Assisting Parents

So after having replaced my laptop, I long since decided that my old laptop should go to my mother, who is still using an old, and slow, desktop, mostly for email and the little bit of browsing. And here I am, installing Microsoft Windows again, from the recovery disks which – after four years of owning the laptop – opened for the first time. I just came to realize that in four years I’ve never had to re-install my Linux operating system, I’ve never had any real problems with it. Something which is actually pretty scary considering that when I still used Windows I used to re-format and re-install at least once every six months.

This made me wonder – am I really doing her a favor by installing an operating system she’s familiar with – or should I have done the right thing (On the Gentoo install that was there):

# userdel -r jkroon
# rm -rf /home/*
# usercreate -m -k /etc/skel somelogin

Or, even have installed Ubuntu. Either way, the 3G she uses for internet connectivity would have been the thorn in my side (Yes, I managed to get 3G working well under Linux, but it’s still a highly annoying experience – even for me).

I’ve read an article earlier today requesting that people not compare Linux and Windows (and Mac), and I fully agree with this, and I like the analogy in the article “Linux is NOT Windows” which states the same thing. However, I can’t help but think that Linux is actually so much better. But I’m probably prejudice. I really can’t back this feeling I have. It’s just that I get so frustrated when having to use Windows that I got to the point where I avoid it at nearly all cost. Until today, when I willingly picked up those recovery disks. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that they’re exactly that: Recovery disks, not Windows installation disks, in other words, I was able to avoid all the plagues that normally accompanies a Windows install: Driver hell. Yes, you read correctly – this is the one thing that really puts me off from Windows. It usually takes me a couple of hours just to get basic pieces of hardware working (ie, getting the screen out of standard VGA mode, getting decent performance out of the motherboard, etc …), mostly due to lack of suitable drivers built into the operating system, and often, the drivers no longer being available from the manufacturers website.

On the other hand, Linux has drivers for pretty much every piece of hardware built into the kernel. Notable exceptions are brand new hardware (the atheros based wireless card in my laptop is recognized but unsuported by the madwifi drivers, and the same for the in-kernel ath5k driver – and ndiswrapper causes kernel panics). It is not often that I need out-of-tree drivers.

Then there is the speed issue. I just got reminded how annoyingly slow Windows is. Yes, it boots faster than Linux – no, I really don’t care – it’s still unusable for at least a minute after you logged in. This P4 3.06GHz was fast with my Gentoo Linux install, why does Windows need to feel like it’s crawling? I’ve typed this whole paragraph in the time that a freshly installed copy of Windows XP took to load up Internet Explorer… Why is that?

Some days I’m wondering whether we as support technies are doing anybody any favors by allowing them to use Windows?

Then there is the rebooting issue. Why does every update require me to reboot? Can’t I simply restart the affected services? For that matter – can’t Windows automatically restart these services?

Either way. Take a person like my mother, as far as I know the things she does can be summarized with the following:

  • Check her email
  • Browse a couple of websites every now and again
  • Connect using 3G
  • Edit a couple of word documents (not even sure of this one)

And that is it, afaik. Now, does she really need to be using a heavy-weight Windows based system or will Ubuntu suffice for her? I mean, thunderbird and firefox is more than capable of taking care of her email and browsing requirements, and I can easily rig the 3G to automatically start when the modem is plugged in (Have done so for my own laptop already, it’s not 100 % reliable yet but it’s good enough for me and I should be able to get it to 100 % reliable if I actually bother to put in a bit of effort). For her requirements will also be sufficient.

The real issue here is that whatever I give her, I’m the one that is going to need to support it. She’s not going to be contacting Microsoft when Windows stops working – she’s going to call me. Thus the real question in the decisions really aught not to be what she will be more comfortable with in the first month, but rather what will be easier for me to maintain in the long run – which will be giving fewer problems. And here there is no real question: Linux wins hands down. Not because it’s better. Not because it’s more efficient – but simply because the person that needs to maintain the particular machine in question is much, much more comfortable with it, I can trouble-shoot it, and in many cases will even be able to assist her remotely (as long as she can get on the net I can log in remotely from anywhere in the world and fix whatever is broken – I can even perform updates remotely).

For now the Windows will stay. I still need an AV to put onto this laptop and, Thunderbird, Firefox and still needs to be installed but that can all happen in due time. For now Windows needs to do what it can to download it’s updates and at least get the core OS up to the point where I can relatively safetly browse around.

Comments are closed.