Is MS Windows ready for the desktop?

Posted by tadelste on Dec 29, 2005 11:27 AM EDT
LXer; By H. Kwint
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  The last few years, there's been a lot of talk about this new Windows XP thing (to quote Bono at a 1984 concert: very, very too much talk!). What's all the buzz about, and how can you turn Windows XP to your advantage, if this is possible at all? Is MS Windows really that hard to install and manage, or is that story just the usual Red-Hat FUD? Your editor, though new to the whole Windows-movement, will try to figure this out for you today!

Intro part 1 (The serious part)

Let me start with a short note: though this is indeed a humorous article, I first meant to write an article, titled “Why I can't switch to Windows”, discussing some useful Linux-features I use very much, which can't be found in Windows. Probably everyone over here knows this features, so it's useless to write a serious article about it. On the other hand, it may be nice, to imagine someone who only used (Gentoo/GNU) Linux in his life, and never ever heard of Windows, but wants to try it. That someone, throughout this article, will be me. though in the future, this will probably be some Chinese/Indian/African person, and this might happen soon. Prices are real prices as paid in the Netherlands.



Intro part 2

Since I heard a lot about the difficulties one comes across during using Microsoft Windows® (which is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp, Redmond, and from now on will be called just Windows for short), I decided I can use some help from my three friends, which I will first introduce to you.

First, there's Bill. Bill works at a large multinational, and has some business experience with Windows. Then, there's Melinda. Melinda is a freelance tech-journalist, dreaming about getting her articles published in the Washington Post. The last one of the three is Steve. Steve is a Windows advocate, and likes to participate in OS-flamewars. Steve told me that Windows, just like Gentoo, is all about choice. So, to stress this Fact which I should Get according to him, I shall try to use the words 'decide' and 'decision' as much as possible. Since it's called XP like in eXPerience, I shall cover the user-aspects first, and after that the configuration and other unimportant aspects.

Start: Getting Windows

Getting Windows is a bit different from getting Linux. Like Linux, you can down' it from the net, but Bill told me this is illegal, and I could be fined for doing so. The intended way to get Windows, involves going to your local hardware supplier. Like most Linux-distros, Windows is free (as in beer), but, on the other hand, Microsoft requires you to pay a Non-Voluntary Contribution® (called NVC from now on), without Microsoft couldn't continue their great work. So, I found a free version of Windows for which I had to pay only €80 NVC. Nonetheless, buying this version was also illegal as Bill told me, I should get the €250 version (something with OEM and retail, though I find it that hard to understand, I can't explain it to you). So I paid my NVC and took the CDROM back home.



Now, it's time to try the LiveCD. But, the first surprise: this CDROM didn't include a LiveCD! This is because the makers of Windows know for sure, this distro is so great, there's no need for trying before installing it. Also, Windows never crashes, so you won't need a LiveCD to bypass the default-boot from your hard disk. Since I paid €250 NVC, they should be right, so I decided to forget about the LiveCD and just install it.

Installing Windows

Installing Windows is really simple: just put the CDROM in the drive, change your BIOS so it boots from CDROM, and all else will be done (unless RAID drivers need to be loaded, but which Linux user does have RAID anyway?). Windows works with wizards, which are a very handy feature according to Melinda: “They work really fast, especially if you just press and hold the Enter-button down the whole time”. Since I know there's a license upcoming which I don't know, I decide to ignore Melinda's advice and first read the Windows XP EULA®. Like the EULA says, I check the Windows authenticity certificate, which is all right. The license is rather restrictive, but that's good, for if it wasn't, Windows would be much more expensive, Bill tells me. I also agree, Microsoft may install some upgrades from third parties on my system, so that third parties can protect their Intellectual Property (or IP for short. This has however nothing to do with the IP protocol, like the abbreviation suggests). That's great, since I wouldn't wanna steal anything from poor companies like Walt Disney, and I don't think anyone else should.

