Upgrade time again

It's upgrade time again.  As I mentioned in my last entry, my desktop/home server had been getting short on disk space - and by "short on disk space," I mean I started to see Explorer reporting the free space as less than 1GB on my C: drive.  So it was time for a new hard drive.

Since the only real problem was my 100GB C: partition, I decided to go with more of a "start over" approach and just got a modest 120GB SSD.  My Windows 7 installation was about 5 years old, so it had accumulated a fair amount of cruft.  For instance, the winsxs folder alone had swollen to almost 14GB.  So I reasoned that a clean installation would probably fix most of my problems.

Along with the new hard drive, it was also time for some new software.  I started that out with an OS upgrade from Windows 7 Pro to Windows 8.1.  Yes, I know - everybody hates Windows 8.  But I think it's a good OS, damn it!  Sure, I'll grant you that the initial release had some rough edges, but aside from the questionable decision to remove the start menu (which is trivially fixed by installing Classic Start), the 8.1 update fixes every complaint I had.

As a change of pace, this time I decided to try the downloadable purchase of Windows 8.1 from NewEgg rather than waiting for physical media to ship.  It turns out that this process is actually pretty simple.  You place your order and then get an e-mail with a license key and a link to a downloader program.  You run that, give it your key, and it gives you several options for downloading the installation files.  One of these is to just download a bootable ISO image that you can burn to disk.  So it's actually not as wierd as I initially feared.  Of course, the one catch is that the downloader runs under Windows, so this probably doesn't work so well if you're a Mac or Linux user.

The one thing of note here is that this time I decided to save myself a few bucks and drop down from the Professional edition to the standard one.  I made this decision after considering the non-transferability of the OEM version and looking at the feature comparison matrix.  It turns out the the Pro versino contained exactly one feature that I cared about: the Remote Desktop Server.  So I reasonsed that if I could find a suitable remote access solution to replace RDP, then there was no need to buy the Professional edition.  And after playing around with TeamViewer for a few days, I decided I'd found that. 

It turns out that TeamViewer actually works quite well.  For starters, it's free for non-commercial use and it's in Ninite, so there's basically zero overhead to getting it set up.  Registering for an account is also free and helpful, though not strictly necessary.  The performance seems to be pretty good so far and it has the ability to start LAN-only connections or go through their servers for over-the-Internet access.  After using TeamViewer for a couple of days, I was more than convinced that I could do without the Windows RPD server.

Next on the list was a service to run Virtual Box.  As you may know, Virtual Box is a free system virtualization package.  It works pretty well, but it doesn't come with the ability to run a VM on boot (at least in Windows) - you have to wait until you log in.  To fix that, I installed VBoxVmService.  This is a little Windows service that will run selected VMs on boot without anyone having to log in and also offers a systray app that allows you to manage those VMs.  Previously, I had been using the similarly named VirualBoxService, which does essentilally the same thing but isn't quite as nice to use.  Of course, there are some limitiations, but for the most part it works well enough for my setup.  All I really wanted to do was have a Linux VM run on boot to serve as a web server because setting the stuff up on Windows was just too much of a pain.

While I was at it, I also decided to give Plex a try.  I'd previously been a little turned off by the requirement to create an account, even though I only wanted to use it on my LAN, but it turns out that actually isn't necessary.  The account registration is really only needed for remote access.  And with Android and Roku apps, Plex provided more functionality and required less work than my home-grown solution of using PHP scripts to generate customized web server directory listings for Roksbox.  That was all well and good, but just using Plex is much easier and seems to work better.

So far, things seem to be going pretty well and I'm happy with my new setup.  Granted, there are no radical changes to my setup, but in my days of Linux on the desktop, painful upgrades were not always such an uncommon occurrence, so I guess I'm a little battle-scarred.

One last thing to note is that I'm actually kind of impressed with Windows 7.  I days gone by, a Windows install lasting for 5 years of heavy use would be unheard of.  And even with seriously limited hard drive space, the system was rock-solid and actually performed pretty well.  If I'd been inclined to migrate it to the new drive, I probably could have kept that installation going for much longer.  Switching back to Windows was definitely a good move.

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