Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Becoming Microsoft free...

Well, having run Linux on and off on my main machine (which has been a laptop since about 2003) and having run Linux on my desktop machines for several years, I've decided to switch back to Ubuntu on my primary machine, Pigmeyer, an HP Pavilion dv2000 which shipped with Vista, that unlike Gertrude, the low-end, but decent Gateway I bought Provazolezec, could actually run it at a usable, if not snappy, speed. However, after a couple months of utter annoyance and frustration at having to change so many ways of doing things to accomodate Vista's arbitrary and caprious restrictions I finally broke down and bought another XP license (Microsoft wins again by selling two licenses for one computer). Migrating from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 was never that kind of hassle. Migrating to NT 3.51 a couple months later when I realized how worthless 95 was wasn't a hassle. Nor was migrating to NT 4, 2000 or XP, but Vista was just an unending stream of little annoyances, frustrations and plain old pains-in-the-butt. The camel-breaking straw came when I needed to reboot after a single update and it took 7 minutes for Vista to start up. 7 minutes while I had to sit there like a moron, waiting to log on to an online session with friends. I don't think I've ever seen a computer take so long to start up.

I'd run Ubuntu before on this machine, but having a 64-bit AMD processor, I'd installed the 64-bit version of the OS. Unfortunately, certain pieces of software don't work too well on the 64-bit version (yes, I'm talking to you, Adobe). Wireless, which has always been a bit of an issue with Linux was also a real problem for me, thanks in large part to the manufacturers who insist on keeping their drivers closed-source for reasons that benefit no one, especially them. I also had a lot of trouble with Java, but I don't know if that's because of using the 64-bit version of the OS, or because everything having to do with Java is like working with a Soviet-style bureaucracy. I can't imagine why anyone would want to develop under such a grotesquely byzantine platform. At the AOL developer's conference I attended while working there, I attended a presentation on some of the allegedly neat Java stuff they were doing, and why it's so easy and fun to get things done with Java. I went into the presentation rather optimistically only to be totally and utterly turned off by anything to do with Java (except ant... which seems like a really cool make tool). Most of the presentation consisted of the insane amount of hoops they needed to jump through just to get everything configured correctly, and we're not talking configuration scripts here. We're talking using some kind of hideous-looking IDE (including the long and tedious story of finding just the right version of the IDE that was actually compatible with the libraries and tools they wanted to use), with an utterly ridiculous string of cookbook "drag-and-drop" procedures needed to get everything set up correctly. "Write-once-run-everywhere" is clearly a joke from all my experience with Java. I've seen Java software that won't even run unless you had the exact same version of the JRE that it's expecting. Who knows what you're supposed to do if you're already running something newer, which at the time I was? And of course, after 10 years, it would be nice to see a Java program (besides Azureus) that doesn't look like XWindows circa 1994 (i.e., butt-ugly and primitive).

Ironically, I've found that one of the things Microsoft used to excel at is something almost everyone now does better than they: playing videos. The Windows Media Player, which spent about 6 years getting nothing but bigger, uglier and harder to use now utterly fails at so many video formats that it's not even worth having any more. On Windows, using Media Player Classic is the only way to watch movies without getting that useless "Codec not found" error (that doesn't tell you which one it needs), and a message asking if WMP should look for a codec. Has that ever actually worked? I've been using Windows Media Player since it first came out and I've never seen it actually find a codec it was missing. I suspect it only looks for Microsoft stuff, which is almost certainly already installed on any Windows system. The fact that it can't play MPEG-2 out of the box is beyond ridiculous. Or at least it wouldn't for me, and there's no point in trying to "fix" WMP since it's confusing and frustrating (and seldom worth the effort) to do and MPC "just works" right out of the box... including QuickTime and Real with the "Alternative" packages. (Why, oh, why does Real still exist? They are possibly the only company that hates their customers more than Microsoft and are far more incompetent.)

