Originally Published: Tuesday, 5 September 2000 Author: Robin Miller
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Licked by Windows 2000, Sticking with Linux

I freely admit that I am the most clueless Linux user in the world. My two favorite commands are "point" and "click," and I often screw up when I try some of the more advanced ones, like "cut" and "paste." Obviously, Windows is the operating system someone like me is supposed to use, except for one thing: It is too hard to install and configure, so I'm forced to stick with Linux.

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I freely admit that I am the most clueless Linux user in the world. My two favorite commands are "point" and "click," and I often screw up when I try some of the more advanced ones, like "cut" and "paste." Obviously, Windows is the operating system someone like me is supposed to use, except for one thing: It is too hard to install and configure, so I'm forced to stick with Linux.

Microsoft touts Windows as the operating system for know-nothings. Being a know-little, which means I'm just smart enough not to drool on my keyboard, I should have been overjoyed to find that my new laptop came with Windows 2000 preinstalled. In theory, all I had to do was enter things like my name and address and type in a long, obscure registration number, then go to work.

But there's a ringer in my life: because both my wife and I work on the Internet all day long (and often half the night), my home/office computers must be connected not only together but also to a printer a scanner, a backup storage device, and to a cable modem. And, since Comcast@home cuts out on us five or six times in the average week, we must have a backup dialup connection available at all times. Add in the factor that we often have guests who have their own laptops, and need to plug them into our network while they're here, and suddenly my home computer system becomes as complicated as those you find in most small businesses.

Again, if the ads were to be believed, Windows 2000 should have been the perfect system for my needs. The only problem was that I couldn't get it to work.

I'm not blaming the operating system itself. It was designed by the world's most successful software company and there is no way it could possibly be anything less than perfectly user friendly, so I assume that it was my fault that I couldn't get Windows 2000 to recognize my network and my Internet connection.

I tried. Honest. I stepped around through little "help" dialog boxes for a few hours, trying to figure out what was wrong, wondering why I was having so much trouble. I pointed and I clicked, and I pointed and clicked some more, to the point where my poor right hand was so sore that I could barely move it and my brain was so overwhelmed that I couldn't even spell well enough to post on Slashdot, let alone write something like the artful essay you're reading now.

And then I gave up. I'm sorry, but I am not a true hacker. I am a writer, and I like my computer to work all the time. If I never reboot it at all, that's fine with me. If it doesn't have every latest gizmo, that's okay too. I just want to sit down and do my work; a little Internet research, transcribe an interview or two, write my little stories and stick a little HTML into them, then either upload them where they belong or send them by email to another site's editor who will handle the upload at that end.

If I was a true hacker I would have delighted in figuring out Windows 2000, but besides an outstanding lack of interest I was faced with another writers' curse: deadlines. I simply didn't have time to play around with my computer. I had to go to work!

If I hadn't been so rushed, perhaps I could have called Microsoft's support line for help. Or perhaps I could have found a friend who knew enough about Windows to get me going. (While most of the people I know these days prefer Linux, some of them use Windows at work.) But those deadlines were staring me in the face. And besides, if someone sent you a brand-new, too-slick, high-powered HP Omnibook, wouldn't you want to get it going as quickly as you could? Me too.

The only solution I could think of on the spur of the moment was to do what I had done the last few times I'd had to set up a new computer in a hurry, namely stick a Linux-Mandrake CD in the slot, boot the sucker up, and stand back. Corel, Caldera, Red Hat, and some of the other commercial Linux distributions are just as easy (so I'm told), but as dumb as I am, it's not wise to switch. Once I find something that works for me I like to stick with it even if other alternatives are technically superior and offer nightly apt-get uprgrades or other tech-groovy features I don't really need.

Two hours after I stuck the first Mandrake CD in my new laptop's hard drive, I had a working, networked, fully-loaded system, complete with StarOffice, a choice of Gnome or KDE on my desktop, and my favorite accounting program (GNUCash) working, and all necessary files imported, and I was busily whacking out and uploading copy with my new laptop. And I spent hardly any of that two hour installation time paying any attention to what was going on with it. Unlike Windows 2000, which seemed to need some sort of question answered every minute or two during the setup process, Mandrake just whirred away on its own, leaving me free to turn out some of the work I'd let go while I was messing with Windows 2000. All I had to do during the whole install was swap CDs a few times, and after it was done I spent a minute or two typing in the assorted IP, gateway, netmask, and kPPP stuff. Nothing to it!

It had been almost two years since my last Windows install, and I had never used anything beyond Windows 98 or tried to network with Windows before. I also fault myself for not having had time to read through manuals or go to Windows users group meetings or take other steps to become familiar with this complex operating system. It is entirely possible that Windows 2000 is easy to get running and networked for people who have taken time to learn how it works from the bottom up.

But since I'm not a geek who delights in playing with obscure operating systems, just a writer who uses his computers as tools, I think I'll stick with Linux until Microsoft (or another proprietary software vendor) comes out with an operating system that is easier to set up than than the latest round of Linux distributions -- and sells it at a Linux-competitive price.

Robin 'roblimo' Miller is editorial director for the Open Source Development Network and boss editor at NewsForge.com. Sometimes we think he's not as technically inept as he claims, but it's hard to tell.





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