· About 7 minutes read · Windows Free Software Conservatism Linux

The Once-Per-Decade Windows Rant: How Conservatism is Ruining Computers

One of the things I sometimes do is play games. To be honest, it’s mostly Kerbal Space Program. I find exploding space ships and orbital maneuvers to be deeply cathartic. At first, I played the Linux version of this on my laptop, but even my reasonably powerful laptop struggled with the high end graphics and physics computations. Last spring, I decided to invest in a desktop box with a shiny graphics adapter to facilitate higher end gaming, and to double as a movie-watching device to have connected to the large monitor in my living room that some people might refer to as a TV.

Using Linux for movie-watching was fine, but the frame rate on Linux was still sufficiently low that I struggled with some of the larger constructions I was doing in Kerbal. In particular, I suffered a particularly disastrous docking failure at one point, at which point I gave up.

Getting dirty

I installed Windows on the box.

I feel dirty even typing those words.

Now, at this point I hadn’t used Windows to any serious degree since 2002, or thereabouts, and hadn’t used it as my primary operating system since about 1997. I’d had some brief encounters with it, mostly running it in a VM.

The first thing I encountered was the awkwardness. Aside from being pre-loaded with tons of completely annoying software that bothered me constantly, and the tendency to freak out and interrupt me in all manner of ways.

Then there were the updates. Holy crap, every couple of days, it’d not just stop what I was doing to announce that updates were ready, they’d cause me to shut down the computer in order to perform the updates. And it’d take sometimes as much as an hour to finish restarting – one of the few hours per week I have to chill out, play games or watch movies. Of course this led me to click the “fuck off” button. It may have said “remind me later”, I don’t know. It didn’t matter though: it came back, with a vengeance, and ultimately required me to restart regardless of anything. Afternoons were lost to this nonsense, which made me unhappy.

In addition, for some reason Windows decides every few minutes to flip from regular color to a sort of low-fidelity red-tinted inverted-color mode. Sometimes it flips back itself, but most of the time it requires switching screen resolution or disconnecting and reconnecting the HDMI cable to get it back to normal. Linux on this machine never had that problem. It isn’t the cable, I tried other cables. It isn’t the screen, I tried my laptop. It wasn’t the “driver” (some binary blob that Windows uses to, er, drive things?), I tried swapping that out, and only ended up with more adware on the computer. I don’t know what it is that causes this color flipping, but it was deeply annoying to have to pause what I was doing every 5-10 minutes to fiddle with the color settings.

This evening, I just started the computer for the first time since late November. It responded to the boot sequence by informing me that it had problems and was going to reboot. A moment later, it informed me that it had problems and was going to reboot. After several rounds of this, it offered me several options, most of which were reboot. It appears to be the magical solution to everything, except getting the system running. I even tried something obliquely termed a “system restore”, which supposedly deletes a bunch of stuff and installs it from somewhere else, but no. Nothing.

At the time of writing, I am still unable to get the system working. My only crime, as far as I can tell, was to turn the computer off for over a month.

Giving up

The only thing that’s keeping Windows running on this particular computer right now is the fact that I haven’t taken the time to wipe it and install Linux.

Part of my shoddy reasoning for trying Windows out in the first place was that millions of people use it every day, so it can’t be all that bad. It goes against my personal philosophy to run non-free (as in freedom) software, but for a recreational machine aimed at high frame rates, I was willing to take the hit for once. Kerbal demanded it! Admittedly, Kerbal Space Program is not free software… but I’m not an absolute purist either.

Instead of being a user-friendly experience with good tooling and a good user interface, I found myself spending every moment just fighting with its quirks and working around its terrible usability flaws.

At this point, I give up. It’s not worth my valuable free time to try to keep up with the inanity of Windows. Now that computer is off until I have time to install Linux. Not even KSP is worth that much effort.

Broadly, the experience of Windows has been awful. I cannot fathom how anybody can willingly choose to use this operating system. While it’s entirely possible that some of these problems are a result of my setup or whatever, most of them are not – that’s abundantly clear. And it’s not a licensing issue either. Turns out you can get a Windows license for 50 convertible marks here in Bosnia.

Holding on

This experience is forcing me to consider what keeps people in Windows land, but that leads to a larger discussion about convenience.

A lot of people I know use Skype. I’ve repeatedly warned that Skype is dangerously insecure, specially for people in my line of work. But, the argument goes, it’s very convenient, because everybody has it. While I can sympathize with that argument to a certain degree, it kind of falls flat at the point where people communicate with each other on a regular basis and willfully decide to not inconvenience themselves by using a different system that’s more secure.

The alternatives I point people at most of the time are Signal and Tox. Both are excellent pieces of software, although Tox’s installation process is rather rough (a Wiki offering people awkwardly technical options, really?) and some of its in-app language is a bit weird (why say “hexadecimal key” when you can say something simpler?). But by and large, Tox gets the job done, even with video calls.

Having used Skype, I know it fails quite annoyingly sometimes. Calls get dropped, or video goes all wonky. Specially on slow connections. In fact, while Skype may be slightly more tolerant to really slow connections than Tox, I’m willing to argue without hard facts on hand that Tox generally performs better on slow connections, as long as a connection is established at all.

Yet, I’ve seen several people say that “Tox doesn’t work”, and revert to Skype, after a single failed connection. And I’ve seen some of those same people be incredibly apologetic towards Skype when it’s having trouble connecting a call.

Conservatism

People tend to act conservatively in the face of fear and perceived risk, even if the conservative option is as damaging or more damaging to them than the worst outcome if the risk materializes.

Even relatively liberal people experience this. The devil you know, and all that. People are terrified of switching to Ubuntu, for instance, because they perceive it as difficult or scary, even when offered the carrot of it not actively disrupting their work for hours and hours per week. People run away from Tox screaming when it can’t connect a call, and then type messages like “ugh, let’s try reconnecting” when their Skype call keeps dropping.

This does not make any sense.

It is unclear to me how exactly this tendency can be defeated. It is probably deeply wired into the human psyche; some weird risk aversion mechanism that fails to reason about modern technology.

Perhaps it can’t be fixed. Perhaps it can.

But for now I’m going to do my part by accepting a lower frame rate when blowing up rockets, and by being substantially more obstinate about using Skype and other such tools.