2013-01-13

On the state of Windows on the desktop

I have this Linux system on my PC which has become a bit boring (no, it's not crashed or anything... I just got a bit bored), so I decided to replace it with Windows 7 (some friends told me to not even try Windows 8 because it has an advanced interface nobody was able to figure out yet).

I really did not set the bar too high: I just hoped to have a nice user-friendly interface and recover the email I have in Maildir, and maybe watch my video collection on an external hard drive. You know, the usual stuff I do on Linux every day.

Please note that this article is a parody of what some Windows users write about Linux. The events described here have not actually taken place. However, the article is based on author's experiences with the Windows 7 operating system.

I didn't want to commit and install a new operating system right off the bat. I just wanted to try it first. So I typed "Windows Live" in my browser's search box to find a live version, preferably an USB image. Ok, so Windows Live wasn't a live version of windows but some kind of service you must sign into. I guess it's something like Ubuntu One. Not sure. Moreover, it turned out I'd have to actually buy it first before I could do anything with it. And there is not real live version of Windows 7.

I can understand not having a free version (well, no I can't, but let me just pretend I do), but why on earth is there no live CD? In 21st century, I firmly believed every OS could boot off a CD or USB stick and be able to show me what it looks like before I commit to it.

I called a friend of my friend's I knew had some experience with Windows before. He told me that I could download a free copy off torrent sites, and get a matching "activation key". I don't know what that is, but I thought free is still better than paying $200 for a system I know nothing about.

So I got an .iso file. I was lucky enough to find a copy that already includes this "activation key" thingy. I decided to boot it and see what it does.

Unfortunately again, the bootloader did not offer me the live version at all, and went straight on to install the system. The installer was easy enough.... or so I thought until I reached the partitioning software. "What is this thing?" I thought to myself. It didn't recognize any Linux partitions. There was also no option of resizing a partition to make room for Windows.

Not discouraged by the poorly conceived middle-ages partitioner, I rebooted into GParted Live and quickly resized one of my partitions and made two 10GB partitions. One for user files and one for system files.

Back in the installer, I formatted the two partitions as NTFS.

I won't bore you with rest of the installation since it was really boring. Let me just mention, just in case you didn't know, that there is no root on Windows. Really. Unlike any other operating system, Windows has a special account that is called "Administrator", which I imagine is something like root.

When I booted for the first time, my graphics were all messed up, there was no sound, and I could not connect to my wireless network. My other partition was simply called a D: drive, and I couldn't find a home directory, let alone mount D: as the home directory. I gave up, and decided to focus on getting the hardware to work.

After asking around, it turned out that I have to fetch drivers that are supposed to come with my hardware. I usually throw away such CDs. Bummer. So I borrowed a LAN cable from my neighbour, and quickly hooked my PC directly to the router.

It quickly become apparent that Windows has no package management to speak of. I had to actually go directly to software vendors' websites and manually download, unpack, and install software. In some cases, the packages would come as a RAR file, and there was no unrar to extract the files with. The worst thing though, is that Widows wanted me to reboot it every time I installed something new.

I finally got my hardware to work after four hours of research, downloading, and rebooting. By that time, I was already feeling like a slave to the OS.

Desperately needing to relax, I connected my external hard drive. No new icons appeared on the desktop. Instead, Windows started automatically installing drivers for the external hard drive and proceeded to inform me that the drive was ready for use (after a few minutes). Recovering from the shock, I glanced over the desktop just to notice no new drive icons have surfaced. After a futile hunt for my device, I rang the same guy that advised me on the art of obtaining Windows to give me new clues. He explained that, since my external hard drive has a JFS partition, I could not use it. For the next fifteen minutes, I was in a state of deep shock. All my videos inaccessible... no relaxation on horizon.

I finally decided to copy some of the video on an USB stick from my Linux system, and watch off it. So I was going to reboot, but then Windows decided it needed to install some "important updates", and kept me starting at the shutdown screen for well over 10 minutes. Then it finally decided to was high time to reboot. But then... woah! Boot loader was gone. I couldn't boot into Linux. What kind of bastard OS kills the existing bootloader? Totally insane!

After a few minutes of fiddling using my Linux Mint live CD, I recovered Grub, and was able to copy the video files right from within the live system. It was time to actually watch them.

Booting back into Windows (a process which was taking almost 2 minutes by that time), I plugged the USB stick in. And, of course, Windows had to install drivers for it as well. Thankfully, it didn't have to reboot. I clicked on a file, and Windows Media Player came up asking me a bunch of stupid questions I knew nothing about, and then decided it couldn't play matroska files. I called my friend over to help me solve this problem, and he brought an USB stick with some codecs and a whole bunch of software he thought we might need.

Friend plugged his USB stick in, and... you are guessing. Yes! Windows had to install yet another set of drivers for the new stick. What on earth is wrong with that OS...

We installed a whopping 18MB of codecs, and then the trusty VLC video player, and we enjoyed the show for a while.

It was time to do some work. I'd already come to terms with the fact that Windows didn't have a terminal emulator, didn't come with Firefox, and Vim was somehow not as nice as it was on Linux. But what about mail? I couldn't get Outlook to import my email. I asked around, but nobody was able to help either. Friend finally took off, saying he had better things to do than fiddle with an OS he knows very little about.

Someone has to rewrite all this crap. No LiveCD? No codecs? No software? No package manager?!?!?! Hello, this is like 2013, not 1993. I can't even imagine what would have happened if I had to compile something from source. I have no idea where I would find a compiler...

I'm glad at least I didn't pay for any of this shit. Or else I would have to convince myself that Windows was somehow superior to Linux so that I don't feel bad about the money.

I'm back on Linux because it works. Period.

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On the state of Windows on the desktop by Branko Vukelic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License..

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