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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Windows: My eXPerience

Warning and Intro

In this ar­ti­cle I will not pre­tend to be stupid, mimic­ing those "my first week with Lin­ux" pieces. If I write some­thing about XP sur­pris­es me, it will be re­al, and if I seem stupid, that will be re­al, too.

First a lit­tle back­ground:

While I am nerdier than most com­put­er user­s, I am al­so un­usu­al in that I have nev­er used reg­u­lar­ly any Win­dows in the last twelve years.

Yes, I switched to Lin­ux from Win­dows. From Win­dows 3.11 for work­group­s, in 1995, be­cause get­ting TCP/IP work­ing on Lin­ux was eas­i­er.

I am not the guy Win­dows is aimed for. I am not like the av­er­age com­put­er us­er. I am about a bazil­lion sig­mas off the av­er­age win­dows us­er.

I skipped the whole Win­dows 95, 98, Mil­le­ni­um and XP. I have nev­er even touched Win­dows Vista.

I have used those Win­dows ver­sions (ex­cept Vis­ta), when bor­row­ing a com­put­er or on a cy­ber­cafe, but I have nev­er in­stalled any of them. I have helped Rosario with her XP box, but I have had no use for it my­self.

Un­til a cou­ple of days ago I checked the bot­tom of mynote­book, and there it was... a XP Home li­cense key. And what the hel­l, since to the best of my knowl­edge that li­cense is valid and mine, why should I waste it? So I de­cid­ed to get XP in­to a vir­tu­al ma­chine us­ing Vir­tu­al­Box OS­E.

I know I am in­stalling an­cient soft­ware but:

  1. It's not my fault if up­­­grades are not free. It's what I have a li­­cense for.

  2. It's not my fault if MS re­leas­es one win­­dows ver­­sion ev­ery 5 years and the new one will not work on my note­­book (P4 2.5Ghz, 512MB of RAM) even if I cared to buy it.

  3. I sup­­pose they have a long-life prod­uct with rolling up­­­dates. You know, like De­bian sta­ble or RHEL. So while it's old, it's al­­so sup­­posed to be us­able now. That's why they still sell it, right?

The installation

I have some ex­pe­ri­ence in­stalling op­er­at­ing sys­tems (most­ly Lin­ux) so I think I know what I talk about here:

The XP in­stall­er is ok-­to-­suck­ish.

XP has a text mode installer

It's not com­pli­cat­ed but it has a se­ri­ous de­sign flaw: you have to be there. Here's the time­line:

  • You ac­­cept the li­­cense, choose FS type

  • It starts in­­stalling

  • re­­boots (u­­nat­­tend­ed)

  • More ques­­tions

  • More in­­stal­la­­tion

  • Yet more ques­­tions

  • re­­boots (u­­nat­­tend­ed)

  • Yet more ques­­tions

  • Prod­uct ac­ti­­va­­tion

  • You are done

Since the ques­tions are spread all over the in­stal­la­tion, you ba­si­cal­ly have to sit through it. I sup­pose it's so you can see those weird ads for some­thing you al­ready bought like "If you want to use the in­ter­net it has nev­er been eas­i­er to get start­ed".

Then it gets graphical

I pre­fer the mod­ern Lin­ux way of "all ques­tions up fron­t, then go away un­til I pop the CD", but that's just me.

There are al­so prob­lems like it as­sum­ing own­er­ship of the MBR, but that's to be ex­pect­ed from the big dog in the area, the small­er dogs are the ones that make al­lowances like not mak­ing oth­er OSs un­bootable.

So, it's a sim­ple in­staller, but it has some is­sues. What­ev­er, in­stall­ers are not that in­ter­est­ing and ev­ery­thing can be worked around if you try hard enough (at least I ex­pect I can).

After installing

You can lo­gin with any of the users cre­at­ed on in­stal­la­tion with­out a pass­word. That's ok, I sup­pose, as long as I can lat­er change it. TODO: look for it.

