of the fun I had with that.

A little later (mid-1990’s), I also dabbled with learning and using HTML. The college where I worked was an early adopter of technology and was one of the earliest to have a college website. In addition, it provided disk storage space (the early cloud concept) online for employees to create their own personal web sites. That is what triggered my learning of HTML. Knowledge of HTML was quite useful as I had professional pages on the college web site to help promote the school and especially for recruitment of new faculty.

Also, in the 1990’s, I got involved in some early ‘social networking’ via newsgroups. That was then a primary way to connect with others online who had similar interests.

With the creation of the World Wide Web and its subsequent rapid expansion, many more things were possible and available online. For example, I had some fun with a financial site that provided a stock market game as a way to learn about investing. I recall playing that game for a several years and probably should have made real investments, but alas did not. How quickly Amazon appreciated even back in the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s should have been a signal to buy!

Reminiscing about all these past uses has been somewhat fascinating. I certainly have evolved in my computer usage.

Early Days – Software

As anyone who used personal computers in the early 1980’s knows, back then all software was loaded by floppy disk drive (the original 5 ¼ inch) into the internal memory (RAM or Random Access Memory) of the computer each time you used the software. And, of course, RAM was limited. In the case of my Apple II+ it was 48K!

At that time I used an Apple at my office as a new academic administrator mostly using a word processor (Apple Writer at first, then what I thought was much better, Word Juggler) but also worked briefly with the early spreadsheet software, VisiCalc.

At home, I used the word processor and spreadsheets, but early on, mostly played games.

I don’t recall when Apple Works first came out, but that more or less revolutionized my use of productivity software as that single program included word processor, spreadsheet, and database components. For many years, that was my standard. As I recall, I also had a hard drive by the mid-1980’s.

In the early 1990’s with the invention of the World Wide Web, many new products became available to take advantage of it. The earliest browser, Mosaic, was primitive but far better than the other options for searching online. In the years that followed I tried many different software offerings. Development was so fast that upgrades and new ideas meant constantly experimenting with the possibilities.

Sometime in the 1990’s a kind of all-in-one product was introduced call the Internet Suite. Several developers took the concept of including browser, newsgroup reader, HTML editor, and email system all in one package. I used Netscape Navigator that became Netscape Communicator, SeaMonkey, MSN Explorer, and a few others as I explored what I liked.

Eventually, by the late 1990’s, I was using Pegasus mail as the supported email software at work so used it almost exclusively at home as well. I found Hot Dog by Sausage Software the best HTML editor at that time and used it for a while when I had my own Web page.

In the office productivity universe back then, Novell was the one we used at my college, probably because our whole fiber optic network on campus was run by the Novell system. We used WordPerfect and Quattro Pro and used the Corel Presentations for public presentations. By about 2000, we were beginning to also support Microsoft Office, so one of the tech support people did presentations to teach us how to use it to its full potential.

On a business trip to the Seattle area in 1995, a group of us academic administrators went on a tour of the Microsoft facilities and were each given CDs with the newly released Windows 95 and Microsoft Office. So, I installed Windows 95 and started using Office some at home.

My next job in 2001 moved me into the Microsoft world almost exclusively, even though I really preferred the Novell products. That college was migrating to Microsoft servers for their network and decided their software was a better fit for it.

I have used Microsoft Office ever since, although about a year ago (now retired and no conflict with work expectations) we moved our email use to Thunderbird (Outlook 2016 was acting up) and browser to Firefox (better security) exclusively. I’ve stuck with Word, Excel, and Access, although I tried OpenOffice, now LibreOffice, and did not like them much. I use GoogleDocs some, but only for certain things when I want to share editing.

Windows 10 App Issues

It was when the Minecraft launcher failed to install that I discovered six other apps, including To Do, were also stuck. They apparently were part of an automatic update that went on in the background unknown to me. Since I use To Do all the time for lists as well as reminders of items to do, I wanted to get that figured out as soon as possible.

At first it appeared the problem might be in the Microsoft Store app, since that is where the apps showed as stuck. So, I tried closing and reopening it; I tried logging in with different Microsoft accounts, all to no avail. Online help suggested some options for fixing the store, so I tried them. Even resetting it did not work. Finally, I tried uninstalling To Do in hopes a fresh install would fix it at least. Unfortunately, it just uninstalled To Do but would not reinstall it properly – still stuck in the store “pending”. After that, I knew I had to get serious about fixing the whole problem because I needed to have To Do back on the desktop.

Ultimately, the only thing I could think of was to do a system restore of Windows to a previous point a few days earlier. I had to go online to get help remembering how to do that, but finally did a system restore. It turned out I actually had to do it twice, because the first time it failed. The failure notice indicated the failure was probably due to antivirus software running and to temporarily disable that and try again. So, I disabled Malwarebytes and Windows Security and tried again. What actually happened next was Windows had to cancel the first restore attempt and when that was done it automatically restored Windows to the latest restore point.

