I ran across an article yesterday [Link] about how Windows is being nibbled down on the edges. The thesis is that
I see two strong trends here. On the high end, people are buying Macs instead of Windows PC. On the low end, Linux is eating Windows alive.
My first concern over this is that I am not at all clear what is meant here by high and low end.
If you are perceptive, or even just subjecting my blogging to a time series averaging computation, you would have noticed I cut down on my blogging about a week ago. This was due to a rather critical distraction rather than a loss of interest. My venerable Dell Precision 620 workstation that I had been using for most of this decade with Windows 2K installed has been dying a slow and painful death of what might be likened to senile dementia brought on by cardiac arrest. Alternately, there were all manner of problems associated with processing and storage that seemed traceable to problems with power supply and its transmission. I have commented on this in previous blots.
About six months ago I became sufficiently interested in Ubuntu to purchase a spare hard drive for my Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop and dedicate it to Ubuntu. Well, after six months of stately progress – that’s management doublespeak for frequent mistakes and glitches but most of them corrected in reasonable time or at least an adequate work around found – I decided to take the plunge and “replace” my Precision 620 with another box and try to run Ubuntu on it. In effect, the experiment would be to make this my primary desktop box.
Mind you, this is not an absolute leap of irretrievable lemmingness. There is still the functional back-up HP XW5000 running XP sitting next to the Precision box. But this box has never been quite as useful as the Precision 620, mostly because XP is not as responsive an OS as 2K. Still it manages to do well enough for most of what I need to do.
I conducted a market survey for refurbished workstations. This is an eccentricity of mine; I have the conviction – belief with cognitive dissonance? – that a used tank is superior to a new SUV. It is unquestionably hardier and if it has survived the depredations of the troops it must be reckonable. The temporally local extremal opportunity was a rebuilt Precision 370 stripped back to bare drive. I obtained this beast for slightly less than a new “home” minimalist box with the benefits of a much better built motherboard, a goodly sized SCSI HD and a reasonable amount of RAM, and since it’s a desktop its condition as what Jerry Pournelle in the heyday of Byte called a “boat anchor” is not negative.
Anyway, while I was waiting on delivery of the box – 5 days from Texas – I downloaded an ISO of the latest Ubuntu release and burned a CD on the HP box. Upon arrival however, I found that the video card in the box had a connector other than standard VGA so I had to find a source for one and wait for it to get shipped to Greater Metropolitan Arab – another five days from New Yawk. The caveat here is that this is self imposed by my frugality. I could have had a new cable overnight if I had been willing to pay about a fourth of what I spent for the box instead of 0.04.
Anyway, once cable and box are in hand, it is a matter of moments to get old 620 out of its position next my desk and replaced with the 370. A few more moments to boot Ubuntu followed by perhaps twice that to install. Overall something like thirty minutes total.
At this point the first priority is to get the box connected to my wireless network. Now the grrr brrr is that Ubuntu’s greatest weakness is wireless, but I have had no problems with it on my Inspiron laptop other than having to transnumerate wireless key phrases into hexadecimal. My hope was to use the same adapter I had been using with my 620, a ZyXel USB adapter. Well, no LINUX driver on the CD or their web site, but I found one on an archive site. The install wouldn’t take.
So I tried installing the Windows driver in a wrapper. The box still would not recognize the adapter. So I next tried a Belkin thumb adapter. Ubuntu recognized it and I got on the network but after an hour or so it would wander off into Peter Pan Land. So I did a search on which adapters are Ubuntu compatible and then a market survey. Result, an adapter from Amazon and another five day wait. But the new adapter, a 3COM, worked like Sherman’s army in Sowth Carolina and I soon had a connection to the sea that hasn’t gone bad since. But this may be the lesson to be learned here.
Other than that, it has been a matter of stately progress. I now have all of my email accounts working either through Firefox or Evolution. Thunderbird has this annoying habit of bombing so I had to move on. That means I can’t add stuff to Google calendar directly from Evolution but that is supposed to change with the next update. So as Valentine Michael Smith would say, “Waiting is.” But I am catching my RSS feeds and I have ScribeFire to do blogging in – there is no “good” standalone Ubuntu/Linux blogging editor that I can find. And I can download podcasts – faster than on my Windows boxes – and get over to my MP3 player. And I can write code and do all sorts of stuff that is a rectal pain in Widows.
So I have to come back to the high and low end thing. I can somewhat see the Mac OS as high end in the same way that daughters are high end; that is, more expensive than they should be. But having had to use a Mac when I was working for the Yankee army, I can also say that it is definitely very low end when it comes to letting you do what needs to be done, even lower than Windows. And the Linux is low end in that it costs less directly but perhaps a bit more in indirect, especially skull sweat time.
But that is what makes it high end.
So I think we have a situation like charge. Why do we say an electron has a negative charge? No definite reason. We could have said a proton has a negative charge just as easily. So perhaps this whole high/low end thing with OS is a red herring? Maybe its more about what we want in the way of performance and the Mac and Linux OS meet different needs than does Windows?