Life with Windows 7 (so far…)

In a recent blog post titled Returning to Windows After 15+ Years I described why I had abandoned Linux on the desktop in favor of Microsoft Windows 7 Professional.  I’ve been living with that decision now for almost 7 months and I’m beginning to think I made a mistake. Don’t get me wrong – Windows 7 is, in my opinion, far superior to Windows Vista and also a definite improvement over Windows XP.  My primary reasons for going back to Windows (mostly driver issues with wireless network adapters, sound cards and printers) were almost totally solved by Windows 7 (I still had an issue with an older printer). However, some features and functionality that I could – and did – take for granted in Linux have only immature “equivalents” on Windows.

I run Linux on my servers, primarily Ubuntu but I’m converting to Debian one server at a time. Because of this, I really need a good, stable, easy SSH client on my desktop PC so that I can log into them remotely. Also, I regularly need to tunnel X Windows over an SSH connection, which means I also really need a good X Windows server for my desktop PC. I have both OpenSSH for Windows and PuTTY installed, and I use both, and neither of them are completely satisfactory. The OpenSSH client that is available is old – version 3.8 from July 2004 – requires Cygwin (which is okay, but I’d rather have a native version (and, yes, I could buy a commercial version of SSH for Windows, but for some reason I have a reluctance to buy something that comes free with Linux)), and does not always render the screen correctly. PuTTY seems to have some problems transmitting certain keystrokes or key combinations (no, I don’t remember which ones or when it occurs – but I know it when I see it). I also have Xming installed, and PuTTY does work with it, and it seems to be a stable X server.

The reverse – logging into a Windows PC (well, a Windows Server, or the “Pro” version of XP or Win7) from a Linux desktop – is very easy: there is a very good RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol, which is used to log into Windows remotely) client for Linux.

I rely on VirtualBox to run various versions of Windows and Linux in Virtual Machines for testing or to isolate applications I’m not familiar with and just want to try out. That way, if I don’t want to continue to use it, I don’t have to worry about any system or registry changes it might have made or anything that it might leave behind. The latest version of VirtualBox runs well on either Win7 or Linux, so at least that isn’t an issue.

In addition to the not-quite-satisfactory SSH client issue, I’ve had Win7 lock up or become unstable on a few occasions. It has always rebooted without a problem, but this type of thing is irritating. Another irritation that I did not have with Linux is the more-frequent-than-I’d-like required rebooting. It seems like about half of the Microsoft updates require a reboot (I’m sure it’s my imagination and it’s really much less than 50%), application hangs often require a reboot to clear up, and I have had a couple of issues with VirtualBox (mostly related to USB or something that the guest OS was doing) that required a reboot. I never had a problem killing a process on Linux, so I never had to reboot it to clear up problems like this (yes, the Task Manager in Windows can ostensibly kill processes but sometimes it either doesn’t work it takes a long time).

Finally, with all of the improvements in Windows over the years, and with all of the glitz and eye candy and user experience improvements that have been made in Win7, the performance of the UI (User Interface – Windows Explorer to be specific) – and really the multitasking performance in general – is not up to contemporary standards. Apparently, a rogue application can still grab enough of the system’s resources to make the UI totally unresponsive. This hasn’t been a problem in Linux for as long as I can remember, and my experience with Mac OS X hasn’t shown this behavior either.

So, am I going to switch back to Linux?  I’m on the fence at the moment, and could go either way. I need to get some experience with the latest version of 64-bit Ubuntu (10.04), compare that with a fully updated 64-bit Debian 5 installation and then make a decision. Hopefully, Ubuntu will have all of the drivers I need and remove that as an obstacle. We’ll see…


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Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson

The Information Technology "Renaissance Man." With a formal education in Computer Science and over 33 years of professional experience, Andy lived through the personal computing revolution and into the Internet Era. While still providing and managing mainstream commercial products, he now specializes in applying Open Source solutions and virtualization technology to small business IT issues.

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