Proof there’s something wrong in the universe

Un fricking believable .. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, and I know I’m going to get flamed mercilessly by a certain crowd later .. but .. I’m using Microsoft Windows tonight and actually liking it. There, I said it.

Some of you here may already know of my longstanding and fairly hardcore Linux activism. I quit using the craptastic MS operating systems back when Win98SE ruled the dinosaurs and three-finger salutes were as ubiquitous as Mustang GTs. Like anyone else, I was pissed off about the lack of security, stability, focus control, etc. I fled to Linux and stayed there, entranced and pleased by the way it behaved like computers were supposed to, like the old mini’s I first used, back in the 1970s, and like the early HD-less PC’s like the TRS-80, C64, etc. You can leave a Linux system running (and hooked to the net) and come back months later and it will still be there waiting.

Newcomers to computers would hardly know it these days, but malware was at best an academic oddity until Microsoft products flooded the market, and some genius in Redmond thought it might be “cool” for people to be able to send an executable to another, so, gosh, it would run when the recipient clicks on the message. Naturally, it didn’t take long for this “feature” to get put to other uses, thus spooling off a whole new industry devoted to add-on products for buggy & insecure but widely-used operating systems.

There’s something bad about marketing a product so incomplete that to use it without certain other add-on products practically guarantees failure of the primary product later. MS Windows is one such. Like a car without wheels, a house without a roof, or clothing that’s missing its fasteners, this is a marketing faux pas which screams out its presence but which everyone dutifully ignores as they shuffle into OfficeMax to pay for a copy of Symantek.

Anyway this Linux activism has been useful at work. We dumped MS years ago and moved the whole biz over to RHEL4 desktops, for the office, and Spotline terminals for the manufacturing posts. We write our own server-based apps to handle billing & inventory & accounting functions. Everything runs well, and none of it is malware-susceptible. Some of our servers (all Unix or Linux of course) have uptimes in the thousand-day-plus range. Our users are no longer installing all their own crap on the desktops (and hosing them) and our network is pretty watertight. Also, I got to brag to the boss later how much money we saved. Like Bill Gates’ grandkids won’t have enough in their trust funds anyway.

The activism went well, but entropy and cheapness caught up with me this past year. Within the space of a few months, a series of catastrophic hardware failures took out first the old Tecra laptop and then a newer desktop computer. For awhile now I have been using nothing but a Nokia N800 for accessing the net. (obligatory linkage: ) The funny part, however, was that there was honest-to-goodness peer pressure (of all things) to get a real computer, if only to be able to write more (and more often) and participate in what the net is slowly becoming. Some of this pressure came from friends, some came from family, and some came from folks I know among our little cluster of blog-heads. Names will be kept confidential of course.

As luck would have it, I had a chance recently to help a friend upgrade from his failing-badly XPee desktop system (which he had since set up for dual boot and was using Ubuntu almost exclusively on) to a newer Windoze and a newer laptop as well. At first he wanted a refurbished Dell in the sub-$1K range, but a quick perusal of the new offerings showed it would be better to skip the refurb scene entirely. Why? Because Microsoft followed its usual game plan (Bloatware Maximus) and released an OS so disgustingly heavy that it requires a real beast of a computer just to run. So, thanks to Mr. Gates and his merry crew, you can now buy new, for around $500, the sort of hardware you could not find anywhere for less than $2000 or more as recently as 18 months back. They have pushed the “minimum acceptable hardware config for Vista” practically out to Lunar orbit distance.

So when we finally settled on a model my friend liked, I decided to make the salesman’s day by asking if we could get a discount for buying two of them at the same time. He was not expecting that – especially since the store was full of tire-kickers who all went home at dinnertime without buying anything.

It would be something of an understatement to say I’m pleased with Vista SP1. It looks more like KDE, with the laptop theme, than anything else. Maybe that’s why I haven’t wiped the drive yet and put Ubuntu onto it. My previous record for putting up with Windows was somewhere in the low single-digit hours .. but this one certainly sucks a whole lot less than past iterations. The media integration is spot-on. It’s missing some kickass apps that don’t seem to exist over here – or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.

