I haven’t run Windows as my primary OS at work almost since I started my current job. For quite some time, I ran it on a secondary machine, using the excellent x2vnc to drive the box from one keyboard and mouse. When that machine died, I invested in moving it over to a virtual machine.

Some time ago, I got fed up with Windows XP crippling my system’s overall performance. See, IT forces Windows machines on the domain to run McAfee anti-virus. Given how often I use Windows (and how I got in the habit of logging out when I am not checking mail), it would tend to happen that McAfee would insist on doing a complete system scan all the time. This, of course, caused the virtual machine’s CPU usage to hover over 50% and pegged the system’s I/O, making it painful to even switch windows (on the host, even), let alone get any work done. There’s another story there, but suffice to say, I haven’t fired up XP in some time.

Today I fired up old XP again to grab some files off the machine, and maybe to import my Outlook mail archives into Thunderbird, so I could use them on the new Linux VM. After watching the performance go from “bad” to “abysmal” (several seconds just to scroll a file list?), I realized the problem. Okay, so I’ll fire up Task Manager and kill the never-to-be-sufficiently-cursed McAfee.

“The operation could not be completed. Access is denied.”


Okay… if I can’t kill it, at least I can tell it to be nice and quit hogging all my resources… so I change the priority (it’s currently one step below Real Time, no wonder it kills the system!) to the lowest setting.

“The operation could not be completed. Access is denied.”

Excuse me? I am logged in as local administrator. This means I should be able to control my machine, but Windows doesn’t let me. On Linux this would never happen. Now, it’s not unheard of on Linux for a process to get kernel-locked (i.e. the process is stuck in an uninterpretable kernel call – in my experience this tends to happen when an NFS server goes down), but Linux would never tell me I can’t do something because I don’t have permission. On Linux, when I am root, I am root, in total control of my machine.

Oh, yeah, and then there is the “updates have been installed, you need to restart your computer” nag message, that I have to click on periodically or XP will decide to restart without my permission.


Linux and Updates


One excellent feature of Linux that Windows needs to emulate is managing updates. Most Linux distributions have an update tool that handles updates for you, not just of the OS (whatever you take that to mean on a system that’s built from parts from many diverse suppliers) but for everything installed on your system, so long as you installed it from your distro’s package repositories. (Most users won’t ever need to go outside of the repositories.) You can even configure automatic updates if you like, but unlike Windows, the OS doesn’t pressure into turning them on. (Most of the time it doesn’t turn them on automatically, either, which Windows is known to do. I can’t say “never” because there’s been at least one instance where it did, but it was a bug, and you’d better believe it got fixed.) And while “user friendliness” is pushing more distributions to adopt “updates are available” messages, you can always turn them off, and Linux will never reboot without your permission due to updates. You might get prompted that you should reboot, but you don’t have to.

See, Linux handles updates (more specifically, in-use files) better than Windows. If you’re a Windows user, you may have seen “file in use” errors. Except for the occasional application that implements its own concurrency-prevention methods (OpenOffice.org comes to mind), you simply don’t see this on Linux. That’s because Linux has no problem deleting an in-use file. On Windows, you can’t do that. On Linux, it just detaches the file from the file system, and cleans it up when whatever had it open either closes it or goes away. This is why, on Linux, it is easy to do updates. You simply replace the old application with the new one. With a few odd exceptions (most notably Firefox), you can keep using the application because the file isn’t actually deleted immediately; you’ll get the new version when you restart the application. (The reason it sometimes doesn’t work is if an application reopens a file that has changed since the application was started.) So you never have to reboot after updates. For most applications, restarting the application is enough. Only for the kernel and a few core system services do you not see the benefit of updates until you reboot.

My eyes! MY EYES!


So a coworker was showing me Windows 7 today. Besides that it still looks like Windows (what, still no virtual desktops?), they’ve obviously been stealing from compiz (about time, only took them ten years or so).

Only one thing jumped out at me in the brief tour… the wallpaper. Specifically, the wallpaper that looks like it was made by a bunch of five year olds on crack. I don’t want to know what they were thinking when they picked out the “art” set, but it’s in the category of “things I would have been happier not seeing”. The other collections weren’t quite such an occular assault, but still, a lot of their contents were mediocre-at-best photos… the sort of thing you’d find on kde-look.org.