Friday, May 18, 2007

Linux and Windows are the same thing, I've just been using Windows longer

After reading various debates on Digg and other places where Windows vs. Ubuntu is debated, I've come to the conclusion that the reality of the situation is this: Windows and Ubuntu, actually, operating systems in general have basic things you have to do in order to use them, and many, if not most, users don't know how to do them even in Windows. This is why a Windows computer comes pre-configured with drivers, software applications, etc. Ubuntu and Windows aren't easier than one another- there's steps you take with either operating system to get it functional from a fresh install.

I was getting ready to reinstall Windows on my PC for performance reasons (In my experience Windows XP's clean running life is 2 years with a single major application and 1 year with various applications and frequent installs/uninstalls). I'll mark everything that a large segment of PC users can't do or do effectively in red:

Installing Windows:

Run installation CD, set up users and passwords
Load desktop, fix default resolution and now I'm at a blank desktop.
Video drivers
Monitor drivers (for proper refresh rate detection)
Chipset drivers/Audio drivers/wireless drivers
Install anti-virus software (I oftentimes I help people choose anti-virus software, and something that happens a lot is installing Norton antivirus over mcafee trialware plus a "good antivirus program" suggested by a friend, plus a large number of viruses, system instability, etc.)
Install Firefox
Install Trillian
Install games

Turn off auto-loading programs through their own menus
Open Run dialogue and open msconfig, uncheck any startup items that I don't want that oftentimes are hidden
Clean off desktop, delete files and update drivers to regain stability
Defragment hard drive (effectively), run spyware scans and anti-virus scans, keep auto-detection on and update virus definitions

Windows XP is a pretty good operating system. I've used it for years and years, know the ins-and-outs of it and know it's limitations. I've played tons of games on it both indie and large corporation, every kind of software app imagineable, etc. I can say at this point and time, aside from what feels like a ticking time bomb of system instability that goes crazy almost every calendar year (most likely from the registry getting more and more complicated), Windows XP has worked fantastically for it's lifetime.

For someone who has made Windows XP an artform, i.e. your "Windows poweruser", there's not much incentive to switch to any other operating system. And the politics of free/open source software aside, I've always been willing to pay for quality and respect that developers put time into their work and oftentimes they would like to be compensated.

The arguments of opensource OS's and apps vs. Windows and closed-source nonfree apps shouldn't be the realm of your typical user. Users need to evaluate:

1. What will do what they need to do
2. What is most cost-effective

And that's it. If the answer to those is Ubuntu (see my post, Dell Chooses Ubuntu), then go for it. But say for example, as of right now (May 18th, 2007), you can't easily play all major game titles in linux. The driver support and industry support aren't there. So install Windows XP, keep it healthy and reinstall once a year and be happy. If you don't need to play major game titles and don't have irreplaceable Windows-specific programs, go with Ubuntu. The reality is both operating systems require tons of tinkering at times, any OS will, and the end-user should use what works best for their situation.

The only problem in this seemingly simple equation is Vista. The moment a near-perfect Linux Desktop OS arrives this happens:

1. Directx 10, the newest gaming API-thingumy used by game software developers, is Vista specific, nearly forcing gamers to upgrade to something that has typically reduced computer game performance to 90%ish of it's former self, if not worse
2. Vista is expensive
3. Doesn't add much new functionality
4. Windows XP updates, patches and software company support will eventually die out, and users will find themselves reading the backs of boxes to see if the programs they need support an outdated OS, much like Windows 2000 SP3/SP4 users might today.

It's much like a new edition of a textbook. Not much is added, a little is changed, it's expensive, everyone is inconvenienced, and people find a way around it.

One can hope Ubuntu's popularity will create a new operating system paradigm for software companies to move toward in light of these difficulties. Or maybe Windows XP will be greeted with a new service pack and a DX10 support patch. PC users will have to wait and see.

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