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.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Linux

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Keir Thomas

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?