A Tale of Two Computers

Posted on 2010/11/02. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Kubuntu, Linux General, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows |

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times … (Sorry I could not resist. It has to be the best opening ever for a novel. Kudos to Mr. Dickens.)

My wife and I bought two computers at the same time. Hers was a laptop and mine was a desktop computer. Both came with Windows XP pre-installed. She uses Windows every day and I never use Windows, but instead have run a version of Kubuntu or Ubuntu since the day that I bought it, almost five years ago. Those are the facts.

In all of that time I have but one problem with my desktop computer; I had to replace the power supply and bumped up the RAM to run VMs. I have had no software issues. I have re-installed Ubuntu every six months or gone the upgrade route once or twice. I have run alpha versions to final releases of many distributions including the above mentioned.

My wife has had problems with several viruses, trojans and the like. She has used anti-virus software from all of the major distributors, Symantic, AVG, Panda, Avast, Kaspersky, and Trend. In addition, she runs anti-malware and anti-hijacking software that detects changes to the registry. She does not indulge in any risky practices. She uses lots of email and clicks on links that people send her. In short, she is a typical user with average skills.

Her computer slows down to a crawl much to her frustration every month or two and it needs to be defragmented, the system tray needs to be cleaned out, her desktop needs tidying, her menu need to be cleaned up, her temporary files need to be wiped, and her registry tidied up. I am not making that up. She cannot do these things herself, so I do it.

In comparison, my computer which runs Linux needs none of that. I run no anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-torjan, anti hijacking software in the background. My system tray has no applications running in memory that did not come with the OS. My desktop is clean of shortcuts. My menu does not need to be re-ordered. My computer runs as fast as it did when I got it almost five years ago.

When I have had to re-install Windows on my wife’s computer after say a virus infection which trashed the computer, I was able to back up all of the data (using a Linux Live CD, BTW) and get it back in running order. After dedicating a full day to do it.

Each time I had to re-install Windows. It takes at least three times as long to install Windows XP, as it takes Ubuntu and Ubuntu comes with much of the software that I use. I must add to my Windows installation time it takes to install drivers, install four years of Windows updates, download and install anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-trojan software, and re-boot countless times. Then I must install all of her applications and add updates to those. Yes, re-booting even more. Finally I have to put all of her data back in place.

When I re-install Kubuntu, I download the ISO, put it on a usb stick. I only back up my package list. I re-boot. I re-install Kubuntu to the same partition. I keep my home partition unchanged and re-use my user name and home folder. I re-boot. I do updates which are at best a few days old, so there are few of them. I do not have to play with any driver disks. Everything works out of the box. I open my package manager and point it to my text file of the software that I had installed before the re-installation. I hit Apply and it does its work. While it is doing that, I can use my computer with no problems and not once did I have to re-boot. The process is completed in an hour and a half or less. No fuss, no muss, no pain.

I could be accused of being a fanboy of Linux for mentioning the obvious differences. It could be just my imagination that Linux is better. Or it could be just my subjective opinion. But if anybody could choose to have Windows behave the same way, then my money would be on that they would choose to have Windows behave like Linux. They would love to have there computer run without anti this or anti that. They would love to have to not worry about viruses and the like. They would love it if their computer did not degrade in performance over time. They would love it if Microsoft actually improved things when they released an new version.

With all of the money that Microsoft has, they keep on doing things the same way. They churn out a product that is only marginally better and in some cases (Vista) worse than its predecessor. They do not fix the problem of lax security, but add glitz and add a few features to disguise it. Their code is bloated and still there exploits built in.

Once a security hole is discovered, it takes them days to admit it and weeks to plug it. Meanwhile it has travelled half way around the world and caused untold hardship. Yesterday, they discovered a security flaw in Firefox. It was fixed the same day. It is not Linux, but it is open source and follows the open source model which is collaborative. Things are shared. They are out in the open and fixed in a timely fashion.

In my opinion, this points to the glaring weakness in using proprietary software. You are paying for something that essentially belongs to someone else. They do not have to fix it. They can take their sweet time about it. And there is little that you can do about it.

Users have free choice and I would never deny them that. Use Windows if you want. Pay for the privilege. Just don’t cry and whine when you have problems. And don’t tell someone who makes a different choice that he is being a fanboy for telling people that it does not have to be this way.

The problem is that most users are prisoners. They do not know that there is such a thing a software freedom. They are denied that information. It is partly the fault of the software freedom community. We do not have an advertising budget. We tend to be quiet and just do our own thing for the most part. As a consequence people do not know of our existence.

