Taking the Plunge

It’s ironic to me that D-Day for good old Windows XP is coming up on Monday, since for several months, I’ve been trying to motivate myself to dump it in favor of Ubuntu as the O/S on my work laptop.

Tracking Dan’s recent jump into the Mac pond chronicled over Twitter and in his blog has me motivated to think about it more seriously. Don’t laugh, inertia is strong.

I’ve had a Mac for years, since they moved to Intel, and I love it. I don’t consider myself a fanboy, though; that ethos doesn’t really fit me.

I tend to be O/S neutral. I’ve used XP happily for several years, and I actually like it best of all the Windows flavors I’ve ever used, which is a lot: 3.11, NT 3.51, Win 95, NT 4.0, Win 98, Win ME, Win 2K, and XP.

Still, I’ve found that any O/S tends to get slower and buggier the longer you run it, which makes sense. I’m reaching that point with my laptop, and the choice is whether to reimage it with the Oracle image for XP or go off the reservation with a brand new Ubuntu Hardy Heron installation.

Why, you ask? My reasons aren’t really good O/S vs. bad O/S. I’ve just run Windows as my primary O/S for more than a decade, and it seems like a good time to change.

When I started at Oracle back in 1996, Microsoft was the enemy, not that they aren’t now, but more so then. The problem was at the time, Windows and Office had no viable alternatives. So, we had to use them to do business.

Today, you can pick from a menu of great substitutes with equivalent functionality, in many cases for free. The deciding factor now is time and effort.  It’s easy to reimage; all the software is included and configured for me. I’m likely to be back to normal operations in less than a day.

Not so with Linux, even Ubuntu, which hardcore sys admin friends of mine scoff at as “too easy”.

That’s more of a project that could eat an entire weekend and still not be operational. Plus, I know I’ll still need XP for a few work tasks like web conferencing, so I’ll need a virtual machine. I’m not sure how the hardware will tolerate running a virtual XP image and Hardy Heron at the same time.

Why run a VM of XP and not just XP natively? I’m lazy. Now you see the dilemma.

From my years in PC support, I know that most people are deeply superstitious about computers. They don’t want anything to change because if it’s working now, life is good. If it breaks and they can’t work, life is bad, and fixing a problem could keep them down for a long time.

This inertia is why IE 6 still makes up a huge percentage of browser traffic, and why web app developers continue to support it, despite it’s idiosyncrasies. If you want people to use your app, you can’t rely on them to install Firefox or Safari or Opera or even IE 7.

So, over the next few days/weeks/months, I’ll continue to vacilate about switching to Ubuntu. If I do eventually make the move, I’ll blog it.

In the meantime, sound off with your thoughts on O/S, computer inertia, etc. in comments.




  1. I use XP exclusively in VM (VMWare on Linux, Parallels on the Mac). XP itself drives me crazy, but the VM experience itself is positive.

    Only problems I ran into: you spend more HD on two OS + apps, you can't run very memory intensive apps on both OS at once, and there's no support for accelerated graphics. But for the occasional IE/Office use, neither one bothered me.

    On the other hand, now I have a pristine XP setup that I never have to worry about. You can mount your XP home folder onto the host OS, then every few months, when XP bloats itself to unbearable slowness or wrecks the registry, you can just start over from a clean image.

  2. Good point, reimaging a VM isn't as big a deal as reimaging a disk. I don't have the horses to run very much in a VM, maybe IE or Office, for a short amount of time, but not both.

    I'm more concerned with the amount of time starting over will take. I'm a lazy man.

  3. I have had many, many problems with my Dell laptop running XP, at the moment it works but not in the docking station – so I don't use the docking station. I would ask desktp support to look at it, but to be honest I'll just take a machine that works. I try to plan for the certainty that I may lose a hard drive or need to reimage at any point in time, I store nothing on my hard drive backing up my bookmarks and ppts on a USB drive regularly.

    As for computers that I get to choose, I have macs, powerbooks, imacs and even the short lived Mac Cube. I also have an XO laptop – which is pretty neat but the keys are designed for kids so that has ot go to my Son.

  4. My experience switching from XP to Linux was about a day to get everything over, a couple of weeks to fully settle.

    The installation process is different from Windows, you can apt-get most of the stuff and just let it run in the background for a few hours. You won't be spending the day clicking through wizards and waiting on progress bar.

    But to get really settled I had to configure it to my personal style, and that you can only learn from using it daily, so it took a couple of weeks to really settle in.

    I set up dual boot just in case, but by the end of the first day I got enough setup on Linux that I never rebooted to XP.

  5. I do everything on the internet or on VMs. If I lost my laptop tomorrow I could be back online in the amount of time it takes to buy the new laptop, install VMware Server and copy over the VMs.

    If you can get into the habit of doing this it makes life very easy. 🙂



  6. Yeah, I've heard a lot of stories about iterative issues with those laptops. I guess if you have a current backup it's only a minor annoyance.

    I downloaded the .iso file and burned it to DVD, so I'm getting closer.

  7. Too true, I've tried to switch to Linux as my primary O/S for years, but I always kept my primary O/S as Windows. All this did was emphasize how lazy I really am.

    So, you're right; you have to switch fully to make it stick, which is what I'm planning to do.

  8. Excellent advice. I use VirtualBox because it's free as in beer. This will be a chance for me to get closer to that ideal; all my files are on a USB drive, so now all I need is an XP image.

    It's funny how much faith we put in hard drives. Moving parts fail. I can't wait for solid state to be everywhere.

  9. I don' t think it's superstition but laziness. It honestly never occurred to me to install a new version of IE (or to switch my default browser to firefox). Mostly for the reason that nothing ever prompted me to do that. I don't want to fiddle with my computer, I just want it to work. That is why I think the mac is so superior. It doesn't leave it to me, it keeps “suggesting” that I upgrade, and so I do. Problem solved.

  10. Well Windows suggests you upgrade too, and if you listened, you'd be using IE7 by now. If you listened to IT, you would still be running IE6.

    The question is would you listen if a web app told you to change to a different browser, probably not.

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