I get a warn­ing about se­cu­ri­ty up­dates, and a red icon com­plain­ing, ap­par­ent­ly about my lack of an­tivirus.

So, go fetch the se­cu­ri­ty up­dates, and it seems to be work­ing ok, but I will rather wait un­til it ends be­fore ac­tu­al­ly us­ing it.

Since this is work­ing, I am guess­ing I am ad­min­is­tra­tor on this box. Is ev­ery­one else, too? That's not too cool, but I sup­pose it's a lin­ux­ism I'm hav­ing.

XP yay!

A restart be­cause of the up­dates? Mm­mmkey.

Strange: The re­boot is fail­ing. Ap­par­ent­ly Ex­plor­er.exe re­fus­es to die. Af­ter a few "End it now"s it does end.

Ten min­utes lat­er, with no re­boot, I re­set the vir­tu­al box. I got in­to some se­ri­ous in­sta­bil­i­ty here re­quir­ing mul­ti­ple re­boot­s, "Safe Mod­e" and "Sys­tem Re­store" us­age. I'll as­sign that to Vir­tu­al­Box, not to blame XP with­out proof.

Ser­vice re­store is OK, it does some­thing akin to restor­ing a back­up, ex­cept you have no idea what it's restor­ing or why. But what the heck, it seems use­ful if your sys­tem borks like mine did.

And of course... an unat­tend­ed re­boot. This seems to hap­pen more of­ten in this side of the fence.

Now I am wait­ing to see if I can fi­nal­ly start a reg­u­lar ses­sion that work­s. I am in stitch­es here.

Ok, it work­s, but there are 11 up­dates. I think I had in­stalled those, maybe ser­vice re­store re­moved them? Let's try again.

On the oth­er hand, I am start­ing to un­der­stand why peo­ple don't like Lin­ux, if it feels as mis­te­ri­ous as this for them.

One does some­thing that seems rea­son­able, then some­thing hap­pens and then you do what­ev­er seems ok, and what will hap­pen? No freak­ing clue.

Maybe I like Lin­ux be­cause I have a patho­log­i­cal need to be told what's hap­pen­ing. Lin­ux tells you a lot. And there's a lot more on the logs. Win­dows? Well, in win­dows things seem to just hap­pen. It crash­es. It's fixed. What hap­pened? I don't even know where to look.

Ok, up­dates in­stalled... re­boot­ing.

Hey, for the first time it re­boots and starts nor­mal­ly and up­dat­ed! Let's use this thing!

Using XP

I know I will have some per­for­mance is­sues be­cause my com­put­er is not ex­act­ly pow­er­ful, and this is a vir­tu­al box so it will be slow­er stil­l, so I will not say a word about that.

Installing the VBox guest addons

This was veery sim­plle, even if it re­quires Yet An­oth­er Re­boot. In fac­t, it was sim­pler than on Lin­ux, which is sim­plish al­ready.

Seems to work ok, too. Au­to re­siz­ing the guest dis­play is neat.

Now, what is it I do on Lin­ux all day...

Using mail and RSS

The in­clud­ed mail client is Out­look Ex­press.

Easy to con­fig­ure, even if the word­ing in the di­a­log is strange. Like, guys, there is no HTTP in­com­ing mail pro­to­col, what's that sup­posed to do? Use a hot­mail ac­count and scrape it?

Configuring Outlook Express

Seems to be down­load­ing all the mail from the IMAP serv­er. That's re­al­ly not a good idea s­ince there are sev­er­al dozen thou­sand mes­sages in there...

Ok, it down­load­ed all the mes­sages from the In­box and none on the oth­er fold­er­s.

Not so ter­ri­ble... ex­cept it does­n't seem to want to show me any mail in any oth­er fold­er. The prob­lem is that all fold­ers are set to "Don't syn­chro­nize".

