Friday, May 03, 2013

When Is An OS Not An OS?

You know I'm a Linux user. My PC has been a dual-boot for the past seven years — i.e, I use Windows, too, but only to sync up the family iPods. About a week ago I installed the new desktop version of Ubuntu.

And then the problems started.

I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say they weren't the usual stutter-starts that occur when an OS has been released prematurely. No, this stuff was “Everything is hanging in the balance” serious. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work, keeping my super-talented brother on speed-dial.

At first I assumed the problem was with me — I'm as fluent in coding as I am in German or French. Put me in a roomful of natives (or open a terminal) and I'll eventually get my point across, but it won't be pretty.

As the trials (and days) wore on, I began to wonder if something wasn't seriously messed up with this release. That's happened before, and with Ubuntu's stubborn insistence on a tablet desktop (which is crap on tablets and worse on PCs) it could be that their development eye is so far off the ball they've forgotten how to cover the basics.

But when, after various re-installation attempts for Ubuntu and Windows 7, I was greeted with this screen . . .

. . . my brother began to wonder if the problem didn't originate with “our friends in Redmond.”

Maybe, maybe not. All I know is:

a) right now Windows 7 is the only OS that installs successfully on my PC.

b) Windows 8 is Microsoft's “closed” OS — i.e., Microsoft is now emulating Apple's method (to dubious effect, of which I'll say more later).

c) Windows 8 monkeys with the host BIOS. In other words, if you install Windows 8 on a machine — or get a machine with Windows 8 already on it — Windows basically breaks into the BIOS and changes the locks behind it, so that Windows 8 is the only OS that will run on that machine.

Microsoft isn't the only outfit that can monkey with a BIOS, of course. As my friend, who did time as a BIOS engineer, is fond of saying, “Firmware ain't that firm.” But I'm not a hacker. I doubt I even qualify as a geek. Opening up the BIOS and putting it back together so it does what I tell it to — I'd have an easier time performing that function on my cat.

Besides, “User Error” is still the likeliest cause of my troubles. For now I'm stuck using a functional-if-disagreeable OS, and contemplating Microsoft's larger market strategy. The whole experience has got me wondering.

Why would Microsoft lock up the BIOS? More to the point, why would hardware manufacturers consent to this? Anyone who buys a new PC hoping to install something else on it now faces a hacker's challenge, which the manufacturer's End User Licensing Agreement strongly discourages. I studied Hewlett-Packard's EULA this week, and they aren't threatening patent infringement lawsuits — yet. But as my screen message amply displays, the component manufacturer is keen to let the user know this is certainly a possible scenario.

This antagonism toward the consumer is baffling to me. It's hardly putting the best foot forward with potential customers. For Apple to sell their closed and externally controlled environment they had to have a product that made the consumer swoon. Windows 8 ain't doing that. Sales for their OS aren't just hurting, they're having a negative effect on the hardware that hosts it. Meanwhile, closed systems are losing momentum precisely while “open” systems like Android are taking flight.

But secondly, just consider the ironies of my situation: I only bothered myself with a PC because it could run Linux simultaneously with Windows, which accommodated my household Apple products. If I am now forced to align myself with a closed system, whatever would possess me to take up with the company that pulled the rug out from under my feet?

Anyway, I've already put the money down, so for the foreseeable future a Windows 7 user I shall be — which ain't a bad OS, frankly. Who knows? I might just finally give Halo a spin. New mantra: contentment in confinement.

All I'm saying is, any OS that bears down hard on the dilettante coder cannot be a good thing.

1 comment:

Yahmdallah said...

Couldn't agree more.

I use Xubuntu as my main box. I have a Windows XP downstairs I got from someone who bought a new system, which is our main, shared workhorse system. My daughter has the one Windows 7 laptop in the house.

Work recently got me a MacBook Pro, which I'm enjoying because the mousepad accepts most of the gestures you use on an iPad/DroidPad, getting past most of the egregiousness of standard mousepads. I find I almost never need a mouse.

But the closed system thing does abraid the soul. I refuse to use iTunes. All apps I've put on it bypass the app store. Winamp finally stepped up and made a mac version. So, save for the OS itself, I'm not using Apple apps on it. I'm a rebel baby.