Of Operating Systems

For weeks now, those of us who are lazy unfortunate enough to have been using Windows 8 have been looking forward to the first update, Windows 8.1. The upgrade was free, and the yes-men reviewers on the interwebtron have been crowing about how wwwwuuuuunnnnndddeeerrrrffffuuuuullll it is. And, hoo-boy! Let me tell you what! When I went to my laptop yesterday morning, it notified me that it had installed updates. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I thought maybe the OS fairy had updated my computer. But no. So, after pawing around the ‘net, trying to figure out how to install this thing, and after a couple hours futzing with it to convince it to download and install, I booted up into Microsoft’s latest creation. It was at least two hours, and seemed significantly longer, but regardless seems entirely too long for the download and install of some 3.5-ish gb of an OS upgrade. I seem to remember that I used to download and install a far more full-featured Debian system in a fraction of the time back in the day. Regardless, I started poking around at the new features. Perhaps this is worth a review.

Windows 8.1 gets a good solid ‘meh’ rating from me. Apparently the ‘.1’ means ‘NOW WITH START BUTTON! AGAIN!!!’ in Microsoft-speak. At one of my day jobs, I had a supervisor who had me log into one of their brand new laptops to complete some kind of work training program. He asked eagerly if I had yet used a Windows 7 machine, which I told him that I had not. He told me an overview of what my task was and to his surprise, I performed the action as he started to explain the steps, despite the fact that my M$ experience was only as recent as XP.

“I thought you said you hadn’t used 7 yet,” he noted incredulously.

“I haven’t,” I shrugged, “it’s just more Windows.”

Seriously. They didn’t label the ‘start’ button as such and the interface was slicker. It ran the same anyway. When I got my last laptop, it shipped with Vista. XP to Vista? Yawn. Vista was bloated and buggy, but otherwise basically a slicked-up XP. Vista to 7? The latter works better, but it’s mostly just an ironed out version of the former. The transition from 7 to 8, I was nervous about. For no good reason, I might add. I found that since I only run 8 in ‘desktop mode,’ it’s basically the same but without that button and a start screen instead of a start menu. I’m not sure what I expected from ‘.1,’ but I guess significantly more than the return of THE BUTTON. And, since this isn’t really long enough to be a stand-alone review of 8.1 (which looks like ‘B.J.’ at a glance), I may as well just rant on about the common operating systems in general.

Windows is like your basic white bread. Virtually nobody really likes it, and it’s not really worth what you pay for it, but it will make a sandwich for like 99% of the people and institutions out there. It’s relatively cheap and easy enough. Mac OS, on the other hand, is like the mass-produced baguette-bread you might get at some hipster coffee shop chain. It tastes marginally better than the M$ white bread, but it’s stupidly overpriced, and the people who habitually eat it think their farts don’t stink. If you use Mac OS, it doesn’t make you look nearly as cool and interesting as you think it does. So sorry. Linux is like all the ingredients you can buy at the grocery store to go home and bake your own bread. You stand there at the check out counter with your flour and eggs and whatever else goes into the recipe, stupidly grinning at the cashier with the anticipation of how delicious and healthy your bread will be when you get done with it. If you have acquired the knowledge and skills, and if you put in the time and effort, that’s going to be some dang fine bread for sure, made to your specifications. Most of us have neither the time nor patience for that nonsense. Even Ubuntu, arguably the easiest Linux distro is like getting the packet of ingredients that you mix up and throw in your breadmaker. I haven’t found it to be worth the effort for the returns.

So, I’ve been using M$ Windon’t variants. For a while, I did dilly dally with Linux, and still admire it as an OS, but it just takes far too much work to get to where I want it to be. My KDE desktop environment (meta redundancy deliberate) was prettier and faster than anything M$ or Mac available, on half the hardware. And then, I’d go and edit some config file, crash the thing, and wasn’t smart enough to fix it. Weeks of work down the drain and out a computer to boot. Pun much intended. There are even a couple of iThings in the house that we spent some time playing with in the past. We begrudgingly use Windows because the OS market kind of sucks. Either you’re a serious DIYer, or you buy from the box whichever of the big boy is the lesser of two evils.

Why isn’t there a basic, affordable organic market bread OS out there? It would be totally great if there was one that was as configurable as Linux, as robust as the more obscure ‘nixes, as easy as Windon’t or Mac OS, that would run basic programs, and would behave with whatever hardware combination out of the box. If Android was developed into something that most people would want to use on a desktop system, then maybe it might fill such a hole in the market. My guess is that it would be far more likely to just turn out like a clone of Mac OS or Ubuntu instead.