Why on earth would I want not to be able to read my mail by de­fault­??? Why not fetch head­ers on back­ground, or at least on open­ing the fold­er?

It seems I need to go to each fold­er and right-click­->Syn­chro­niza­tion Set­tings->­Head­ers On­ly (or All Mes­sages) to make it be­have like a rea­son­able mail clien­t. And I can't choose more than one fold­er to make it faster.

Dear out­look ex­press.... I have over 200 fold­ers weeps.

All things con­sid­ered: the in­clud­ed mail client is pa­thet­ic for IMAP user­s.

It's prob­a­bly ok for oc­ca­sion­al users or POP3, but for me? It suck­s. I sup­pose I could in­stall some­thing else, Thun­der­bird or what­ev­er, but Lin­ux comes with much bet­ter tools for this task by de­fault.

Right now? I think I will use my web­mail :-(

Now, for RSS. I searched on "Win­dows Live Search" for "best rss ag­gre­ga­tor".

The an­swer:

  • Fire­­fox

  • Flock

  • Fire­­fox 2

  • Opera

  • Google Reaad­er

  • NetVibes

  • Blog­­lines

  • Sa­­fari

  • xFruits

  • Fee­­dRead­­er

The first 9 ei­ther work on Lin­ux or are we­b-based. So, let's try the ten­th, to see if it beats akre­ga­tor, which I pre­fer to the oth­er 9.

Sur­pris­ing­ly de­cen­t, al­though I can't find how to use it us­ing the key­board. If there is a key for "next un­read news item" it's not in the UI (clos­est is space, ac­cord­ing to the help).

At least it im­port­ed my OPML with­out is­sues.

Dear read­er­s: what are the re­al, nice al­ter­na­tives for these tasks?

Developing PyQt applications

I do not ex­pect the in­stal­la­tion of the re­quired soft­ware to be as easy as in Lin­ux, since it's much more odd­ball for a win­dows us­er. But let's see how hard it is...

I head for the River­bank site, and... I get a di­a­log ask­ing me if I want to en­able the phish­ing de­tec­tion sys­tem on IE7.

I will but why is it ask­ing me now? I have been to oth­er pages, and it did­n't ask.

I need to in­stall Python 2.5 too, of course, so I get the Python 2.5.1 win­dows in­stall­er and PyQt-Py2.5-G­PL-4.3.1-1.ex­e.

Python in­stalls un­event­ful­ly. It seems to be work­ing ok from a ter­mi­nal, as well as IDLE. So, python is re­al­ly OK on XP.

Good old python

The PyQt in­stall­er in­stalls the Er­ic4 IDE which is nice, as it's a large ap­pli­ca­tion and if it work­s, you are prob­a­bly ok with PyQt.

I was ex­pect­ing it, but it's an­noy­ing me quite a bit that ev­ery pro­gram for Win­dows wants to in­stall its own way, asks you things, it feels so ... man­u­al.

Ok, first snag.

Er­ic does­n't start be­cause I lack MSVCP71.DL­L. This prob­a­bly would­n't have hap­pened with a de­cent pack­age man­ag­er. Googling it, it's not hard to fix. How­ev­er, the fix in­volves:

  • Find­­ing a copy of the DLL on the web

  • Down­load­­ing it

  • In­­stalling it man­u­al­­ly to win­­dows\sys­tem32

It's a bit scary. I don't ev­er man­u­al­ly touch sys­tem fold­ers on Lin­ux, and there's a good rea­son for it, which I bet ap­plies on win­dows, too: You WILL break stuff that way.

I will atribute this to a bug in the PyQt in­staller, but I am will­ing to bet these things are not so un­usu­al based on there be­ing full sites ded­i­cat­ed to giv­ing you back your dis­ap­pear­ing DLL files.

Al­so, the "This fold­er is mag­ic, you should not look at it" warn­ing for each fold­er is an­noy­ing.

