Upgrade to Windows 7 Pro from Windows XP Pro, or move to LINUX?

Fedora Core

Fedora Core

I ran MS Windows 2000 for several years after MS Windows XP was released.  Why?  At over $200 WinXP was just too damned expensive!  I’ll drop $50 to $100 for prior MS operating systems.  It was fun to have the latest bells and whistles, and worth it to me, but at $200+ that’s just too huge a financial commitment.

Add to that the genuine copy crap you have to put up with just really turned me off to upgrading.  I waited and waited for Microsoft to drop the price of WinXP Pro for literally years.  Finally I was able to find a legitimate copy online for $130.  Windows VISTA was released and to make upgrading even more unappealing Microsoft introduced the concept of tying the software and hardware together.  You could buy an upgrade but then you couldn’t move that copy of Windows to a new computer.  Perhaps I am uncommon but I’d rather spend a few dollars more building my own system than buy a ready built computer.  Normally I just upgrade the motherboard, CPU, memory and graphics adapter, keeping the hard drive(s).  If I wanted to do this I would have to buy the full priced version of VISTA.  Thankfully VISTA wasn’t something that I would have wanted to buy anyway.

Windows 7, on the other hand, seems to be a better release.  It still has some of the negatives of VISTA but since my computer at work is VISTA I’ve learned many of the subtle changes.  My main reason for wanting to move to Windows 7 is th 64 bit architecture.  Since I like playing around with Oracle’s VirtualBox I would like to have more system memory than the 32 bit OS allows (>4GB).  After I was recently unable to do a podcast because my WinXP computer was infected with a JAVA born virus I thought I really needed to do something different.  Something that didn’t require a multi-hour process of research and repair, or the seemingly shorter process of reloading WinXP.  Seemingly because of the hours and hours of reloading and reconfiguring the software that has been loaded and used for literally years on my current PC.

Oracle’s has VirtualBox versions for Windows or LINUX.  I thought, what if I could run Linux as my host system and run WinXP Pro as one of poientially many guest systems.  Host refers to the primary operating system that “boots” when the computer starts up, and guest is the virtual computer and operating system than runs on the host system.  Linux is free, and 64 bit means I could run many Gigabytes of memory.  I already have WinXP Pro, and if I had the ability to do what I needed to do on Win XP but at the same time have Linux available to find alternatives, well I might be able to get off Windows at get on a free operating system forever.

My concerns were being able to do my podcast, and being able to play an online game or two.  Now the online gaming wasn’t critical, but I do enjoy it and it is a great relaxation tool.  As part of my plans I purchased a relativly inexpensive 1 TB SATA II drive.  I decided that I would try an experiement.  I would load up the latest version of Fedora Core on this new blank drive and see if I could run WinXP Pro as a guest operating system and still use it to do my podcast recording and play Left 4 Dead 2.

Installing Fedora Core 14 was simple enough.  I’ve used Linux since about 1999 so I’m used to the installation setup and configuration of it.  I’ve always used it in a server environment and never for a desktop operating system.  In about an hour I had a running system.  I was not overly fond of the “theme” but I know there are thousands of themes available.  Everything was clear and crisp on the screen, and in fact the operating system loaded easily, detected my dual monitors and set the proper native resolution of the graphics adapter!  The only thing was the position was wrong, but that is common in WinXP as well.  The default position seems to be center and right of center for two monitors.  I have my second monitor on the left.

I tried turning on 3d graphics enhancements, and I received my first clue that things wouldn’t be so easy.  The proper driver for my Nvidia 8800GT video card were not loaded, so any enhanced 3d effects wouldn’t be available until said driver was installed.  In WinXP this is a simple task of a download from Nvidia’s site, execution of that software, and a reboot.  The monitor(s) configuration would have to be redone, but not a deal breaker.

This wasn’t the case with Fedora Core.  Keep in mind that the GUI (Graphical User Interface) is NOT the primary interface for Linux.  That interface is text!  So anything that is GUI is an additional piece of software called xwindows.  This is very much how Window 3.1 was.  The main operating system DOS was a text based operating system, you didn’t see graphics you saw a command line prompt and you typed in commands to tell the operating system what to do!

All the first computers I learned on were “text” based or character based operating systems.  I find many things easier to do, or at least understand from a command/command line standpoint.  Linux has become popular enough that hardware manufacturs usually have Linux drivers written for you to download and install.   I haven’t looked into the reason why but the installing of the drivers, or plugins is no where as easy as it is to install them in Windows.  This may be by design, however I feel it may be more that there are many many versions of Linux.  Fedora Core, SUSE, Mandrake (still around), etc…  It could be a security concern.  It could be due to various versions of xwindows.   For what ever reason it took me several Google searches and several attempts to install the proper drivers for my video card.  Ultimately it came down to a problem removing the old drivers.  When I finally solved that issue the Nvida drivers installed easily.  Total time invested a little over an hour.  That was just to install ONE DRIVER!

