Thursday, February 15, 2007

XP versus Linux... why I chose Windows XP

I hate to say this, but I'm going to be using Windows XP for a while. There are several reasons for this. I've switched between both XP and Fedora for weeks, using both for about a week at a time. However, Windows XP has sort of come on top after these daily test runs. Essentially, I can be equally productive in both environments. For the most part, I can get the same results/products out of open source software alternatives on Linux as I would using a mix of proprietary and open source applications in a Windows environment. However, there are a few minor annoyances in Linux that make it, overall, *slightly* less appealing than Windows XP. It's the small things that kill - getting some Windows apps to run correctly, window focus stealing problems, printer annoyances, etc (the list literally goes on and on). A prime example of some of the factors that are the causation of this lesser appeal would have to be the eight plus hours I spent on a Saturday to find a way to print to my printer from Fedora Core. Sadly enough, it was just a cheesy workaround I was using - Canon doesn't support Linux (basically I was sending the file to a shared network folder to be printed by Adobe). In terms of window focus stealing, I spent nearly an hour just trying to determine why a particular application kept losing focus when I switched back to it. Even after changing some settings, the focus was flakey. In Windows XP, window focusing isn't even a second thought - it just works automatically without the pain of configuring KDE to run a list of windows specific settings based on the windows title/name or the process name. These are just two fine examples of the growing pains that you experience daily when using Linux.

Windows application support is not exactly up to par either – although this one is hard to blame on Linux at all. In fact, it’s not Linux’s fault period. CrossOver office simply couldn’t effectively run some of my mission critical Windows applications when I needed them most. (It was an audio editor, GoldWave, by the way – Audacity simply couldn’t meet my needs). Little annoyances in Microsoft Word 2003 also ticked me off – why couldn’t I import an AVI movie to display in a PowerPoint, or why wouldn’t I simply access the clip gallery? On top of this, certain things I use frequently under Windows (aka the .NET framework and the free version of Visual Studio, Visual C# Express) simply don't run on Linux and had to be run on a processor emulator running a copy of XP. This is entirely feasible (I was running a brand new copy of XP in VMWare while I was using Linux), but it is still somewhat annoying to open this virtual machine every time I wanted to use such an app. It was also sluggish of course. All it did was add around 50 seconds to my wait time to use a critical application, whereas in Windows, instantaneousness would have been feasible. Mono does a half decent job for .NET support, but nowhere have I found the 100% compatibility and feature rich IDE’s associated with the wonderful Visual C# Express in Windows XP.

Once again, don’t get me wrong – Linux is amazing in the sense that it can emulate the Windows kernel like this with Wine or CXOffice, but the applications support is just not completely there yet. Unfortunately that some really good software is written in Windows native languages. Linux is literally crippled in his sense.

The security advantages of Linux are also technically negated when you think about it. If, while in Windows, you don't install random applications from random websites, and you use a stable, bug/hole/breach free web browser (aka Firefox), the chances of you getting a virus or any form of malware are slim. Take it from me - I've use Windows for many years without problems - after I got Firefox and become more restrictive on downloads. You simply have to be careful and take precautionary measures with your data. Basically, downloading only trusted applications, using multiple malware scanners, and having an inbound/outbound firewall basically should do the trick. Sure, Linux is secure all by itself with little to no effort – but so is Windows with minimal effort and prodding.

Ultimately, I think Linux is destined to be abolished to the file/web servers realm of computing unless a drastic change in commercial support for the free operating system comes rapidly. Honestly, if all the hardware and software vendors supported Linux generally, it would become an extremely viable option to me and to the general populace. Linux is simply a generally superior operating system in general crippled by software/hardware incompatibilities and minor bugs and annoyances that add up to a mess of trouble. Another option, of course, is if someone could develop an extremely fast process emulator that runs a legal copy of Windows XP as its primary virtual machine, and the Windows apps in this install are run “natively” in Linux as actual applications that can use the native Linux file system, etc.

So my final determination on Linux is that a few small, trivial, non essential things keep it from being my desktop of choice. Don't get me wrong - I'm not deleting it off my hard drive just yet. When Windows XP becomes way too slow or unsupported for me soon enough, this computer could be made fairly decent with my Fedora install. Also, if Windows decided to poop out on me anytime soon (somewhat unlikely, actually)

Despite this, imagine if I was too poor to afford Windows XP or it simply wasn't feasible to do so. Linux would be absolutely amazing. Obviously, you can save some money by not having Windows XP installed by default on your barebones/custom built machine. If Windows XP is simply not an option for whatever reason, Linux absolutely becomes a viable, free alternative.

Overall, though, I’m glad I’ve has the experience with Linux that might give me the edge someday. I love the open source movement and think it is absolutely amazing in many aspects (that explains why I've been through countless Live CD's and HD installs ... including SuSE, Fedora, and Ubuntu). It's amazing that people have made a very much viable Windows alternative for free – it still completely blows my mind. Linux has made leaps and bounds from the console based days.

Thanks for listening. Any comments are appreciated.