I guess the major take away from this rant is that operating systems pretty much suck in general. Hardware is gaining speed at an alarming rate, but the software isn’t reflecting that progress. We can look around and marvel at how sophisticated technology is, but without the software to back up the hardware, we’re spinning our wheels in the long run. A friend of mine was a programmer in the old days. His school classes taught him that the computers only had so many resources, so you had to program lean to stay usable. Then one day, this guy Bill Gates came by and said that all these computers had to be faster to run this new whiz-bang thing that he came up with. And, here we are.

Somebody out there, someone smarter than me, get off your butt and get to coding already.

p.s. – This morning, I had to restart the network card in order to connect under 8.1 this morning, just as I have routinely had to do under 8 point nothing. So many dazzling improvements…

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11 thoughts on “Of Operating Systems

  1. Which is why I stopped at Winblows 7, 8 just looked entirely too stupid for me. I think most of the problem is that the crap they include is thought up by some marketing jackass who really knows nothing about computers but has the authority to decide what to put in it.

  2. Mac guy here. I don’t look down on Windows users — I never had any trouble with ’em — but once I heard what a disaster Vista was, I went Mac and haven’t looked back since. My wife’s had a couple of good Windows 7 machines, though. But Windows 8? I don’t want any part of that, and if that means eating the baguette and having people think I’m crazy for having spent so much money on it, well, that’s all right. Every bite of it has been quite tasty indeed. 😉

  3. Bravo, Michael! I admit that as soon as I got home last night, I downloaded Win 8.1 and stayed up until nearly 1 am to get it downloaded, up and running. Having said that, though, I am VERY pleased with the results so far. I had downloaded an app that restored the start button on Win8; I no longer need it.

    I hate Win8 with a purple passion. Win8.1 has upgraded my OS to just a bloated annoyance full of tiles that I will never use because they confuse the hell out of me. JUST GIVE ME THE DAMN DESKTOP! If I want access to something else, I’ll put a shortcut on it. End of problem.

  4. 2 desktops, a laptop, and a tablet, all running Win XP Pro.
    Works for me. Why should I be forced into buying all new software
    just so Bill can fund another 3rd world nation

    • Heh. My boss “provided” a computer for me to use at work (I’m in IT, ironically) that’s got less operating power than the computer used on the Apollo 13 landing module, so I brought in one from home. Its got XP, and I have no urge to upgrade. The one I use at home all the time had Vista on it. I used a Linux boot environment, wiped the hard drive, and installed XP instead. At the shop, I’ve downgraded more computers from 8 back to 7 (yes. Its possible.) than I have upgraded the other direction.

  5. FWIW, in my house android is the king of the hill

    Its used on the phones, tablets and even TV. We dont currently have an Android box running with an attached keyboard, but thats more of a case of we only have one box with an attached keyboard and it came with windows 7 and we havent bothered to do anything else with it since.

    Its sort of the Linux that was made by someone else and works most places. Think of it as your semi artisanal breads made at a major bakery and sold at your standard grocery store, but its not sold so much as given out for free.

    Tastes better, price is right, just sometimes the size/shape is a little strange.

    Actually the android box that gets the most play in the house is this little guy


  6. A huge problem with Linux is that for some reason a distribution will come along that’s better than average…then once it is stable and working well whoever is in charge gets bored and decides that what we really need is New Technology. Ubuntu was great–then they decided to switch from a working sound system to PulseAudio, and arbitrarily move the window controls to the other side of the screen. Then they had to beat Windows 8 to the punch with tablet-izing the desktop.

    I don’t want to keep re-learning a new OS, especially when I use one at home and another at work. I want stability, bug fixes and new hardware–and possibly a slow evolution of new features that don’t require big user interface changes.

  7. Pingback: The Operating System Cage Match! | In Jennifer's Head

  8. Is it OK to like OS X and be pissed off about how much it costs anyway? Actually, the OS is cheap it’s the damn hardware that’s outlandish.

    I’ve noticed that every OS has a glaring flaw. Every one has something that’s great.

    When it’s all said and done, it’s just a computer.

    I’ve never gotten the OS wars, or the Ford v Chevy thing. People just can’t be happy that someone else is happy with something they don’t prefer.

  9. I’ve been using Windows since 3.1, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    There’s nothing completely great about any version, but at least the latest versions have all handled memory better. Before Vista, you couldn’t run more than 2 or 3 programs at once without risking the dreaded BSOD.

    I use Windows mainly because of its convenience, and because it’s cheaper than Apple.

    In the end, they’re all just one flavour or another for interfacing with the machine. Different people like different flavours.

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