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Time to switch

dosquatch (924618) writes | more than 7 years ago

GNU is Not Unix 3

I'm a sysadmin in a totally Windows shop. I know Windows. I'm good at Windows. I'm comfortable in Windows. Familiarity breeds this. When I need to twiddle a setting, I know where it is, and if a piece of software isn't working, I know the usual suspects.

I'm a sysadmin in a totally Windows shop. I know Windows. I'm good at Windows. I'm comfortable in Windows. Familiarity breeds this. When I need to twiddle a setting, I know where it is, and if a piece of software isn't working, I know the usual suspects.

Familiarity also breeds contempt. I am no fan of Microsoft. I won't call Windows "substandard" - there's quite a bit about it that's good, but there's also quite a bit about it that's barely adequate. Their business practices are predatory, and in some ways criminal. And there's just something to hate about the 800-pound gorilla, whoever he may be.

The latest version of Windows, though, is too much. An annoyingly intrusive UAC, outrageous system requirements, oppressive limitations on what I may or may not be allowed to do with content I've purchased, compatibility issues with the software I already have, burdensome and expensive certifications required for any software I may buy in the future (that threatens to wipe out small independent utilities or home-grown apps)... it's all just too much. Like I said, I'm a sysadmin, so I'm going to have to swallow this eventually, but not on my personal machines, ever.

Instead, I'm going to (finally) switch to Linux. I've used Linux before for some applications where I needed an inexpensive server or other such dedicated task. It's really good in a "set it and forget it" way. I have never, though, given it a serious run as a desktop replacement. I've wanted to. I've talked about it. I like the ideals of the OSS movement, and I've used many OSS solutions - just on a MS platform.

So why am I writing this? Well, mostly to document my experience for posterity. Somewhat as a goodbye letter to Microsoft. Maybe somebody will actually read this. I don't know, but it seems like the right thing to do at the moment.

And Oh - My - God, where to start... as a "new user" wanting to switch, the first question to be answered is "Switch to WHAT??" There are just scads of distros to wade through, every last one with advocates, apostles, high priests, and holy wars. KDE or Gnome? Debian, Suse, Knoppix, Fedora? As its own distro or as the base for someone else's? "Free as in beer" or "Free as in speech"? Should I bag it all and buy a Mac?

So I've read articles, reviews, and opinions far and wide and have come to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter which direction I pick, I'm in for some pain. This must-have app works great here but not there, but this other one barely works here and fantastic there. Oh, but don't worry, there's a wiki or two (dozen), and on one of those there's the answer that will Make It Work.

That's going to be the biggest pain of leaving Microsoft. For all of its warts, there's a lot of "Just Works" in Windows, as opposed to a lot of "Can Work" in Linux. This is the single biggest issue that holds Linux back from corporate adoption. I have several hundred machines to answer to spanning several generations of hardware. I don't have the hours in the day to hand-hold solutions for Linux that are "click-done" in Windows.

Anyway, I settled on Ubuntu. It seems to be the hot ticket in town at the moment, and if it turns out that I hate it, well - it's free so I won't feel bad about dropping it and trying a different flavor. My first concern was how dog-slow the livecd was. An install to the drive isn't going to be this god-awful, is it?

The only way to know is to do it. But not at the expense of the copy of XP that I already have running. Hey, though, my livecd includes GParted, which rocks some free space on my HD at least as well as Partition Magic ever did. I have to say, that's a good start, and well worth the effort. The install to HD runs as fast, and boots faster, than XP. Even better.

Out of the box it has a few little games, office applications, the normal utilities one would expect out of an OS. It's a nice, pretty blank slate... for which I have no documentation, and no way to get to the documentation I know exists because wireless doesn't work. OK, I can plug a wire in, but still, this is a problem that's a deal breaker. Wireless gets fixed, or I go in a different direction.

Out of Ubuntu, back into XP, off to the wikis. Of course, now I'm not in Ubuntu where I can test the solutions I find... at any rate, a few rounds of this had my wireless running. The deal is back on.

