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Ken Leyba [opinions]

What if Microsoft got a clue? [microsoft] [gnu/linux]

While amidst yet another frustrating exercise in Windows XP I thought; What if Microsoft got a clue? I was trying to do what should have been a fairly simple task, scheduling the system to reboot once a week. Never mind that I really shouldn't have to do this, the system is a simple security camera server. The system is also doing just this single task, and it meets all the requirements of the software. Yet here I am trying to get the Task Scheduler to reboot the system once a week. This isn't an isolated incident either, both a colleague and my brother, both system administrators, need to do the same thing and we are all running different single task applications. The common thread is that each of the machines, because of the operating system, need to be regularly rebooted.

After doing the search engine tango and the knowledge base salsa, I finally reverted to making Windows XP more like GNU/Linux. I installed Cygwin and cron to schedule a weekly reboot, which worked fine. I wrote my little Bash script, which also wrote to a simple log file, and I had more control over the whole process. When I ran into a small problem, unbelievable as it may seem I actually made an error in my script, I was able to redirect output to see the error of my ways. While trying to troubleshoot my batch script earlier, I had to go through the pain of the Event Log and all other means of narrowing down the Windows XP problem. Since there isn't a single mechanism to look for the problem, it took much more time to troubleshoot.

Why should I have to go through all of this for a solution to a simple problem? What if Microsoft decided against giving us the bells and whistles of Aero and decided to make a better scripting language in Vista instead? Oh wait, they were going to do that, but it's not included in Vista. The new PowerShell, aka Monad, is a separate download. I am actually not going to try VBScript or PowerShell, when Bash and cron will do just fine, thank you very much. I really should get into more powerful scripting, but when I do it will either be in Perl or Python. No need to lock myself into a single language for a single operating system, nice try.

I digress. What if Microsoft decided against paying for studies to prove how much better Windows is than Unix or GNU/Linux? What if they got away from all of the FUD and misinformation about GNU/Linux? What if they decided they would make an operating system that was not vulnerable to viruses, trojan horses and all other internet unpleasantries? The infamous Blue Screen of Death is almost commonplace; almost everyone is familiar with it. This is the legacy that Windows has bestowed on us, crashes and frustration.

Surely Microsoft has the resources to build a much better OS that doesn't suffer the frailties of Windows. Now the question is why they don't. Unfortunately it is difficult to determine why they continue with promises of better security and stability. It could be that they are so tied in to backwards compatibility that they cannot make a change. They may not want to because of internal politics. It may cost them and customers great pain to make such a major shift. However, it shouldn't be any more pain than moving from Windows to GNU/Linux; which is a chance they run if things don't improve. Microsoft is getting a reputation of saying the latest version of Windows is more secure, stable, etc. than the last version. We've been hearing this since the release of Windows 95 and all subsequent releases; it has become a running joke.

So while we are tied to some applications that require Windows, as in the case of my security cameras and server, we can start moving the applications and services that we can to improved operating systems. Doing administration tasks on GNU/Linux has been much easier to troubleshoot and more reliable than on Windows desktops and servers. Any services or similar applications that I can move to GNU/Linux has been my experience and I suspect for a lot of others too. What if Microsoft got a clue? If they decided to fix the problems they have continuously reported to have solved, GNU/Linux may have never been as widely accepted. As long as this trend continues Linux keeps on marching along. I seriously doubt that any changes will happen in the next few versions of their OS's. I happened to install Vista on one of our newest most powerful machines, the screensaver crashed. I'm not even going to bother, a new OS is destined for that box. In the mean time, I will try and make my frustrations limited to as few instances as I can.


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