Wednesday, April 09, 2008

OS Woes


Bought a new laptop late last year to replace my (third) HP. The HP was perennially not working due to software and hardware issues. Never again will I buy one of those. This time, I bought a Lenovo--model not available in the US market. It's pretty sweet, sturdy, and with a lot of nice design features. The only problem was that it came with crappy Windows Vista OS.

Ah, Windows Vista. The crashes, the hangs, the slow bloated loads, the everything-has-been-redesigned-so-I-can't-find-anything-I-knew-how-to-do-in-XP design elements. What was not to love?

Not too long after, in mid-March, Microsoft came out with their first "service pack" updates to fix all the things that should have worked in the initial release. So I downloaded it, installed, and went on my merry way. But Vista still crashed, hung, was bloated, and so on. But at least, I thought, it was better than before. Right?

Wrong. So it turns out I took a placebo. I discovered this morning, when I went to install some other software designed for Vista SP1. The new software informed me it could not be installed because I was not running Vista SP1. Huh? How could that be? After all, I manually downloaded and installed the update AND I have Windows configured to automatically download and install all system updates. So even if I somehow goofed (which is entirely possible), Windows should have backed me up and installed SP1 automatically.

Curse you Windows Vista!

I would love to be able to just pitch the whole Microsoft thing entirely, and it is almost--so maddeningly close to--possible to do so for my needs. Unless you've been living under a virtual rock, you've probably heard about this thing called Linux--a free, open-source operating system for which loads of free, open-source software are available. While most people never see Linux, it is actually the backbone of much computing and internet architecture that we know and love. Internet servers, banking and finance, major database systems, many, many, many, many things run on this Linux stuff.

Against all neoclassical economic logic, nerds from around the world collaborate to develop and produce computer software that they give away to the rest of us for free. Despite the apparent public goods/team production problem that should preclude such behavior (or at least result in an inferior good), the model works. And it works a hell of a lot better than Microsoft Windows Vista, for which market forces and the profit incentive are thought to deliver the superior good (upgrades from earlier Windows to Vista start at $100, i.e. you must already have purchased an earlier licensed version of Windows).

If you have been curious, but never tried Linux (or other open-source software), it is a fairly painless and risk-free process. My preferred--and probably the easiest to use--flavor is called Ubuntu. [Note: Like the nerds who argue over whether Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek (and which version of Star Trek, to boot) is better, there are many different varieties of Linux out there. All have the same OS program at their core (I think) but have different user interface shells built around them.]

You can try Ubuntu for free and without changing ANYTHING on your computer by downloading a "Live CD," burning, then restarting your computer with the CD inserted in the CD-ROM drive (this runs a little bit slower, obviously, because the OS is being read off a CD rather than your hard drive). Why not take it for a test drive? Then you have the option of installing or not. You can even set up your computer to dual boot, i.e. run BOTH Windows and Linux (not at the same time, you choose which one at start up) with a few relatively easy to follow steps.

How do these nerds do it? I have no idea. But not only is the product superior, the innovation cycle is much more accelerated than for Microsoft Windows. Example: the last major release of Ubuntu (named Gutsy Gibbon) went public on October 18, 2007. The next major release is due out on April 23, 2008 (called Hardy Heron). That is, it's a whole new thing, like moving from Windows XP to Windows Vista. And in just six months. In between, there is a constant barrage of system updates.

For comparison's sake, Windows Vista was released in January 2007 and did not even get around to fixing its mistakes until more than a year later. Right now Microsoft is planning for its next Windows version to go to market sometime in 2010. This will probably be pushed back, the same way the Vista release was delayed due to technical/design problems. Oh, and because Linux is open source, Microsoft software developers can (and do) easily incorporate Linux innovations into Windows (but obviously not well and fast enough).

And if you have a problem, there is a worldwide network of nerds on the ready to offer solutions in various chat rooms and message boards. Have a problem with Windows? You could try calling Seattle, but...nothing.

I know most people are not ready to go whole hog into Linux (and for many people, it is just not a good fit). But you can still enjoy the benefits of economics-defying open source software. Don't want to shell out $300 for Microsoft Office? Look no further than the Open Office suite of productivity applications. Yes, it is totally free. Yes, it totally replaces Microsoft Office. Yes, it runs on your current Windows set up. And yes, it works pretty much just like MS Office and is totally compatible with it, but also with some other neat features. And did I mention free? Still working with the free version of MS Works that came pre-installed on your machine? Then Open Office is your chance to move up in the world.

Alas, Linux is not the panacea that us Utopians would like it to be. One thing stands between me and whole hog Lin-ization: Skype. Skype is pretty amazing, allowing you to video chat for free over the internet (or call from your computer to real phones for a very low fee). Nothing else available can even rival Skype's technology for the price (almost free). But Skype does not offer a Linux version that supports video chat. WTF? And, living half a world away from my love ones, that video connection is pretty important.

So, for now, I'm still stuck with cursed Windows. And my SP1 update finally finished downloading, so I can end this post.

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At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a user issue. Learn 2 compute.. or at least how to intstall properties...
Just because vista is diff from XP and you are not familier with it does not mean it sucks

Also i am pretty sure you can WINE Skype.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Globalize This! said...

Could be a user issue. I'm no codehacker, but a fairly savvy user. Certainly at a level above Microsoft's mean customer. So, if it is tough for me...

And, true, the fact that Vista and XP are different does not make Vista suck. It's just really annoying (also, the fact that old hotkeys no longer work in Office 2007 is really annoying). But the fact that Vista crashes a lot and is slow, to me, does mean it sucks.

As far as I can tell, Windows Skype does not work with WINE. I think Skype may be able to work with Virtualbox, but I haven't yet had time to test it out (requires me to move around some partitions so I can fit a host OS install over on my Linux side).

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Jason Lefkowitz said...

"Skype does not offer a Linux version that supports video chat. WTF?"

The latest version of Skype for Linux does support video calling.


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