Years ago, when we still lived in Phoenix, Cox Cable installed a cable modem. The technician wanted to set up some horrible suite of outdated Internet software, but I told him that I wouldn't need it and that I'd be constantly reinstalling my system anyway. I do a lot of software testing, and I reinstall often. We began talking, as geeks do, and he noted that the people who were seemingly the most adept at computers were the ones that had the hardest time keeping their systems going. Meanwhile, he said, he'd seen dozens of original Windows 95 installs at people's homes, still running fine after years of use.

It must be nice. And although I recall his words when I start the Windows 2000 Setup wizard for the umpteenth time, I can't help but think that installing new hardware shouldn't be so hard. This weekend was a typical, all-too-frequent, example. As background, recall that I have written about my digital media conversion. Since then, I've spent a lot of money making the transition: I picked up a Kodak DC290 digital camera, along with two extra Compact Flash memory cards and some other accessories; a 40GB hard disk to store all my music and digital photos; and a Xircom 4-port USB card, because I'm suddenly swimming in a sea of USB devices. I also purchased RealJukebox Plus from RealNetworks, which is, I think, the best CD-to-MP3 encoder available.

Then I made the fatal mistake: I installed two new pieces of hardware into the same PC on the same day. Doing so goes against years of experience. I often advise anyone who will listen not to do so. Anyone but me, of course. Granted, I didn't throw them in the box at the same time. But I installed the card into my main desktop PC, booted into Windows, verified that the card worked, shut down, and installed the hard disk. Initially, I was a bit nervous about all the disks I had in the machine. Before I added the new hard disk, I already had three hard disks and two CD-ROMs (one is a SCSI CD-R) in the system. Sure enough, the system seemed to run pretty hot. I disconnected a CD-ROM, which seemed to calm things down a bit. So I plugged in some USB devices and went back to work.

And then it happened. With a finality so sudden I actually jumped, Win2K halted with a beautiful, deep-blue Stop Error. I had never seen this particular screen before, and I wasn't excited to see it then, but I shut down and tried again. After about 5 minutes of use, Win2K halted again. And again. Obviously, something had to give. I have a home network, and—weighing my options—I figured it'd be better to simply move the new media disk onto another system. So I pulled the disk out and fired up the machine. The system reached that white boot-up logo, and the blue status bar halted at about 50 percent, never to move again. That's where the machine stayed for most of the weekend: Despite a variety of configuration changes (including putting the disk back in, just to be sure), I never got the machine to boot again.

Yesterday morning, I installed Win2K to a different partition so I could at least get to and back up my data before I wiped out my primary partition and reinstalled. I traced the problem to the Xircom card, which is depressing because I really need the extra USB ports. But I'll still move the new disk to a different machine because I don't want to over-tax the power supply. My current system is a hand-built dual-processor machine that no IS department would touch. But it's all pretty standard stuff, and I'm sure plenty of home systems like mine are out there. I supposedly know what I'm doing here, so I was able to fix the problem without losing data. But what the heck would a typical layperson do in such a case? Why isn't hardware installation any easier in this age of Plug and Play (PnP)?