To my amazement, that did the trick. All the apps (minus the new Minecraft Launcher I had stopped/cancelled) were updated and working fine without any warning notices of “updates in progress” or “this app may need to restart”. I was expecting to have to do another restore to days earlier.

I am still not completely sure if the stuck store issue was caused by the Windows 10 Cumulative Updates or the messed-up Minecraft launcher. Either way, I am glad to have To Do back and working as well as ever.

I’m kind of not impressed with Microsoft right now given they own Minecraft and the other apps. Whatever happened was a massive coding failure and I’m not anywhere close to trying to install the new Minecraft launcher again anytime soon.

Minecraft Launcher Crash

A few days ago, I ran into some significant problems that took up a good deal of time in trouble-shooting for days. At this point, it is difficult to know for sure the root cause of the problems because so many different things were updated the same day, if not virtually the same time, but I’m fairly certain a major contributor was the new Minecraft Launcher. I saw the issue was acknowledged for Xbox Game Pass paid subscribers, but I am not one of them, however, the download process did require a login Microsoft account and went to the Xbox profile so maybe it is the same issue.

The series of changes that I did on the two computers include downloading and attempting to install the new Minecraft Launcher, upgrade to Windows 11 on my laptop (got the invitation), installing two cumulative updates to Windows 10 on the old desktop that does not qualify for upgrade.

Coincidentally, my invitation to upgrade to Windows 11 came the same day as the notice of the new Minecraft Launcher and that is the day the problems started.

I decided to upgrade to the new Minecraft Launcher first because I thought it would be relatively fast and I was curious to see what it was about given the hype in the notice. I also was not sure how long the upgrade to Windows 11 would take. When trying to download and install the new launcher it got hung up and never completely installed. When I checked the Microsoft Store it just showed pending, along with 6 other apps, most of which I never use and don’t care at all about. The download/install process never finished. I had the same problem on the desktop.

Back on the laptop, I just gave up and decided to do the upgrade to Windows 11. That went relatively smoothly including, not surprisingly, some updates immediately available.

When I tried to install the new Minecraft Launcher again in Windows 11, it worked and for a day I was able to launch and play Minecraft as normal. Then a couple of days later, when opening the launcher and clicking ‘play’ the whole system crashed all the way to the proverbial “blue screen” (now a dark gray screen in Windows 11). After waiting a minute or two for automatic reporting of the issue, Windows 11 rebooted and all but the launcher worked fine. I tried three times that day to open the launcher, each with the same crash and reboot result, so I quit using the new launcher and reinstalled the old one. Both launcher versions remain installed on my laptop and, fortunately, the old one works fine.

After waiting another day, I tried again to see if it was fixed and ended up with the crash again, so I have not even tried since. Maybe someday I’ll check online forums to see if it has been fixed, but I don’t really care that much because I’m fine with the old launcher and it appeared the new one was more for gamers who want to play on more than one platform and the rest of the new stuff was basically notification hype. Not interested!

Meanwhile on the desktop, the install process never completed. I ended up stopping it which meant deleting the download. The other six apps also never completed download/install so I had more work to do to figure out what was wrong, but that is another story for another post.

As of right now, I am still running the old Minecraft launcher on both machines and finding it works just fine for my use. It is a bit annoying to see the notice every time that there is a new launcher to download (on the desktop), and that as well as a second notice (on the laptop) that says it is installed, that I have to dismiss every time. So far, it is not annoying enough to just uninstall the new launcher as I did on the Windows 10 machine.

Early Days – Hardware

Thinking back to the early 1980’s when I began using computers, I realized I have gone through several major changes in what I use and what I do with technology.

The first computer I owned was an Apple II+, although my first experiences with coding & gaming were on a Radio Shack TRS-80. My neighbor bought the TRS-80 and we took a programming course one summer at the university where we were both faculty members. That opened up the intrigue of programming and the possibilities for use in teaching, research, and basic office applications.

A year or two later, with extra money as payment for an institutional research grant I received and completed one summer, I upgraded to the Apple IIe, then the newest model.

I used that computer for several years and probably would have continued to use Apple computers at least for a while, except for a job change a number of years later. That change basically required that I learn and use the Windows based PC for my work as an academic administrator. It also meant eventually buying a PC for home use. In the early days of networking and remote access, it made sense to be able to do so on the same operating system from home.

Since that time (early to mid-1990’s) I have used PC computers, including laptops, almost exclusively. When traveling to family, I have used some Apple computers they own, but do not really like them. They appear to be opposite in the user interface and it would take some getting used to for me to make that change now.

Besides computers, I have owned and continue to use (mostly sporadically now) a couple of Apple iPads (one a mini), but most likely will never again invest in any of them. My Android smart phone has pretty much replaced them.