Ditched: OS Homogeneity

I have had what could possibly qualify as the worst possible two weeks with regards to computers in the recent past. First of all before I relate the events of the previous week, let me make it clear that I don’t have any major problems with Windows Vista except perhaps some odd UI interaction situations which I am getting used to but would prefer not to deal with them (a dialog box (that requires an OK button to be clicked) pops up to inform me of a successful unplugging of a USB device … this is just stupid). Yeah, I have issues with that particular UI aspect of Vista. My primary computer runs Windows Vista and one day after what was a normal update I couldn’t access any part of Windows Vista that allows me to administer the machine, let alone use it sanely. Here is a run down of the odd problems that I had:

  • Inaccessible Computer (Windows Vista’s “My Computer”); an attempt to start my computer led to Windows Explorer hanging and as it hangs it consumes a sizeable number of processor cycles from the Dual Core process on the machine;
  • Windows Media Player & Windows Internet Explorer: simply put these particular programs never showed up anywhere whenever they were started; Luckily I didn’t have Windows IE as my primary browser so at least I had access to the web. WMP was however out of reach for a couple of days;
  • Control Panel: this would be the first place to reach in order to correct any problems that seemingly show up after an update from Microsoft. There is an option to remove an update from Windows but in my case I couldn’t do that because the Control Panel won’t start – the same problem as with “Computer” shows up and the Windows Explorer process hangs.

Initially, I thought it was a virus so I setout trying to identify it. I downloaded and installed malware detection and removal tools. All of the tools I used did not identify any virus that could possibly disable the aforementioned components. Faced with such circumstance, formatting the hard disk would be the best possible option of returning the machine to its previously usable state. That raised another issue: I needed to back up the important information and files I had on the hard disk.

I have had a clone machine lying around with a minor problem; its hard disk had information but that information had not been accessed for a while which is the same as it not being of that much importance to me at this point. There was of course the worry of getting that information out of the clone machine. The minor problem was faulty RAM chips and I needed to get new RAM chips so that to put the machine into a usable state. To save myself from the logistics of looking for RAM chips, I decided to take the machine to a computer repair shop and have them handle everything for me. I told the guy to format the desktop’s hard disk. When the machine was brought back, it had Windows XP SP2 running on it.

The desktop presented an opportunity for me to have a Linux only machine. I had used Linux in a dual boot configuration on the desktop in question so it was time to get rid of Windows from the hard disk entirely so that I can have an environment that is heterogeneous with regard to the operating systems that are running. A heterogeneous environment has a number of challenges that will expand my practical knowledge in areas such as interoperability between Linux and Windows systems; the Windows part of the setup will include Windows Vista and Windows XP. In addition to this, the Linux box will take file sharing and print services responsibility for the small network.

Ubuntu was the Linux distro I chose to set me towards the path of OS heterogeneity. Ubuntu’s installation process was remarkably straight forward and fast; and it was not just an OS installation – it includes OpenOffice and everything you need to immediately become productive after the OS installation. While the basic setup of Ubuntu is essentially useful, it is not enough for the uses I have in mind for this machine. The following are the additional packages that were installed:

  • MySQL Server – relational RDBMS
  • MySQL Query Browser
  • MySQL Administrator
  • Apache2.2 – web server
  • PHP5 – web development platform/language
  • wxDownload Fast – download manager
  • Azereus – Bittorrent Client
  • Beagle – Desktop Search
  • Sun Java 6 JDK – java development tools
  • Media Codecs – audio and video playback
  • Samba

This is just a preliminary list which will surely expand as time passes. There are a number of additional software that need to be installed. The final objective of this configuration is to ensure that I comfortable switch from my primary computer (which runs Windows Vista) to this machine that is running Ubuntu. However the Ubuntu box will likely take on more responsibilities and will be the focus of further experiments that will center around network design and setup.

After successfully setting up Ubuntu, there was a place to hold some of the important files that I had on my primary machine. The process of moving everything out of Windows Vista took sometime; at this point Vista’s backup and restore tools were not usable as well. I chose to restore Windows Vista to factory settings which took sometime. Looking back, I think it was a mistake to restore Vista to factory settings; it would have been much better to install the OS alone without all the crapware from the manufacturer. I suppose this is something that I will keep in mind the next time I reformat or configure a new machine.

The ideological difference between Windows and Linux shows in the configuration of the operating systems: immediately after the installation of Ubuntu, it was ready for basic office use for things like web surfing, word processing, spreadsheet tasks and other office relate work. On Windows however, you can surf when you are done with the installation and setup but anything beyond using Notepad is not possible until you buy and install Microsoft Office. Of course instead of MS Office you could go with OpenOffice and you are set. However the point here is the trouble you go through in setting up all these software just to get a usable computer: you go through more with Windows and less with Ubuntu.

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