Then the next problem - a web browser, but no plugins. At least it's firefox, that's familiar turf. It's pretty good about going out and finding plugins to make itself happy, this should be easy.

But it's not. I need Java. Another search of the wikis, another set of hoops. Dammit, I forgot to flag the installer as executable. Dammit, now I forgot to type sudo. Dammit, the instructions are telling me to create a symbolic link in a directory that doesn't exist.

Repeat for flash. Repeat for quicktime. And realplayer. And WMV. And I'm a knowlegable user, there's just no way a noob is going through this. I finally have Firefox all tweaked up so it'll show me everything on that intartoobs thing.

Next I need to figure out how to make a DVD play. Ah, well, that's a battle for tomorrow.

cancel ×

3 comments

Why not use Virtual PC? (1)

Photo_Nut (676334) | more than 7 years ago | (#18020566)

MS released Virtual PC for free, and you can use it to run Linux under Windows while you are still experimenting. See here:
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtualpc/downloa ds/sp1.mspx [microsoft.com]

I have a few friends @ MS who might be interested in your story. I'll pass it along. Sometimes the 800 lb gorilla does some nice things. My friends @ MS are level-headed people who deal with all the issues (LUA, etc -- most of them turn it off). I don't think they (MS) got where they are by resting on their laurels, but I do think that Vista is 3 years late and chock full of unnecessary stuff (and heads rolled - Jim Allchin retired and Brian Valentine was fired as mini-MSFT suggested http://minimsft.blogspot.com/2006/03/vista-2007-fi re-leadership-now.html [blogspot.com] ). I do appreciate the amount of work that MS people do to make sure that old apps still work (and not just the apps that are the most popular). Virtual PC is one of those.

I read Raymond Chen's blog ( http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/ [msdn.com] ). It's pretty amazing how much blood, sweat, and tears the softies put into their products. It's pretty insane what MS is charging (retail) for Vista "Ultimate". If I didn't have friends @ MS, I'd probably stick with XP. I won't "upgrade" to Vista anyway until my 2GB of RAM arrives... 512MB just isn't enough. I think it's rediculous.

If I were @ MS, I'd love to be in charge of a project to write a better OS than Windows (using some of the same components). It would be small, fast, and light. I really think that MS has too much legacy dragging them down, and Linux has the opposite problem - there is too much competition and it's hard to bet on what will be used next year - everything keeps moving around.

Re:Why not use Virtual PC? (1)

dosquatch (924618) | more than 7 years ago | (#18024866)

MS released Virtual PC for free, and you can use it to run Linux under Windows while you are still experimenting.

True enough, and I did consider that, but I wanted a true picture of usability. A virtual machine would let me get a good feel for the UI, but part of usability is performance and the only way to know that for sure is to run native. Virtual PC and VMPlayer are pretty good about keeping the performance hit to a minimum, but they're still sharing time. I also would have been insulated from any quirks I might've run up against with real hardware, as it turns out I did with wireless.

I have a few friends @ MS who might be interested in your story. I'll pass it along. Sometimes the 800 lb gorilla does some nice things. My friends @ MS are level-headed people who deal with all the issues (LUA, etc -- most of them turn it off). I don't think they (MS) got where they are by resting on their laurels, but I do think that Vista is 3 years late and chock full of unnecessary stuff

Hey, then! As long as you're passing thoughts along to a receptive audience, I have some more thoughts to add about Windows, not about switching except maybe as contributory factors.