I must say that after I enable the 3d desktop effects the video was fast and the effects were cool!  My quad core 3.01GHz AMD Phenom chip and Nvidia 8800GT graphics adapter handled them with ease.  At least this was promising, but of course I had not even got to either of my criteria of a successful move yet.  Next I installed Oracle’s VirtualBox, also free software.  It installed easily.  I then created a partition for WinXP and installed it.  Once it was installed I went ahead and ran all the Microsoft updates, and service pack installation.  I installed an anti-virus package.  I then installed STEAM.  I thought I would start with something a little less demanding than “Left 4 Dead 2″, I selected “Left 4 Dead”.

I flagged it for installation and the STEAM client software when to work downloading and installing the game.  Some time pasted and the game was finally installed.  I tried running it.  Mind you I had allocated 1 GB of system memory for the virtual Win XP Pro installation, and set the virtual graphics adapter to 128MB of memory and enabled 2D and 3D rendering.

FAIL!  The game would not start.  I received an error about TEXTURE SHADOW RENDERING wasn’t available.  One of my two criteria had failed.  I moved on to the second, the podcasting.  My audio gear is set up to use a microphone, the telephone (land line) and Skype.  I also feed sounds (music, other audio recordings) in from the computer.  I make use of several audio devices.  Looking into configuring and controlling these devices in Linux, admittedly briefly, I was unable to see a way to allow control of these by the virtual WinXP Pro installation.  I was not able to find Linux software that did the same thing as my podcasting software, again, it was a brief search so I may have missed it.  My alternative at this point would be to either have more than one boot drive, or partition the 1TB disk so that I could have Windows installed on one drive/partition and Linux on the other.  This would require a few minutes downtime as I shut down the currently running operating system then booted to the other.  After you’ve bee spoiled by running virtual computers in a window and having instant access to both operating systems, dual boot seems like a horse and buggy.

Disappointed I decided that I would just use the new 1 TB drive to do a fresh WinXP Pro installation and dual boot between my current WinXP installation and the new one until I had all old software installed, configured and tested.  Once that was all done I would retire the original drive.  Most likely just move it to one of my Linux servers, format it and use it as a ext4 partitioned drive.

This means I will continue to be limited to a 32 bit operating system, and dependent on Microsoft for their future operating systems.  I am not ready, financially yet to purchase Windows 7 Pro.  That may be a while.

I was able to see that Linux, specifically Fedora Core 14, was a beautiful free 64bit operating system with loads of features, that made it perfect for web browsing, e-mail.  I was even able to install and use Tweekdeck, although that process was more difficult than installing the Nvidia video driver!  Then after a reboot Adobe Air stopped working!  I just didn’t have the heart to spend another hour on resolving the issue especially when Tweetdeck was running fine in the virtual WinXP Pro that I was running in a Linux window on the desktop!  Again ease and consistency on Microsoft Windows part!

As I mention Adobe products are available for Linux, Flash, Shockwave, Air, all will installed if you have the time and patients to research and fight with it long enough.   Remember don’t show the machine any fear!  If you do, you are doomed!

I did see reference to running “Left 4 Dead” in Wine.  Wine is a open source product that allows you to install and run Microsoft programs, like MS Outlook, Excel, Word, etc…  I use both MS Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird on my Windows installation, so I would probably want MS Outlook on my Linux installation as well as Thunderbird.  I could see getting used to just Thunderbird, also a free bit of software.

So basically you can do ANYTHING in Linux that you can do in Windows XP as long as it isn’t too specific a thing.  Like running games that are not written for Linux.  Parents if you would like to help your child/student be a little more studious and less game addicted in college, install Linux!  Sure there are games that they can install and play but they are more likely to get their work done if they have to put a vast amount of effort into getting a game running under Linux.  Also if they go the illegal route and FIND a copy of Windows to install they are more likely to be infected with malware or a virus and eventually they’ll have to move back to Linux so they can get their school work done.  I know it’s evil isn’t it?  :D

As problems are solved and those solutions lead to easier installation and configuration of software without the need of the user to be a seasoned I.T. pro I can see Linux easily eroding Microsoft’s market.  Add to that Microsoft’s attempt to install a security model that makes it more difficult to use their product, well let’s just look back at Lotus (WHO?).  Lotus loved their spreadsheet program soo much they burned a little dot on the 5.25 floppy so that when you tried to copy the floppy to make an illegal copy the program knew it was a copy.  It knew it was a copy because it was able to read the entire floppy without error!  Microsoft came along with MS Excel and made it easy for you to import Lotus spreadsheets, and they didn’t have ANY copy protection on their software.  Easy easy easy!

Mark my words, when a very successful company goes into heavy handed copy protection other companies will cease the moment to fill the niche.  This is what we are seeing with Linux.  I wouldn’t be surprised that in the future all software was free, or donation based.  This isn’t a bad thing at all.  It puts the power and control into the hands of many instead of the hands of the few.

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