Windows 10 Arrives at Last: Be Careful What You Wish For

The only reason we keep a copy of Microsoft Windows at Chaos Central is to run “must have” programs that are only published on the Microsoft platform (and, sometimes, OS/X, for which we don’t have a reliable machine).  Today was one of those days…  We have been getting warnings for some time about updating the GPS in our car.  We have avoided doing that because, until we got the refurbished Windows machine, we had to fire up XP in a virtual machine on Linux and assign a USB port to it.  Except, Garmin no longer supports Garmin Express on Windows XP.

I switched the big monitor from external display on my Linux laptop to the Windows 7 box and plugged in the GPS.  Of course, Garmin Express couldn’t find the GPS.  This is usually some Windows setting, but annoying to have to wade through the manual hardware detection.  Meanwhile, the Windows 10 upgrade agent, which, up until now, had steadfastly insisted we needed to buy a new machine, decided that the Nvidia graphics card I installed back in August was really present and functional, and started the upgrade, which pretty much put doing any useful work on hold until it completed.

But, while it was downloading, I was also downloading the Garmin utility, fighting with Firefox, which had caught an adware virus during configuration of the new machine.  As most Windows users are aware, adware viruses flood the screen with bogus warnings insisting you immediately purchase protective software to prevent the very thing it is doing, and will undoubtedly scale up the infection if you accept.  Other ads a flood in, opening new tabs and windows unbidden, faster than you can close them, if indeed you can close them safely.  So, I also downloaded an adware cleaner (???) but couldn’t run it while the Microsoft update was running.

By the way, none of this ever happens on Linux–adware and viruses just don’t happen.  yes, there are attacks that might install rootkits to allow unauthorized use of the machine, but these are relatively easy to avoid with good administrative practices, but rarely would a program be able to take over the machine or alter the operation of an existing program.

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Soon, the machine completed downloading and preparing the upgrade, then started the process, during which the machine is unavailable. After a fairly long time, involving multiple reboots, the configuration process started, with a succession of “friendly” messages, along with the admonition to not turn of the machine (or, by inference, unplug it, and hope the power company doesn’t have an outage).

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All this waiting is tedious, but the messages are hopeful, and then, after a while, refreshingly honest…  The admonition to not turn off the machine might indicate the upgrade process is not idempotent, i.e., that it might not succeed if restarted, a scary thought.  This one feature of Windows makes me extremely reluctant to ever consider using a Windows mobile system, on battery, or Windows anywhere without uninterruptible power.

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Finally, the new system is ready for use, and detects the GPS immediately.  As much as I have denounced Microsoft and Windows over the years, I was as hopeful about moving from Windows XP to Windows 10 as I was about moving to Windows NT from Windows 3.1 back in the 1990s (NT was a “real” operating system; Windows 3.1 was a graphical user interface running on top of MS-DOS).  For the record, I had abandoned Windows 3.1 for IBM’s OS/2 (another “real” operating system, but which ran Windows 3 programs) early on, and had been a dedicated Unix user since MS-DOS 5 and  Windows 2.

Windows XP seemed an improvement over NT and 2000, which explains why it persists after 13 years, during which the embarrassingly dysfunctional Windows Vista spawned Windows 7, which was essentially Vista with an updated XP desktop, followed by the baffling Windows 8, which replaced the old desktop metaphor with a giant phone screen that didn’t make phone calls, with the tools locked in a secret compartment in the trunk, under the spare tire and the “Desktop” tiled with large “buttons” titled with incomprehensible icons. According to users (I never did use it), in operation, it was permanently wired in the “parental consent required” mode in a largely ineffective attempt to prevent users from inadvertently inviting malware into their systems.  The core system is still vulnerable to intrusion, and the monolithic application architecture is statistically prone to code bugs from sheer volume of code. (Unix architecture encourages a building-block approach to programming, leveraging existing bug-free code.)

The Windows 10 preview, released over a year ago, seemed to have promise: a fairly responsive system with a reasonable work surface modeled after the venerable desktop but with some updated graphics. Well, OK, usable–when you absolutely have to use it, but still Microsoft Windows. Still, Microsoft, under new leadership, (Nidella, replacing corporate plank owner Ballmer as CEO, represents a second generation of management, 35 years after the founding of the company), seems on the mend from a decade of missteps in their flagship operating system. Even though the usability factor seems improved, the cumbersome design concept legacy leaves the platform still more vulnerable to malware than the rival systems based on Unix system design principles, Apple’s OS/X on the desktop, and the Open Source GNU/Linux in the server room.

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Microsoft’s next target is the computer in everyone’s pocket, the smart phone, but struggling from behind against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms, the former based on the tried-and-true Apple desktop model and the latter built on the GNU/Linux core. Meanwhile, here we are, finally able to refresh our GPS maps on the Garmin (based, naturally, on GNU/Linux). Time to switch the display real estate back to Linux and get some work done.