10 Days as a Windows XP User: A GNU Perspective on Things

Posted by tadelste on Sep 26, 2005 3:04 PM EDT
Lxer; By Tom Adelstein
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How difficult is it for a Linux user to migrate to Windows? Not bad if you're good at playing video games.

This story begins back in July as I prepared to speak at a conference in Amman Jordan. I had loaded my Thinkpad T21 with Ubuntu and fine tuned it to use all the features of the IBM hardware. I decided to put Windows 98SE on one partition just in case I ran into connectivity problems overseas or if I wanted to watch a DVD.

When I reached my hotel in Amman, I booted into Ubuntu but could not get DNS to work. I called the front desk and in minutes the director of IT showed up. I was fairly impressed to find a highly qualified director attempting to help. He explained that they had a wireless hot spot in the hotel lobby and in the eating facilities on the ground floor if I wanted to use my wifi card since Linux did not work in my room.

I decided to try Windows 98 SE once I learned that the entire hotel used Active Directory, with the exception of their critical reservation system, which ran on Red Hat. Windows 98 SE connected and I soon started looking at my email. I shook the IT manager's hand and started working.

Then without warning, my Internet connection stopped working. No matter how many times I tried to reconnect, I could not. So, I went downstairs and hooked up with my wireless PC card. I connected to the network but still could not get DNS. I attempted to connect to web mail but my browser continued to give me an error message that “the site could not be found.”

Later, I discovered that Windows 98 SE had a problem with vdhcp.386. I had the wrong version. According to Microsoft's knowledge base article:


"Computers running Windows 98 and participating in a Windows 2000 domain may not have their host names registered with the dynamic DNS server. "

"When you apply this hotfix, Windows 98 clients no longer send the FQDN option (code 81) when requesting an address from the DHCP server. The Windows 2000 DHCP server then registers the Windows 98 client's host name with the dynamic DNS server on behalf of the Windows 98 client computer."

But Microsoft didn't have the hotfix posted on their website. Microsoft deprecated the file.

When I returned to the US, I attempted to locate vdhcp.386 version 4.10.2223 of the file I needed. When people write about the difficulty and time frustrations in finding drivers for Linux, I consider that minor in comparison to trying to locate Vdhcp.386. Normally, I can either find a Linux driver for a peripheral, get help on a forum or mailing list or find someone who wrote one.

To get the file I needed to fix Windows 98SE, I had to find a business partner willing to provide me one. I got no help from the software manufacturer. I found it less of a hassle to simply buy Windows XP home edition. For some reason, I think that's the manufacturer's intention. Microsoft obsoletes the product that runs best on an older PC or laptop, which forces people to ditch a perfectly functional piece of equipment for a new product.

As I reluctantly put my funds down for XP, I told myself I would only use it if I got into another bind on my next trip to the middle east. I would load Firefox, Mozilla mail and openoffice.org on the thing and hope for the best.

A month passed and suddenly I was facing the prospect of needing to use Windows XP. I had to change Internet service providers and faced a ten day wait for connectivity. Needing a temporary ISP with dial up capabilities, I selected Netscape. While readers may suggest other alternatives existed, my circumstances narrowed my choices. I wound up with a dial up connection proprietary to Windows 2000 and XP.

I access the Internet not as a convenience but as part of my job. So, I needed to take what I could get and that meant using Windows for while. I decided not to fight it but to keep an open mind. I wouldn't complain, I would go about this with the same enthusiasm with which I approached anything I did, like it or not.

Upgrading the Laptop

My IBM Thinkpad originally came with Windows 2000 Pro. I have the OEM disk. IBM affixed the Certificate of Authority on the bottom of the case. But as mentioned above, I installed Windows 98 SE.

When I started the upgrade process, Windows XP took over two hours to finish. When I logged on to the completed installation, none of my software or files migrated over to XP. So, I reinstalled each application and found the data files. That took a chunk of the afternoon. When I checked the system's device manager, I discovered that I had a remarkable number of drivers missing.

To connect to Netscape, I had to download their dialer. I attempted to use Microsoft Internet connection wizard using access numbers given to me by Netscape's service desk. I managed to connect but couldn't resolve URL's. Netscape/AOL didn't supply DNS servers. Even after contacting Netscape's customer service, they would not provide DNS information and suggested I wait to receive their software by CD.

But, I couldn't wait. I wound up getting a friend to download the dialer software, installing it and attempted to logon to the network. I received an error message that said “The Device does not exist. Please reconfigure your location.”

The software didn't see my modem and so I had to contact customer service again. We're talking about a US Robotics 56K modem, which one would have to classify as fairly generic. I told myself, so XP doesn't see one of the most standard modems around.

