Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why I can't switch to Windows Vista...ever!

It just occurred to me how alien Windows has become to my way of working. The trigger for this realization: Windows Vista Ultimate, A Hands On Diary by Barry Gerber over at Tom's Hardware Guide.

Barry was one of the fortunate few to receive an Acer Ferrari laptop preloaded with Windows Vista Ultimate from Microsoft. If the Ultimate tag still isn't enough to clue you in, it's the version of Vista that has every feature of the OS loaded in.

As a Linux bigot, it's in my interest to see what the competition is doing. As it is highly unlikely that I will ever get my hands on a similar rig, I can only experience Vista vicariously through reviews like Barry's.

But as I read through the article, I was already thinking: "What the heck is this guy talking about?"

I'm not quite sure I still know my way around Windows anymore. After switching my home computers over to Linux seven years ago, I haven't really looked back. Oh, sure, I can still work my around its desktop, fire up a web browser, even type up simple documents on Office. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty system admin stuff, I already feel lost. Worse, a lot of things would just bother me.

For instance, Barry says:

The first thing that struck me was the way Vista's User Account Control dialog box asked me for permission to continue each time I ran any code, such as when I tried to install Adobe Acrobat Reader v.8. It's trying to protect me and my computer from an evil doer attempting to mess up my computer. The dialog box tells me that, if I started the program, I can comfortably click Continue.


Isn't that a rather annoying, er, feature? On Ubuntu, I'm prompted for my password when I run Synaptic, not for each and every time I install a package. That's about as reasonable as it gets. The prompt is important for security, but prompt me too many times, and it just becomes an irritant.

Next, Barry talks about the Services applet, and how he likes it better on Vista than on previous versions. I'm happy for him, but looking at the screenshot of the applet gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I'm not unfamiliar with the Services applet. It has just been such a long time since I've seen it. And...good golly! were there really that many services that Windows needs to run? It looks like it's got over a hundred services, most of them unfamiliar to me.

To be fair, the top command on my Xubuntu machine shows 87 running processes. But that at least looks familiar. More than that, it's more useful as I know which processes are eating up the most memory and CPU time.

And then Barry talks about networking. I'm sure something like that is as easy as pie to someone who's already well-versed with Windows. But...even Barry has some trouble, apparently:

Follow along on the three screen captures below. After floundering around for a while, I went to the Vista Welcome Center, which by default opens when Windows starts up. I clicked on Control Panel near the top left side of the Welcome Center Window. This took me to the Vista Control Panel Home window. Clicking on Network and Internet took me to the Network and Sharing Center where, after clicking Connect to a network, I was able to set up my wireless connection pretty much as with XP.

Actually, I'm more concerned with the fact that it takes three screenfuls of information to set up networking. On Ubuntu, it's only two successive dialog boxes, initiated from the System menu on the task bar.

It becomes more apparent to me that this complexity is unnecessary when Barry attempts to install his screen capture program:

Everything was fine until the Snagit installation program tried to install a printer driver, UNIDRV.DLL. It wanted me to browse the Vista CD, which I didn't have, the essentials needed for a Vista re-install being on a hidden partition on the Ferrari's hard disk drive.

Is this normal procedure for installation of Windows applications? After two years of one-touch installations via Synaptic, the Windows installation process just sounds so tedious and daunting. What's more, Barry goes on for another two paragraphs talking about DLL files and folders with names like C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\ ntprint.inf_d8dddb2bf.

I completely agree with Barry when he says:

With so many third party applications yet to be tested and, if necessary, modified for Vista, installing some apps on Microsoft's new Windows OS is going to be a bit nerve-wracking.

Nerve-wracking, indeed! No Vista for me, thank you very much.

In IT, complexity is quite often a matter of perception. It might simply be that I've been sitting on the Linux side of the operating system divide for too long. God knows I have plenty of my own blind spots when dealing with new user ("Oh, that? It's so easy! You just do steps one, two, three, and four, and you're done!").

Yet here you have a strangely similar case of a Windows-savvy tech writer blithely ascribing his difficulties with Vista as par for the course.

As a Linux user, these complications are simply unacceptable. As I said, Windows has become far too alien.

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat!