[Beowulf] Sidebar: Vista Rant

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Jul 17 11:15:15 PDT 2007

On Mon, 16 Jul 2007, Jon Forrest wrote:

> I'll go out on a limb and take the opposing position.
> I'm happily running Vista on both my home machine
> (which I own and paid for) and my work machines (which
> UC Berkeley owns and paid for).
> Perhaps one reason for my success and that I always wipe
> out whatever version of Windows comes with a PC and
> do a fresh install. This seems to make a real
> difference.

Just as a matter of curiousity -- are you running Vista Home (deluxe or
not) or Pro or better?  Also, when you say "do a fresh install" does
that mean that you go out and buy a full retail version and pitch the
OEM version that comes on the system?  The systems I've bought recently
no longer even come with Windows media at all, and I've recently learned
the hard way that OEM Windows reinstalls are likely to fail the Genuine
Windows test when it comes to upgrading them, EVEN when they are done
from media, even if one has a perfectly valid license code.

The main point being, what do you spend?  I'm happy to believe that if I
go out and buy over-the-counter XP Pro in a box set for $300, it is
likely to work better than a completely crappified OEM XP Pro with
eighteen different trial versions of this and that that one can activate
with a mouse click and several hundred credit card dollars installed in
such a way that removing them will likely break your system altogether.
But it costs an extra $300, or at least an extra $200 for an "upgrade".

The other point being that consumers don't ever do this.  They don't
know how.  Either Vista works as delivered when they bring it home from
Best Buy or it's broken, no middle ground.  Where "works" means a mix of
"runs my existing applications without additional investment" and "runs
them NOW, without annoying lag or delay".

I'm perfectly happy with XP Pro in a VM, too.  I expect that very
shortly, when I squeeze Vista into a VM on my OEM Vista Home Deluxe
lenovo laptop (and fix the $!@* broadcom issue so I have wireless) I'll
even be happy with Vista to the extent that I'm ever happy running
something I really don't need and resent having to pay for EXCEPT to the
extent that it overlaps money making activities like consulting or
systems management.

> The primary reason I run Vista, instead of Linux,
> is that no version of Linux I've seen looks as
> good on an LCD screen as Windows with Cleartype.
> I've run tests on the same hardware, switching between
> Linux and Windows. It isn't even close.

Wow.  I'm speechless.  And here I thought people chose operating
environments intended to support their work primarily on the basis of
applications and at least nominally to optimize cost-benefit.  So I'm
guessing that you also routinely invest in $200+ graphics cards and
ultra-high resolution displays as well.

Me, I spend my life typing into a text window of one sort or another.  I
detest WYSIWYG editors (both those in Office and in Open Office without
prejudice) and therefore truthfully care about typefaces only in preview
windows and as they come out on printers or PDF documents.  Most of what
I type is email (like this) into pine, a tty interface because
GUI-driven mail programs tend to be much, much slower than tty, where I
don't have to use a mouse and can keep my fingers on the keys, or code,
which I type into jove (a small but fully functional programmer's emacs)
because emacs itself (any full version) has grown so bloated that it is
a hindrance rather than a help for many purposes.  My default tty/xterm
font is courier bold, black on white, sized and contrasted to be highly
readable from far away.

When I remote manage systems, code, run applications, write novels or
poetry, I do so with layers of xterms (and a few X applications) on six
different desktops I can swap between or cycle to the top with a
keystroke.  I can easily reprogram key combinations to launch
applications without a mouse.  I can create iconified application
launchers quite simply, and have multiple bars full of real time
displays and one-click application launchers WITHOUT cluttering up my

XP Pro still has a single desktop (AFAIK).  Explorer only recently (v 7)
"discovered" tabbed browsing, which I've been using for four or five
years now.  Although online documentation for XP alleges that one can
cycle windows by typing F6, it doesn't work for me -- I think one has to
work through some sort of handicapped/accessibility wizard to activate
the feature but -- did I mention that I hate "wizards" because they
force you along a particular pathway of fork points with no high level
view or ability to just checkmark features on or off?

Basically, whenever I have to work in Windows, I feel like half of my
brain has disappeared, and the part that remains has slowed down to the
rate that constant motion of hands from keys to mouse, mouse to keys can
maintain.  Instead of:

F6: visit desktop 6, look at application running there to check its
progress.  Focus follows pointer in the middle of the screen, so if I
need to restart or intervene, do so with Ctrl-C, Ctrl-P, return.  F1
back to desktop 1 check email.  None present.  Curious about progress of
rain as sky is getting dark.  Ctrl-Shift F to bring browser to front,
Ctrl-PgUp to cycle to radar map tab, Ctrl-R to refresh.  Nope, nothing
showing yet.  Ctrl-Shift F to put mail back on top, F2 to desktop 2
where I've got three xterms open into three different directories in a
complicated source tree for dieharder -- one to work on the library, one
to work on the UI, one to do a toplevel make or look things up.  Work
for a while, using Ctrl-Shift F as needed to cycle the appropriate xterm
to the top.

Get bored.  Check mail.  Check desktop 6 and restart program in a
different directory as job has finished.  I'm keeping an eye on a small
server setup so I use F3 to visit desktop 3, Ctrl-Alt X to pop up an
xterm, type failover to directly ssh into failover (because I've
re-implemented the old ssh-linked-to-hostname trick) and run wulfstat
(total elapsed time to appearance of vmstat-like display of loads on
four different servers, single key switch between views.  Hmm, load on
the Windows server getting up there a bit, remember to turn on a second
processor in its VM.  F1 back to mail, answer two beowulf list posts to
a thread that interests me, check radar, hmm, a few storms starting to
pop up I hope they don't take down my server upstairs this time, return
to code (slave away) and I STILL HAVEN'T TOUCHED MY MOUSE.

My fingers have been on the home keys the entire time and I've been to
not just multiple windows, but multiple DESKTOPS filled with multiple
windows connected up to multiple networks to do three of four different
KINDS of work (and play).

Pressing F4 to go to my VMware workstation desktop and (gasp) CLICKING
into Windows involves going from 60 to a crawl -- and this is XP, not
Vista.  To GET to another system from XP involves multiple clicks,
moving through several data entry windows and either the horror of a
brain-dead putty tty or the equal horror of a vnc or remote desktop into
basically the same operating environment (with the certain knowledge
that I've just typed my password in the clear or at best crudely
encrypted across whatever networks happen to be in the way in some of
these cases) -- unless I use a VPN client with its own layers of
slowness and multiple mouse clicks interspersed with typing.

What I gain in XP is the ability to run one or two Windows-only
applications.  What I give up is the ability to run one or two HUNDRED
applications (all of them free) and more importantly the ability to
navigate, switch applications, enjoy the convenience of a rich
environment tightly and securely coupled to the network.

I could care less what it "looks like".  "Readable" works, at least for
me.  Beyond that, applications, ease of use, speed and cost are

People for years have wondered over the speed of my responses and
voluminousness of my replies to the point where they have accused me of
being a beowulf collective 'bot of some sort.  Well, here's my secret.
I use linux and text-only non-mouse-driven editors and mail tools, and
have everything configured so that my fingers nearly always can stay on
the keys where they belong.  I use a mouse only where it makes sense to
do so or is really necessary.  It doesn't matter if you can type like
the wind if you have to leave the home keys and use the mouse every time
you want to move through the text.

> There are also some apps I like which only run on Windows,
> but that's another story.

That's a fair reason to do so, and is why I sometimes use it as well.

> I happily administer Linux clusters and standalone
> machines from my Vista machines. So far, Vista has been
> quite stable for me, although I am looking forward to SP1
> to fix the rough edges that remain. I should add that
> I've been using Unix since 1975.

It may be happy, but it probably is slow...


> I am *not* proposing running Windows in a cluster.
> There are technical and financial reasons why
> this might not be such a smart idea.
> Go ahead. Make my day...

Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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