Monday, July 20, 2009

Why I run Linux at home

My work laptop has been running progressively slower over the last month or so, and has been having a series of mysterious crashes. Today, the CPUs were pegged at 99%, and after rebooting (with no applications running), 2 of my 4 GB of RAM were being used.

No, I don't think it was malware - I spent a fair amount of time looking, after rebooting into safe mode.

How about restoring to Windows Update's June restore point? No dice.

So, in 100 days, Vista got crufty, and it's being re-imaged right now.

Here at home is a different story:
ted@Ubuntu:~$ uptime
19:35:50 up 24 days, 35 min, 2 users, load average: 0.20, 0.23, 0.23
I updated drivers last month, so my uptime is "only" 3 weeks and change.
Rock solid, no spyware. The way I like it.


Ian Argent said...

That seems to me to be an unusually rapid descent into crap; even for Windows. Down in the basement I have a machine that I last reformatted several years ago (at least 3) and the only reason it's not turned on right now and commenting on your post right now is that it ran out of power to run my games. It was replaced by an Alienware, when I realized I could pay them $300 over the cost of parts at newegg and not have to spend a weekend with screwdriver and install CD. The old machine was somewhat less stable than it was the day I formatted it, but nothing terribly bad. Likewise, my work machine was replaced because I got an upgrade, not because the machine had crapped out; and it hadn't been reformatted since 2005 when it had XP put on it in place of the 2000 install.

I realize it seems that I'm standing up for MS a lot, maybe even sounding like a mindless fanboi. (I hope not mindless, though). But I'm an inveterate arguer, and think that MS comes in for a lot more bashing than is strictly necessary. They're paying now for decisions made up to 20 years ago that either weren't obvious or were predicated on the hardware and use patterns of an earlier era.

Borepatch said...

Ian, it's a Dell. :-p

I've had bad luck with them in the past, and a hardware failure might explain the sudden problems.

If it is, I'll post an update.

Your points are good about the Microsoft bashing. I'm a bit of a Linux bigot, but try to give them credit where credit is due. They certainly take security more seriously than Apple.

Ian Argent said...

Amusingly enough, Alienware is owned by Dell now...

And I've been known to joke that the only stable windows install is one that has nothing else installed on it; which makes for a pretty unusable machine. MS has left plenty of ways for app vendors (inluding MS) to utterly mess up the user experience.

I generally console myself with apple by remembering that they're a hardware company whose OS is used to sell overpriced hardware. And only Apple would sell for $100 an OS update that would be a service patch for Windows...

Anonymous said...

If Flash would quit crashing Firefox, then I'd be free from the one app that I have problems with; Ubuntu has been solid to the point of being boring.


Ian Argent said...

Hunh. Firefox has typically been the least stable of the browsers I've tried (Opera, IE, Firefox, and Chrome.)

Borepatch said...

It looks like something got lost in a crash. Not sure why that caused an extra Gig of memory to be used, but it' back up and running fast after re-imaging.

Eagle said...

Reflectoscope said "... solid to the point of boring..."

Still LMAO!!

Mac fanboi remark: "Windows *makes* you work. Macs *let* you work".

I'd add Linux to the latter as well. Frankly, I want to spend my time doing MY work, not spending time trying to figure out the latest reason why my Micro$haft Winblows "desktop" is screwed up.

If Redmond wants me to keep debugging their beta code (more like alpha, really), then they can *pay* me. Until then, I can build a Shuttle-based box and stick Linux on it for about $400, and have a system that I turn on and just... use.

Ian Argent said...

Rant much? Cause you triggered one of mine. In my fairly wide-ranging experience (and remember I do this for a living) the problem is almost never Windows (though I could name a couple of instances); and rarely even a Microsoft program. The vast majority of the issues I've dealt with on Windows are directly attributable to crappy drivers. The vast majority of the remaining problems are directly attirbutable to crappy non-MS software. Look, Microsoft is not perfect. They made some dubious design choices at the birth of windows, some of which were justifiable at the time, some of which were made at the request of users, and some of which elicited some "WTF" moments even at the time.

