Chad Perrin: SOB

22 June 2006

They say Windows is getting gooder.

Filed under: Geek — apotheon @ 10:57

This story is about Windows, not Linux. You won’t see any mention of any unixy OSes in this entry, after this. If you didn’t already know I use Linux pretty much exclusively at this point, you’d never get that from this entry.

I started with stuff not related to Microsoft. Some old pre-DOS stuff. It didn’t take long before I found myself introduced to DOS.

I remember DOS, and I remember Windows 3.11 (aka Windows for Workgroups). I remember thinking it was pretty neat. There were suddenly things I could do with my computer that I couldn’t before.

Windows 95 came along. It . . . blew. It sucked. I didn’t like it. Everybody else thought it was great, including those who had seen Bill Gates demonstrate the Blue Screen of Death on TV. Time passed, and people started getting frustrated with its shortcomings. Luckily for Microsoft, they got to create their own second chance, and with Service Release 2 it became relatively stable. It was shortly thereafter that I noticed it was somewhat improved, and decided to get another computer at roughly the same time. I ended up with Windows 95. Not all bad.

I met Windows NT 4.0 about the same time as Windows 98 (back when 98 was new). I used 98, but preferred NT. I eventually got my hands on a couple copies of NT, but it wasn’t long before the advent of Win2k, which was even better. It was the best Microsoft operating system yet, as far as I could tell. Sure, Windows 95 had been a huge lunge backward from Windows 3.11 at first, and I was still skeptical of the ongoing attempt to eliminate the command line interface from the user experience entirely. In the absence of advances in a Microsoft operating system that had a really effective command line interface, though, Win2k was the best thing going. A step backward to DOS 3.x wasn’t really a reasonable option.

Originally, the idea was to unify the business and home markets with a single Windows release, Win2k. I was mightily disappointed with the subsequent hurried response to home user incompetence and whining about how logging into the OS was too hard — that response being, of course, the release of Windows ME. Soon, everyone was disappointed with it. Windows XP wasn’t slated for realease for a couple more years (and it may well have had a better name by then), but Microsoft hurried it to market as well, a year later, to cover its butt over the ME fiasco. At least, that’s how I remember all of it happening. Unlike ME, though, it wasn’t a bunch of untested interface confection thrown on top of the Windows 98 codebase. Instead, it was ME-tested interface confection thrown on top of the Windows 2000 codebase. WinXP was touted, as had Win2k been, as a paradigm shift in stability, security, advanced functionality, and user-friendly operation. Once I turned off all the “new” XP features and installed LiteStep as its new GUI display, it was almost as stable and securable as Windows 2000, and didn’t work any more poorly than it had before. I used it for a while, alongside a Win2k box. Sadly, the Win2k box left with an ex-girlfriend — it’s one of the things I missed about her. It’s probably the thing I liked most about her that’s fit for discussion in polite company, in retrospect.

Eventually, I ended up in Florida, using a combination of Windows 98 and XP for both work-related and personal stuff. I no longer had a Windows 2000 copy available to me and, surprisingly, the less I respected Microsoft the more unwilling I was to use “unauthorized” copies of its software, so of course I didn’t use Win2k. The Windows NT copies I had didn’t weather the passage of time as well as Windows 98, so I never really went back to it at that time. Eventually, though, I came into another copy of Win2k (legitimate copy, which I still have in the unlikely event that I need a Windows system of my own again). I started using that, and stopped using WinXP. A few months later, I stopped using Windows entirely, and ultimately the only Windows machine I had left was my current Win2k box, which was turned off and in a corner, in case I needed to turn it on again. Eventually I removed the hard drive (in case I needed that Windows system again), and made use of the machine with a different drive for other purposes. A few months after that, I started having to use Windows once more — specifically WinXP — for some work-related stuff. I installed what was needed for work, and only turned it on specifically when I was working on something for pay. Even then, I ensured I had easy access to something else for anything that didn’t strictly require Windows.

Here it is, 2006. I’m a couple thousand miles northwest of where I was, in northern Colorado. I have access, usually, to a couple of WinXP systems, and actually use them from time to time, though solely for the purpose of testing web design in Internet Explorer or playing City of Heroes/Villains. I intend to get that working on something non-Windowsy as soon as I finish rearranging my network, but for now I’m getting by. I still have my Win2k install safely installed on a 20GB hard drive I’m not actually using.

I’ve still had to work with Windows on occasion, including while working for a “small to medium” corporation as its network administrator and IT resource manager, though most of the network wasn’t Windows. Things might have changed by now, but I doubt they’ve changed that much.

Windows Server 2003 is reportedly the most stable and secure Windows to date, and an excellent, almost bulletproof-dependable server operating system — if you believe the word from Redmond (and Gartner, of course). Vista will be even better, they say, a major paradigm shift in computing security, stability, advanced functionality, and user-friendly operation. Where have I heard that before? Of course, don’t forget that WS2k3 was going to be shipped bug-free.

Let’s discuss the last two days.