To get the system to recognize the modem, I had to make several odd changes. Netscape's service desk helped but it took over two hours to get a connection. I had to change the default settings of the modem which included do not dial until it heard a dial tone and then to not dial at all.

Netscape's service desk explained that when attempting to connect, I had to immediately click on the background of the dialer, press enter and immediately change the location in the dialog box. That was difficult because I had to accomplish this task before a second screen appeared and blocked access to the first one.

Then I had to reboot and try it again. After several attempts, the dialer stopped giving me the error message, connected to the main ISP number and downloaded my local access numbers.

Getting upgraded and connected to the Internet took an entire day to work through. I felt worn out and went to bed. Day one ended knowing I still had more work to do on the computer before I could start working again.

Configuring XP to a Thinkpad

At the beginning of day two, I needed to resolve driver issues. I found a way to do that by going to IBM's web site and locating support for the Thinkpad. I allowed IBM to scan my system remotely and determine my laptop's model. After what seemed like a very long time, IBM's software came back and gave me a model number and a recommendation for software to download. I agreed to the IBM's end user license and began to download something called Thinkpad Software Installer, which said it would download the drivers I needed.

I had a 50.6 kbps band rate and had Netscape's web accelerator running. I sat in my chair and watched as the first application downloaded. Once it finally was ready to install, it gave me an error message saying it required Java. Java? Required for Windows? OK.

If you forgot how long it takes to download programs such as a JRE on a dial up line, then plan to spend most of an afternoon. Once I had my JRE installed, I installed the IBM Thinkpad Software Installer and began the process of loading the Thinkpad drivers for Windows XP.

I wound up needing to install IBM Access Connections, Easy Eject Utility, Keyboard customizer utility, Power Management Driver, Presentation Director, TrackPoint Features, USB Driver, ThinkPad Battery MaxiMiser, the LCD panel, modem, infrared, PCMCIA controllers, sound-video and game controllers, and display drivers.

So, I ended day two installing the XP drivers for the Thinkpad, Java and configuring the laptop for use functionality.

The next morning, I woke and found that I still needed to complete downloading and installing some additional software from IBM. Once I did, I rebooted Windows and clicked on Windows Update. I began the update process which required 48 critical patches. I let the system run and installed some hardware on another machine.

I checked on the download and found a message on the screen. One of the updates had to be downloaded and installed separately. So, I wasted a lot of time thinking Windows Update would go smoothly.

I followed the instructions, rebooted and then started the update process over again. As I downloaded the patches a second time, the downloader timed out and I had to redial Netscape a couple of times.

By the time I finished installing the patches, I realized that more than 48 hours had passed since I began updating from Windows 98 to XP. I spend a significant amount of time and effort trying to log on to my ISP and I still had not looked at my email or checked into any of the web sites, blogs or servers I manage.

I had a chapter due to my editor the next day and I needed to spend time finishing it. I thought I could just transfer the file from my Linux desktop to the the laptop running XP and start working. But Netscape's dialer had changed the IP address on the LAN side of my notebook. Again I faced the prospect of a dynamic DNS server only this one belonged to AOL.

According to the information on Microsoft's web site about Windows XP, the operating system had the capability to share its Internet connection. I followed the directions hoping to at least connect one of my Linux boxes to the Internet through XP. But that didn't work. Netscape's proprietary dialer would not allow for Microsoft ICS.

I also had difficulty logging onto XP's other Internet services from the Ethernet side of the box. To do so, I had to reconfigure my existing LAN and I wasn't in the mood to do that.

Becoming Productive

By early afternoon of the third day, I began attempting to get some work done on my Internet ready Windows XP. I accessed my email over the web through Internet Explorer and found a note from my editor asking me to contact him. He wanted my chapter immediately, not tomorrow.

Knowing I had to get my chapter to my editor, I burned a CD on my Linux box and loaded the files from there to Windows. It was sneakerware all over again, but instead of using a 3.5 inch floppy, I was using a CD-R. After making some changes my editor requested, I emailed the file through my dial-up connection. That seemed to take a long time compared to using broadband.

Spyware and Windows Security

Shortly after I disconnected from Netscape, I noticed several shortcuts on my desktop. I didn't remember installing any of those programs. As I started searching on Google for their names, I discovered I had inadvertently allowed some Spyware to come through Internet Explorer.

I had encountered a similar problem about three years before and used a program called Spybot Search & Destroy to remove spyware. I found the download site and after a relatively short period installed Spybot S&D. I checked for updates and got a list of about one dozen. I downloaded those and then ran the program.