Apple gets away with a MUCH better public image because they CARE about it; and because they control the experience in a way that MS couldn't even DREAM of doing (and probably doesn't want to). If you buy a laptop from Apple; every last piece of hardware in there was chosen by apple, subjected to their rather rigourous approval process, etc. MS has next to no control over the hardware in comparison. And then the race to the bottom of the PC marketplace leads to the lowest bidder supplying components, AND vendors selling your eyeballs to 3rd parties who will pay to have desktop space occupied by their own crappy clients to get you to spend MORE money. BTW, I love apple's hardware, and can live with their OS - but I won't pay the gawdawful premium their hardware sells for.

I bought an Alienware in March, and I turn it on and use it. Alienware charged me about $300 over components (as I mentioned) which is damn close to what my time getting the machine up, running, and installed was worth (not to mention the single-source warranty, etc). I got NO crapware (another advantage to dealing with the premium vendor). Stable as a table, capable of running the games I play at an acceptable rate, and the one piece of hardware that I didn't get Vista support for, the vendor had disclaimed XP support for and I was relying on the basic MS driver for(I'm never buying a UMAX scanner again). Yeah - MS provided a driver for a piece of hardware that the manufacturer told me I had to buy a new scanner for.

/deep breath.

OK - I apologize to the host for taking over his soapbox.

Borepatch said...

Ian, feel free to rant away - especially when your rants are so information-rich. ;-)

I'm guessing that you're something of a power gamer (if you have an Alienware); if so, Linux would be an extremely poor choice for you, as there's little game support there.

It might make sense for you to have a Linux partition for browsing, or a VMWare image with a Linux build. Your biggest exposure is via the browser, and next biggest is via email.

Ian Argent said...

The problem with a Linux partition is I'd either have to dual-boot it or run it in a virtual machine/remote desktop. I could do the latter (as I mentioned, I have a machine that could go headless pretty easily). But why? I'm running IE 8 with the latest patches, have UAC dialed all the way up on Vista (or Win7 on my laptop), have reasonably decent security software; and use Chrome when I want to go to most (see my facebook comment) dubious places on the web. The marginal additional security gain from running linux would not appear to be worth it.

The closest I came to a browser-based exploit (facebook; and it was the last straw on random apps there) it was stopped by an IE8 "are you sure you want to be stupid?" dialog before hitting UAC or my security software.

Yeah - I'm a gamer, and the particular combination of old-school and cutting edge I like aren't available on non-Wintel platforms. It's not just computer games, though. The D&D character builder won't run on WINE and has some issues with VM under Mac - .net framework.

It's not nearly as hard as it used to be to tighten up security on Windows. Go to Vista (with UAC enabled - preferably with a non-admin accout), leave Windows Update enabled, and use decent security software. Use a browser that's not IE 6 (preferably use IE 8 if you must use IE). Chrome, Opera, Firefox both have compelling features beyond being "too small a market share to attack"; and Firefox is getting big enough to be a target anyway. Never download an attachment in email, and don't read untrusted email in an open HTML browser (something Outlook has finally gotten right). Use a NAT firewall to connect to the internet. The majority of these steps (except the security software) happen automatically on a new machine (with a caveat about UAC on Win7 - they watered it down by default and now doesn't trigger on some things it should trigger one).

And never, never, click on the dancing bears.

Borepatch said...

I haven't tried IE8 yet - I'd disable ActiveX, because I'm paranoid that way.

My experience is that it is possible to make Windows very secure and very stable, but you had to know what you were doing. IOW, the difference between Best Practice and Average Practice was pretty big.

However, my friend Dave LeBlanc (I like to his blog in the Security section) could lock down NT tighter than a drum. He also didn't reboot often - he knew how to restart flaky services (sort of like Unix). But there weren't a lot like him.

I actually like Opera for sensitive transactions (and ONLY sensitive transactions) because it's fast, compatible with all the sites I've seen, and has very little malware targeting it. Worst case if your regular browser has (say) a javascript bug that lets someone steal credentials, your credit card numbers aren't in that browser.

Ian Argent said...

MS is doing their damndest to push the average level of security higher. Users push back. The same people who would never step away from their car without locking the doors, and deadbolt themselves into their houses, don't give a thought to taking security precautions that are "do once and done".

(I forgot about ActiveX - sadly there are a couple of web-based services I use that use it so I can't out and out disable it. I can leave it at default, which appears to prompt me for everything. I need to doublecheck that is still the case)