It is also because those who sell proprietary solutions do not want the truth to get out. They launch FUD campaigns at great expense to counter anything that we might say. They pay bloggers and writers to deny the truth and to strengthen their own position. They use their muscle on hardware manufacturers to make sure that Linux does not come pre-installed.

Some people would say that desktop Linux is where it was several years ago. I say, no, it is much farther ahead. Its user base is much larger in absolute numbers, but it is proportionately the same. We have not grown in terms of percentage, but we are not going away either. But for me, progress isn’t in the numbers, but in the experience.

There was a time when you needed to be a total geek to use Linux. Now anybody can try it by putting the disk in your computer with the advent of Live CDs, and now DVDs. You can run it from a usb stick. You can install it from inside WindowsΒ  without having to partition, through the wonder of WUBI. If you choose to install it, it can share a drive with another operating system. It takes care of shrinking and partitioning. But that does not tell the full story.

Linux is on par with any OS in terms of its features. It can be incredibly stable if you opt for something like Debian stable. It can be bleeding edge if you opt for Fedora or Ubuntu. It can be in between. It can be a rolling release that you never have to upgrade or one that you can make new every six months. It can be a very basic system that you build from ground up yourself or a complete working system that is easy to install and use. There is nothing to compare with it. If I was a company that produced anything less than this, then I would be scared, too. I would set in motion FUD like you could not believe since ignoring has not worked.

Some people want us to be quiet. They cry foul when we mention the problems with other OSes. It is rude of us to gloat about the superiority of Linux. They denounce us as fanboys. There are trolls who masquerade as one of us and say that we are letting the side down, or worse.

But if people are to know about Linux in the face of the all of the FUD that comes out of Redmond and Cupertino, then how do we get the word out? If we stay silent then we are playing into the hands of people who want us to do just that.

My wife is not about to use Linux, just because I say that it is better. She has heard all of what I have written here. Sadly, for her. Windows is all that she needs and she does not have the time to try anything else. She uses Windows because that is what she uses at work. One operating system is enough to handle for her and many others. I get that.Β  I am not speaking to users like her when I write these things. People who are happy with Windows should continue to use it.

I am wring to people who are unhappy with Windows and want to try something different. I am writing about not only a different operating system, butΒ  a different way of doing things. Many people accept the Windows experience because they think that everything has to be that way. They know that Macs exist, but are too expensive. They don’t know that they can transform their own PCs and enjoy a totally different experience.

You do not have to accept the status quo as normal. You have real choice. Some people will investigate. Others will not. Each is fine. After all, I believe in freedom to choose. But I won’t be quiet. It is not in my nature.

Note: This posting was prompted by criticisms of a previous post that accused me of being a Linux fanboy and that there is no problem with Windows or that Linux has no advantage or some such thing. πŸ™‚


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58 Responses to “A Tale of Two Computers”

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Does she run her computer with an adminstrators account? Much of the malware problems can be prevented by running as a user. You could also try replacing the more vulnerable apps with something else ie firefox instead of explorer.

Thanks for the reply. I think that is the case. It is the default in Windows, I think. I try to leave her be as much as possible. That way she can learn, albeit the hard way.

> She cannot do these things herself, so I do it.
Of course she can; just because she chooses not to learn about her computer doesn’t mean that she cannot do these tasks.

Well written article and I very much agree with nearly all of it. On one hand I really wish more people knew about the greatness of FLOSS like GNU/Linux; on the other hand, however, they’ll want to compare its shortcomings (XOrg GUI tools, for example, don’t really exist) with another OS’ strengths, and that same mentality of ‘she cannot defrag her computer’ exists in so many people who feel that computers are too difficult.

Each OS and development model has strengths and weaknesses, but the FLOSS method means that the weaknesses are improved. With closed software, one can never be sure.

Thanks. Another example of cultivated attitude is MS has helped to cultivate lax policies in the past and now it has an established user base that does not want to change. Now it must fight that attitude to improve its own security. Most Windows users are not used to password, do not want them, or look for ways to circumvent their use. That has to change.
I see it all of the time with users who have moved from Windows. They assume that Linux is more secure without thinking that they have to be part of it. They must adopt proven Linux security habits, instead of falling back on Windows habits. Questions such as, “Is there a way to stop it from asking my password?” should be replaced by thinking, “I feel so much more secure knowing that it is password protected”. That is a tough nut to crack.

yes, you are right on the most critical hurdle in transition.

@ sisko

Unfortunately, Windows XP creates users with admin rights by default. This is why virus and malware writers targeted it in the first place. Create a restricted or standard user in Windows XP and they can’t open JPEG’s or install software. This is potentially useless for home users. Imagine having to log on as the admin every time you wanted to install updates, install software, or even adjust the time.

