Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winblows Vista comments (update)

A few months ago, I bought an OTC computer (rare for me, as I usually like to design and assemble my own systems.  But this one was very inexpensive -- I could not have built one as nice from components purchased over the 'Net for as nice a price.  Now, I think it should have been free.  The hardware is fine.  The OS sucks: it is Winblows Vista and although I swore I'd never own or use a copy of such a crappy OS, the machine came with the promise I could get a free Windows 7 upgrade.  I learned it actually costs $17 to have it shipped when I ordered the "upgrade" which is a sick joke, given one can ship a whole set of heavy books, not just a mostly air-filled box containing a DVD and a few thin booklets for $17.

Vista brings a whole new meaning to terms such as "defective by design", bloatware, crapware, etc.  If there were truth in advertising, it would have to be called malware.  The pre-installed version of Vista Home Premium that came with the Lenovo K220 mini-tower that cost me $429 + tax at Fry's (minus $50 if I ever get the mail-in rebate from Lenovo).  For example, it wants to tell me how to run MY computer and would not let me access certain directories (that's folders to any newbies reading this), even when I was running as Administrator.  When I tried installing drivers for a lame HP Deskjet  F380 All-In-One printer, they failed because the installation program couldn't access certain directories on the system, despite the fact that I was running it with administrator privileges.  Mind you, I wouldn't wish an HP printer on my worst enemy, these days, because they gobble down expensive ink/toner and the drivers come with nagware to remind you are running out of same even though the cartridge in question is probably nowhere close to being empty.    But I digress...

There is a utility I found which lets one take ownership of a directory or file even when Vista stubbornly refuses to let one do so -- under unmodified Vista, the act of trying to take ownership of things Vista wants to keep control of is allowed, but fails with an error message.  Since, while I like it a lot and use it often, I don't know much about the source of the clever little program, I won't provide a direct download link for it, but here is the article on "How-To Geek" where I found it.   Warning: using this utility properly requires a fair amount of knowledge -- about the same amount as editing the registry on a Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista/7 system does, I'd say.

Vista also really tries to impose its will as far as the appearance of things goes.  I like to see contents of directories displayed as detailed lists, but even when I tell it not to, it keeps trying show the files as a grid of space-wasting and useless icons.  I like to keep my systems with a "Windows Classic" look, unless there is a legitimate, overriding reason not to.  Changing a  familiar user interface for no good reason is a sin.  The changes in UI from "Windows Classic" to Windows XP offered no benefit.  If there is a functional gain to be had from changing a UI, I'm all for it, but Vista's default look-and-feel is a canonical example of form-over-function.  Of course there are a lot of vested interests in having to make hundreds of millions of non-technical computer users go through expensive re-training just because the new UI is unfamiliar to them.  Think about it this way.  How many automobile manufacturers make pointless changes in the basic layout of the major controls on the vehicles most people drive everyday? 

Of course, Microsoft wants to protect users from themselves and make Vista look oh-so-pretty rather at the expense of much poorer performance.  As a rule of thumb, anytime a Microsoft program gives you a choice of two ways to do something, select the "Advanced" not the "Recommended" option. For example, when installing any software from MS that offers a choice of installation procedures, avoid the "Express Install (Recommended)" option like the Black Plague!  Remember, Microsloth is your enemy, most definitely not your friend.  By selecting the "Custom Install (Advanced)" option when you see that choice, you are able to deselect a lot of nasty or just plain useless things MS wants to do if you choose the "(Recommended)" option.

Proof in point of the above: MS decided it wanted to snoop on people's computers, at the owner/user's expense when it came up with a program called "Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications" to compliment its overall WGA (what a misnomer! WGA offers the user absolutely NO advantage -- it exists for the benefit of Micro$oft) scheme.  WGA Notification would have people's Winblows XP systems "phone home" when ever they booted, to let Microsloth spy on changes in those systems.  At least two lawsuits were filed against Microsoft for intentionally installing malware on other people's computers.  One trial regarding Microsoft's grossly intrusive (and quite probably illegal) behavior is scheduled to begin in January 25th, 1010.

I have never seen any version of Windows that was configured best from a user's perspective right out of the box.  Vista is the most glaring example os deliberate misconfigureation, which is why it is know as such a resource hog.  For example, what good does the Aero interface do on versions of Vista that offer it, except allow hardware vendors to sell more expensive systems than people really need?  Some of the entries in Control Panel are there for Microsoft's Benefit, not the user's.  I'm thinking of such space wasters as: People Near Me, Welcome Center, Windows Anytime Upgrade.  These are guided promo tours for idiots or sales links to MS products and services.  Many other times in the list should be grouped together under one heading, the way Administrative Tools are.  Furthermore, headings with sub-trees ought to be easily distinguishable from headings that actually do something, e.g. Mouse.  That ought to be dead simple for the developers at MS to figure out, since they already learned to provide visual cues to distinguish files from directories, and short-cuts from the objects themselves.  But hey, Google has been hiring a lot of Miscrosoft's top talent away from them for years...

MS rather quickly realized that Vista was a dog of a product, especially with the corporate users who aren't forced to buy from retail chains stores that all to easily succumb to the Microsoft monopoly.   People frequently went out of their way to stick with XP if they had a choice in the matter, and over write Vista with XP (or Linux) if not.  If, somehow, antitrust law prevented the almost universal trend of OEMs selling computers with some MS OS pre-installed, Vista would not have nearly as many units sold as MS claims.  Most machines with Windows pre-installed don't come with a disc containing an actual copy of said OS, but just a "restore" disk that trashes any user data on the machine it is run on, but which ensures that all the manufacturer's crapware will also be installed again.  This means that the user can't even move the licensed copy of Windows to a new machine, because the "restore" disc is specific to the old hardware.

   If a customer has to buy a computer from a big box store these days, Microsoft is going to chalk up a Vista sale automagically.  The customer gets screwed just as automatically.  Let me emphasize, I think the US Government screwed up big time in the way it settled its anti-trust suit with MS.  The only reason MS can claim to have "sold" so many copies of a piece of shit like Vista is that it is in a position to force ordinary people to eat it, and computer manufactures to bundle it with their machines.  Needless to say Microsoft gets away with foisting Vista upon the masses because the Fortune 500 crowd and the federal government had enough clout to insist that Microsoft keep supplying them with XP, which, now on SP3, is finally well-known and about as stable an OS MS has had since Windows 2000 SP4.  The US Air Force, when it wanted a reasonably secure version of Windows, chose XP, even though it does use Vista in places.

It is hardly an accident that Vista was awarded the dubious honor of making the list of "Top ten terrible tech products" by CNET-UK.

When I dump Vista from this box, I'll be installing the Windows 7 "upgrade" in a dual boot configuration with Ubuntu 9.04.  At least I know I'll never have to pay for Ubuntu, much less "Activate" it, or even reboot it almost every time I iinstall something under it, patch it, or just reconfigure it.  In my opinion, Windows Vista is the best advertisement for Ubuntu Linux, or any other major version of Linux, that has ever existed, bar none.