I'm going to split this entry in my blog from the others so as to keep my entry length down a little bit, as well as to keep subjects separate. The following rant probably won't be as coherent as I'd like it to be, either.
So here it is. Les (and the title of this post is not meant for you, Les) made a comment on Sept. 24th in his blog about how Microsoft products aren't too safe because they're made for "inter-operability." Immediately it becomes clear to me that perhaps the term he should have used was "ease of use." Personally, I don't consider products that only work within their own family of products to be "inter-operable"; maybe "intra-operable" is a better word. But even then, half the time in Office (and I have Office XP, as well as all prior versions), embedding objects doesn't work correctly. As much I hated my physics class last year, I did learn a whole hell of a lot about the MS Office suite and what it is and isn't capable of. I have this to say: just try to embed a reasonably complicated spreadsheet in a Word document and then edit it without crashing (on a machine with 448 MB of RAM, no less). Better yet, show me how Microsoft's "Equation Editor" has improved over the years. (it hasn't; it's actually buggier than ever before. But what really gets me is that these things are minor in comparison to the fact that often, you cannot share documents made in various versions of Office with each other, period. Try opening something you painstakingly created in Word 6 (my original resume), in Word 2000 or XP and you'll see what I mean. Why does Microsoft even provide the option to save in an older Word format when it doesn't fucking work? It never opens correctly when you open it in the other word processor. Come to think of it, why does Microsoft bother to make a version of Office for the Mac anyway? It's not like you can ever effectively share documents with a Windows version. Oh, and did I mention that either version is typically something like $350? (Academic version of Office for Windows excluded, and thank god they finally got some sense on that one.)
I've been an avid open-source user for about four years now; when I got started, it was probably a bit of torch bearing, but I must confess that anymore when it comes to computers, I'm just more of a pragmatist than anything else. That's why, when I realized that my school was pretty much a Windows only workplace (both MS Office and MS Development tools in the classes), I elected to start running Windows. Because I go out of my way to not be a hypocrite, I elected to get a legitimate copy of Windows, and I did that by purchasing my HP pavillion ze4115 laptop with Windows XP pre-installed. When I got the machine, it was simply swank; 256MB of DDR RAM, Athlon XP, integrated Radeon, beautiful display. A surprisingly good notebook, especially coming from HP. It's been almost a year with this machine, and I've taken it on many trips, including many daily jaunts to and from the campus. It gets rough-handled regularly, and I use it almost every night. Come to think of it, most of the time I prefer to do my day to day work on the laptop sitting in my recliner as opposed to hunched over at the desk in the computer room. The software, however, has not been so great. Upon receiving the notebook, the first thing I did was to turn off the Windows XP "bubble mode" UI, and go back to classic mode. Then I installed Mozilla for pleasant web browsing, as well as Office XP. The very first thing I noticed was that Office XP will not print when Mozilla is up, period. Whatever the reason, it does not happen until Mozilla gets shut down. Of course, OpenOffice seems to have no such limitation. Speaking of OpenOffice, I was immediately (plesantly) surprised when I installed it. Inter-operability is something open-source developers have taken seriously for years. As a testament to this, my main server runs both Samba and Netatalk, and serves files to Windows, Macintosh, Linux, BSD, and even IRIX clients with (surprise surprise) *no* problems.
Now that I no longer have classes that require Microsoft specific products, I've been very tempted to wipe Windows from my laptop and go back to Linux. But I've held off because every now and again someone will send the occasional MS specific media file or a Word document that is truly bizarre and won't open correctly. But, in the wake of all of the screwd-up-edness of Windows, I simply see no reason to stay with it. Not to mention that my laptop (which has 512MB of RAM now) is paging all the time! Of course, this will be with one program running; it doesn't even take a bunch of open applications to bring Windows to its knees. It makes my experience exasperatingly slow.
Until today. Today, I've absolutely had it. With every "automatic update" that I can't turn down because it fixes some critical Windows bug, my system has gotten slower and slower. In the last few weeks, bringing the notebook out of "standby" has gone from a quick few second operation to 10 minute or more, "I hope this thing wakes up" ordeal. This is completely unsatisfactory. I'm sure that most Windows users will tell me that my system just needs to be wiped and reloaded, and that doing so is just a normal part of having a computer, and several years ago, when I still used MacOS regularly, I would have believed them. But dammit, that solution is not acceptable.
I recognize the fact that open-source software has its share of bugs, but I think I can handle it better in light of the price (free as in beer and speech). But honestly, why is it that a server I built with GNU/Linux and commodity hardware for less than $400 have a 186 day uptime presently, and my laptop, with hundreds invested in the OS and software, can't even bother to start up?
So when someone can answer that for me, maybe I'll consider giving Windows another shot. But I'm not going to waste my time with it right now.
P.S. Les, you do have a point with OS diversity keeping various infections at bay. In fact, this is a point Cliff Stoll touched on when he discussed his dealing with the internet worm that Robert Tappan Morris let loose in 1989, which targeted UNIX systems, and left VAXes (and other systems) untouched. I do agree with you, but in my mind, diversity can be Linux and BSD, or maybe a proprietary UNIX. I have yet to see an enterprise Microsoft product that works worth a damn.