Spybot S&D found 91 problems needing to be fixed. It checked for 29,538 possible problems in its database. Once I clicked “Fix Selected Problems”, the icons on my desktop disappeared. Some of the names on the list included Advertising.com, Avenue A, Inc. DoubleClick, FastClick, HitBox, MediaPlex, ValueClick, and WebTrends.

Microsoft's Security Center began popping up on my desktop with a little message saying my computer was at risk. I clicked on the balloon to discover that I needed an anti-virus program. Microsoft also wanted me to enable automatic updates.

I felt that an anti-virus program would be necessary on a Windows computer connected to the Internet. Netscape offered anti-virus but they wanted an additional monthly fee. So, I checked around and tried MacAfee. After downloading the product and installing it, I noticed that MacAfee had replaced Microsoft's Security Center with their own. Suddenly, I started seeing alerts about my computer being unprotected. MacAfee wanted me to purchase all the products in their security suite. So, I uninstalled their product.

I still had a security suite left over from my previous ISP that I never needed previously, so I decided to try that. After installing it, the Microsoft Security Center gave way to one called a high-speed suite that contained F-Prot's anti-virus. F-Prot found three viruses on my system and removed them, but the Windows XP system seemed to slow down.

I uninstalled the high-speed suite, rebooted and suddenly got a message that I had an invalid Backweb application on my system. F-Prot included a Backweb application that did not go away when I uninstalled the high-speed security suite. So, I had to research the error message on Google.

I found a number of posts asking about the same error, but each thread ended without a response. I had seen Backweb about six years before while doing work for an ISP, so I knew something about it. After two hours, I found some recommendations about removing Backweb which required the use of regedit.exe.

One of the problems I had doing the research resulted from the presence of the Backweb application. The system acted strange. If I passed my cursor over a link on my browser a new browser window would open and the linked site would appear.

When searching the Windows Registry for Backweb, I discover a number of versions present. Other applications used it. So, aside from spyware sending personal information to a number of databases, some applications were doing the same thing.

I removed all the relevant Backweb references from the registry. But as I ran my search with regedit, I saw some zombie paths that didn't belong in the registry. I felt I needed a registry cleaner.

I wound up downloading and installing a product called CleanMyPCRegistry. I soon, discovered more problems with the registry that resulted from my upgrade from Windows 98SE to XP and some ActiveX content that made its way onto the system. Once I cleared them, the system began to stabilize.

I still did not have an anti-virus program installed and Microsoft's Security Center continued to remind me of that fact. I found one called Grisoft which provided a free personal download for home users. I did some reading on the Web about it and found it highly recommended.

Grisoft installed nicely and the system continued to stabilize. Then I read an on-line article critical of Microsoft's firewall. A friend told me about ZoneAlarm's free firewall and suggested I install. So I did.

After installing ZoneAlarm's personal firewall, Microsoft's stopped running. With ZoneAlarm, I began to see applications on my laptop trying to access the Internet. I became acutely aware of software that came with Netscape's Internet service attempting to report my activities. I also became aware of people scanning ports on my system as soon as I signed on to Netscape's ISP.

The ZoneAlarm firewall blocked the activity, but I began to wonder about installing a firewall on a PC to protect it when the operating system should have started off hardened in the first place. Frankly, all those popup messages from ZoneAlarm seemed like a pain to me. But, I would rather know what exploits people attempted. Microsoft's firewall didn't tell me when Microsoft applications wanted to access microsoft.com.

Returning to Work

The next day, I had to face the world and get some work done. Windows XP home edition does not come with the kind of Internet utilities I needed to access web sites, post articles, make secure connections to servers and so on. So, I downloaded several UNIX applications ported to the Win32 platform.

I started with Cygwin and found many applications with which I had familiarity. Because of my slow connection, I went to lunch during the download and installation process. When I returned, the setup program had not finished. When it did, I found a terminal window and applications I needed.

I also downloaded other free software programs such as Putty which provided a nice SSH window; WINSCP which allowed me to log onto a secure site and transfer files and directories. I also downloaded a Windows port of VIM which allowed me to edit text without Microsoft's format. DOS/Windows text files have a Carriage Return and Line Feed at the end of each line; Unix files have only a Line Feed (no carriage return).

I only had one complaint left that bothered me: I had become so used to using the X mouse in Linux and UNIX that I felt some fatigue using Windows' cut and paste functions. I did a search on Google and found Andy Polyakov's True X-Mouse Gizmo for Windows.

As Matthew Barnson wrote about True X-Mouse Gizmo for Windows:

The focus follows the mouse (so you don't have to click an application in order to work in it), selection of text automatically copies that text to the clipboard (unless you middle-click while selecting, in which case it lets you select without copying), middle-clicking pastes instead of that bizarre "CTRL-C" thing, and overall it's nifty keen. For a UNIX admin who frequently switches between X-Windows and Microsoft Windows, it's a lifesaver.

