Archive for March, 2009

The dreaded switch from Windows to Linux

Monday, March 16th, 2009

When I saw how bad XP really was as far as handling spyware/viruses no different than 2k, I decided to just move to Linux, kill my Windows partition completely, and have been happy ever since. That was exactly my reasoning for staying with Windows 2000 while Windows XP was being introduced.

Previously my attempts to move to Linux had been unsuccessful because I had problems getting certain hardware working (obscure sound card, video drivers) and was concerned about what software would be available (certain emulators I had grown fond of, video codecs, etc), which was what most people worry about. “Well does it have Nero?”. No, but it has 6 or more different types of burning programs to choose from – all for free and with a self-explanitory GUI. “But it won’t run Nero?”. Those are the people who simply don’t want to even give it a chance. Well fine and dandy. The spyware/adware/viruses/trojans/worms are worth putting up with so you can run Nero – that’s your choice (actually, the makers of Nero were kind enough to make a Linux port). Anyway, even Windows 2000 was giving me some problems, such as booting into a blue screen telling me my registry had become corrupt, and also getting infected by viruses/worms such as Blaster.

I had everything up to date, all patched up, antivirus installed, and I have enough common sense not to click on strange things, but still contracted the virus. All because of an exploited flaw in Windows that I could do nothing about except wait for Microsoft to issue a patch…when they felt like it. A few reinstalls later and I just figured it wasn’t worth it putting up with all the headaches.

When I started running Linux, I quickly saw the advantages. Installing software didn’t require the usual “Next, Next, uncheck every checkbox, delete desktop and quicklaunch icons, uninstall additional software installed along with the software I actually wanted, check for hidden startup items, make sure program doesn’t phone home”. When I started my PC I wasn’t greeted by millions of splash screens, applications that couldn’t make a connection popping up and letting me know, I didn’t have to readjust settings that kept resetting for some reason (volume levels, icon positions on the quicklaunch). Linux is about using your PC and not just working around problems to get what you want. Then I realized that upon discovering all this I didn’t even have to worry about viruses at all, and I had no problems with crashes. Even if programs didn’t behave in a way I expected I found it simple to find solutions since the error messages meant something (not the typical “FATAL EXCEPTION IN 0x011a43”) and I could see exceptions thrown if I launched an application from a terminal.

Microsoft needs to start shipping installs secured from the start. Require an admin/install user account for new system wide applications, sandbox user installed software in their home directory/profile. Users then don’t trash everything when they kill their profile or home directory. Windows has all the necessary features to do it. It’s had them since the first versions of NT.

Microsoft frankly can’t be bothered with it and there’s no profit in a secured system when they can instead continually be selling you upgrades as security fixes. It isn’t rocket science, it’s just segregation of responsibility. Unix has been doing it for 30 years.

For instance, Vista’s new “People Near Me” feature, which searches over a Wi-Fi connection for other Vista users nearby and then sets up a peer-to-peer network with them. Yeah, that sounds pretty secure. When they have things like the WMF flaw in the designs, which ended up in Vista as well as XP and 2000 all the way down to 3.1, they are NOT about security. This has little to do with MS bashing – it’s just that MS doesn’t think much about security and most IT people know it whether they’re Windows fanboys or not.

Since “upgrade or keep crashing” was one of XP’s marketing points, it makes me wonder exactly what they’ll come up with to market Vista. Maybe something along these lines. The funniest thing is that Microsoft has no problem telling you how bad their past products are when they’re offering a new version of their software. It’s amazing how it was “the best thing ever” when it was first released and until it end-of-lifed. They never admit to making a bad product until it’s time to shell out some cash for an upgrade. Amazing how that works. Ah well, I guess it makes good business sense, right?

All in all, I’m glad I switched. My girlfriend, however, gets upset a lot when I mention how much more I like Linux than Windows – I mean downright pissed off on occasion. Yeah, I bash Windows a lot. I don’t mean to “rub it in” or whatever, but I find quite often that people are just so used to putting up with Windows problems, it becomes part of the norm and they don’t realize the problems any more because it’s an everyday thing when using Windows. For instance, spyware bogging down a Windows PC – the response is to immediately run Spybot or Adaware to clean things up. Ok, you’re running those for half an hour to fix a problem that you shouldn’t have to put up with to begin with. Some say Linux hasn’t been targetted because it holds such a small part of the market, but it comes down to security again. Internet Explorer is embedded so deep into the OS, you simply can’t uninstall MSIE. You just can’t. With this deep integration, it makes it very easy for spyware/adware/viruses/trojans/worms to do their thing – especially when, by default, you have admin rights given to you on the machine as well. All you need to do is visit a web site in order to get any of these ran on your Windows PC – all without user intervention…it’s all nice and automatic. This doesn’t happen on a PC running Linux because you’re forced to create a secondary user account during the install and run under that user (with most Linux distros). That and programs just don’t install without prompting you for your root password.

Perhaps Windows 7 will be better, but barring a complete re-write, I don’t believe things will change much in the spyware/adware/viruses/trojans/worms realm when Windows 7 is released. Vista only added a “are you sure you want to do this” popup that becomes incredibly annoying to assist in “security”. I hear that Windows 7 allows you to disable IE, but we’ll see what it looks like when released. But why listen to me, I’m just a Linux fanboy/zealot 😉