This is where the problem lies. As most of us has grown up with Windows and the freedom as a user to install software, moving away from that model will be a shock to most people. The average user doesn’t know that they don’t own Windows and are only entitled to use it, so internet forums would soon fill up with people complaining that they can’t install software x, y & z on their PCs.

I could not agree more. Microsoft is trying to improve things, but to make change it must fight against an attitude that it once encouraged. They are now swimming against the tide that they created in the first place. It must be frustrating for them, but they continue to allow ways to circumvent some of their own security improvements. So, I take this with a grain of salt. If they were serious they would have come down hard and shown no flexibility.

there are a lot of users who just complain about the problems they have but they don’t do anything to fix them. these people usually have the same attitude whatever os they use. and for wahtever reason, if in windows can’t do much to fix the problems, they will keep this habbit into linux (or bsd, or whatever). then they say that linux is not perfect, and if asked how many bugs report they filed, or if they even entered irc to ask about their problem, they will answer “neither”. attitudes change but very slow when everybody around you does the same thing. anyway, the way i do things is, for new home user windows xp computers, first i create a password for the “administrator” and “the new user” accounts created at install time, then i use autologin from sysinternals to have the computer login automatically, so that the behaviour is almost the same, except there’s a password between xp and script kiddies, which means the computer will be infected much later πŸ™‚ regarding wife’s computer, she always used fedora linux (except the first years of college when dos/windows were leading the pack) so if i give her now xp or windows 7, she will start complaining that she no longer understand what’s going on, why she has only one workspace, what is this annoyng thing called anti*, why the whole computer is so slow, etc. so, after all, everything is about old habbits dying hard πŸ™‚

“Create a restricted or standard user in Windows XP and they can’t open JPEG’s”

That’s totally incorrect. You can open and save any media file at will without needing to be an administrator. My girlfriend used my computer under a limited account. Aside from needed me to install software a few times, she had no trouble with day to day activities.

Are you sure it is a standard user and not a power users account. This was improved greatly with later windows after XP. XP had issues as a standard user doing things as common as burning a CD.

We have XP. She is administrator. It is her computer and she is sole user. I don’t think that it makes much difference on XP. She is as likely to get infected with a user account. Cloning her drive is the best idea I’ve heard yet. It should make life simpler.

You could save yourself a lot of time in the maintenance of your wife’s computer.
Use ntfsclone -O /dev/sdb1 /dev/sda1 and
dd if=/dev/sda of=/mnt/sdb2/mbrwife bs=512 count=1
Do the reverse to restore-I have used this system repeatedly with constant success-You can keep two copies of windows on your save device and roll back the latest one when u get in trouble. ntfsclone saves a file system and has no regard for booting, hence u must keep and restore the mbr when necessary.

Clonezilla is a better bet for me. I can do the commandline, but I am a terrible typist. Can’t you tell? πŸ™‚

You really need to start forgetting how to do Windows stuff. Telling the family I was no longer fixing Windows has saved me many, many hours of frustration.

I do offer them a live CD to get by on until they can take their Windows box to the shop and plunk down $100-200 to get it fixed though.

Wife and mother have both switched which is good, they are hard to turn down. Kids are on their own!

I thought I did forget, but it comes back to me, like bell bottom pants. They are out of fashion and I can’t believe I once wore them, but the memory persists. Unfortunately.

Who is Symantic? πŸ˜›

Why reinstall Linux so often? I never had to do that for my Windows and Linux machines.

I install Linux for fun. I do it for many reasons. I like to try new distros. I like to look at changes to installers. I like starting fresh. Re-installing is easy, so I it does not phase me. My heart rate does not go up even a bit. πŸ™‚

dude use Clonezilla after a fresh install of XP. Save yourself hours of time.

Good point. I will go directly to their site. πŸ™‚

Stop fixing her computer.
You are just being an enabler, she has a “Windows that works for her” bacause you are propping it up to the best of your ability.

Our sofa is not very comfortable. πŸ™‚

I help an older lady (80s) with her PC. She demands MS-PictureIt! which MS abandoned years ago. She uses XP. I put Ubuntu 10.04 on it the third time I reinstalled WindowsXP. I created a clone of the installation (cp -a) before letting the computer connect to the internet and again as quick as I had her essential software installed. I wrote a simple script that lets her reinstall WindowsXP herself with a simple menu option in Linux. I have her doc&set user info on a D: drive (second partition) so it does not get updated.
Sounds like you could use some automation. Ubuntu only needs about 5GB for a very useful installation.

