Dear Diary. Here's how I spent my weekend.
Go to parents, prepared to exterminate last copy of Windows 98 on my support radar. Am equipped with big ol' external hard disk (for backups), Genuine Advantage Look Its Legitimate Really Now Will You Stop Bugging Me Bill Windows XP, Genuine Ubuntu, and a Genuine Dell Laptop to Genuinely Access the Genuine Internet. if things go Genuinely Bad.
Plan is simple: Plug in external disk, back up data, reformat, install XP, replace documents, put on dual-boot Linux, give father keys to kingdom, home for tea and medals.
Reality is not: Plug in external disk. Ah. It's Windows 98 first edition - which has always had a problematic relationship with USB. Go online, find drivers (not helped by Seagate eschewing model numbers on their external disks, so you have to choose by pointing at pictures). Install drivers. Plug in drive. Seems to work. Start to back up data. Machine crashes.
If you've been here, you won't need reminding. If you haven't, then you're best spared the utter teethgrinding tedium of debugging a USB problem. So let's fast forward two hours - two mind-numbing, tear-strewn hours - to the point that I've booted into the Ubuntu live disc which knows about the hard disk, knows about the external disk, knows about USB and is happy to do the job. Just very, very slowly - but it's USB 1.
Spend three hours quality time with parents. Check back on copy, to find that it had hung (around five minutes after I'd got confident enough to leave it alone) because of an extraneous Ubuntu query about a non-standard character in a file name. Discover that one of these will crop up roughly every ten minutes, and that the Linux magic to avoid this is currently beyond me.
Spend three hours quality time with computer, pressing IGNORE once every ten minutes while trying to learn about Linux, filenames, regular expressions, filters etc in between.
Copy finished. With joy, eradicate another copy of Windows 98 from the world. With misgivings, install XP. XP refuses to recognise video card, USB hub, and sovereign statehood of Taiwan. Hm. How do you work out what video card is in a computer without taking it apart? Eventually find myself poring over a hex dump of the video BIOS from Debug - something I haven't done for around five years. It's an ATI... er, something. Google some likely looking data - find one hit on French blog, in French. Then find that ATI want me to download .Net (30MB) and some wrapper (25MB) in order to get the right driver (Probably well under 1MB).
Oh, it goes on and on. And on. Fighting every step of the way. Reinstalling Microsoft Works 4.5 from a backup (original disks long gone) proves quite exhilarating, trying to find missing files from various places fast enough to keep the installer fed turns into an intricate dance across multiple computers, hard disks and the Net.
At the end, upgrading to XP took a good fifteen to twenty hours of a weekend, when I had it down for five at most. Which meant there was no time to install Linux, let alone do the necessary cross platform training - and so the Empire keeps another soul.
I think I'll invoice Bill. What's a good hourly rate, do you think?