This year, I’ll be dipping my toes more wholesomely into other platforms and seeing what life is like on ‘the other side’.
Clearly, this means spending more time with Windows. It’s why I bought a Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 last year and why I accepted a Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 Carbon (I think that’s what it’s called – the name goes on forever) review unit.
I have quite a history with Windows. Throughout my teens, I geeked out by building my own computers, overclocking graphics cards, and attempting to squeeze every last MHz out of badly installed Pentiums. Occasionally I’d play games on those machines and actually use them, but that was rare.
From memory, my Windows experience was 10% enjoyment, and 90% pull-your-teeth-out frustrating.
Fast-forward twenty years, and nothing has changed.
“Mark… the laptop isn’t working”
My girlfriend has zero interest in technology. She has the same relationship with it that I have with our toaster; it just needs to work.
That’s why I gave her the Surface Laptop 4 to use for a study project. She’s used to Windows at work, you see, therefore any time spent on my behalf trying to reveal the virtues of macOS and my wonderful M1 MacBook Air would be wasted.
Everything was going fine until one fateful evening.
“Mark… the laptop isn’t working.”
Those immortal words activated something I’d buried deeply at the back of my mind. I knew this cry for help related to a Windows laptop, and it had been a good two decades since I’d had to deal with any issues on that platform.
I thought the trials and tribulations of those depressing PC-building days were behind me. I’ll never see or have to deal with another blue screen ever again, I thought. Safe Mode, the BIOS, and command prompts were all things of the past. Weird, entirely stupid, and biblically nonsensical technical issues would never again darken the doorstep of my happiness.
We’re back at square one, Dorothy.
My attempts to fix it
It was bad. I knew that from the moment Jen told me she’d been working happily on a Word document only for the Surface Laptop 4 to shut itself down without warning.
Now, it wouldn’t boot up. It would try, don’t get me wrong, but after a brief display of the Windows logo, the laptop would bong and return to a black screen. Left plugged in, it would do this for the rest of time.
I calmed myself and collected my thoughts. It’s going to be ok, I uttered under my breath. You can do this, Mark.
Safe Mode, I thought. That used to be a thing – perhaps it still is.
Well, kinda. But the more immediate issue was getting into the Surface Laptop’s repair options screen. You have to conduct a needlessly complicated and precise Morse code-style power button sequence to access the boot options. It literally took me about 43 attempts.
Eventually, I was presented with a bunch of options on that horribly familiar blue screen. I could boot from a USB, internal storage, or a PXE network.
There were three issues here:
- I didn’t have a USB stick to hand, nor did I have any idea what to put on it;
- the only internal storage available was the laptop’s SSD, which didn’t want to boot into Windows; and
- I had absolutely no idea what a PXE network was.
There were some other options, thankfully. Under the ‘Troubleshoot’ menu, I found ‘Reset this PC’. Nice. From the looks of it, I could choose to keep my files and simply reset the operating system, or remove everything and start from scratch.
Finally – a light at the end of the tunnel.
After clicking the ‘reset everything’ button, I was given the option to undertake a cloud download of Windows or conduct a local reinstall. Knowing that the latter would throw me back into PXE network territory, I opted for the cloud.
That didn’t work. Obviously.
“Try the local reinstall option,” said the laptop, unhelpfully.
Heading back into the troubleshooting menu and with my patience rapidly diminishing, I noticed an ‘Advanced’ button. Clicking that gave me six options:
- Start-up repair
- Start-up settings
- Command prompt
- Uninstall updates
- UEFI firmware settings
- System restore
They all sound pretty interesting, right? Promising, even.
None of them worked. Obviously.
Actually, I tell a lie – both command prompt and UEFI firmware settings did work, but left me with two additional problems to add to the growing pile of blue screen-inflicted horridness:
- I had no idea what to do once presented with the command prompt; and
- I had no idea what to do in the UEFI firmware settings screen.