Wish I had the skills to do that! πŸ™‚

Despite the typos, this is one of the most persuasive articles comparing the Linux and Windows experience that I’ve seen. Well done!
You may be doing your wife a disservice, however, in cleaning up her Windows OS. Perhaps if she realized the cost and time that goes into maintaining Windows, not to mention the risk to your family’s financial security, she would be more easily swayed.

Tpyso, what tpsyo?

I’ve been a full time Debian stable (w/KDE) desktop user since about 2006. For a couple of years before that I had a Windows tower sitting next to the Debian tower and a KVM switch so the two machines shared mouse, monitor and keyboard. When it occurred to me that I hadn’t turned the Windows machine on for over six months I sold it. My wife uses PCLinuxOS. I get occasional calls to help my neighbors with their Windows machines and it’s almost always the same story. Update and run the anti-malware apps (gotta have more than one!) I installed for them the last time I worked on the machine because they’ve never done it, update and run their AV, Go to MS update and make sure the machine is 100% up-to-date, update any Open Source apps they’re using (Firefox, Thunderbird, Gimp, whatever), check for Mfgrs updates, clean out the temp files, clean the registry, dump the trash, defrag, error check and then check it to make sure it hasn’t got some mysterious ailment that I’ve missed. Beats me why any sane person is still using Windows.

PCLinuxOS is a good distro. More people should use it. Sane people use Windows because it is what they know. People like the familiar which is why XP won’t die despite Microsoft’s best efforts.

Upgrade her to Win7, give her a non-admin account, and let us know how she does in another couple months, when she’d normally be due for a wipe and reload.

One thing that keeps people from switching away from Windows is that they don’t have to bear its costs. They can get someone else to clean up the mess for free. They don’t have to compare the time lost to clean up to the time lost in not using an administrator account, so they get lazy and run as administrator.

I thought Windows 7 was the guy on TV’s idea. Don’t tell me it is your too! πŸ˜‰

My day-to-day OS is actually Vista 64. But unlike the unwashed masses who tried to install it on dinosaurs, I through enough hardware at it to make it perform reasonably well, so I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m also a Linux server admin, of multiple servers, and know the value of the LUA principle. So when in Vista, I run as a normal user and I leave UAC enabled. I have AVG installed and I browse with Firefox with NoScript or Chrome. (I so wish Chrome had NoScript, so I could get both performance and peace of mind.)

Win7 is Vista with some of the bling removed so that it’ll run decently on less than bleeding-edge hardware. Leave UAC enabled and make your wife an ordinary user. She can still easily install software but she’ll see more prompts when doing so.

Doh! That should be “*threw* enough hardware”!!!


I never have commented on a blog before, but I couldn’t help one this time. It speaks to the very problem I have in promoting G/L to my (establishmentarian) friends, who give the same excuses for not trying G/L: don’t have the time.

Like your wife, they don’t have the time because they have me to maintain their system. Insist that your wife learn to maintain her own Windows and see if she can muster the time to learn G/L. You and I are enabling their (your wife’s and my friends’) establishmentarianism (herd following) by supporting them in it.

Most of my people simply won’t learn G/L, period, either because they simply can’t or won’t no matter what I say or do, or because they’re incapable of learning it for various reasons. Yet I’m compelled to continue helping them because of an extraordinary relationship with an extraordinarily humanitarian technician who’s made all the computers for these people, gratis–and taught me what all (little) I know and with which I can help them.

I’m sure your hands are tied for some kind of similarly restrictive reasons. But, if you could say, “I’ll give you X amount of time a week to teach you how to maintain your system, period, no more,” not enough to completely maintain it, just enough to teach her, say, the maintenance of one program a month, and stick to it and, seeing to it that she sees exactly how much time you have to put into supporting her habit–that’s exactly what it is–I’ll bet it wouldn’t be long before she’d have the time to learn G/L>


You make several good points. We just don’t have the time. She is a school administrator. During the school year she works 16 hour days, six or seven days a week. I am in no position to give her time to learn anything. In the summer we usually take off and get away from it all and even I rarely touch my computer. My best bet is to wait until she retires and grin and bear it in the mean time. Thanks for the thought though. It’s a good one.

Without you she’d be paying for Windows support. So you’re enabling her. Keeps her on Windows. Same case here sometimes (except my wife has access to cheap tech support) Anyway 4 out of 5 of our household pc’s run Linux.

I’ve thought the same thing many times. It is the lesser of evils. She is independent on Windows up until it slows down or she is infected. And relatively happy. If she moved to Linux then there would be a couple of problems. She needs Windows specific programmes and needs to access the web with Active X. She uses Firefox, but on Windows where she has Active X.