Anyhow, I noticed recently that Windows XP is showing little thumbnails of videos in Explorer, a very nice new feature (that KDE has had forever under Linux) which seems to have been part of SP3, because it only showed up recently. However, shortly afterwards, I started finding that Explorer (possibly the buggiest mainstream application in the history of software for 13 years running, no wait, that would be Word on the Mac, or possibly IE5, or IE6...) started crashing every time it would try to show a thumbnail of H.264-encoded movies. I only found this out by loading it into the debugger because all you would see is a crash dialog for "Explorer" and clicking on anything would restart Explorer, even though Explorer itself would continue working just fine, except you had this System Modal dialog box you couldn't get rid of. It turns out what was crashing was an ActiveX control that had something to do with H.264, according to its name. Smooth move, Microsoft. I wonder if that could even be fixed without reinstalling the OS.

Anyhow, I knew that the only way to eliminate this ridiculous problem would be to either use an Explorer replacement (practically anything is better) or just give up saddling myself with the stink of Microsoft's hatred and failure and just move over to Linux again, now knowing that sticking to a 32-bit distro would make life a lot easier.

Now of course, lots of people will point out correctly that Linux has its own shares of hassles, and I'm not going to deny it. There are plenty of pains, problems and utter stupidities in the Linux world, too. But given that most open-source software is developed not by one of the largest, richest and most powerful companies in the world with ten figures of capital and tens of thousands of employees to throw at any problem, but rather by small groups of dedicated people who are interested in making software that works and is useful, as opposed to locking users in a software prison. Also, when you have a weird problem under Linux, you can almost always find the exact solution you need with Google. The software discussion forums and documentation for various Open Source software are almost always 10 times more useful and informative than anything Microsoft provides.

Microsoft's utter arrogance and contempt for users by releasing Vista, after 5 years of development, long before it should have seen the light of day, and then prematurely killing XP, even though there is still a huge demand for it is a primary reason why I don't want to do business with them. Microsoft's biggest competitor for XP for years was Windows 2000, and the biggest competitor for Vista has always been XP. Being true to their monopolistic nature, since they can't, or won't, compete with XP (or anything else) on quality and performance, they will simply kill the competition. Fortunately for them, they don't even need to break the law to do it this time (for a change). Of course, customer demand and satisfaction never enter the equation. Watcha gonna do? Buy a MAC?! HAW HAW HAW! (I would recommend it. Macs are quite good.)

Meanwhile, Windows 7 is being hyped (albeit a lot less hyperbolically than Longhorn-cum-Vista was) and is now set to be released in 2010. Since every advanced feature Vista was supposed to contain was removed before it was released, and the only improvements were more ham-fisted security improvements (basically either disabling things, or making the user responsible for every tiny security decision, not so much to put more control in his hands, but to shift the blame), Vista offers nothing over XP except perhaps minor usability improvements and a bunch of meaningless (and ugly, IMO) eye candy. All this at a massive performance hit. I think the biggest reason for Vista's whole existence is to set the stage for ever more arbitrary and capricious control over what the users can and cannot do with their computers. Microsoft knew Vista was a total boat anchor, but since they have completely given up on competing on features, performance and usability, they have to devote all their energies into locking users in to their vicious cycle of upgrades and further restrict their ability to consider alternatives by their heinous refusal to open their document standards (ironically by releasing said standards which are so hideously and deliberately complex and equivocal that Microsoft themselves cannot implement them correctly or consistently) and interoperating with other systems by rarely implementing any standards without compatibility-breaking "extensions".

Regardless of the quality of Microsoft software, and I've consistently said that XP was overall a decent product, it's getting harder and harder to justify dealing with a company, however tangentially, that has never played fair, and is increasingly being forced, by sheer inertia, to rely exclusively on unfair practices to maintain its very existence.

And besides, Linux is really cool.

2 comments:

Page said...

I also have a DV2000. It's a great Linux machine, except for the broadcom wireless chip. I had the hardest time getting that working, and broadcom simply doesn't care about Linux users. (the new b43 firmware or b43xx legacy firmware from b43xx-fwcutter will get it working) It took me 6 months to figure that out...

saskboy said...

I too have an HP with Ubuntu and 64bit AMD. I tried 64 bit, and found it too difficult, in part to Adobe.