Anyway, the problem is getting less hypothetical. My laptop has started to show a disturbing tendency to spontaneously reboot for no obvious reason. Could be the disk, could be the power supply, could be memory, could be heat contributing to any of the above -- I don't know. It's probably related to the fact that the internal clock seems to be failing (it keeps going back to 2004), which probably indicates some sort of power-supply issue. I'm not totally surprised -- it was a cheap machine to begin with, and it's getting on three years old -- but it's probably appropriate to consider replacing it ASAP. The question is, with what? Let's muse on this...
On the one hand, I don't love Vista. OTOH, the machines are plentiful and inexpensive, and I can get more or less exactly the ergonomics I want with no difficulty at all. That selection, plus the ever-present software issue, keeps it under consideration. (I *could* buy a machine and retrofit it with XP, but I really don't like that idea: installing a Windows OS other than preinstall is always a bit fraught.)
I could go for an Ubuntu box -- either self-built, or bought from Dell, or possibly from a smaller player. That's not a trivial option, given that *most* of what I use the machine for is Web, and I suspect a Linux machine will serve that purpose at least as well as anything else. Problem is, I do sometimes want access to other software, most often Windows software, so I need to decide how much I care about that, and what my solution is.
I could go for a Mac: heaven knows, a bunch of my friends are pushing me in that direction. The problem there is mainly ergonomics. It looks like, to get a keyboard I can stand, I would need to get a MacBook Pro, and those are *pricey* -- over twice the price of the PC laptops I'm considering. I can afford it if I decide it's the right thing to do, but even I can't spend two grand on a laptop without pausing and thinking about it carefully.
If I go for either the Linux or Mac options, I need to answer the Windows question: how do I deal with my need to occasionally pop over to Windows? In the Mac case, it looks like Parallels is a good option: it appears to be powerful and easy to use, and claims to make it very easy to replicate my existing machine in the virtualized environment. (A major plus -- I am clearly their target market.) If I went for Linux, I'd probably need to get a dual-boot box, which isn't a trivial problem: it can be done, but I don't know of any major players selling such a thing. And I'm not enough of a systems hacker to love the idea of building it myself. (I could probably do it, but it would annoy me: I'm an applications engineer by instinct, not an IT guy.)
So my likely options seem to be:
- Get an inexpensive Windows machine, and deal with Vista;
- Get an inexpensive Linux box and figure out how to dual-boot it;
- Get an expensive but powerful MacBook Pro plus Parallels, and move my XP license over to that.