Windows 7 FAIL

January 16, 2011

[tl;dr: I try to not hate Windows, and it undermines my plan… yet again]

Most of us have a Windows installation lying around somewhere because they need it every now and then for some quirky application that won’t run in Wine. So I also have a Windows 7, which I got for free via MSDNAA, sitting around on a separate partition for these cases. As I noted in 2010 in this blog, Windows 7 is not as awful as the previous Windows releases. At times, it’s even fun to use.

But then, they’re showing you the meaning of the phrase “over-simplified user interface” again: Windows 7 removes the ability to set different wallpapers per screen. Okay, wouldn’t be so awful for an installation used so seldomly, but then this: Even when you set it to “Scale to screen size”, it will scale the image to the size of the smallest screen, and reuses this (small) image for all screens.

So I’m sitting here, at a Full HD monitor with a wallpaper as small as 1440×900. Yes, that’s awfully small when surrounded by black borders.

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Windows 7, round 2

January 16, 2010

Good news, everyone! I was forced to use Windows 7 all day. I had reported earlier about my first day on Windows 7. Then came nothing for a long time. Today, the system was running on a LAN party, so not much of the underlying system could be seen most of the time.

But of course, one has to configure network and install stuff on such events. And actually, after a long time, Windows 7 is the first Windows version that does not force me to run off screaming after a few minutes. For example, I found the dialog for the configuration of static IP addresses after only three minutes of searching. And in fact, I’m currently typing this blog entry from inside Firefox inside Windows. (KDEWin is currently updating to 4.3.90.) This may partly also be attributed to me being too lazy to stand up and get my Linux notebook out of my bag.

I even start to get accustomed to the Aero style, which I deeply hated for a very long time. (And I still insist that intense drop shadows of translucent windows are plain stupid. No discussion here.) If only they stopped copying KDE features all over the place…

There are some annoying problems left, though: For example, my function keys are not working. Or is there another reason for why Ctrl+F2 won’t do anything? Ctrl+Alt+F1 also seems to be broken. 😉

While I was typing, the aforementioned KDE update has finished, and I now have proof that Palapeli works great under Windows. Kudos to all the people who made that possible (both at Troll^WNokia and on the kde-windows team)!

Result of today: Competition is good for business. And, after a long time, there is again some noteworthy competition coming from Redmond.* Now this would normally make me go back to hacking on KDE again, but I’m already in my pyjamas.

P.S. I hope everyone enjoyed the Futurama quotes.

* This statement absolutely and only refers to the visuals of the Windows 7 and the KDE 4 desktop. I’m not going to make any uninformed judgement on Windows 7 internals.

Happy new year 0x7da!

January 1, 2010

For myself, the year started not so happy. I had stayed at my parents over the holidays, and today took the train back. That’s the obvious solution if you don’t own a car and your home’s about 400 kilometres away. (At this point, the attentive reader observes that this post is totally non-KDE. In fact, it’s about to become a rant in three, two, one…)

After today, here’s an advice for those of you who intend to travel with the German railway corporation aka Deutsche Bahn: Don’t! If there is another solution, go for it!

The concrete reason is what happened to me on my last three train tours:

  • In September, I had to wait for rail replacement bus service nearly one hour, after thefts stole the overhead lines on a railway line of about 11 kilometres. (What the…?)
  • In mid-December, I got my train, but it reached its destination 30 minutes late because the Deutsche Bahn seems to have forgotten that winter includes snow.
  • Now today (= January 1st), the same thing: The locomotive came to the conclusion that it has reached its aim some hundred kilometres before what I (and most other involved) considered the destination. It took some blasting 2 hours before they organised a new locomotive, and I reached my home with a delay of 165 minutes. A new record!

And these are not single cases: Go read about the Berlin S-Bahn, the most important transportation means in our federal capital, and why they won’t return to the normal schedule before 2013 (last link in German; if in doubt, use translation services).

All in all, I’m fed up with the Deutsche Bahn. I use to be quite enthusiastic about going by train (which regularly presents me with a nice atmosphere and a good excuse for hacking), but I also have a growing list of companies that are obviously not interested in my money, and Deutsche Bahn is now on that list, too.

So I arrived at home three hours late, and all I got was a lousy “customer rights form”. 48 easy questions for 14,50 € cashback. Hm…

In completely other news, 26C3 was absolutely terrific.

Windows 7, round 1

October 15, 2009

Disclaimer: I’m writing the following not as a member of the KDE e.V., but as an individual computer user. As usual, I’m only expressing my very own opinion. Though this should be clear to anyone reading my blog, I’m stating it explicitly now because there have already been more than enough flamewars because of misconceptions and misunderstandings, esp. when it comes to operating system debates.

When Vista had its public beta, I downloaded and installed it on a non-production machine. “Non-production” was a very good idea, because it ate the partition table. I’m not sure how much this has influenced my switch upgrade from XP to Linux some months afterwards. (I was surely also influenced by my first few contacts with Vista, which are very well described by the word “horrible”.)

So I was still running an XP system on my PC at home (mostly for my scanner, which does not work under Linux, and for games that refuse to run under Wine). Eight years after the release of Windows XP, I thought it was time to finally retire XP, and move on to something more stable and secure. (Yes, I know, Linux… but it has to be a Windows for aforementioned reasons. Actually, this machine is a dual-boot with Arch.) So I decided to give Windows 7 a try. Because my university is enrolled in Micro$oft’s MSDNAA program, I could recieve a free copy and license of Windows 7.