Thanks again JR for the space. :)


20 Replies to “Proof there’s something wrong in the universe”

  1. Hi SB: not sure if I’ll stick with it, but for the moment it hasn’t irrecoverably annoyed me. You know it gets bad when you start screaming at the thing and calling it an effing piece of moldy rat sh*t, then you whip out the Ubuntu and scour the HD flat to put some good old open source onto the box.

    Usually I prefer KDE though .. and Ubuntu defaults to Gnome (yuck). The preferred linux to get running on it would have been OpenSuSE, but since it wouldn’t run the graphics card properly I wasn’t tempted to install it and render the laptop useless. Oh well! My experience has been that if a given piece of video hardware isn’t supported yet, just wait a month or two and the major distros will include what you need.

    For the moment it is interesting to see how the other half lives ;) especially in terms of the environment shaped by the user apps.

  2. The Mac? They’re lovely and pricey but still (to me anyway) have that rubber-room quality I associate with incompletely-conceived Soviet-style dialogue boxes .. the kind where there’s either only one choice (and it’s not the one you need) or the series of choices didn’t reflect something you need. But then, I’ve been programming most of my life and have a different take on app/OS interaction than most.

    JR hasn’t yet shared the detail of what hardware / OS / version he uses. I’m hoping to meet him in person one of these days as we’re both in Mazz-land, aka the Peoples Democratic Republic of Massachusetts.

    The negative rant above aside (which is not the same as reaching up and left/right simultaneously) I can only gawk in amazement at the hardware available today for under $1K.

  3. is anybody else here thinking of stepping back into the market? i’m thinking of more VLO and buying that OIL etf. i keep thinking silver too. i woulda made $ if i had bought last week.

    sorry nudge, i don’t know shit about computers. you’re on your own on this one.

  4. Granted I still do like NT, and it’s business-like appearance. But, windows XP and such is a candy laden senseless mess. Vista only makes it worse, although honestly I have only watched while horrified financial people try to figure out their companies install of Office 2007.

    There is BASH…

  5. I like MacOS X (aka Mac O’Sex). Knowing it was coming, I put Linux on a Mac G3 box to get re-used to dealing with Unix, in case I had to, and ended up using it for nearly two years. My only problem with Linux is that it just *invites* you to spend huge amounts of time fiddling with things, whether you really need to or not. You can easily not get stuff done for days because you’re happily tweaking this or that, just to see if it works better.

    OSX does have a certain “my way” quality to it, but that’s not a bad thing since it does most things right or close enough to right that you don’t need to tweak it. You just use it. And pulling up a Unix shell is easy if you need it (I use it often).

  6. A parable for Mac versus PC usage: I once had a pretty red BMW 2002, 1970 model with 4 on the floor, sunroof, black vinal interior, bucket seats. Back in the 1970s decade, I would spend quite a lot of my “spare” time, mostly on weekends, working to maintain said car against the steady encroachment of the second law of thermodynamics. This even included a valve job and repainting the car in red lacour paint (mutiple coats, with wet sanding in between).

    Then one day, I finally graduated from college and got my first job, which meant relocating. So, I sold the little pretty and acually got moron than I paid for it back in 1973. Big deal, I had sunk much moron that the difference into that car over the 73-79 period.

    So in 1980, I bought my first new car, which I literally drove right off the showroom floor, a Honda Accord 2-door hatchback, silver with red-orange racing stripe decals on the sides. Alas, it was an auto on the floor, no more shifting gears, but a well-built car.

    To my amazement, I suddenly had all this spare time! Having my weekends back, I could actually take my wife on long drives to the north shore, go surfing again with my friends, work even, shop, etc.

    That my friends, is a lot like using a Mac OS X versus anything running MS squishware. Vista is just the latest attempt to copy the Mac OS, which it does in its clumsy MS Windoz way. They even copied Widgets as Gadgets.

  7. Yes, time. But if I could spin D3PO’s Honda purchase story a wee bit. He purchased new, which in the case of Honda meant aside from normal scheduled maintenance, he could expect many years of relatively trouble-free reliable transportation. And just as important, he likely purchased it with a given need in mind, and the Honda was configured from the factory to function easily and reliably to do just that.

    There was a time when my business built white box solutions – we started with custom CAD machines. That habit carried over long after the margins dwindled and I opted out left that market segment of so long ago. Until now.