So now comes partitioning. Since I know from Linux that NTFS is a buggy file system (never got it to work smooth under Linux), I choose the more advanced FAT-fs, since there's no other option, this should be right for me. It's a disappointment I can't implement volume management tools like LVM or EVMS, or an initrd, but I decide to forget about this and go on, believing the Windows-team has made the right decision by not supporting this cumbersome features. So this means, I can forget about software-RAID

and hard disk encryption supported by the kernel. But what about resizing partitions? Steve explains, this can be done in Windows. You go to your software-supplier, ask for the free Partition Magic 8.0, and after paying your €55 NVC, the Partition Magic CD can do a (tiny) part of the stuff EVMS can, like resizing.

After I told Windows that I use DHCP, after half an hour, the whole install is done. I have to reboot Windows 7 times, but after this, even X works right out of the box! My motherboard has two driver CD's. I put them in the CDROM, and follow the wizards, holding down the enter-key like Melinda told me. After this, my nvidia-driver works within five minutes and two reboots (bonus-points for MS!), and also my cmipci-sound chip works, which I can hear if Windows boots. Now don't mind the boot sound, it can be turned of by clicking through 10 windows. So Windows is installed and I'm offered a tour, but since I want to learn this stuff myself, I decide to click on the X-button (which is the same as in Linux), and the tour disappears.

Installing new software



So, I hear you ask, which package-manager does Windows have? The answer is simple: none, at least: no one capable of installing new software. This might be, because Windows also doesn't have a central software repository, like al decent distros. Instead, Windows relies on decentralized software. Steve will help me installing some software. Now this is where things get complicated, so pay attention!

Let's say, you're going to install a program which requires a NVC, like, say Microsoft Office, but don't know where it is. Since there isn't a central repository or package manager, you have to do this all manually. So, the Windows way of doing this are

-Go to Google, or even better, MSNSearch, and search for 'download Microsoft Office'. Sometimes this works. If it doesn't, try to find NCV-free programs like Gnucleus and BitTorrent, and install these, as explained further on.



-If Google gives no downloads (which it normally doesn't for programs which require a NVC), use BitTorrent / Gnucleus to get it, or buy it at a friend. Remember the name of the company providing you the software, you will need this later!

-If even this doesn't work, go to your local software-seller and pay the NVC. Buying software at a friend is generally much cheaper, because friends ask much less NVC, but don't forget, your friends do other stuff with the NCV than MS does.

If your download or CDROM from your friend already has your NVC key, you're lucky and can skip the next step. The NVC-key is needed to 'prove' to the software, you paid your NVC.

-Go to Astalavista. Type 'key' and then your program and start the search. Search an hour through these results, until you find a key, and remember it! Whenever a box pops up, click Yes.

-By this time you will have spyware and probably some adware. Linux doesn't have this, so let me explain. Spy/Adware are programs you don't need, but which MS allowed to install itself anyway, just as a service to you. You can remove this extra software pretty easy: Use the previous steps to install the latest AdAware, SpyBotSD and BHO Daemon programs, update them when asked, give your email when asked and agree to be spammed, and run them, and remove all things this programs come up with.



Now, you have all stuff needed. Don't mind about an MD5 checksum, programs for Windows are never corrupted, and Windows' IP stack is so stable, it don't allow downloads to contain small errors. Find out where you saved your software (always safe it for a backup), and doubleclick on it. After this, hold the enter key down, till nothing happens any more. Wait 10 minutes just to be sure, things in Windows can happen also while you don't see it. And never do anything else in this 10 minutes! Reboot (this IS needed!). Now, surf you're whole start menu until you find the companies name I told you to remember. Go to the sub menu with this name. Go to the only sub menu this sub menu offers (maybe twice or thrice). Now, figure out which link starts the program (don't move the mouse past the borders out of the grey start menu, you'll have to start all over again!). As all goes well, your new program is now started. Uninstalling can be done by using the (un)Install Shield, somewhere hidden in your config-screen.

Configuration

By now, it's time to configure some stuff. I found out there's no /etc directory, but Bill helps me by telling me, the Windows way is, Google for a bunch of programs which take care of all configuration stuff for you, pay you'r NCV for it, or don't, install the whole bunch (if your partition is full, use Partition Magic and reboot a few times), search through your start-menu, and click through hundreds of Windows, and then Windows will be fine-tuned. Reboot as needed. Now, go to your program which controls with programs start up (you already installed it, I assume), and turn off al programs installed before.