Someone I know (I shan’t mention names, lest this come back to her in some way that is unbeneficial) works in a Windows shop. Yesterday, two things needed to happen, apparently: they needed to upgrade a server from Windows 2000 Server to Windows Server 2003, and they needed to install the Windows Update patches for the other server (also Win2k). They started with the 2003 upgrade.

Half the company couldn’t do at least half their work for the two hours the upgrade and testing process would take. Well, okay, three hours. Dammit, the rest of the day. So they did other work. This wasn’t as easy as was expected, darnit. Windows is so easy to install/upgrade/configure. How nice that we’ve come along so far, advancing the state of the art so well.

Okay, so patching the other system. No problem. Right? Wrong. They had a metric arseload of problems with that, too.

Their network administrator eventually went home at something like 2:30 this morning. At least he got everything fixed by then.

. . . except that half the company still couldn’t do half their work today.

I sure am glad that Windows is such a stable, trouble-free system.

What’s left? Security? Well, they haven’t been hit by those critical Excel vulnerabilities that are still unpatched by Microsoft, as of this writing. At least, not that they’re aware. I suppose they might just not have caught a system compromise yet, or maybe I just haven’t been told about it.

Yeah. My experience, first and second hand, with Microsoft operating systems, in a nutshell. I left a lot of details out, like my father trying to teach me C/C++ when I was twelve, my experience with tech school and getting Microsoft certifications, the “interesting” technical issues I’ve run into as a consultant, and so on, but I’m not writing a 600 page book on the subject of Windows and its forebears. Maybe I should, but this isn’t the place for it.

It’s a pretty good overview, I think, for getting the points I wanted to convey to you. Draw your own conclusions.


  1. I have to disagree on one point in this:

    Microsoft didn’t release anything worth using after Windows for Workgroups, and even that was barely worth using.

    Comment by Jaqui — 23 June 2006 @ 06:19

  2. Actually, I think that the command line interface has been improved, starting with NT and minor improvements up to 2003. Still nothing so powerful as bash or ksh, though.

    Where in Florida were you, apotheon? I spent 10+ years in Pensacola (1983-1994). Oh right, you would have only been 18 or 19 when I left there.

    Comment by SterlingCamden — 23 June 2006 @ 02:03

  3. I lived in the Tampa area, but only in this millenium. While I was there, I worked for the Wikimedia Foundation, whose offices are in St. Pete and whose datacenter is in downtown Tampa itself.

    I also lived in the Pensacola area briefly in the late ’80s. Interesting coincidence. At the time, my computer geek father (with whom I was living) was engaged in a business deal that involved producing and selling “self help” audio cassettes.

    Comment by apotheon — 23 June 2006 @ 02:11

  4. i thought cygwin provided a relatively useful (and free) command line environment for windows back when i used that OS :-)

    Comment by sosiouxme — 23 June 2006 @ 06:09

  5. Of course you’re right, sosiouxme, but I was trying to avoid mentioning unixy things and, additionally, speaking of what shipped with the OS and related software — not environments meant to emulate the functionality of other OSes.

    Besides, that doesn’t give the kind of ubiquitous, global functionality interface that the shell does for a proper unixy OS.

    Comment by apotheon — 23 June 2006 @ 09:11

  6. Your experience with Windows largely mirrors mine. Win3.1 was also my first experience with the system, and my first job in the IT world was administering a heterogeneous network of Windows 95/98 workstations, a Sun Enterprise 170 running Solaris, several Linux boxen, and an NT 4.0 file server. Talk about a trial by fire.

    Here’s the thing, though: while I agree with your assessments of the various versions of Windows (although I have found Server 2003 to be remarkably solid), I have not had nearly the number of problems with my various Windows boxen that so many people have reported over the years. I realize that anecdotes don’t necessarily constitute proof, so maybe it’s just because I’m more technially astute than the typical Windows user and thus have been better able to anticipate problems and take care of them. But I have generally managed to keep my Windows machines running smoothly and largely crash-free.

    Funny you mention Vista. I get to see how much “gooder” it really is–a colleague at work downloaded and burned the beta to DVD yesterday, so I plan to install the thing and give it a whirl. Should you wish me luck?

    Comment by cluebyfour — 23 June 2006 @ 10:34

  7. Yes, cluebyfour — technically astute users aren’t bitten as often or as nastily as those who let things happen to them. Windows has a way of accumulating those little mistakes into big problems.

    Comment by SterlingCamden — 24 June 2006 @ 02:39

  8. . . . and I’ve often been the guy that fixes the problems. My absolute worst-ever client in technical terms, to whom I tended to refer as “The Luddite”, had a major Windows crises about once every two weeks. This was in an office of two workstations and one server, for crying out loud. Once we (the consultancy) convinced him to let me (the guy that was doing the work) swap out the Windows fileserver for a Linux fileserver, panic calls from him dropped about 80% — even the Windows desktops worked better, because they no longer had to interoperate with anything but the Internet and a Linux fileserver. In the days when there was a Windows fileserver, two messes meeting in the middle produced a bigger mess.

    On the rare occasion that he ever called about the Linux server, it was because he’d done something like accidentally unplug it. That amounts to a 100% decrease in stability issues, since there was never a technical call that related to the software on that server ever again.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 June 2006 @ 03:44

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License