Saturday, July 05, 2008


We just bought the New Graduate a new computer (Dell Inspiron 530, 3GB memory, 250 GB disk, 19 inch wide screen monitor), and being in the nature of things, it came with Vista Home Premium. I wasn't particularly happy with that, but NG wants Photoshop (gotten cheap from Creation Engine), as part of the graduation package, and I'm not going to argue with an artist about tools.

So here comes the computer with the evil Windows Vista attached. I hesitated, but then bit the bullet and set it up.

You know what? It doesn't suck.

OK, we're running on a dual-core chip, with lots of memory, but it didn't suck. It actually found the appropriate drives and software for our printer and camera. I suspect it might have even found the driver for our drawing tablet, but I beat it to the punch and got the driver (which works better than the XP one) myself.

  • Babylon V episodes from Hulu played flawlessly, widescreen and at high definition, over a wireless connection.
  • I was able to transfer files (mostly) from the old computer to the new, again over the same wireless network. Not properly transfered were the settings from Thunderbird and Firefox (go figure), but I was able to get that fixed without too much trouble. It would have been hard for a newbe, though.
  • I got a pop-up window asking me if I wanted to permit some action every time I wanted to install some software, but it wasn't particularly obnoxious, and I'm used to it from using apt-get and Mac OS X all these years. In fact, it really needs to ask for a password, just like sudo apt-get and the OS X software installation system.

Would I get a Vista box for myself, unforced by work requirements? Nope, not on your life. But I can see that given a brand new computer, with drivers set up properly by the OEM, Vista can be a reasonable OS.

Now mind you, it still has problems:

  • The Command window is still the same as it was in Win95, 25 lines, 80 characters, and no hope of doing anything useful. I hope you can still install the Cygwin package, if you're stuck with a Windows machine and need to do real command-line work.
  • You can't just say
    $ apt-get install ...
    to install a new piece of software. No, you've got to go to the originator's site and get the software, clicking on all those boxes that no one ever reads that say that Adobe gets your first grandchild or whatever. (If someone would make an ad-supported software aggregator site that mimicked synaptic and handled all the Windows installation details, they'd get rich. Overnight.)
  • It's still Windows, so doing any heavy customization work requires you search all over the place, to, say, have a rotating background.

But it don't suck. So why is Vista so universally hated? Well, for one thing it won't run on most computers in existence, at least not well. It's a resource hog. You need a modern high-power computer to run it right. Something like a Cray YMP just ain't powerful enough.

And it's not XP. There are significant interface differences. Now that doesn't bother someone coming from Linux, and it doesn't bother New Grad, who was heard to say I'll just click around to figure it out. But it does seem to bother many people. I'm not sure why. A backed-up computer is one of the few things in the world you can break with complete and absolute assurance that you can restore it to its previous health. But playing with software seems to scare many people. Learning something new scares them even more.

But Vista doesn't suck. It's still not Open Source, and it's probably not all that secure, and it doesn't give you all the options that a good Linux system does, but it's not as bad as you may have heard – especially from XP fans.

And here ends the heresy.