More advanced is the regeditor. Since this ain't stuff for noobs (it's like editing a 100.000 line config file), I decide to skip it. You can use it (look here), but it's still experimental, and may be soon deprecated, so there's no need for learning this. By the way, the programs above edit this config file(s), which is much more user friendly, as long as you aren't sensitive to RSI.



Internet

This one is simple. Download and install FireFox, find out Windows rather won't use it because it prefers the bundled MS Internet Explorer, and decide to ditch Firefox. Use IE instead. This will let you view all web pages, even the ones with malicious code and unsafe applets, called the ActiveX system. The unsafe applets provide an unequalled experience, especially two days after you used them, some of them show up again. If you don't want this, update and run all anti-spyware again.

Music/sound

This one is as simple as internet. Download and install WinAmp, which very much friends used a few years ago. Find out Windows rather won't use it because it prefers the bundled MS Media Player, and decide to ditch Winamp. Use WMP instead. WMP also has some nice plugins for IE (I told you to ditch Firefox already, didn't I?), and in combination with the unsafe applets in IE ((ActiveX), it can play all stuff from online music stores which you can't play using Linux. Just great, ain't it?

OfficeSuite



You can use OpenOffice, but Bill tells me it doesn't support MS standards, doesn't offer the great 'lock-in' feature, and because it's free, it never can be of any quality. “You can better try MS Office!” Above, I already explained how to get MS Office + its NVC code. I install it in the next three hours, reboot a few times, and start the thing. I am greeted with a friendly paper-clip. It asks me if I want any help. I don't want any help for now (thanks), and cause I press F1 if I need any, I decide I don't need this paper-clip. After a struggle of half an hour with the persistent paper-clip, the thing goes away and I can start my actual work.

The support for .doc and .xls indeed the best I ever came across. It doesn't support OOo / Koffice file formats, but since this products are inferior according to Bill, I decide not to care about this.

Window manager

So, after coming this far, I noticed Windows' standard windowmanager, applicably called Windows Desktop, feels slow and seems like 'hanging' (not reacting to anything your doing, thereby giving you more time to enjoy Windows) sometimes. So, I decided I am going to try another one. I asked Melinda, who said: “MS has already chosen the best windowmanager for you. This means you don't have to make the effort trying other ones!”. Oh, this MS people are so great for thinking so much for me. Since Windows is all about decisions as Steve told, I decide to stick with this windowmanager. No hassle of multiple desktops, no hassle of configuring keyboard shortcuts for starting programs (well, you can start shortcuts with this. More on shortcuts in a while), and no more hassle downloading big things like

KDE etc.

Filesystem hierarchy

This is where MS is starting to make mistakes. Starting the Explorer (which is like a kind of Konqueror), I arrive on the desktop. I choose “This computer”. That's OK. I choose the C-drive, which is important, as Steve already told me (it's like the / directory). I go to My Documents and Settings. I choose my user name, and then, click on the Desktop. But hey, this is the desktop from which I started! Strange. The same thing applies for the MyDocuments folder.

Anyway, I will fix this unwanted behaviour later on using soft links.

Softlinks

Too bad, they're not implemented in Windows yet. Unix already featured them more than thirty years ago, but the Windows-team decided the hassle of softlinks is too much, and they implemented shortcuts instead. Shortcuts are really nice, since you don't have to specify how to handle them when using a random command, like in Linux (for example, in Linux, there's a difference between cp -L and cp -d). They don't “bind” whole directories, like in Linux. So I decide to forget 'bout soft links.



Mounting

MS also saves you the effort of configuring mount points. They are preconfigured and can't be changed. “But hey, this might give problems!” I hear you think. Don't worry, Bill said this doesn't bother, and if it does, you can still use Linux. Also, using mount with the -bind option isn't implemented, so no more advanced confusing stuff of mounting whole directory trees at another point. I use this on my Linux-box, but Melinda says, she never had to use it in Windows (though I wonder if she understands what it means).

