Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Asta la MS Vista

About a month ago, I got a new laptop from work. It came with XP installed, but a Vista DVD was included as well. Being a curious guy, I thought I'd give it a try ...

The first thing I couldn't help but think was how much the new interface looked like a Gnome desktop I had used on Linux some five years passed. It didn't take me long to realize that all that extra "eye candy", as cool as it looks, only takes up more screen real estate (my favorite theme is actually one with a very small frame & buttons, leaving more room for my actual important content). I'm sure MS is imitating (reverse-innovating?) Apple's windowing system rather than linux, but it's still interesting how old the "new" Vista desktop looks.

In case you haven't guessed, I primarily use Linux, not Windows. Like most Linux users, I have a better than normal understanding of how operating systems work, or should work. So, when I found certain actions required the system to pause, and the user alerted to an "Administrative" task, I thought there was real merit to the concept. This is actually built right in to the Unix and Linux kernels - a "user" space for user actions, and a "system" space - when a user needs to do something in "system" space, they need some sort of authentication - typically, asking for the root (linux administrator) password. While I am not sure exactly how Vista achieves this, I guarantee it's not in the kernel, but somewhere that causes a lot of slowness to even switch to administrative mode. I should note, too, that just being an "Administrator" on Vista is not enough - it will still prompt you to continue every time.

Similarly, if you run an installer program that extracts and runs files as part of the installation process (pretty common, really), you will be prompted when the extracted files try to run. Again, probably a good safety measure aimed at trojans from the internet that may try and install software without your knowledge, but when faced with the practical task of installing programs, well, be prepared to click "Continue". A lot.

Of course, all this can simply be disabled, which is far, far easier than trying to configure that balance between ease of use and security. (I could go on a tirade here about how security has to be USABLE, not just AVAILABLE to truly be security, but another day...)

Still, there is something to be said for the "newness" of Vista ... I can't think of any specific "oh this is better than XP" items, but just because it was different from the same old XP I've been using for 6+ years (more like 9, considering how much like Windows 2000 it is), there was a certain cool factor to using Vista.

That is, until I started seeing Mr. BSOD on a regular basis.

The "Blue Screen of Death" was fairly common prior to Windows 2000, but it seems to make a strong comeback in Vista, or at least it did for me. Multiple times a day. At first, it seemed almost random, and there was no one act that was causing it as far as I could tell. Then yesterday morning, as I logged into work to check my e-mail, BSOD. Rebooted, tried to check my e-mail again, BSOD. I did this five times, getting quite frustrated, and finally gave up on Vista.

Only seven hours later, I had XP and Office installed and patched, and ready to get back to work.

Meanwhile, my OpenSuSE 11.0 installation just runs. It does fancier eye-candy than Vista. And if I log in as root, I can delete the entire system without so much as an "are you sure?". Okay, that might not seem like a good thing ...