Almost everthing has purpose, including Microsoft Windows

I work with two computer operating systems every day, Ubuntu Linux and Microsoft Windows. I post new things I find on web forums, both problems I’m having and tips for others. Whenever I get help from someone for my problems, I try to help at least one other. Once in a while, I hang out in IRC channels for a quicker fix of my community addiction.

A good number of people I give help and get help from aren’t blinded by people who detract from what others like to use for an operating system. It’s difficult for us practical people though, because there are many others out there that shout to promote their favourite toys and disparage those who use other, competing wares. It seems that it should be hard to tune out this noise, yet an interesting article will have huge strings of posts fuelled by these “fanbois”; making the few interesting comments that practical people offer difficult to find.

In my view, an operating system is only a means to an end — tools to manipulate some bits into, hopefully, doing what you want. At this point, and for what I can see will be for the next few years, there is no one affordable operating system that can do everything a person needs. (A note to Mac fanbois, your financial priorities are much different than mine.) I use Ubuntu exclusively at home, and for the majority of my work. However, there are a few Windows programs that I can’t do without, such as Quickbooks, MS Access, MS Excel, and Irfanview. Coworkers that I support also have a few other programs that they wouldn’t want to swap out; not being wildly computer-oriented they also dislike changes in the what they see on the screen.

Microsoft Windows (and by that I mean the affordable XP Home, XP Pro, Vista Basic) is best for:

  • running software made for Microsoft Windows;
  • enabling the use of hardware devices that have only been on the market for a few months;

but it doesn’t:

  • give a simple way to seamlessly export its windows to other machines*;
  • provide a set of signed repositories that includes most software a person needs;
  • allow a technician to update or configure the software without a big production of user distraction and downtime;
  • stay easy for a person to keep updated and secure;
  • make it simple and frugal to use in a multi-user networked environment.

So what I envision as a workable solution is a combination of machines that offer the best of both operating systems. In an office or large household, it’s quite normal for there to be several machines; and that can be a huge advantage.

Newer machines with lots of RAM can be run with virtualization software (KVM, Virtualbox, VMWare). This allows for multiple operating systems (aka “virtual machines”) to be run on one piece of hardware. For these machines, I’ve been suggesting using AMD over Intel, as it’s simpler to know in advance of purchase that vitualization is fully supported by the hardware. However, I believe most newer computers have no problems doing this or need very quick adjustments to the system.

Older machines, regardless of the amount of RAM, can be used as thin clients to the larger machine. I’m appalled by the amount of computers people discard as junk that can be used for this purpose. Also, I’ve set up and used some very nice new specialized thin client boxes that use little electricity and are super-nice to the wallet.

A combination of those machines takes care of the first requirement, running software made for Microsoft Windows.

Older machines that have a good amount of RAM can be used to meet the second requirement, enabling the use of hardware devices that have only been on the market for a few months.

* A method to seamlessly export MS Windows applications is described at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SeamlessVirtualization, yet I don’t have the time or cash to experiment with it.

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4 Comments

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