Security

Never mind, Windows is secure by design & default & out of the box. Several reports, quoted by Bill and paid by MS, prove this. Buffer overflows are no bug, but a feature of Windows to enhance your multimedia-experience, like the chars XP (eXPerience) already suggest. You can use some firewall, but Windows' bundled firewallf only checks data in one way, and the free ZoneAlarm

program hasn't much features for configuring. This is probably, because the Windows-people are that smart, they already decided you're box isn't going to be cracked, so you do best by deciding to believe them. Don't be surprised when nmap says (it really does BTW) the TCP-predictability of your XP box is a 'Trivial Joke”, Windows range in which it accepts incoming packets (TCP receive window size*) is only 4-13 times bigger than in Linux, which means people willing to 'help' you can more easily 'sign in' into your box by guessing the right number. If I remember right, this is called 'Remote Help', but I'm not whole sure about this.

TCO/Time To Manage (TTM)

Hell, I'm a lucky bastard. Instead of finding out all about this, I can point you straight to GetTheFacts.com, which covers this topic in great detail. Anyway, Windows TCO is much less than Linux'. Now, TCO isn't important to me, but it also means Windows takes less time to manage (TTM). A disadvantage is, Windows books are more expensive than Linux books, because they feature much more drawings of Windows. But bigger books are better, when it comes to the fireplace.

Bugs

Steve admits, even Windows contain some bugs. Today, I am lucky, I found one (yes, this IS rare in Windows)! So I went to bugs.windows.org, but this doesn't exist. Changing .org to .com doesn't help. I should figure out where to submit bugs, so I go to www.windowsquestions.org, but it redirects me to linuxquestions.org (?!!! Bad RedHat fanbois!). Then, I should ask Melinda. She tells me, bugs don't need reporting, if Windows doesn't ask you to report the bug. If Windows asks, just click 'yes'. There's no need to follow the squashing of the bug, which saves you much time. I still sought for strace, but I can't find it. Windows doesn't provide useful debugging info anyway, so leave the squashing to the MS-pro's.



Command Line

Don't worry if you can't find the Xterm, it's a bit hidden. You should go to the start menu, click on run, enter cmd, and hit enter. There's your Xterm! I decide to try 'man man'. It gives me an error, like 'pwd' does. 'ls' doesn't work either. 'cd' does exist, however. This worries me, so I ask Bill, who writes nice scripts for his company. He explains me, Windows' command line is minimal. To keep things simple, there are no man-pages (they only take up your space which you could fill by the configuration-tools mentioned earlier), almost no commands, and especially no sed and awk. He says: “Shell scripting is for kids. Windows file names are too long and spaced to type anyway. If you really want to program something, try .NET! It's great. It offers you low maintenance costs, and very much flexibility!” So I decide to forget about shell scripting, and maybe follow a “cheap” .NET courses.

Searching



Now, I lost a file. This happens sometimes, and it isn't in My Documents. In 'Explorer', I press ctrl-F to find it. I am greeted with a (award winning) dog, and some unclear options. After I didn't find the file, the dog asks me what to do, search again, etc. I decide to forget about the file and consider it lost. Asking Steve about this problem, he recommends installing the highly integrated MSN search toolbar bar. “But why isn't this already included in XP?” I hear myself ask him. “Well, don't mind, it will be included in MS' next OS!” Steve replies. That's OK, there's no NVC for the mentioned tool bar, so I just decide to install it.

Stability over time

There's another disadvantage: Windows XP requires a full reinstall after half a year, recommends Bill. This is no problem if you made a 'home' partition. If you didn't, use some DVDR's or Partition Magic.



Virusus

You get them abroad on holiday when eating strange stuff. Not in the country where you live, and especially not in your XP-box. Period.

Conclusion

I could talk about more things in Windows XP, but you should get the idea by now.

So, is it ready for the desktop?

All I can say, is, there are many nice features in XP which open source tools lack (especially the NVC's, buffer-overflows and spy and adware), but I'm not yet decided.

You decide!

PS I asked MS for a comment about why I should put Windows on my desktop. However, they were more interested in Windows in the Chinese wall to find out what what Intel does behind it, than Windows on my desktop.

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Dumb rob1 1 2,208 Apr 16, 2006 11:45 AM
Great story kstevens715 1 3,122 Nov 10, 2005 12:09 AM
Euopean Satire you have to love it. tadelste 0 3,134 Nov 9, 2005 1:23 PM

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