You say “My wife is not about to use Linux, just because I say that it is better. She has heard all of what I have written here. Sadly, for her. Windows is all that she needs and she does not have the time to try anything else. She uses Windows because that is what she uses at work. One operating system is enough to handle for her and many others. I get that.”

Well, I don’t get that. People have no time to check out an alternative to Windows, but they do expect us to have the spare time to save their computers from the problems they themselves are causing all the time.

I have long lost all patience for that. People need to be able to use computers, not a specific OS or program. Anything less than that is a form of illiteracy. And I just can’t abide with people who insist on staying illiterates at my expense, never mind which OS they are using.

The difference is an important one. I am retired. She is not. Her next computer will likely be a Mac. Easier for both of us. Why not Linux? Only if you asks for it.

Ubuntu bleeding edge?? Are you serious? I’m using Ubuntu exclusively for about 3 years now, and if there is one thing I hate about it is the old packages in synaptic. Bleeding edge is Arch or Gentoo.
I always struggle to get the latest packages and have to compile and override the software channels in order to have some decent development packages.

This is subjective, isn’t it? People who crave stability see it is bleeding edge. People who live on the edge see it as mainstream. I base this solely on the fact that Ubuntu uses Debian sid for its packages and if you stay up to date you are on par with Fedora and other distributions that follow the six month upgrade cycle.

I am afraid that i do not see Arch as bleeding edge. Arch is old style Linux to me. It is a rolling release and Heathkit style Linux (that dates me). It all depends on how you choose to view it. Bleeding edge Linux to me are ones like Fedora and Ubuntu which are re-inventing themselves and Linux in the process, taking us in new directions. Gentoo and Arch do not change Linux, but harken back to the past.

When you have installed all software (and updated) on her machine, take a disk image on a usb-disk.
Next time, just install image, update, and save updated image.

A good point. I’d rather do it and be grumpy and then be able to cheer up when I go back to Linux. πŸ™‚

“The problem is that most users are prisoners. They do not know that there is such a thing a software freedom. They are denied that information. It is partly the fault of the software freedom community. We do not have an advertising budget”

Is your wife still using windows? In this case your beforementioned sentence is not true…

I pride myself in my inconsistency. It makes me unpredictable. πŸ™‚

I’m just saying that might be other reason why users are not changing…
Or I would express differently the concept: your wife probably is not changing because for her is easier asking you to repair the computer when gets wrong than learning another way of doing things πŸ˜‰

If you stop fixing her computer, she’ll have three choices: fix it herself, pay someone to fix it, or allow you to change her over to Linux (and be problem free, as you’ve demonstrated).

Where I work, I’m the one everyone comes to when they are having problems with their computers at home. But I’ve grown tired of fixing their virus-riddled, spyware-infested, malware-laden Windows computers. So, I offer them a choice: I’ll install and support Linux for free, or you can pay me $150 to clean up the mess on your computer, with no guarantees or warranties on how long it will last. Lately, they’ve stopped asking. Hmmmmm.

@ parnote, You’re not married, are you? πŸ™‚

Would you charge your own wife $150 to fix her machine?

No. I owe her big time already.

What about running XP in a VM and save data in another partition, so that she can just restart the image in case it gets corrupted by a virus?

Simplify your life. Put linux on her system and run windows as a VM. After the VM is configured the way you like it keep a backup of it. The next time your wife trashes it, just recopy the original VM. Altogether easier than getting a different wife.

She hasn’t the RAM to run a VM. Also you need a Windows license which is dumb because she already has one, but it isn’t transferable.

Good article, I think you only lacking to mention that in Linux any user can install the distro, put the preferred apps, made it your way and remaster the whole thing so you can install it somewhere else or as a backup in case or a hardware failure.

At least in PCLinuxOS I can πŸ™‚

PCLinuxOS is a solid distro and one of my faves. Unfortunately it only comes in 32-bit.

It’s not the OS, it’s the applications that users see. Especially in the case of your wife, who doesn’t do her own system administration.

If she’s using FireFox, OpenOffice, VLC and other F/OSS applications already, the transition to Linux as the underlying OS becomes trivial.

[…] While we’re at it, you can check out this interesting article which may prove enlightening: A Tale of Two Computers. […]

Thanks for the mention.

[…] Network World [H]ard|OCP – No PC Health Certificate, No Internet Virus info Linux and Windows A Tale of Two Computers « Linux Canuck’s Weblog Linux Today – Mass resignations from OpenOffice.org Google Docs will soon have third party […]

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