Put simply, this laptop was ‘borked’, as the kids say. That endless boot loop appeared to be entirely unfixable unless I could locate a USB drive containing Windows.
This all feels rather familiar
Clearly, my Surface Laptop can be fixed. Indeed, since that fateful day a few weeks back, I have discovered how to create a USB Windows recovery disk and now simply need to find the time, energy, and desire to get it up and running again.
But the time spent in that miserable blue screen – and, of course, the reason for having to enter it in the first place – chucked me twenty years into the past.
Nothing has changed. If something goes inexplicably wrong with a Windows computer, you enter a world of hell when trying to fix it.
Tech lingo (why am I expected to know what ‘UEFI’ means?) and seemingly useful buttons that only result in meaningless error messages don’t make for a great DIY fix experience.
I don’t think anything is hideously wrong with my Surface Laptop. I’m pretty confident that Windows simply needs reinstalling. That’s fine – these things happen. But why is it so damn hard to just reinstall the damn operating system?
This is made all the more frustrating when you consider that the problem resides on a Windows laptop that’s made by Microsoft. Surely that should give it the best chance of success?
By comparison, my Macs (all five of them) are… well, actually (and I know this is tempting fate), they never do anything remotely like this. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I needed to reinstall or reset macOS. It just doesn’t happen.
There was, however, one option left for my Surface Laptop which didn’t involve any Windows shenanigans.
Let’s turn it into a Chromebook!
During the latest episode of Eight or Sixteen, my co-host Rob suggested that I could turn the nearly-deceased Surface Laptop 4 into a Chromebook.
This can be done via Google’s brilliant Chrome OS Flex project, which is designed to turn old PCs and Macs into Chromebooks.
You do this by downloading an installer to a USB stick, inserting it into your old laptop, and watching as Chrome OS magically appears on the screen. Then, if it all works as expected and you enjoy the experience, you can choose to install Chrome OS permanently.
I found this extremely exciting.
The Chrome OS Flex installer didn’t work on my Surface Laptop 4. Obviously.
My future with Windows
I haven’t given up on Windows; I’m going to stick with my strategy of broadening my horizons this year, I promise.
But as soon as the next Windows laptop I’m using blue screens, boot loops, or bongs at me, I’m going to install Chrome OS on it. Immediately. If it works, obviously. Which it probably won’t.
Oh, and if you’re interested, my girlfriend is now happily using the M1 MacBook Air.
Thats why I stopped using Window/PC 25 years ago. Not saying here haven’t been problems with Mac, OS 9 was a doosey, X brought its own set of issues but they have been sorted and can’t remember when I had that sort of full blown crash. Doesn’t give me the slightest inclination to move to Windows. Happy in my little Apple Fan Boy World.
I also used to build my own PCs for gaming. Loved the gaming part, hated the issues dealing with driver issues or other OS related crashes. I don’t recall the process being difficult (but this was back when you have a cd or dvd with the OS on it) but the fact you had to do it and it would take almost a day by the time you got everything up and running again. I also remember it was good practice to do a fresh install of windows every year to keep things running smoothly and at peak performance. Crazy! 12 years on Mac and the only time I had to troubleshot something was because of a dead HDD. I did do a reinstall once just to see what the process was like…
By way of analogy, Android phones are the same. And the greatest irritation is that everyone is battling via contacts databases and browsers to own your data to exploit for mooney. Yes google, Microsoft and Samsung, I’m looking at you! I lasted 2 months on a Samsung before returning to the ease and comfort of small ville Apple. Thank god..
This is why I will only use Windows on a company issued computer with an IT department to fix what goes wrong. For personal use, I only use Macs.
This review was amusing, well paced, and it had a decent and relatable punchline ending.
NOICE, as the kids say.
Another reason to hate Microsoft: You know those amazing photographs you get on the sign in page? See one that you really love? Want it to go away? Easy. Just click on the upper right screen and tell them that you like it. It will disappear like magic!