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Friday, March 14, 2008

Buyer Beware: Corrosion Alert

Asus predicts their new Windows XP-based Eee PC will outsell their current Linux-based PC. But buyer beware.

First, it's XP. Will the typical Eee PC consumer understand this is not "Vista" and will likely not continue running newer and newer versions of Windows software for long?

Linux on the other hand will do the job the Eee PC was intended to do, very well. Probably XP does the same job just as well. Until it doesn't.

I have simply found after years of running Linux and all kinds of Windows systems (except Vista, thank you!) that Linux systems tend to just run for years with little corrosion and little maintenance.

I am forever "managing" the rest of my family's Windows-based PCs, currently Windows 2000 and Windows XP. As the Eee PC's XP begins to decay (usually within six months), what then?

Is the Err PC intended to be a simple computer that "just runs" or will the consumer understand that they'll need a Windows technician to clean up the registry, uninstall software correctly, and continually ghost and/or rebuild the OS completely every year?


Barry Kelly said...

It will probably use some variant of the idea of the difference file system that the Linux version is using. This permits easy roll-back to an exact previous version.

FWIW, the reasons I find Linux more manageable is that (1) the software distribution model is more centralised, with usually only one or two package servers enlisted, and (2) generally Linux is less useful than Windows.

I do know that once I go off the beaten track with Linux, such as switch in and out different graphics cards, or trying to get it to use a Dvorak layout both in boot-up console and as an Xkb mapping, or trying to set up ruby & rails (which has its own competing package manager system), things seem to fall apart much quicker than on Windows. I spend hours studying man pages, grepping docs, searching and often posting in desparation to forums, etc. One has to be familiar with the details of sshd and other configuration file formats, bash scripting, bash script debugging (to trace down why behaviour is like it is), etc. - getting the right behaviour and set of services running is not easy, and of course /etc is not usually trivially portable between distribution installations. And don't get me started about httpd.conf.

And all this is with the latest Ubuntu, which is, it has to be said, a lot less performant than XP on the same hardware (AMD dual core w/ 2GB ram, ATI X1300 graphics) - everything is just laggy and slow, the mouse movement is "sticky", and graphics performance is just generally glitchy.

I could go on: I really want to use Linux more deeply, but it simply isn't usable for an advanced user[*] without heavy investment of time and piles of specialist knowledge - more than I need on Windows.

[*] Advanced user: one who develops software, writes servers, wants to deeply configure the daemons that are running, distribute ad-hoc software packages without having to submit to or set up a repository, etc.

Patrick Logan said...

I've seen the exact opposite on performance. I have Ubuntu and have had previous distros of Linux, always running better on the same hardware than Windows 2000 or XP. And continue at their same levels, while Windows performance always degrades significantly over time.

Windows tends to have busy, confusing dialog boxes (that change with each release) for config. Yes, with Linux, I still mostly have to be the one to config it because I know the shell, etc. But the Windows dialog boxes, and GUI installers don't enable my wife to do much for herself. My kids do most of their own because they're older teens and are essentially programmers themselves now.

I think the Eee PC is aimed more at people like my wife than the rest of my family. And it is intended to be running an "embedded OS". Looking around my house I can count more than a handful of devices running an embedded Linux that just keep working year after year.

I don't see many OEMs turning to Windows for their devices. They do keep turning to Linux. So I have to think Linux is the better choice for the Eee PC, but we'll find out.

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.