Windows : Not Ready For The Desktop

(Almost all of the following is true)

I had to install Windows on a computer on Thursday, after ten years of using GNU/Linux almost exclusively (I’ve occasionally used Solaris or AIX for work stuff). The results convinced me that no matter how much people online talk about this Windows thing, it’s definitely not ready for the desktop.

Firstly, you actually have to *pay* for this thing. Not pay for support, like with Red Hat, but you actually have to pay for the actual software. And you don’t even get the source code with it, just a binary ISO.

There are so many choices, as well — Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP Pro SP 2 — how is the average user meant to know which is the right one? This Windows thing will never get off the ground until there’s one clear option.

So I download Windows XP Pro SP 3, because that seems to be the most popular one, burn the CD, and stick it in the computer.

The installer is rubbish, especially the partitioner — it doesn’t even have fairly standard options like shrinking and enlarging existing partitions, you can just keep them or wipe them. But that’s OK — this is going to be the only OS on this machine. So it takes about an hour to do a simple format of a fairly small drive, before it starts installing.

The installer only creates a single account by default, which has full root access! That’s a good way of ensuring your user is going to wreck their computer…

So it completes its install, and I log in, and there’s no network, even though the ethernet cable is plugged in. No problem, I get a terminal open. Whatever shell they’re using is useless — it doesn’t even have tab-completion (it has C:\ at the prompt, so I’m guessing it’s csh), and ifconfig just returns some sort of error.

No worry, I try to open the config files in vim, so I can fix them manually. Turns out this antiquated piece of junk doesn’t even have vim on it! The only text editor that comes pre-installed is some GUI crap called Notepad, that’s like a really bad clone of gedit — it doesn’t even have syntax highlighting! What use is that?!

But it turns out anyway that you can’t fix your config files manually in Windows, because they’re in some kind of non-human-readable form. How ridiculously user-unfriendly can you get? Does this mean I actually have to learn how to manually edit binary blobs just to get stuff working?!

Fortunately, I get assistance. Apparently, Windows does have some diagnostic tools, but (get this!) you can’t just type the names in and have them work — you have to go through four or five nested menus to get to them. And you have to know which ones you want before you can get to them. If I hadn’t had an expert on hand, I’d have been stuck. You shouldn’t have to get expert help just to get your computer running!

Anyway, after a load of arcane GUI manipulation that I could make no sense of at all, we finally found out that (you won’t believe this, but I swear it’s true) Windows doesn’t come with drivers for the network card! I had to download them from the website — not of the operating system, like you might think, but of Dell, who made the computer! Thank God we had another computer there.

(Oh, and I only found this out after googling for the error message I’d been getting, and getting a ‘help’ page that wouldn’t tell me how to fix it because I wasn’t using the OS I was asking about!)

So I download these files and stick them on a USB stick. Apparently Windows doesn’t recognise a perfectly straightforward ext3-formatted thumb drive! So I reformat it on the GNU/Linux box I downloaded the files onto, into FAT32, and try again — it still thinks it’s not there. I end up having to format the stick on the Windows box, move it back to the GNU/Linux one, copy the files across, and then move it back again.

Then the ‘diagnostic tool’, which is meant to help you but is just some uninformative GUI, greys out the thumb drive when you try to search for the drivers, even though it asks you to select where it should look. Luckily, my Windows-expert friend knows you can also run these drivers separately and they’ll install themselves.

So we ‘double-click’ (what a ridiculous thing to have to do!) the files, and up pops about twelve pages of some ridiculous roll-your-own license that they expect us to read through! Why they can’t just use the GPL or a BSD license or something, I don’t know, rather than this ridiculous thing I can’t even be bothered to read. Nobody can possibly understand this stuff — how do they expect non-techy types to cope with it? Licenses should be simple.

Anyway, after clicking this thing, it installs! It doesn’t ask for the root password or anything! Click a GUI thingy and the next thing you know you’ve made an irreversible change to your machine’s configuration! That’s incredibly dangerous.

So now we’ve got the network drivers installed. I’m not even going to *try* to get the right video drivers installed, I’ll just leave everything on the screen embiggened, but I need to install a particular piece of software.

It turns out Windows doesn’t even have apt or yum installed! There are no software repos at all! If you want, say, VLC, you can’t just type apt-get install vlc and have it install itself, you have to actually visit a potentially-insecure website — a different one for every piece of software — and download something called an ‘exe’. Who understands all this techy jargon?! Why can’t they just have a nice, simple repo with all the stuff everyone needs, like vim and gcc and LyX and so on, like GNU/Linux distros do?

And finally, the machine keeps warning me that it’s unsafe, because I don’t have something called ‘virus protection software’ installed. A quick Google tells me something I should have known from the start — this whole Windows thing is simply a protection racket. You install it, and then it scares you into installing some other software you have to pay loads of money for, and if you don’t then some kid from Russia can get control of your machine and use it to send spam out! “Nice computer you’ve got here. Wouldn’t want anything to… happen to it…” Quite why people continue to pay money to these ‘virus’ people I don’t know. Personally, I won’t submit to blackmail in that way.

So there we go. Windows is conclusively not suitable for the desktop, and it never will be so long as it continues with these horribly user-unfriendly things. In this day and age you simply can’t go about having no driver support, or support for common file formats, and as for the whole software installation process and the virus thing, don’t get me started.

No, I’ll stick with my nice, simple, user-friendly Debian install, and leave this Windows thing where it obviously belongs, as a hobbyist’s OS for techies who like frustration.

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8 Responses to Windows : Not Ready For The Desktop

  1. John Minard says:

    I find Windows works best in a window – a virtual machine window, as and when you really have to use it. PC-BSD is a rather nice alternative to Linux’s and easy to install, update, and with auto-install apps from the AppCafe.

  2. Oliver says:

    As much as I love VIM, it’s not my idea of accessible editors. I think you’ve lost perspective, because, as you say you haven’t used WIndows for a decade. Which by the way is how old XP is… Try WIndows 7, and run it with Microsoft Security Essentials (which is free), with two users, one and administrator for special installs, and one without admin rights.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      This piece is meant to be a parody of those “Linux is not ready for the desktop” pieces, which are about as clueless as my one was. I was aware before installing Windows that it doesn’t come with vim installed, but I *wasn’t* aware how bad driver support is, or quite how hard it is to diagnose problems.
      I won’t be trying any version of Windows on any of my own machines, because it’s fundamentally unsafe, it’s frustratingly difficult to get any real work done, and because I don’t use non-free software for anything important.

      • Oliver says:

        Windows probably has more drivers than any other operating system out there. The trick with a dell is to keep the CD of drivers that it comes with… But being prepared is pretty standard for any installation, except maybe a Mac.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Problem is that the drivers don’t come with the operating system. When I’ve installed GNU/Linux (any distro, any machine, going back ten years) I’ve *never* had to install a separate driver for an ethernet card. I’ve never had to do any preparation other than get the install media and the computer, in fact.

          • Oliver says:

            I had to do it one on my several “hobby” attempts at playing with Linux (I was a Unix Admin for the first decade of my career, but haven’t really used it since then). I had to get a Realtek 2890 (something like that, it was pretty common) card working, and I couldn’t. And it did me no good having the Dell CD of drivers :)

            Ultimately the free software gave me nothing I could use productively, so I gave up.

  3. Don Alsafi says:

    That’s pretty damn funny. :)

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