Warp 35

Soapbox of a GNU/Linux lovin' guy.
FOSS just works.

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Location: Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

I'm a Dutch guy born in 1974. Growing up I went from a dreamer to halfway mature. In 2002 I met my life partner and I'm living happily with hime ever since. I'm seconded at Stork Technical services since 2001. Right now I'm pretty happy with where I'm at.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Windows Nightmare

I've been reminded recently where my resentment for MS products comes from. MS the company is just a minor part of it. A good colleague asked me if I could setup his PC with Windows Vista Ultimate. Being a generally good natured guy I said yes. So I got the box with Vista and his machine to take home over the weekend. Vista cured me of any doubts I had about the "hassle factor" in GNU/Linux. GNU/Linux doesn't have any in comparison.

First off, the setup procedure of Vista is vastly improved over the one in Windows XP. The downside of it is that it takes forever to complete. In comparison XP is snappy. Part of it was the machine itself. This machine wasn't a Vista certified, formula one supercomputer. It only had 512 MB of RAM memory, a Celeron 2,4 GHz processor, a 160 GB PATA hard disk and a fairly good graphics card (Nvidia 7600 GS). The install completed somewhere past the end of time and I could go on with installing the necessary drivers and updates.

It took only ten minutes for UAC to drive me up the wall. For my own sanity I disabled it. Installing still took the better part of the end of time, so I did a little search on the net. Turns out, we don't own our own files. Nope, they belong to a thing called Trusted Installer. Don't know why we aren't allowed to be owner, but that "security measure" just had to go too. After becoming owner it was bearable, for non-MS programs that is. Windows update still took forever and Office 2007 made me believe there was no tomorrow.

After the stuff was installed, I discovered that the drive order in the machine was wrong. Since I did put Vista on the right disk, I just shuffled the order around in the BIOS and lo and behold, Vista was finicky enough to refuse to boot, despite being on the bootable hard disk. I swapped the order around again in the BIOS, but Vista told me to take a hike. I tried a repair with the Install disk, which did a lot of stuff but wasn't able to restore the bootloader. I had to bite the bullet and go with a complete reinstall. That seems to be the solution with all NT versions. At least Win9x gave access to the plumbing, so you could hack around problems.

So we did all the stuff again and finally after 8 hours, the system was setup with Vista, a virus scanner and Office 2007. I could have done it in 5 to 6 hours, I reckon, if I had checked the hardware more thoroughly at the start. The system, after disabling the new protection measures, behaves surprisingly well, given that the computer it runs on is an XP era machine. A pity that MS fits the old adage "Those who don't understand UNIX, are doomed to reimplement it, poorly." All the jazz around UAC and ownership of files is a pig on Vista's lipstick.

Vista is an updated version of Windows XP it seems, with shiny new screens, but severely crippled by "security measures" and maybe DRM, although I didn't mess around enough with it to be hindered by restrictions management. The disk footprint is huge. Same goes for Office 2007. Lots and lots of space taken for a comparable experience of XP. At least when you know how to disable the nagware that is UAC and take ownership of your files back from Vista.

MS has lost it. Even if they can trim Windows 7 back, it will still be an unwieldy, finicky and fragile system. Windows NT software is a prison, designed around the idea that most people only use the system as a limited function appliance. You can feel it in the way the user interface forces you to do tasks a certain way. How UAC just nags you till you are ready to explode. People who don't hate UAC just don't alter their systems to suit their needs. All the stupid dialog boxes popping up, asking if this or that software needs to be installed. Yes, I just told you to do that, give me a password prompt and be done with it. No, endless lines of text and you get dialog fatigued very soon. People who don't hate the way Vista communicates, just bought the damn thing pre-installed and use it AS IS.

MS jockeys can say all they want, but GNU/Linux these days is infinitely more user friendly. GNU/Linux doesn't step on your toes if you need elevated privileges. GNU/Linux has a vast software pool, easily accessible through package managers. GNU/Linux doesn't need a Top 500 computer to run smoothly. Hardware can be hit and miss if you buy it unprepared, but a little research before you buy just makes it truly plug and play. GNU/Linux doesn't have the major Adobe products or the various media codecs out of the box, nor does it have the major brand name financial home applications, but what it does have, just works with you and not AGAINST you.

MS will have to work some serious magic, before I will ever consider them a technically viable alternative to GNU/Linux. Before anyone says that 90% of people can't be wrong, I want to counter that with the preferred choice of food from flies. There are vast numbers of flies and they can't be wrong about eating it.