Switching my dad to Linux - part one

If you choose to run Linux then I'll help you, but I'm not going to force it down your throat

All of this means that, short of spending painful hours learning Vista (why?), I'd always have to sit in front of my dad's computer should I need to fix it, so I can poke around. Too much trouble! I need to be able to fix things over the phone.

Confirm or deny?

I don't want to get into the faults of Vista's User Account Control (UAC) system. You can read about that elsewhere. It's just a dumb idea implemented very badly. It's also the kind of thing that causes my father to reach for the phone and my speed-dial button as soon as it appears: "The printer program said something about updating and now the screen's gone dark. It's asking me if I want to confirm or deny. What do I do?" To be honest, dad, I've no idea. It could be a genuine printer driver update, or it could be malware pretending to be a printer driver. I'll have to stop what I'm doing and come and take a look.

The problem with UAC is that it isn't actually informative or helpful. All it does is force the user to be responsible for bad things that happen on his/her computer. It's about shifting the blame, rather than tackling the cause of the problems.

Printer drivers

Talking of printer drivers... What the hell is happening in the world of printer drivers? Why am I afraid to install a printer driver on a Windows system nowadays? Why do I know I will have to spend time afterwards cleaning up all the crap?

Do I really need Yahoo! toolbar as part of a printer driver package? Do I need a constantly-running program to sit there in the system tray and nag me every five minutes, seemingly just so I know that it's still there? Should a printer driver consume a huge chunk of my system resources? Do printer driver zip files really have to weigh-in at 100 megabytes considering the driver itself is just a few hundred kilobytes of DLLs?!

There's something very wrong there. It's just one example of how the software ecosystem surrounding Windows is choking the life out of it.

Antivirus programs

Antivirus programs are as bad as the viruses they protect you from. Worse, even. Definitely more annoying.

My father's laptop Vista installation came with McAfee installed. Whenever the computer boots, this insists on showing a splash screen that won't disappear for five seconds. Then, a few moments later, it pops up a window informing the user that it's virus definitions have been updated. To make this extra annoying, it makes a "PING!" sound effect too. Remember: this is just the software doing what it should do. It doesn't require any user intervention.

Following this, it will nag about how the security of the system isn't what it should be. That's an alarming message, but what it means is that a system scan hasn't been run over the last few days. No surprise there, because a system scan slows the system to a crawl to the extent that it's practically unusable. Wait 10 seconds for a file browsing window to appear while the disk grinds away? Sure! I've nothing better to do!

Sometimes, the updates installed by the antivirus program mean the computer has to be rebooted. Combined with Vista's own updates, this means that a lot of the time the first thing that's needed on starting the computer is to immediately reboot it.

In my humble opinion, antivirus programs have got an ego problem nowadays. They truly believe that they're the most important piece of software running on your system.

Ridiculous Wi-Fi program

This is a feature unique to my father's laptop, which is a Fujitsu-Siemens model (an Li2727). Every time the laptop boots into Vista, it's necessary to manually enable Wi-Fi using a piece of software. If we had gone for Vista on the laptop, my dad would have to double-click a program and click the "Enable Wi-Fi" button every time the computer boots. It's just crazy. There's no way to make this program automatically enable Wi-Fi (I checked).

The laptop always boots with Wi-Fi disabled. There's no BIOS option to override this. Apparently, this is to avoid Wi-Fi being accidentally activated during flights. I'm still waiting for that news story about how Wi-Fi caused a plane to crash. I suspect I'll be waiting a very long time. Some planes have Wi-Fi built-in nowadays, folks!

I chalk this one up to the weird software ecosystem around Windows, in which manufacturers feel the need to add-in software that just gets in the way of the user. The average new Windows computer comes with a tonne of add-ins that's just aren't needed. It's like buying a new car and finding there's already a soda in the cup holder, and an air freshener dangling from the mirror, and a fluffy steering wheel cover fitted. Why? Just get rid of all that crap. If I want it, I'll take care of it myself.

The Wi-Fi software switch was so damned annoying that it was actually one of the biggest factors in the decision to ditch Vista on this particular machine. Under Ubuntu I was able to get Wi-Fi working automatically on each boot, with no user intervention necessary, as I'll explain in Part Two of this series.

Keir Thomas is the author of several books on Ubuntu, including the free-of-charge Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference.

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Keir Thomas

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