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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Shall I Never Be Rid Of It?

It would hardly do to write two angry posts in succession, although it's been an angering week. But anger, like Resistance, is futile, and must be repressed. It is in that spirit that I come, not to bury Microsoft, but to praise it.

Every so often Microsoft - Windows - mucks me up. It will do something so remarkably stupid, so insidiously foul, that I become convinced that the entire Mickeysoft apparatus is evil, and is part of that netherworld conspiracy set against me? That they are one with other covert forces - the Stop Light Team, for instance, who sit in cars in empty sidestreets waiting for me to happen along, that they can creep to the line and turn the light red? Yeah. Them!

Today - rather yesterday, day before yesterday - it wiped a hard drive. It wiped the drive with all my tunes on it, my iPod tunes, bought and paid for from the store. I didn't tell it to do that, wasn't like that, wasn't just me being an idiot: it just did. What happened, I'd installed a new cd writer, so's I could make backups (you laugh, you die, dammit). But Windows changed the drive letters - so all those registered applications (games) and data (tunes, saves) that were supposed to live on F: now became inaccessible. If you have Win2k there's a tool under Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Computer Management that lets you change the drive letters back. No biggie, you think: after all, the drive letter has nothing whatever to do with the drive itself, it's just a hook that Windows hangs it by? Well you'd be wrong. Of course you would. That filthy Windows tool erased the disk partition table, and could not would not put it back again. I tried a whole bunch of things to restore my disk - linux tools, even bought some recovery tools at Fry's - but nothing. Or rather, after restoring a partition table, after buying and installing new recovery ware, after waiting twenty hours while it read each cluster on the disk and tried to guess what was written there: after all of that and more - Nothing. Nothing that could be usefully recovered. Naught but a million files, all called "#3004562". Seething, beat-the-kids rage followed quickly.

Scratch a geek - and I am a geek - you'll sniff a Microsoft detester. Also, a terrific bore - no question. Where did I read that? Just yesterday... Normblog? the Friday Normblog blogger profile? Ah - there it is, yes: Enoch Soames:

What is your favourite proverb? > Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible.

Hah - I work in communications. So by now you're thinking: sheet, another linux lecture comin'? More "buy a mac" crap?

Well, no. Not this time.

Sure, I have my own linux box - using it to type now, in fact - and I do all my work on linux servers: writing code, building code, uploading code, running code, testing code - but access to it all mostly uses X-windows that run, rather awkwardly, under Windows windows, through a package called Exceed. I don't have a linux PC at work - it's Windows - and I can't use my linux PC at home to tunnel into work either: has to be Windows, all the way.

Why? Given what you know, Mr. Bearded, why would you do that? Indeed, how could you do that and then tell all of us, who be happy in our Windowry, to throw it all away and switch to linux, or buy a feching mac?

Here then, in no particular order, are the reasons why I, Bearded, still use Windows and probably always will:

1. Because I frigging have to

Windows is employer-mandated: true for my company, probably true for yours? Your employer simply decided one day that everyone will use Windows, on PC's bought or leased at from Dell. Economies of scale, uniformity across the company blah blah blah - they get Word and Excel and PowerPoint and Microsoft Project: who could need more?

I use Windows at home because I have to. My company insists I tunnel in to work through a Windows-only program. I use it here because my company uses Outlook for its mail and its address books and its calendars, because it has contrived a network of Windows file shares.

Companies love Windows because...

2. Because, dammit, Windows is easy

Even my kids' granny can use Windows. Kind of. So can your CEO and your manager. Can't nobody say that about linux, no matter how well they tart-up the front end (and they're really pretty good, if only you bleetery sheep would persist). Thing about linux is it's made for geeks: it is huge, wonderfully powerful, highly adaptive, marvelously chaotic, delightfully obscure, and preternaturally secure. But you have to be a geek to use it. On linux, command-line is King, and shell its consort. Truth is, we geeks like it that way: linux - unix - is sacred to us, it is our thing and of our essence. It demands much of its acolytes: sacrifice, study, commitment to the Great God Code; and in return it grants power, cachet, Neal Stephenson coo-uhl, and ultimately cold, hard cash. If all of youse moved to linux, we would not be special any more, and our wages might drop.

I, too, use Windows, at home because I don't have to think about it. I can point and prod and it usually does what it is supposed to. I use linux at home for pleasure, and as a carroty stick with which to beat those of my kids who have a mind to follow daddy's footsteps down the dark, consuming code hole.

But I also use Windows at home because...

3. Because it isn't Mac

Macs are easy to use too, you say - rather famously so. Even your great-granny can use a Mac, right? And there is no Screen of Death, it all works magically, fluffily, every day in every way, and with such style that Windows scowls as tacky trailer-trash, as Donald Trump, crouched at the knee of graceful Adonis. P'tah! says me - I hate Macs. Apple? Jobs? Their arrogance and attitude sticks in my craw. I've never forgiven them for those early days, when Macs and windows and mice and MacWrite and early Word were new and wonderful, but stuffed arse-full of conceit, their sense of their own unmatchable importance. Macs are - now and ever - expensive... deliberately so. Defiantly so. It is writ that thou shallt pay to suck at Jobs' teet, though you remain unworthy. But more than that, everything connected with Mac had to be Mac - everything, even the bloody serial cables. Jobs' own design, different from all others, jealously guarded, zero tolerance inter-operability and inter-connectivity. The Mac way or the high way... be grateful you're only paying fifty bucks for an ethernet cable.

PC's, on the other hand, were cheap and nasty. Affordable to all, and vulgar, perhaps, but with Windows, good enough substitute for Mac. VHS to Betamax. Aah, but those laptops are nice.

4. Because the printer works

That your printer works on Windows but not so well on linux is a simple fact. And it was Microsoft made it that way, using all of the filthy underhanded tools in its Grand Monopolist repertoire. This is true, not only of printers, but of most PC-related hardware from modem cards to graphics cards. The trick is simple: relieve manufacturers of costly code development by providing all the code they need, so long as they build to Microsoft's specification, and never, ever give the game away. Lashings of cash for one and all, and any competition kept down and out. Linux is slowly catching-up, but has a long, long way to go yet. Meantime, we pretty-much have to use Windows.

5. Games

For similar reasons - this time by way of its DirectX suite - all the best computer games are written for Windows, and rarely run at all on linux. Ain't nobody giving DirectX away.

And I loves my games. Totally useless as a player, but who cares about that? I used to develop graphics code for simulators, hacking like crazy to produce realistic renderings of the sea, of the south coast of England, of Portsmouth harbour, ships and airplanes and lighthouses and buoys, of the weather spread across 240 degrees and eight interlocking screens, hacking like mad to draw it all without jitter or crazy artifacts, all on high-powered multi-million dollar kit. And now my PC, with its pawky $80 graphics card and nifty games can do as much, though to a smaller scale. Games remind me of those days, and I'll always be a sucker for tasty graphics.

And that, in the end, is my main excuse for keeping Windows. The games. All else be damned.

Even though the bastard thing just ate them all.


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