Over the past few years, I have developed a very strong desire to dump Windows entirely from my day to day computing. I tire of the obscure errors that no one has answers for yet are easily reproducible, the way that Microsoft is enforcing its “genuine Windows” initiative in ways that irritate paying customers while only mildly bothering pirates, and how Windows always has a black box model of operation which always keeps me, the user, out of the loop on what my own computer is doing. The final insult: User Account Control. I disabled that within minutes. Talk about a useless feature. People who know what they are doing will always click yes because they know what they are doing. People who don’t know what they are doing (the ones that were the primary focus for this feature) will quickly learn to always click yes because clicking no may prevent them from doing what they want.

What’s the problem?

I upgraded to Vista the same week it was released and have been using it at home ever since. At first, I really liked Vista. Over time, I realized that there really wasn’t anything that I truly liked about Vista above XP and discovered that I used my Vista machines at home more or less the same way I used my XP Pro machine at the office. Vista had simply given me a shiny new veneer over what is, to me, functionally no different than XP.

Now, there is one nice feature that Vista has that XP doesn’t. I do like the new sound subsystem which allows for controlling different sound sources individually. However, even that feature isn’t significant enough to make me want Vista on my office machine.

Going down the list of features that Vista added / improved upon, they all boil down to one of a few categories for me: just eye candy, unwanted process that wastes resources and can’t be turned off, unwanted or unused application, yet another tool that tells me something broke yet has very little to offer me in terms of solutions.

For example, I hate how when I navigate to a folder with lots of files in it that the entire system slows a bit and I hear the harddrive being read furiously. All I want to do is see a list of files and folders, but Vista insists on scanning all the files in order to create fancy thumbnails for me. Even after disabling every setting that controls thumbnail generation, browsing around folders with large amounts of content is slow. When I want to delete a file, I can’t just delete it right after selecting it. I have to give Windows a few seconds or more so that it can completely scan the file to give me “helpful” information in the status bar. If I try to delete the file right away, Windows complains that the file is in use. Well, yeah… You’re using it. I didn’t try to open it, you did. Now I have to wait for you to be done with it so that I can do what I want.

Another thing that I can’t stand is how so many processes created by Windows are cloaked in the mysterious svchost.exe processes. Looking in my process list now, I have a total of twelve svchost.exe processes consuming anywhere from a few hundred kB of memory to more than 50 megs each. Every so often, one of those processes will take an amazingly large chunk of processing time. Can I kill it? I don’t know. I have no idea what that process is doing, whether I want it to do what it’s doing, or whether the system will crash if I do try to kill it. So I end up leaving it alone and hope that it doesn’t slow down my productivity while it does who knows what in the background. Would implementing some type of screen or menu that allows me to see exactly what Windows is doing in the background and give me the option to tell it to stop so I can have my computer back be so hard?

The big thing that set me off was the annual reinstallation (Vista was getting too hinky and was begging for a fresh install) that I was performing last night. I hoped for a quick hour or two of installation, but it took over six hours. I ended up having to remove half of my RAM, disconnect all the drives except the one being installed to, turn off a staggering number of BIOS options, put a jumper in my drive to limit it to SATA I speeds, and burn an offering to Microsoft.

What would I like to see from Windows?

If I were able to have a discussion directly with the heads of the Windows division of Microsoft, I would describe my problem with Windows as such: An operating system’s fundamental core purpose is management of memory and file structures, providing methods for the hardware to communicate effectively, and enabling a user to make use of that management system to execute code and modify file data (copy, move, rename, delete, etc). For all the features that Microsoft has been heaping on top of Windows, I seldom see any features that are a true improvement of the core operating system functions. Rather than improving the speed at which I can be productive, most of these features have only managed to slow my machine and my productivity down.

Case in point with the basic OS functionality: why is copying files today the exact same as it was in 3.1? I would love to see a copy dialog that allows for files to be dropped on it. Have you ever had some large files copying from one place to another and you want some other files to go to that same location? As it is right now, you have two options: 1) you can wait for the original copy job to finish and then start another one or 2) you can start another one at the same time. The problem is that the first option makes you, the user, wait for the operating system which is a waste of time whereas the second option starts burdening the process causing inefficient copy jobs that can over-tax the system if you build up too many. Why can’t I just drop more files onto that copy dialog and have those files added to the queue to go to the same location? That way I have queued up instructions for the operating system to optimize the efficiency of the job and have freed myself up to continue doing other things. To me, that’s innovation, new, and improved productivity.

Why haven’t I already dumped Windows?

I’ve been dedicated to dumping Windows for at least the past two years now, so why am I still with it? I suppose my reasons aren’t unlike many other peoples’:

  • Familiarity – It’s not that I don’t like Windows. Windows technically isn’t bad, I just don’t think any version of Windows offers the best of what I want combined with what is available. However, I’m used to working with Windows. If I have a problem happen, I have a much better chance of knowing how to fix it quickly than I would with any other operating system. Thus, I’ve stuck with the evil I know rather than exploring my options.
  • Utility – I have a lot of experience with Linux, and I know what it is capable of. I also know that there are some things that Linux just isn’t quite ready for (such as running most Windows games). While I don’t game much, there is still that little voice in my head reminding me that playing the games that I do like could easily become a chore on another operating system. This goes beyond just games as there are other software packages that just don’t work like I’m used to on Windows (such as codec packs and media players).
  • Time – Properly adjusting to a new operating system takes time. Often those time expenses take place when you don’t want to spend time chasing down a problem due to needing to work on something or just not having any time for it at that moment. I think this is my biggest fear: will a server emergency or client problem come up while I’m in the middle of trying to figure out how to get my system working again?

The Solution?

Some of you may be thinking that I should jump on an Apple. I’m not going to white-wash it. I’ve never been a fan of the way Apple does stuff. I’m sure that they have a great product, I just don’t think that product is for me. The product that is for me is Linux.

I’ve been working with Linux servers for over six years now, and I absolutely love Linux. It has its problems, but they are relatively minor when compared to the constant frustrations that I’ve faced in the past with Windows. The biggest hurdle for me is going to be getting used to working with Linux as my primary operating system and working with the window managers of Linux.

Now it’s time to dig around DistroWatch again and start picking out which distros I’ll try first.

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