Friday, July 06, 2012

What makes apples grow

Spotting news stories again ...

Apple are doing rather well it seems ... That's a Register link to a story where they are looking at stats which say that Apple PCs are not quite in the same minority as Microsoft PCs. A good thing too. Personally, I think it's because Microsoft apparently being bent on destroying the credibility of their own software.

When a bit of software is released, it's tough to answer "Where do we go from here ?". And honestly, Microsoft had hit a pinnacle with Windows XP. In it's early days, it combined everything you need out of an Operating System.

Reliability - I'd got some seriously big uptimes out of my desktops, only rebooting them for updates or if I'd turned it off over a weekend away. When things went bad, System Restore was robust enough to fix it.
Performance - Any current user of a M$ OS would scoff at this but it was different in the early days. XP was a very smooth OS and would run very happily in 256-384MB. My first laptop ran fine in 512MB. Nowadays, Windows is so bloated that I doubt it would boot up in 512MB and would be unusable if it did.
Enabling - this is key. An Operating System should let you do things on a machine (do not buy a Chromebook as they seriously fail in this) and it should enable that to happen transparently. Vista failed because it was incredibly annoying.
Compatibility - apart from some DOS stuff, XP would allow you to run your software. Try running old 16 bit software on 64 bit Windows 7. You would be able to on Linux ... Same with old hardware.

However ... around the time that Vista came out, an essential update (Service Pack) struck Windows XP. It effectively killed the disc caching, crippling the performance of the machine. We see it at work, where we are too often waiting for our XP machines to chatter away with their hard discs. The whole idea of disc caching is that you don't have to wait for the disc. All the disc activity is looked after in system memory, with the changes being recorded to disc some time later. However, that update set "some time later" to "do now, make user wait".

And so we wait for our Windows machines to do stuff while we watch the hard disc light flash away. I get the same problem on this Windows 7 laptop, it's a fault in all current versions of Windows. My desktop is immune but only because it has a FLASHy hard disc.

Don't get me started on drivers and software support ... Ok, I touched on it above. Backwards compatibility is one of the most essential things in the computer world. (Apple fail hard here too.) Lack of compatibility comes from design decisions being made which change the driver model, with the intention of making machines more stable. What should happen is that the old driver model is retained and supported ... but anything that uses it MUST be locked away in its own little sandbox. That's how I got those 16 bit card games running - by having a WinXP sandbox virtual machine running. That sandbox emulation should be part of the underlying OS.

I'm ranting again aren't I ?

I think my Windows 7 desktop will be the last Microsoft software I buy (although I may not get a choice). Coupled with an SSD boot drive and 8GB of system memory, it's nice and smooth. It should last me for quite a few years before Microsoft swing their Compatibility Bat at it. From what I hear of Windows 8, it's yet another step into horrid interfaces.

Whatever happened to the OS taking a back seat and just enabling you to do stuff with a machine ? Fancy shells do not make fancy machines. Gis the Explorer shell and we'll put the fancy applications on top of the shell.

That's the key error - trying to do too much with the shell. (The bit that is the base user interface).

Ok. Some shininess is good (like being able to wave over a taskbar thing and get a preview) but a lot of shininess is just a bad excuse for the horrific levels of bloating we are seeing in today's software. And it should be achievable just by updating the shell, not the underlying OS. See Linux for an example of keeping the same basic underlying kernel and giving the user a more advanced shell.

And I think I've ranted quite enough for now :-)

What is it that really makes Apples grow ? Water !

And it's water, water everywhere at the moment. Although yesterday's cricket did get called off due to the sun being out. (Nah - waterlogged pitch from there being so much rain). Hope people aren't affected too much by this weather this weekend. It could definitely make the Silverstone GP interesting ...

1 comment:

  1. And after attempting for over an hour to persuade an Android tablet/laptop abomination to print ... Microsoft are probably quite happy that other people do operating systems that are FAR WORSE than their's.



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