The more Windows evolves, the more I question the vision. I believe that Microsoft is completely off the mark on what an operating system is. An operating system is not the collection of bells and whistles. It is not minesweeper and solitaire and web browsers and such. It is not even the interface with all of its windows and dialog boxes. An operating system is what allows me, the user, and my programs to interact with the hardware and file system. It should do this cleanly, efficiently, securely, and well. Windows does not even do this well. I should never have need for software like, say, Partition Magic, as a 3rd party product as the operating system should be able to handle its own operations on the file system. As administrator (or root, if you like) I should never need 3rd party apps to see the complete list of running processes rather than the sanitized list that task manager offers. It shouldn't be possible to hide from the eye of God at all, much less be sanctioned to do so by the OS. As root I should have the ability to arbitrarily alter or terminate any process on my machine. Things go wrong. Processes get confused and run amok. Being told that this is a "protected" process and that I can't do that is simply not acceptable. Ever.

Security permissions should be user- and group- based, not media based. Either I have permission to execute a process or I don't. Authenticating the process as "logo approved" is not the realm of the OS. "Oh, it might be harmful." Bullshit. Properly sandbox the process so the plug can be yanked without disturbing the rest of the system.

Encrypted or secured media is the problem of the media (see DVD & their offspring). Handling access to this is best left to those who chose to encrypt it in the first place, there is no need for the OS to have hooks specifically for this. There is even less need for the maker of the OS to dictate how this security handling will take place (see HD-DVD and secured HDMI channels), or to take it upon itself to alter the nature of the media if the OS's vision is not met. The place of the OS is simply to spin the disc and provide a channel for software to access it. Anything more is overstepping your role. Overstepping it to the point that Vista has loses you a customer forever and ever, amen, and I am not alone.

One of the roles of the OS is user authentication. Either you can authenticate against a network, or you can't. STOP DIFFERENTIATING YOUR PRODUCT ON THIS POINT! Core OS functionality should never change. EVERY copy of Windows should be able to network-authenticate. In fact, the easiest way to do this is to make this the only method of authentication. Give every copy of Windows a user-authentication service. If the machine isn't told that it is part of a domain, have it network-authenticate to itself. This also makes setting up home networks MUCH easier in that any arbitrary machine can be your "authentication server", and you can forever do away with the damned "Workgroups".

Know that the OS is NOT a destination, it is a means to an end. That end is the software I want to run. It is the job of the OS to facilitate this. Completely document and publish your API. Withholding this information hurts everybody, as it makes their product more difficult to use thereby lowering the value of yours to me.

Stop bastardizing standards. Standards exist so that things work together nicely. Intentionally making things incompatible inconveniences everybody. I shouldn't have to say this.

Stop nagging me because I'm not running one of your partnered AV clients. Either your security center can monitor the health of an antivirus package, or it cannot. Showing favoritism by being able to monitor one or two and ignoring the rest is rude and annoying. Yes, I know I can turn this monitoring off - I have. This is not the point.

Stop nagging me because I'm running firewall other than "Windows Firewall". See above.

Note that if you would document and publish the API's, the above two issues wouldn't be issues.

Stop changing your fucking help-file formats. And for-christ-sake, continue to support the ones you've already created.

Stop running every blessed thing in the world as a different face of explorer. This creates situations where a frozen file browsing window keeps me from being able to open the start menu, or launch task manager to nuke the process. This should not be the case.

Launching a process management utility, like Task Manager, should be a function of the kernel. Setting up situations where the shell has domain ignores the fact that the shell is a process that sometimes needs "managing", too.

The kernel should be able to recognize a process run amok, lower its timeslice, and inform the user. There should NEVER be a situation where a single process is tying up so many system resources that it cannot be stopped without a cold boot.

The computer I have on my desk has specs that would've been mainframe-esque a decade ago, and supercomputer-esque 2 decades ago. What are you doing wrong that allows the OS to saturate this much horsepower to borderline usability? What excuse have you when current implementations of Linux can still be made to run well on a '486? Core functionality should be small, fast, and light.

All that said, keep in mind that I like Windows. You should see the things said about it from folks who don't.

I think that's enough for now. If you can have somebody at MSFT take this seriously, more power to you, and I appreciate your efforts.

Re:Why not use Virtual PC? (1)

dosquatch (924618) | more than 7 years ago | (#18025962)

Oops - I forgot to /b in there somewhere... or to preview.
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