The X-Mouse utility allowed me to work like I had for the last several years without having to add to the pain in my wrists. (I had already switched from using a mouse with my right hand to using it with my left.)

A Few Days of Relative Quiet

After what seemed like a fight to get Windows XP functional and useful, I began to get some work accomplished. I downloaded OpenOffice.org 1.1.4 and Firefox and those installs went well. I did notice performance slowing down at times.

XP comes with some maintenance tools and I took advantage of them. For example, I used the defragmentation tool to analyze and defrag the hard drive. That helped return the system performance to what it had been right after installation.

I also used Spybot S&D after accessing the Internet to get rid of the barnacles of spyware that showed up each time I surfed the Internet or did a search on Google. CleanMyPCRegistry proved useful also. I helped remove Com/ActiveX entries after accessing the Internet with my browser. For example, I would find one to eight problems each time I spent time on the Internet with my browser. Here's an example of such a problem:

Key: HKCRCLSID{7A249601-B7D6-11D5-A9CE-0001032FEE17}
ValueName: AppID
Value: {7A249601-B7D6-11D5-A9CE-0001032FEE17}
The AppID {7A249601-B7D6-11D5-A9CE-0001032FEE17} referenced in this
entry doesn't exist.

At the beginning of each day, Grisoft checked for anti-virus updates and I can't remember a day it didn't download an update. ZoneAlarm also alerted me to a continuous stream of attempts to access my laptop from the Internet. I read a “more information” section which explained how crackers attempted to exploit my system through the Netbios ports which ZoneAlarm maintained in a stealth mode.

New Internet Service Arrives

I felt stunned when my DSL modem arrived and discovered that a customer had to have a Windows PC available to activate SBC/Yahoo DSL service. According to them, the only way to set up the service required running a CD from SBC on a Windows computer. Once the system becomes activated, you can use a Linux PPoE client to log onto the router.

When I registered for the service, the customer representative did not say that I needed to have a Windows PC. I also did not find anything in the service confirmation emails or regular mail mentioning the type of operating system required to activate DSL.

Set up seemed like it should go easy, but I had problems getting both the DSL service and the telephone to work. Additionally, SBC did not provision my static IP addresses. When I called customer service, the level one technician disabled my modem so I had to either plug a telephone in the wall socket or the modem but not both.

I contacted customer service again and spoke with a sales representative who routed me to a level three technical support person. He showed me how to first register without using windows and secondly connect to the DSL service with a Linux PPoE client.

That caused me to wonder why everyone up to that point said I had to have Windows. According to the the technician, Yahoo created a skin for Internet Explorer so their users would use the Yahoo Browser, see their advertisements and logon to their web site. That allows SBC to lower the price of DSL to compete with cable outfits.

My Assessment

I do not consider Windows ready for the desktop. I found it difficult to use, buggy and lacking in security. I also found technical support lacking.

While Windows captured a significant portion of the desktop market, the product is clearly not a good fit for consumers who do not understand the risks associated with logging on to the Internet. The costs of providing aftermarket products can run higher than the price paid for the hardware.

Service providers such as Netscape ISP and SBC/Yahoo have to maintain costly call centers to provide service to users. From an engineering point of view, the same service providers appear to have difficulties interfacing with the Windows operating system.

My advice to PC enthusiasts would be to try Linux.

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features, News Story; Groups: GNU, IBM, Microsoft, Mozilla, Red Hat, Ubuntu

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Win98SE = Debian 2.1 (Slink) Bucky 14 3,952 Oct 1, 2005 6:18 AM
Your experience is uncommon amoralez 17 4,149 Sep 30, 2005 3:00 PM
Flawed Article. DaveHG 1 2,932 Sep 29, 2005 3:27 PM
Hmmm....My experience is not quite the same... dinotrac 11 4,300 Sep 28, 2005 10:39 PM
Wow, that was ignorant. deathshadow 6 3,736 Sep 28, 2005 1:43 PM
We call that PEBCAK error Ithaycu 2 3,639 Sep 28, 2005 11:22 AM
2: areyouaclown, et al Lionel 2 2,549 Sep 28, 2005 10:49 AM
thanks.. you made me laugh! at your stupidity.. no less! areyouaclown 3 3,541 Sep 28, 2005 6:27 AM
Parody or not? sfarthofer 1 3,047 Sep 28, 2005 6:13 AM
Here it goes again Windows vs. Linux farnoosh 1 2,734 Sep 27, 2005 7:33 PM
Get a better ISP ;) TurboI 0 2,590 Sep 27, 2005 6:56 PM

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