May 20, 2009

The wonders of modern marketing — get paid $100 for telling time

Filed under: Blog — krkhan @ 4:57 am

A couple of days back, I had to buy a laptop for my dad. Now, deciding one for him was infinitely easier than doing so for myself since the obsession with smaller screens wasn’t playing any role here. In fact, what he ended up liking was a 15.6″ behemoth which, upon comparison, could easily swallow my 12.1″ and 8″ notebooks and still have space left for my cellphone.

The purchase was made at eXtra. Before my dad finalized it though, the salesman asked me if I would like to have the laptop setup with “original Windows Vista, original Anti-Virus software with all the updates, original office and configured with all the drivers for SR 365 only”.

This immediately raised a few points in my head:

  • Dad happens to be as much of a computer guy as I am an electronics’ (although I have some extra credentials, such as scoring a hat-trick of flunking performances at the university in a single course related to electronics). I really didn’t want him to be bothered with all the “Windows Genuine Advantage” pile of crap later on.
  • I would be saved the trouble of downloading, installing, cracking, patching and updating a “clean” Windows installation — regardless of the fact that I find it quite amusing whenever someone refers to a Windows installation as “clean”.
  • Around $100 would be a good bargain considering retail prices of all the softwares mentioned.

Then, a few counter-points:

  • Until that moment, I had been totally oblivious to Compaq laptops coming without having any pre-installed operating system. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I myself had settled for an OS-less Fujitsu-Siemens notebook few years ago, which gave me very handsome physical as well as technical specs for the cash I spent. Back then, I was also pleasantly surprised when my Linux From Scratch system got migrated to the new machine using only bash, netcat and tar; making it usable on the very day of notebook’s acquisition.
  • I harbor a particular distrust for salesmen who speak too fast.

The counter-points outweighed the originals, and I decided to go with an empty laptop. Got home, downloaded and burned a cracked copy of XP SP3, only to find out that the laptop wasn’t empty at all. It already had a working Vista & Co. on it which only required setting up the initial time and localization settings. Immediately, I recalled other unsuspecting customers at the counter who did pay the extra charges for getting their laptops “ready”.

Fortunately for my dad, my time-telling prowess wasn’t as valuable as the salesman’s so I didn’t ask him $100 for it. Unfortunately, he’ll now have to cope with Vista.

“Windows: Microsoft’s tax on computing neophytes.”

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January 30, 2007

Comparison: Windows Vista vs. Linux

Filed under: Blog — krkhan @ 9:02 pm

It’s finally here, and everyone is talking about it. Microsoft’s new operating system promises a revolution in computing, and a safer experience for its users. But, anyone who keeps himself in touch with Linux news knows that our beloved operating system kicks Vista in the pants in every technical aspect worth considering. Honestly speaking, that won’t change much as the fan-boys will blatantly remain fan-boys, no matter what you throw at them and how rational your reasoning is. Still, I thought of comparing the the current states of Linux and Vista desktops so that I’d link any future Vista fan that I encounter directly to this post.

Let’s start …


In October 2001, Microsoft launched the latest version, dubbed as XP, of their flagship product Windows. The company claimed that the new version was its “most secure operating system ever made”. While installing the OS, the screens constantly kept reiterating words such as “security, usability and dependability”. Given that most of the Microsoft’s users are people who know as much about security as I do about Organic Chemistry, the marketing tactic indeed proved quite successful. However, it wasn’t long before crackers, virus writers and trojan makers started targeting XP, and the most secure OS of Microsoft was collectively devastated. To remedy the situation, Microsoft came up with Service Pack 2. This time using taglines such as “latest security updates and innovations from Microsoft”. These “new proactive protection features” were nothing more than a collection of fixed bugs, default firewall and a “Security Center” that constantly bugged you about installing an Anti-Virus on your PC. The Anti-Viruses had to run in background to perform their routine tasks, and as a consequence, you were left with lesser resources to do your work. It was almost impossible to edit multiple spreadsheets efficiently in Office while having Norton’s AV “shield” your PC from known threats.

The common misconception about Windows’ inherent security troubles was that Windows is less secure only because it’s more targeted by malicious crackers. It was useless telling people who believed it that Windows only dominates the desktop side of computing; and that more damage could’ve been achieved by crackers if they targeted *nix operating systems (which dominated and still dominate the server side of computing) and they had been flawed in security like Windows. The actual reasons for Windows being horse crap in terms of security were quite different. The initial versions of Windows were never created as a network operating system, and the situation became ugly only when the later versions were used as one. There was no proper privilege system in Windows, and even XP’s firewall filtered only inbound traffic. Ironically, with Vista, Microsoft is implementing long time security practices that *nix operating systems have always had, and flagging their operating system (once again) as “more secure operating system than any other”. Things like file system encryption, firewall and a user privilege system were present in real networking operating systems like FreeBSD and Linux for a long time before Microsoft even considered adding them to Windows. In fact, it still astonishes many seasoned *nix users that millions of Windows PCs used to connect to the internet without a proper firewall and a user privilege system. The funniest thing about the whole phenomenon is that Microsoft is tagging the whole thing is “innovation”. Leaving that aside, even if we consider the current states of security features for Vista and a Linux operating system, Vista still lags behind due to technologies like SELinux, iptables and the platform portable nature of Linux itself.

Look and feel

Another feature of Vista which admirers love to brag about is the Aero interface, while the misconception (which wasn’t a misconception really, quite a few years back) about Linux is that the GUIs of its desktop environments aren’t as user friendly and aesthetically pleasing as Macintosh or Windows. Recent developments such as Xgl, AIGLX, Beryl and Cairo have provided Linux the most impressive GUIs of any operating system, and I’m not just issuing hollow statements like Microsoft here either. Consider having multiple “virtual” desktops on a cube which you can rotate and view in real-time. Right now, it’s only possible with a hardware accelerated X server like Xgl or AIGLX.

Beryl Wobbly Windows Beryl 3D Cube
Beryl: The most advanced GUI interface on any OS

And let’s not forget that you have something in Linux which Windows will never be able to offer: the choice of desktop environments. So if you don’t want to have all those effects, or even if you have a computer with only 64 MB of RAM, you can always run a minimalist window manager e.g. Fluxbox.


There are also other “innovations” of Vista such as desktop widgets and search tools which have been present in Linux for years in form of SuperKaramba and Beagle. Nevertheless, as I’ve said before, the “ignorant fan-boy syndrome” has no cure, and there will still be people who’ll find it very satisfying to pay money for things like operating system, office software and email management software. Even when a Linux distribution offers gigabytes of those utilities for free (in terms of both beer and speech).

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