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That dreaded event — a new computer

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Two connected laptops. Computer network. Computer generated image.

I'm a techie. I made my career in building and running small to medium software products and services companies. I've written code at the operating system level, analyzed performance in mainframes, and helped many large firms transition to the internet.

Back in 1976, contemplating a job offer, I can remember thinking to myself “Ya know, I bet computers are going to be interesting…”

So I'm not a computer illiterate, even if I'm no longer hands-on in current programming languages. I think of myself these days as a leading-edge computer consumer.

And every time I swap to a new computer, I have to remind myself of this.

I've had high-end business laptops ever since there were laptops, and I've continued that practice in the freelance world. I have a specialized workstation for photography (very big storage, fast processing), and another one just for writing (old, no unnecessary software to distract me), but like many people all my day-to-day ordinary work is spent with a big honking laptop. I buy them new, and run them until they drop, typically 6-7 years.

My long-past-warranty Win 7 Dell laptop has been crashing more and more lately, and I've anticipated the final failures by picking up a new Lenovo Win 10 system (Thinkpad P50). I splurged on disk (1 TB) and screen resolution (3840×2160) but otherwise kept it close to off-the-shelf.

I have a lot of software and many specialized tools. The essential tool for moving from one PC to another is a product called LapLink which allows you to copy everything from the old machine to the new, where most of it will end up running properly without further attention (a minor miracle). This process takes hours (or days), depending on whether you spend money for a special LapLink cable (recommended) or try to tough it out across a (much slower) local network. I have occasion to swap to a new machine every few years and, like time-lapse photography, I appreciate how much more convenient the process gets each time.

High-resolution screens and font-size management

So, what am I complaining about? Fonts. The inability, more than a year after Windows 10 was released, for many products to accommodate the font sizes needed for their internal menus in a high-resolution situation. As I do research into my problems, I discover this is not just a Win 10 issue, but has been around ever since the hi-res monitors have. And it still isn't fixed. The products blame Windows but I don't know who's right (yet).

It's not just an issue of hi-res. Windows 10 also allows you to amplify the native text setting to accommodate higher resolution. And that's where the problem seems to lie. The ordinary navigation menus in programs respect that text resizing. But products that have complex internal menus, often with icons rather than text, do not seem to respect the text resizing, so they shrink in a high-resolution situation, and don't resize.

I use four expensive and critical programs that are so complicated that they have internal menus: Photoshop and Lightroom, and Quicken and QuickBooks. And here's what they look like in Win 10.

Quickbooks

Here's what happens when you can't be bothered to use best practices to manage your internal menus and tables for data presentation when your user takes advantage of built-in hi-res settings like 3840×2160. Quicken has similar issues, though they're not as pervasive.

This is Quickbooks 2016, so you'd think they would have addressed this by now. The resolution is exactly double my old maximum of 1920×1080, so if the software had been built properly, everything should have changed proportionately.

fonts-quickbooks

This may be ugly, but at least it can be more or less used properly. Same for Quicken.

Photoshop

Here's the real killer. Adobe Photoshop is quite expensive. I splurged on release CS5 when I was doing serious photography and have no intention of moving to a subscription model, especially now that my usage is intermittent.

So I was relieved that both Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom (similar $ issues) ported over to the new Win 10 laptop and continued to run. (I had visions of Adobe forcing me to buy the software again).

Alas, my delight was very short-lived. Photoshop is now pretty much unusable, at this resolution.

fonts-photoshopcs5

Photoshop has dozens of complex internal menus and table displays. While the standard drop-down menus behave properly with regard to font size, all the other menus and icons respect the screen resolution but do not respect the “text size” setting in Windows 10 and resize themselves. They are so tiny that you literally can't read them, much less their drop-down options. The cursor can barely click on them.

Lightroom

Similar issues to Photoshop. Luckily, there are many fewer options with regard to photo management and basic photo adjustments than with Photoshop.

fonts-lightroom

Unfortunately, unlike Photoshop, one typically goes through hundreds of photos at a time in Lightroom, and peering at illegible fonts is not conducive to speed and efficiency.

Remedies?

There don't seem to be any good solutions. The choices are:

  1. Run Windows Magnifier. This allows you to expand parts of the screen and use your cursor to move around. Think Mr. Magoo. This is an adequate solution to occasional low-volume usage, but not for most circumstances.
  2. Stop using high-resolution, or swap back and forth. Not ideal at all. When I put together a blog post like this, I can't be going back and forth using, say, Photoshop to make an image and WordPress to write the article, swapping resolution each time. And if I permanently retreat to lower resolution, what was the point of getting a hi-res capable laptop in the first place?
  3. Upgrade the software. If only… Both Quicken and Quickbooks are current releases, and they haven't addressed the issue. Photoshop and Lightroom are older releases that otherwise still run fine and do everything I need them to, if I could just read their screens. I haven't checked the releases, but I won't move to a subscriber model especially for infrequently used software, and I'm not sure that even the latest versions (if I were willing to pay the money to upgrade for just this one issue) actually fix the problem.
  4. Use the older, dying laptop as a specialist platform. Run the four problem tools there and rely on Dropbox to ferry the files back and forth. This will work, but it means I have to keep the old laptop running (boot-up takes about 10 minutes) and it's going to die permanently fairly soon anyway, so it's a temporary fix at best. Still, it's probably the best short-term solution.

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2 Comments

  1. I lose so much time every time I need to upgrade. Sigh.

    I love my MacBooks, but Apple doesn’t play nicely with big external monitors they don’t make (their own are crystal clear), and hubby bought me a big TV to use as a monitor.

    I do the best I can, but haven’t cleaned up files since I moved, N years ago, to this one.

    Being sick makes EVERYTHING harder. It’s a wonder I managed to publish! And continue to write.

    October 16, 2016
    |Reply
    • As long as you can keep writing, nothing else matters.

      October 16, 2016
      |Reply

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