Saturday, January 19, 2008

Newer operating systems: Initial impressions

I've been using Windows XP for about half a decade or so, as have the vast majority of other computer users (at least in the United States). In response to a lot of press newer operating systems have getting, I've decided to take a look at them. Using a trial version of VMWare, I was able to review the following operating systems - trashing them as I saw fit - and then able to erase them without a care. These little reviews are merely initial impressions. I don't feel qualified to comment on operating systems from anything beyond a new user's perspective. The virtual machine in question is pretty standard, if not rather weak for newer computers. 16gb of disk space (more than enough for any of the operating systems) and 1gb of RAM (the minimum at least for Vista. Ubuntu 7.10: Yes, I am aware there are a variety of distro's and Ubuntu isn't necessarily the greatest and best at everything Linux has to offer. But this will be literally the first time for me using basically anything Linux. Originally I had problems with the installation of all things - lockups and such. I know that isn't common, but it happens that the iso from the Ubuntu website had some issues when I ran the image check utility it comes with. I redownloaded and reburned the disc a number of times following exactly the instructions on the site and had no more luck. This was a pity, as my wife's laptop was first on the list of actual hardware I was going to commit to Ubuntu (it needed a good reformat anyway). It was constantly freezing up during the installation - even directly mounted from the ISO - on the virtual machine. Apparently this problem isn't completely unheard of. Luckily you can still mess with Ubuntu because the Live disc starts up in basically a temporary Ubuntu install. Outside gaming, Ubuntu has all the functionality you would expect from a good operating system (mail, office software, internet browser, basic games including Sudoku) with some additional neat stuff to boot. Specifically, the Synaptic Package Manager lets you choose from programs you can search for, installs them, then adds them to the top applications menu. These are all community created software packages as far as I can tell, and include a lot of stuff I use already and general stuff like Ipod utilities. The only problem with these things is that there are too many potential options for a given task and they don't appear to be rated in some fashion (number of downloads, user rating). Most users will have little time to test each option individually. Windows Vista Ultimate: It is hard to come to the new Windows with a positive impression. XP still works just fine for everything I need to do on a computer for any reason, so why upgrade? Additionally, there are some security concerns - not from 3rd party malware, but from the kind of Trusted Computing content protection schemes available, ready at any notice from Microsoft, to disable software or media that isn't to their liking. I buy hardware because I feel I own it, to do with it what I will. Vista can, though it doesn't at the moment, take some of those classic property rights away from its users. With that in mind, I cut this Vista virtual machine off from the internet before I installed the OS. Why take chances? There are complaints online regarding the amazingly poor speed of Vista in loading up or such. I did not experience this, the install I used was somewhat stripped down using Vlite. This does stuff like disables Aero and (I believe) the indexing that tends to slow down navigation and booting. Everything was actually going swimmingly until I tried to get at the files in the host computer (to see what Vista could run and how fast). My efforts at setting up simple file sharing, like what is easy to accomplish between two XP machines or even XP and a lot of Linux stuff (including my modified Xbox) failed miserably. To get the files with Ubuntu was jokingly easy. Vista wanted to actually install something on the host machine to facilitate transferring files which could not defeat the purpose of using an encapsulated virtual machine more. So I couldn't really test anything out besides the stuff that came with the install. Which is a problem, there is a lot of software I use that is free and/or open source and may not necessarily function as well in Vista. Additionally, I don't want to have to contend with the possibility of DRM effecting the freedom I have with my media files, and now I can't test it. Synthesis Bottom line, these are the main concerns (in order of importance): 1. I don't have to worry about compatibility or DRM issues. 2. Performance. 3. New features compared to XP. What is going to make me switch? 4. The Pretty. It is my understanding Microsoft has really locked up much of the gaming market with DirectX and the result is Linux has to use WINE to effectively emulate (I know WINE folks hate that word, but from a user perspective I see no difference) major titles. This is fine if you, like me, enjoy older or less hardware intensive games (Red Orchestra, MMORPGs when I can get friends to play, HL2 and its derivatives). Truthfully, since starting to work full time, I've been using my computer more for general internet browsing, media storage, office tasks, and some GIS. Since that is the case, if I had to choose between the two OSs above based on my limited experience with them, I would probably go with Ubuntu. I'll never be able to afford ESRIs GIS offerings at home, so there I would stick to open source alternatives like QGIS and/or GRASS. For everything else they seem fairly similar, with Ubuntu beating Vista both in price and in the peace of mind knowing no one will be listening in, forcing updates which hijack the hardware I legitimately own, or viruses/malware (for which there are few things written for Linux). That is if I had to switch. XP still does all of the things above as well or, in the case of games, better. I also don't have to worry about some cool new thing I discover being incompatible or having to research every single piece of software on my computer before I can use or (or know it is worthwhile to use). Linux, or Ubuntu at least, is getting there is usability and addressing my computer needs, but it doesn't offer anything that I can't do in XP besides some malware/privacy stuff reassurance.

No comments: