Trust your technolust.
kitten   May 27, 2008

Recently at work I had to install three different operating systems on three identical laptops. I am forever bitching about how obnoxious Windows is, especially when compared to modern Linux distros like Ubuntu, but it's been hard to qualify my statements until now.

This post contains a lot of griping about computers. If you don't care, move along.

Below are the notes I took in real time while installing each OS to the computer.

Now, there is the age-old argument of how most end-users don't care about this; that they aren't installing operating systems, but just using whatever the computer comes with when they buy it. This is true, but I feel that an OS developer's attitude about the OS can be extrapolated from how annoying they made the installation process. In other words, if an OS is extremely annoying or difficult just to install, how annoying or difficult will it be to use on a day to day basis?

The machine in each case is an HP nx7400. 1.8ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, one gig of RAM, Intel wireless, video, and audio chipsets. These are more or less the standard issue computers at my company. There is no fancy or unusual hardware that would trip up an installer.

The goal with each install is to get the operating system to what is at the very least a minimally functional state. "Minimally functional" to me is defined as:

  • All hardware and drivers installed and functional. I will overlook things like fingerprint scanners or Bluetooth devices, because I don't care, and don't consider them essential, but things like ethernet, wireless, sound, and fully accelerated video must work.
  • All updates and security patches applied.
  • All notifications and nagging disabled as much as possible. I do not consider a system "usable" when it harasses me every sixty seconds about something.
  • All unnecessary icons, system tray helpers, desktop shortcuts, and other cruft removed. I do not consider a system "usable" when the desktop is filled with clutter.
  • Unnecessary services and startup items disabled. I do not consider a system "usable" if it wastes time and resources loading garbage I don't need. Many of these things are security risks as well.
  • Any tweaks that are required for useful performance. That is to say, customizing things the way I want them is not counted, but having to disable some feature that causes the computer to crawl is counted.

Things I do not consider essential for a minimally functional install:


  • My preferred applications installed.
  • My preferences for those applications.
  • My personal files restored to the new computer.
  • My personal preferences for desktop options and layouts. I have a very specific way I customize things, including completely rearranging the Start menus, changing the default behaviors for window views and icons, and so forth, but as those are my preferences and not representative of anyone else, I am ignoring any extra time it might take to set that up.

So, we are going to see what, and how long, it takes to get each OS to a minimally functional state, including any and all hoops through which one might have to jump to get there.

Please note that when I say "time passes" in these notes, I am not being a smartass. Each "time passes" notation is meant to indicate that twenty or thirty minutes have gone by during which I was unable to do anything else useful with that computer.

In addition, any time I have to acknowledge some little notification or nagging from the OS, which is either annoying or prevents me from getting on with things (or both, which is usualy the case) gets noted.

If I can do two things at once, I will. If I list seemingly small things seperately, it's because they have to be done seperately.

The final summary is that XP and Vista both took around three hours. Again, that's without any of my customization or having anything useful beyond a bare-bones operating system.

Ubuntu took 48 minutes and because of the nature of Linux desktops, I was able to restore all of my files, applications, preferences, and so forth while I was installing it, so when all was said and done, it was indistiguishable from my normal setup.

At the end of each column are additional notes about what it takes to get the computer to a state where you can actually do something other than admire the desktop -- that is to say, installation of all the applications and so forth that one might need. An OS is pretty useless by itself.







Microsoft Windows XP SP1
Generic XP installer CD.
Microsoft Windows Vista Business
CD provided by HP specifically for this laptop.
Ubuntu Linux 8.04
Downloaded for free from ubuntu.com.

Insert CD, boot machine.

Preparing drivers for every piece of hardware under the sun. Time
passes.

Select "Install."

Select, confirm, delete, and format partition for installation.

Time passes.

"Setup must reboot your computer."

Time passes.

"Setup is Collecting Information. Setup is preparing installation."

Installation comes to a halt while I wasn't paying attention, because it's waiting for me to confirm my keyboard setup and timezone.

Continue. Time passes. Ignore advertisements about how great XP is, the glory of Windows Movie Maker, and overblown promises about how, quote, "Your computer will be faster and more reliable."

"To improve the appearance of visual elements, Windows will automatically adjust your screen resolution." OK.

Screen resolution exactly the same as it was before. "Windows has adjusted your screen resolution." OK.

"Welcome to Microsoft Windows! Let's spend a few minutes setting up your computer." I thought that's what I'd been doing for the past half hour, but whatever.

"Congratulations! You're ready to go!"

First boot.

Screen resolution at 800x600. Lovely.

"Your computer might be at risk! You have no antivirus!" Go away.

"Take a tour of Windows XP!" Go away.

"30 Days left for activation!" GO AWAY.

No sound. Can't get online. No video acceleration. Mouse scroll doesn't work.

Go to Device Manager, see what didn't install. No ethernet, no wireless, no modem, no video controller, and no "Unknown Device". Which means no way of going online to get any of the drivers.

"New Hardware Detected! Do you want Windows to check online for drivers?" Love to, but I can't, you moron.

Fire up Ubuntu laptop. Go to dell.com and download drivers.

Burn drivers to CD, put CD in new XP machine. Install.

Installation involves endlessly hammering "Yes", "I agree to Terms and Conditions", "Install to this directory". Next, next, continue, OK, next, finish.

Do this for each and every driver installer, one at a time.

"This driver was not digitally signed!" OK.

"This driver may cause your system to become unstable!" OK.

"This driver may fill your car with pudding and give the finger to a box of puppies!" OK.

"Let's activate Windows!" Go away.

"You must restart your computer for installation to finish." OK.

Reboot.

"Take a tour of Windows XP!" Go away.

"Your computer might be at risk!" Go away.

"New hardware detected! Do you want to search for drivers?" No. Go
away.

"Wireless detected! Click here to connect to a wireless network!" OK.

Enable Cleartype.

"30 days left for activation!" Go. Away.

Locate activation crack on sketchy Russian websites. (Replace this with "Input Activation code" if you really want to. Whatever.)

Reboot.

"Take a tour of Windows XP!" Bugger off.

"Your computer might be at risk!" Bugger off.

"One or more wireless networks detected!" Bugger OFF.

Disable all security notifications and nagging.

Download Windows updates. Install.

Time passes. Reboot three or four times; I honestly lost count.

Open services.msc and disable all useless or dangerous services. (Yes, I could have done this while the updates were going, but I've found this is a bad idea since you never know when Windows will decide to reboot to complete an update, right in the middle of what you're doing.)

Disable all the horseshit little system tray helpers, driver control panels, and useless startup entries.

Delete all the useless start menu items.

Now I have a minimally operational OS, with almost zero useful applications other than a horrible web browser and a horrible music player. I also have none of my files, and I haven't changed anything away from XP's defaults. A minimally operational OS.

Elapsed time to get to this point: Three hours.


Now time to get the applications that actually let me get things done.

Download Firefox installer.

Download Winamp installer.

Download Open Office installer.

"Updates are ready for your computer! Click here to install updates!"
OK.

Download Thunderbird installer (yes, XP comes with Outlook Express, but you'd be a fool to use it.)

Download Gaim installer.

Download unofficial Xchat installer.

"Click here to safely remove hardware!" Uh.. that's great. No.

Download codec pack installer.

Download vlc installer (for video and DVDs).

Download Avast antivirus installer.

Install each. Realistically you can only do these one at a time.

Click through countless more "Yes," "I agree", "I accept", "Install to this directory", "Install now", "Next", "Continue", and "Finish" dialogues for every single one.

Run each new application and configure all the necessary settings to how they were on the old computer.

Repeat for each new application.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

etc.

Delete all the worthless desktop icons the installers and applications left behind.

Remove all the worthless systray helpers they left behind.

Disable all the worthless startup entries they left behind.

Remove all the worthless Start menu entries they left behind.

Connect to machine where backup files are stored, begin transferring my files to the new machine.

I'm not even going into all the customization of XP's interface which I find necessary, like turning off all the Playskool themes, tweaking the hell out of the Start menu, setting folder views to something useful, on and on.

At this point it's been around five hours, and things *still* aren't really how I want them, but it'll do for now.

Insert CD, boot machine.

Select language, keyboard type, and time.

Install Now.

Accept twelve pages of license terms nobody reads.

Two options: Upgrade or Custom (Advanced). (Note: This is retarded. Most people aren't "upgrading" from a previous version, and the words "Custom" and "Advanced" make it sound like you're doing something out of the ordinary. In reality, that option is just a straight, vanilla install.)

Select partition.

"Installing Windows..."

Time passes.

The system reboots, and hangs completely. Manually restarting gets it past this.

"Please wait a moment while Windows prepares to start for the first time..."

Reboot.

Create new username and password. Select cutesy icon.

"Choose default desktop background." OK.

"Use recommended settings?" Fine.

"Review your time and date settings!" Fine.

"Please wait while Windows checks your computer's performance."

Ten pages and ten minutes of advertisements about how Vista will revolutionize your life.

First boot.

"Preparing your desktop..."

Resolution is completely wrong and not widescreen. Right-click desktop to fix...

"Get started with Windows!" Go away.

Disable worthless sidebar.

Right-click desktop to fix resolution...

"How do you find Sidebar again? Click here!" Go away.

"Windows needs your permission to continue! If you started this action, continue. 'File Operation, Microsoft Windows." Uh.. Continue? I guess?

No wireless, no ethernet. Can't get online and can't adjust the video resolution because the video driver didn't install. Device manager lists the other things that didn't install:


  • Fingerprint scanner (not that I care)
  • Unknown Device
  • Unknown Device
  • Unknown Device
  • Video Controller

Go to HP's website with Ubuntu machine, download drivers, burn to CD, give CD to Vista.

Run driver installer.

"A program needs your permission to continue! Continue or Cancel?" Continue.

Next, Yes, I Agree, Yes, Next, Install to this directory, Next, Next, Next, Next.

Repeat five more times.

"Windows must restart to complete installation." OK.

"Window cannot shut down because a service is still in use." What?

"Windows has detected possible security risks. Click here to install anti-malware software." Go away.

Reboot.

"Configuring updates..."

Time passes.

Time passes.

"Welcome!"

Time passes.

With the new video driver, resolution still isn't correct. Manually adjust.

"Get started with Windows!" Go away.

Disable the Welcome screen from starting again.

Delete driver installers; I don't need them anymore.

"You need to confirm this operation." Continue.

Start services.msc to disable all the worthless services that take up memory.

"A program needs your permission to continue!" Continue.

Okay, editing services can wait. Go disable User Account Control so it stops asking me about Continue or Cancel.

Control Panel, User Accounts, User Accounts. Turn User Account Control On Or Off.

"Windows needs your permission to continue!" sigh.

"Turn on User Account Control to make your computer more secure!" sigh. No.

"You must restart your computer to apply these changes!" Fine. There's a lot more to be done, but if this makes it stop nagging me...

Reboot.

"Check your User Account Control settings. User Account Control is turned off. Click here to fix the problem." Go away.

Open "Security Center" and disable all further notifications about anything.

Back to editing services. Disable:


  • IP Helper
  • Readyboost
  • Windows Error Reporting Service
  • Tablet PC
  • Offline Files
  • Web Client
  • Portable Device Enumerator
  • Windows Search

Disable window transparency. Disable window animation. (This is not my customization; this is necessary. Without a much higher-grade video card, these options slow Vista way down.)

"Problem reports and solutions. Click here to view problems Vista has detected." Go away.

Disable all the useless little systray helpers, icons, start menu entries, and startup entries the driver installs left behind.

"Windows is checking for updates!" OK.

"Windows has found new updates. Click here to install." OK.

Time passes.

Time passes.

Time passes.

An hour and fifteen minutes, according to Vista's own clock.

Reboot.

"Windows is configuring updates..."

Time passes.

Machine inexplicably reboots again.

"Please wait..."

"Configuring updates..."

Time passes.

Fix timezone. Again.

Well. Now I have a very minimally functional OS and nothing more. It has no useful applications, none of my files, settings, or preferences.

Elapsed time to get to this point: A bit over three hours.


Download Firefox installer.

Download Winamp installer.

Download VLC installer.

Download Gaim installer.

Download Open Office installer.

Download Thunderbird installer.

Download unofficial Xchat installer.

Run Firefox installer.

"A program needs your permission to continue! Continue or Cancel?" Continue. Didn't I turn this off?

Yes, Next, Install To This Directory, I Agree, Next, Next, Next, Finish.

Run Firefox and configure all my preferences and options the way I like them.

Run Thunderbrid and configure the mail account, options, and other preferences.

Repeat for all the other programs, one at a time.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Connect to machine where my backup files are stored, begin transferring to new machine.



Insert CD, boot machine.

Gnome Desktop loads.

Click "Install".

Select language, keyboard, and timezone.

Select partition.

Come up with new username and password, give name to machine.

Click "Install" to finalize.

Time passes. (Note that the live desktop is still fully functional at this time, so one could browse the web, chat online, or even write a paper while this is going on. Not that I want to.)

Reboot, login.

Screen resolution is correct. Sound works. Wireless works. Desktop effects work.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
(Note: Most people would just click the "Get Updates" notifier to do this. I use the command line because I prefer it.)

While this is going, connect to remote machine that has my home directory tarball. Transfer to new machine.

Check hardware. Everything installed fine except the dialup modem.

System, Administration, Restricted Drivers, Enable modem drivers.

Unpack home directory tarball.

Restart X. Everything is now exactly the way I had it configured on the old machine -- all preferences, application settings, bookmarks, emails, personal files, images, music, documents, etc.

At this point I have an operating system with all of my personal settings and files. Firefox, Open Office, GIMP, Gaim, DVD player, CD burner and ripper, are already installed.

Elapsed time to fully functional, updated OS with all my stuff exactly the way I want it: 48
minutes.


There are some packages and tools I use that aren't included by default,
so I can get those all at once. None of these are anything the average
person would ever need or even want, but I do:


apt-get install nmap ngrep tethereal audacious audacious-plugins nikto
vmware-server cpufreqd abiword xchat2

(Again, most people would probably just use the point-and-click feature for this, but I use the command line. Either way you do it, you can do them all at once, and they don't require any further interaction from you once you've kicked off the procedure.

Ignore it while it fetches the packages and installs by itself without my having to touch it further. Any preferences I had set for these applications will be there already thanks to the config files in
my home directory.

No desktop icons and extraneous menu items and helpers and systray applications get installed, so there's nothing to clean up.