I thought that the MSDNAA program was partially meant to attract students from the non-Windows realms to consider the switch. That is, until I wanted to download Windows 7 from their webpage. All I got was “Downloader for Windows 7 RTM.exe” (and the license key). Yuck!

Anyway, let’s see if Wine eats it. Wine wanted to install Gecko, which it uses as a replacement for the Internet Explorer engine that can be used by third-party programs on Windows. Wine crashed. Later I found that the program consists of an Internet Explorer window without interface (think QWebView) that downloads some ActiveX controls (yuck again!) to do the actual downloading. The advantage of this system is that the download can be paused and resumed by simply closing and restarting the program, the disadvantages are about anything else.

Glad am I that I still have a Windows XP installation. This one could execute the Downloader.exe and download Windows 7. I ended up with a 2,4 GB ISO, which I burnt to DVD under Linux. (Windows does not include the necessary tools. Of course.)

Up to now, I’ve already spent three hours of work on an offer that is trying to convince me that Windows is better than Linux. No comment.

Installation of Windows 7 went quite smooth, with the only WTF that it needs to reboot three times, while I have seen Linux distros that install without even a single reboot. I had expected that it would eat my Grub installation in the MBR, but that’s normal (and restored in under three minutes with a Linux live CD.) Actually, I was (for the first time in the process) positively surprised, because Windows did not expose its usual imperialistic behavior when it comes to hard disk partitioning. It showed me a list of all partitions, I selected the Windows XP one, formatted it and clicked “Install”. So far so good.

The desktop showed up in non-native 1024×768 resolution, and with compositing disabled. I’d expected this, because the NVidia video driver is missing. Because my home PC is actually an early 2006 notebook, I expected suitable drivers not to be available, but Dell offered me Vista drivers, which worked very good. On my way, I found another WTF: On the NVidia driver download page, I have to select the exact model of the graphics card, while under Linux one driver serves all. Why can’t Windows be as simple as Linux?

The next possible surprise: The video driver was the only driver I had to install. Under Linux, I expect everything on this notebook to work out of the box, but on Windows, only one missing driver is astonishing. XP required about a dozen driver packages to be installed in a particular order (unless you use the recovery partition, ruin your Linux dual-boot on the way, and get all the nice extra programs that the do-gooders at the notebook manufacturer donate to you; you know what I mean). Another thing which surprised me was Microsoft Paint, which seems to have had its first bigger update since Windows 95.

Of course, something was missing. An open-source browser. An archive reading program. A good text editor. Long story short: KDE was missing. Next surprise: The kdewin-installer has progressed very well (I actually thought that development speed had lowered because of manpower problems). The package list in the simple mode is a bit long because (for some unknown reason) all apps are grouped into module packages, except for kdegames. Also strange: The KDE stuff does not show up in Windows 7’s start menu. I blame this on Windows 7 changing conventions, because this used to work on XP. Adding the bin directory of the KDE installation folder to the $PATH variable solved the problem for me, I’m more used to launching progs with Alt+F2 Win+R than with the start menu.

My conclusion: From my first observations, Windows 7 is definitely the best Windows ever (I won’t judge on how hard it was to achieve this position). However, I do not consider the graphical presentation mature. I mean, I have Aero Glass and such enabled, but to me, Windows 7 feels like a dozen apps, developed in parallel, and combined for the first time only one week before release. There is by far not as much a common style as in KDE.

Okay, there is this glass look all over the place, but the conceptual basis is not much more. The taskbar buttons have nice glow-on-hover effects, everything else doesn’t. The windows have nice compositing effects, the desktop applets don’t. And each of the desktop applets looks, and behaves, different, though there are only nine of them. (Compare this to the dozens of applets shipping with the KDE Software Distribution. And by the way, the desktop applets are not scalable, and of course always too small.)

Using KDE, you do not have to have a widget style that matches your Plasma theme, or suitable color schemes. It’s the behavior and the subtle design elements that make everything feel like a coherent whole. In my opinion, this is absolutely missing from Windows 7, though this should be a key selling point of Windows as a platform. (Many people buy a computer based on the presentation in the computer store, and also based on what friends tell them about their own experience.)

Micro$oft has hundreds of developers working full-time on the user interface, while KDE apps are usually developed by only one or two people at a time, most of them working in their free time as a hobby. Micro$oft has dozens of the best-paid designers in the world, KDE has a handful of mostly freelance artists. Taking all this into account, Windows 7 is a shame for the Microsoft developers, because it’s in my opinion easily surpassed by KDE in terms of polish and design.

The fine print: Just in case someone wants to read this into my post, I am in no way saying that KDE is perfect. I am also not saying that Windows 7 just sucks. (I’ve actually enjoyed using it up to now, esp. when compared to XP and Vista.) What I’m saying is that KDE is far more close to perfection than Windows 7 when it comes to polish, style and taste.

P.S. The rumors about 16 GB installation size of Windows 7 are exaggerated. The Professional edition needs about 9 GB.

I’ll leave it to you to judge Microsoft’s marketing campaign for Internet Explorer 8. I just thought you would like to know it, as well as the outtakes.