The prob­lem is fixed, though, and all seems to work.

Eric works

Now, in or­der to ac­cess my source code, I need Sub­ver­sion. That mean­s... an­oth­er trip to a web­site, in­stalling man­u­al­ly an­oth­er pack­age. This is get­ting old pret­ty quick­ly.

I have been do­ing this for 45 min­utes al­ready. On Lin­ux:

# Red Hat clones and variants:

yum install eric4 subversion

# Debian and Ubuntu variants:

apt-get install eric4 subversion

# Arch and derived:

yaourt -S eric4 subversion

See a pat­tern?

Why does­n't some­one cre­ate a sofft­ware repos­i­to­ry or win­dows, andd make it very sim­ple for free­ware/share­ware/what­ev­er­ware de­vel­op­ers to use? Make it ad-­sup­port­ed with rev­enue shar­ing, you are bound to make some mon­ey.

How­ev­er, not to be repet­i­tive: Ev­ery time I in­stall a pro­gram from now on, as­sume I whine about how it's sim­pler on Lin­ux.

I in­stalled Tor­tois­eSVN which is nice enough. Re­boot­ing (sigh).

Now the first thing I must say I re­al­ly dis­like about XP that is not caused by me, the vir­tu­al ma­chine, my choice of soft­ware, or the phas­es of the moon: The "Open With­" ­di­a­log is bro­ken.

The open with dialog

As you can see in the screen­shot, it won't let me choose the right ap­p. It's in the start menu (it would be Er­ic) but it's not on the list of "Pro­gram­s" and as far as I can see the on­ly way to use it would be find­ing where in the sys­tem the er­ic4 bi­na­ry is (I have no idea, and I should not have to know that).

This works way bet­ter on KDE and GNOME (and win­dows 3.11, IIR­C).

I man­age by do­ing it back­wards (open­ing from in­side Er­ic4), but it's just wrong.

I had some trou­ble mak­ing Python's easy_in­stall work be­cause it's not on the PATH by de­fault.

I have no idea how to change that on win­dows, so let's try to fix it.

On Lin­ux:

I would ei­ther put it on my ~/.bashrc or add a file in /etc/pro­file.d. and start an­oth­er shel­l.

On Win­dows:

Start reged­it and ed­it HKEY_LO­CAL_­MA­CHINE/Sys­tem/Cur­rent­Con­trolSet/­Con­trol/Ses­sion Man­ager/En­vi­ron­men­t, and re­boot.

What­ev­er, I am not judg­ing this one.

Any­way, I think I have turned this XP in­stall in­to a rea­son­able place to de­vel­op my hob­by PyQt project­s.

My first windows app

Let's try Some C/C++

It looks like some­thing called Vi­su­al­C++ Ex­press Edi­tion is free! let's try that.

Too bad the li­cense says I may not de­ploy or dis­trib­ute any pro­gram I de­sign or de­vel­op us­ing it.

Dear Vis­ual C++ Ex­press Edi­tion: Get the fuck off my HD. I am start­ing to hate the word "Ex­press". What's this garbage sup­posed to be use­ful for?

I am open to sug­ges­tion­s, but it seems the al­ter­na­tive is a GNU toolchain, just like in Lin­ux.

I think I'll stick to Python on­ly on My XP side.

This is as far as I got in one day. We'll see how it evolves (if it evolves) lat­er.

Conclusions so far

  • In­­stalling win­­dows soft­­ware sucks

  • Win­­dows is a very bare-bones OS

  • You can turn it in­­­to a de­vel­op­­ment box for Python at least

  • Things break for mis­­te­ri­ous rea­­sons some­­times but there are known ways of work­ing around the bro­ken­­ness

  • You re­­boot a lot.

Noth­ing I had­n't guessed al­ready, yet.

Lat­er on, I will try to work a full day us­ing XP, but not now, be­cuse I am rather an­noyed at it at the mo­men­t.