Rod Hilton's rants about software development, technology, and sometimes Star Wars

Saying Goodbye To Windows

I’ve been a lifelong Windows user. The first computer I ever had ran Windows 3.1 and I eagerly upgraded to Windows 95, 98, and 2000. I considered myself a power user of these operating systems. Yes, I ran Windows, but I also developed in Windows frequently, and I understood Windows at an accomplished level.

Though I’ve been an Open-Source advocate for quite some time, I frequently experienced major problems when trying out Linux.

I tried a version of RedHat when I was in high school, and I tried Mandrake, Gentoo, and Fedora when I was in college. Whenever I tried to use Linux, I was met with some kind of problem that I couldn’t overcome by myself. A “deal-breaker”, as I called it, that left me to transition back to Windows with frustration.

I lived on the Computer Interest Floor when I was in college, and a lot of my friends ran Linux, so I figured it would be a great time to evaluate Linux. I tried many times to run Linux with the help of these friends, but even they, as Linux Gurus, discovered my problems couldn’t be overcome. I used my computer for everything - work, school, multimedia, and even television. Not being able to do my job (which was writing Flash applications) was a dealbreaker one year. Not being able to use my tv-card in Linux was a dealbreaker another year.

Despite being a huge fan of open-source as a philosophy, Linux was always not quite ready for me as a user. By the time I had “given up” on Linux, I was running Windows 2000 exclusively (I liked 2000 a lot more than XP, which I found obnoxious). Every machine I set up ran Windows 2000. I replaced the shell with the open-source LiteStep and a custom theme I wrote. I replaced the file manager with the freeware x2explorer. I ran OpenOffice rather than MS Office, and FireFox rather than IE. I liked joking that the only part of Windows I used was the kernel - everything on top of it was free, and usually open.

A year or so ago, when I started reading about Vista, I knew I was in for trouble. I resisted XP because I didn’t like the direction it took, and Vista seemed even worse. DRM drivers, “call-home” spyware, and a general lack of control in the hands of users all really irked me. I kept reading articles about planned features for Vista, and eventually I discovered something that was new to me.

A dealbreaker. In Windows. At first I tried to convince myself that it was just a rumor, but as more articles were published it became clear that there was no way around it. Windows Vista binds itself to your computer hardware. If I install Windows Vista on a certain machine, then decide to replace the motherboard in that machine, Vista considers that to be a “new” computer. Despite the fact that the “old computer” is just a scrapped motherboard sitting in a box in my closet, and despite the fact that the hard drive upon which Vista was installed remains, Vista considers it a brand new computer.

They give you the first “new computer” categorized in this manner a free pass. Upgrade the motherboard again, however, and you need to buy a new copy of Vista.

My main desktop, which I call “wrath” has been my main desktop for many years. It has run Windows 2000 as long as it has existed, and it has been through at least 5 motherboards, 10 hard drives, 10 ram sticks, 3 cases, and 3 video cards. The hardware has changed regularly, but I always considered it the same machine, because it was my ONLY desktop machine and the components that made up my previous desktop went into a box in the closet. This means that the copy of Windows 2000 I purchased for use as my desktop OS has always been active on only one machine. This is a legitimate use of my Windows 2000 CD, well within legality and with a clear intention NOT to unfairly pirate the OS in any way. Yet, as of Vista, I would have needed to buy 2 or 3 copies of Vista for this. That’s simply unacceptable. That’s a dealbreaker.

As the days ticked by, they approached two important dates: the day of release for Windows Vista and the official day that Windows 2000 would stop being supported. No more patches, no more security upgrades for 2000 users. I was a Windows fan, but I’m not stupid: running Windows without security patches is technological suicide. I could buy myself some time by biting the bullet and upgrading to XP, but that wasn’t really a permanent solution. I absolutely would never be willing to install Vista, so I had to come up with a way to continue using my computer in spite of that. It was time to return to my old rival, Linux.

About 8 months ago, I began a process of migrating to Linux. This was not my usual “install Linux and see how I like it” process - this was a full-on switch, with the intention of being permanent. When the process was complete, I’d be using Linux as my main desktop operating system. I was out of options for Windows, so I was embracing Linux entirely.

I needed to be competent with Linux by the time Vista came out. That meant no copping-out and dual-booting, and it meant not building a spare Linux box to “play around with”. I had to immerse myself in Linux if I were going to really learn it.

Instead, I would build a spare Windows box to “play around with” so that I could continue running games and video editing tools. I did all of my multimedia tv-watching on an XP Box in the living room, so I wouldn’t have to depend on Linux for that (since it has always given me trouble). With my requirements from my desktop machine relaxed, I had a much better chance of being successful with Linux.

It took some time to get the multimedia box stable, the windows machine built, and a network-storage solution enabled in my home so I could share things like music across my network. I was able to finally switch to Ubuntu Linux about 3 months ago.

How has it been?

Getting my mouse to work correctly has been a pain. Making Ubuntu play nicely with my Western Digital NetCenter was something of a nightmare. Linux can’t seem to handle my KVM switch without disabling my mouse wheel. Every torrent app for Linux is inferior to uTorrent. I’ve definitely dealt with a lot of frustration in Ubuntu - frustration with things that I took for granted when I used Windows. Despite these frustrations, there has been a noticeable lack of something important: a dealbreaker.

As obnoxious as Ubuntu can be at times, nothing so far has made me give up and re-install Windows. Nothing has gone past the level of annoyance.

This week Vista was released to the world. Linux has no dealbreakers, only annoyances. Windows has a dealbreaker. For the first time since I started using a computer, the roles of Linux and Windows have switched for me. I’ve enjoyed Ubuntu so much that I’m considering installing it on my laptop.

Have I learned enough about Linux to consider myself “competent” with it in time for Vista’s release? Not as much as I’d like, but I’m quick enough performing tasks in Linux that I feel like I’ve moved past the hardest part of the learning curve. By the time XP stops being patched, I think I will be comfortable enough with Linux to put it on my multimedia machine. By the time Windows 2000 stops being supported, I think I’ll be okay with the idea of shutting down my backup Windows machine permanently.

A new version of Windows is out, and for the first time I don’t care.

I’m a Linux User now.

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