Saturday, September 26, 2009

What New Windows?

After my last post a friend of mine told me I would be missing the boat by not upgrading to the latest incarnation of Windows and he pointed out that the cost of hardware is dropping every day and in fact I could get an entire media center PC for $1,200 with Windows 7 already on it.

To the first point I have to ask, what is it I will be missing out on in Windows 7 that my Linux distribution does not have? I find that these days I mainly use my computer for web applications and document creation. I also occasionally download music and edit graphics and pictures.

I was already using open source software for those applications. I have used Open Office for years now and for graphics I've grown rather fond of the GIMP. For email I use web based Yahoo and Gmail services. For music downloads I used Ares Galaxy but recently switched to Lime Wire. In fact, for about every basic function on the computer and some advanced ones I've been using some form of open source or free software.

My game playing has taken second stage in my life as the demands of working full time, raising a family and running a charity have taken front stage, so I'm I behind the times with that already and I'm better off for it. I still have my trusty PS2 and X box for those times when I just have to kill something.

So what killer feature does Windows 7 offer that will sway me to switch? When I asked this question I did some research on this and discovered I'm not missing much. One author said the best feature of Windows 7 was the ability to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. Now that's funny! The best feature of the new OS is it's ability to run the old OS. I can do that in Linux too as well as run Vista!

OK, so what else is new in 7? Here's a list of features compiled from Microsoft's Windows 7 site:
  • "Jump Lists—new in Windows 7—take you right to the documents, pictures, songs, or websites you turn to each day. To open a Jump List, just right-click a program icon on the Windows 7 taskbar." (Looks a lot like favorites. Had that in Linux already and the ability to pin to the taskbar.)

    • "Snap is a quick (and fun) new way to re size open windows, simply by dragging them to the edges of your screen." (This is a revolutionary feature? See Taskbar section below.)
    • "Windows Live Essentials. Simply put, it's free software that makes a PC running Windows 7 do more great things. Things like e-mail, instant messaging, photo editing, and blogging." (They took out all of the Microsoft crap-ware from the OS and now you can download them form Windows Live. Do yourself a favor and download open source alternatives that work instead. Compared to the Linux software repository Microsoft's Live offerings look pathetic.)

    • "Windows Taskbar. Sure, the new Windows 7 taskbar is still the same familiar place for switching between windows. But now it's easier to see, more flexible, and more powerful." (Have you ever heard of KDE? It was a truly unique attempt to rethinking the taskbar. If you want to see a cool way to organize your windows nothing beats Linux multiple desktops. You can even view them in a desktop cube that you can scroll though with your mouse wheel.)

        • "New desktop themes." (in Linux you can install an entirely different desktop, not just a theme), "some new wallpapers, and some new gadgets ala improved windows sidebar." (Excuse me, but enhancing something does not make it a 'new' feature. In Linux gadgets have been a mainstay for quite a while now in the form of plasmoids.)

        • There is also improved touch screen support. (That would be nice but wont help me any unless I dole out the money for a touch screen PC. Besides that, Linux has had touch screen capabilities since the 1994 Compaq Concerto.)

            • Microsoft also did some nice graphics enhancements to the whole OS. (The desktop looks nice. Linux falls short in this area, but with major updates coming every month they are not far behind. Windrows 7 still cant hold a candle to a Mac in this area. To me the new 7 desktop seems strangely reminiscent of PC-Linux.)

              • They slimmed down 7 so its system requirements are slightly less than Vistas. (This was because of all the netbooks that came out that were running Linux out of necessity. Microsoft had even extended the life of XP to keep windows pre-installed on these new computers! Come on guys, with Linux you can get your entire OS on a bootable CD. Or on a thumb drive you can carry with you to any computer. That is a slim OS!)

                • There are a lot of other minor tweaks, fixes, etc.all things that more or less should have been fixed in Vista before it was released. (Nothing being touted here convinces me Microsoft should have discontinued Vista or even XP for that matter. If this was a car salesman selling us a new car to replace the old broken car he sold us to replace the previous broken car he sold us we'd figure out we had been ripped off a long time ago.We would just want him to fix the darn car!)
                  I'm not saying Microsoft software is all bad. My main argument here is that these features are nothing new and should have been fixed in a Vista patch. The whole Kernel of 7 is built on the Vista Kernel so its not a stretch for them to fix what was already there. It is their code and it can't possibly be so inflexible that even Microsoft could not have fixed it . Linux has bugs sometimes too. But with Linux as I pointed out I'm going to get a fix and not a whole new OS. With Linux I'm not going to be paying for that fix either.

                  That brings me to my friends second point. Tech prices will always drop and $1,200 for that uber-system seems like a steal compared to what it once was priced. I don't even have $500.00 to plunk into a computer, and a lot of families are in the same boat. Why would I pay for something I already have? My existing hardware can do all the same things better and faster with Linux.

                  For those of you who want to spend that kind of money chasing Microsoft's tail around, more power too you. I look forward to the donation of your old computers and if that kind of cash is easy to come by, I know I can count on you to donate some money to our cause so we can provide even better computers to families in our community who don't have one. Because we are using Linux and open source software that kind of money will go a long way!

                  Check out the following video to see some Linux eye candy in action!


                  1. Hi Jeff. You raised some very simple but valid points there. I have also wondered a lot why all the buzz about Win 7 when it actually is just an updated version of Vista. I think we need to do more to let people know that for most users, Linux is a viable alternative at a fraction of the cost of Windows. Why cough up so much money in an economic downturn when you can easily breath life into your hardware thanks to Linux and Foss?

                  2. I just got back form Linux Fest In Columbus , Ohio and it was so encouraging.

                    It's amazing that most of these operating systems are developed by a worldwide community of volunteers who offer their code to be freely distributed and improved upon by others.

                    Microsoft is doing what i can by lobbying foreign governments to 'ban' Linux as well as filing software patents like mad in the United states to try and stop the development of open source alternatives to their products.

                    When I talked to the KDE development team about how Windows 7 looked very similar to KDE 4.0 they took it in stride and said "That's the idea of Open Source. We put our ideas out for others to use and improve on."

                    It was cool that they had such a great attitude about it but I fear that type of optimism may be naive. Microsoft has not been interested in open source and certainly not in sharing the ideas it borrowed form others with anyone else.

                    There are signs this may be changing though. See


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