From Windows To Linux
And Maybe Back?
Sometime in late 2007 or early 2008, we decided on our laptop at home to replace Windows XP Home with Windows Vista Home Premium, a purchased 32-bit OEM version. In retrospect, I’m not sure why. I have worked in IT for decades and maybe this was just a journey that had to be made, who knows now.
So I ordered the DVD and the day it arrived, double-checked with ‘She who must be obeyed’ that I go ahead with the install, and getting the go-ahead, did just that. This was the beginning of one of the least progressive journeys I have made in IT in modern times.
I list below just a few of the negatives encountered in this foray over a six month-ish period…
- we actually paid for Windows Vista and the ensuing grief it brought
- I had to double the memory in our machine from 1Gb to 2Gb to achieve an acceptable operational speed
- User Account Control – Jesus, who dreampt that one up? That was gone within minutes of the install (‘Are you sure you want to disable UAC?’ - God, yes.)
- one of our printers was not in the list of compatible devices and was now seemingly obsolete
- the filing system was totally reorganised. This may ok in itself, but for instance, navigating to C:\Users\Me\My Documents and double-clicking on the icon to open it, the response is “Access is Denied”, wrong by definition.
- Try and find a file using the new search facility. No, a degree in MS Search is not where I’m heading in life, I give up.
- And where is the ‘up a directory level’ button gone?
- Windows Mail – the same old follies included as with Outlook Express – no surprise as it probably is that with a new name.
- Control Panel – major revamp, e.g. ‘Add or Remove Programs’ becomes ‘Programs and Features’. Network centre, similarly rehashed so you can’t find anything. Why mend something that isn’t broken?
- I ended up using ‘VirtualPC’ and ‘VirtualBox’ programs to run Vista-incompatible programs. They do work but this isn’t an ideal way to carry on.
- Disk drive banging away for some reason of its own, even with indexing disabled, and no obvious way to discover why. Very annoying.
- There were many, many more ‘nags’ and annoyances that we reluctantly learnt to tolerate…
We lived with this mishmash for six months or so and then I began to think of what might be a long term, viable alternative to this sales-oriented, hype-driven bandwagon. I should explain that I am on the brink of retirement, committed to IT and communications of today but the option of exploring free, open source alternatives to Microsoft suddenly became a real lure for the future.
At roughly the same time as this was happening, we by chance visited a friend who was exploring the joys of the Linux family of OS. We left that evening, me with a double-sided DVD containing distros of Ubuntu and Suse 10.3 safely tucked away in my inside coat pocket.
Looking on the net, Suse seemed to be a pretty well respected OS, so I started with this as a complete newbie. I installed it and then after this was complete, sat there and just looked at the unfamiliar, but not off-putting, green screen. I started by fiddling with the on-screen buttons but homed in on the ‘Computer’ link in the panel at the base of the screen. It looked interesting. I explored enough to break off and list for myself a set of evaluation critera. These consisted of a number of facilities that I needed for my wife and I to continue our day to day internet use and also, some programs to enable me to work from home and access the resources on my home and company’s networks which I have been able to do for a good number of years now.
The list of criteria that I needed to work were as follows…
- File sharing over a network, Linux and Windows
- Remote control using VNC or equivalent
- Filezilla (if poss.) FTP client access to my website and work
- Exchange Server and pop mail access
- Internet messaging
- Telnet client access to work
- Install my two home printers
- A decent photo editing program
- Radio streaming
- MPG and AVI video playing (mostly e-mail attachments!)
My wife and I agreed to regard this change to Suse 10.3, not as an inconvenience or a chore, but as an opportunity to undertake new things. And this we did indeed do with enthusiasm.
It was not long before we were both totally hooked, it is an absolutely brilliant OS, different from MS, granted, but unrestricting in everything we wished/needed to do. Within a few days, all of the listed critera were met and more and we were committed Linux fans for life.
And all of this brilliant software was either available free as part of the distro, or available for free download and install. You cannot complain about that.
Criticisms? Yes, of course there are, for instance, the screen displays are not quite as glitzy/flashy but functionally they are all there. There are unforeseen advantages too, for example - memory usage is fantastically less greedy, you rarely see more than 512Mb being used; The need to defragment the filing system at regular intervals disappears. And to repeat, it’s ALL FREE (though you can, and should donate).
Mid-2008, the emergence of Suse 11.0 was announced for download some time in October (I think) and this was eagerly awaited by us new converts. Come the day, I duely went online and downloaded the Suse 11.0 ISO and installed it on a spare test machine at home. This technological advance into new Suse territory was truly exciting.
I started to work through my list of criteria starting with good old Samba and network sharing. FAILED, I could not get this box to talk to Windows and/or Linux machines for the life of me. Looking online for the ever-present help on this, I found that the Samba and Susefirewall2 configuration had been pretty much reworked and assumed that this was the problem. I followed the new, updated, procedures only to find that the end result was the same as before – it would not talk to the outside world. This is pretty seriously wrong, mmm.
Moving on to VNC/remote desktop, that had all changed. SAX2 config. no longer showed a ‘Remote’ tab but there was a new Remote Administration option available in Yast2. Following this, all it really offered was a yes/no setting and if yes was selected, a port number, default 5900. The nearest I got to getting this to work was from another machine’s web browser, very slowly, and it seemed to start another session on the Suse box rather than pick up the current session, not what I wanted.
Back to Samba, give this another try, no success. Back to VNC, crummy, awful. Try some other packages, no success here either, buried in dependancy problems. Conclusion – they have broken Suse 11.0, my upgrade path for the future has gone.
But possible salvation appeared, the appearance of Suse 11.1 in mid-December 2008. I decided to wait for this, assuming that snags I had encountered in 11.0 would have been addressed. Would I be right?
Well, in a nutshell, no. It is still badly broken and in those basic areas that, for me, make it a non-option. So what are my options now that the upgrade path with Suse is gone? A good question…
Go back to MS Vista - arggghhh
Go back to MS XP (where this all started from!!)
Look for a better Linux flavour
The decision was somewhat preempted by our walking into a John Lewis store near where we live and my wife spotting a very appealing touchscreen machine sporting MS Windows Vista 64-bit and asking “can we have that?”. We ended up being the proud owners of said machine. Was that a good move? The machine and build are super but MS Windows Vista 64-bit offers a whole new raft of problems for us to live with as well as the previous ones, basically they have shot themselves in the 64-toed foot again, it is awful.
So where did we end up? I am still installing different Linux flavours looking to find an unbroken alternative to Suse. We are living with a very irksome Vista 64-bit that runs about 50 percent of the packages we have tried to install plus has all the foibles, and more, of our original OEM 32-bit Vista. It’s been a lot of effort, one way and another but what we do now have is a firm target to aim for. Our real challenge is that wherever we end up, it has to be used and liked by ‘She who must be obeyed’ and that isn’t a bad objective for an IT implementer like myself. And as a long term systems implementer, that criterion is one all too often forgotten – the needs of ‘She or He’, the customer.
We now have ‘Windows Version 7’ on the horizon, Microsoft having sort of admitted that Vista was a mistake. My suspicion and concern is that version 7 is a patched up version of Vista rather than a return to XP and ‘let’s try again’. What will I/we do now? Well, sorry MS, I may not have found the perfect Linux flavour for ourselves yet, but Linux is most definitely where we will stay. That is a certainty.
We really do hope that Suse returns with a vengeance and suspect that will happen. Until then, the Linux world has much to offer and explore and that in itself is a consuming challenge.
I hope you find this account of events informative and/or useful.