    Time, functionality and reliability are the reasons I went to a Mac (PPC) and OS X (Leopard) for my non-business computer use. A Mac just works out of the box and for me, it doesn’t remind me of work because it’s NOT Windows. And I have absolutely no desire to open it up and dink around inside. (Disclosure: I DID upgrade RAM, 7200 RPM hard drive and add BT/WiFi module – Apple refurb choices were kinda meager when I purchased) That was 3 years ago.

    I knew what I wanted it for and purchased for that need.

    Last year my 10-year old business Dell laptop decided it was time to retire. I acquired a Lenovo Thinkpad T60, with Vista Bidness (32-bit). To my amazement, it too worked well out of the box with none of the driver issues I had experienced with earlier experiments in-house with Vista and mostly pre-Vista hardware. I also echo Nudge’s comment regarding media integration.

    And recently, my attempts to shoe-horn Windows 2008 server with Hyper-V on to one of my trusty white box AMD-64 servers raised the bar on self-inflicted IT pain and mental anguish. I acquiesced and bought a Dell server designed for Windows 2008 with Hyper-V. It sits in the rack now, purring away (albeit not a quietly as I’d prefer), hosting a myriad or virtual servers and workstations without issue. And I have mercifully retired 3 older servers and their attendant power usage and heat dissipation. And to echo Nudge’s observation, it’s a hell of a lot of hardware for a very affordable price.

    Vista is not OS X. But if Vista is delivered installed on a machine from of one of the larger manufacturers, it will likely serve you well. This sentiment has been expressed to me as well by business clients who have recently purchased new personal machines from the likes of Dell and HP and wondered why they weren’t using such a wonderful OS at work. [sigh] Civilians.

    Just be sure any legacy software or hardware you have will run on Vista (or on an Intel Mac with the newer OS X). I have an older version of time and billing software that will not run in Vista (and I am too cheap to upgrade because it works just fine for me), so I use an XP virtual machine. The free VMWare supports USB device access by a virtual machine – an important feature for me as I use a PDA that only syncs via USB for time keeping.


  8. UR, excellent post. I am enjoying a little well-earned vacation away from having to futz with things to make everything work right. The closest Linux distro to this type of “stuff just works” experience is probably Ubuntu, albeit with a very different look & feel.

    The work machines are a whole nother story. I have one Linux box that’s been up more than 6 years straight. It has a minor role in some filekeeping operations on the share, but otherwise its main job is playing the music on the hold line.

    These days I have to do a bit of convincing the friends & relatives that aliens didn’t take over my body or something like that .. they’re surprised to see Windoze getting used in this household.

    One of the apps I’ve /never/ been able to get working under Linux is Google Earth, so it’s a pleasure to finally see it. The Vista look borrowed some things from KDE .. for instance that stupid screen-acreage-wasting thing where people park giant analog clock faces, calendars, or mail checkers.

    Omfg, OEO is still at it back on the other blog. Can someone tell him the election is over and he can finally stop trashing the winner for stuff that hasn’t even happened yet?

  9. I felt like a burly fearless approximation of a real computer geek after replacing two video cards (on two separate Dell Dimension PCs, mind you) within the last several months. Odd koinkydink to be sure.

    If only a sledgehammer could be applied to resolve software incompatibilities. Troubleshooting would be so much more fun that way.

    tipping, shame on you for leading us down the dicknose path.

  10. Some, like OEO, are just sore losers. I’m happy that most voting Americans made the right choice, bur sad for them, and that includes moi, that events drive us now, not policies or other big government plans.

    Still, it’s some comfort to know an adult will soon take the helm of the USS Tragicallyoutofcreditandfiatcurrencyinthetoiletwhenimportedoilisdominantfromforeignersthatdon’rlikeustoomuch.

  11. Wow, now this is a record .. still have not yet wiped Windoze off this machine. It has actually behaved quite well (no crashes or unplanned soft reboots) and has not [yet?] begun the Windoze death-spiral of bit rot or increasing slowdown. As discussed earlier, the multimedia integration is absolutely spot-on. You do not need to add much to the machine at all (except perhaps OpenOffice 3 – the new version finally does those docx and xlsx formats) in order to make it usable.

    This is the longest I’ve used Windoze since perhaps sometime in early 2000.

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