Go back to Windows or stay with Ubuntu?

Points for Windows: It’s a better package than Linux by 5 to 10 years. And has better software all around. Far cheaper in time. Supports more hardware. Better custom keyboard configuration. 4DOS. Semware TSE Windows is better than the current Linux beta.

Points for Linux: Ubuntu/Debian package manager system. Upgradable. Cloneable. Portable. Better file system. Cheaper in dollars. ssh server built in. Web server built in. Mail system built in. Text configuration and other attributes make it much better for hourly, daily, weekly, chug, chug, production jobs. Does not re-boot on its own.

The point may be moot. In due time either will be sitting in a closet.

And the answer is:

I figured it would be quicker to simply move the 3 hard drives from “spring” to “zoot”, the new machine. … … … And so the usual Linux saga began. It is now 7 hours later and many things are broken.

First, as expected, Linux could not handle the on-board ATI video. Two big monitors had barely readable pop-ups saying something on the order of “Failure”.

Net searches. Lots of time. Much confusion. In the end, it seemed like a better thing to do would be to toss in the extra Nvidia board. The extra was, I had always thought, a dupe of the one in spring. I’d made sure the machine’s spec’s allowed the board.

Well. Windows was not happy. Required a couple of scary reboots. And in the end, it had a bit different appearance and slower video. And audio was bogus. Sped up. And video had weird artifacts. Sped up animations. But both monitors came up in the same configuration they had with the motherboard ATI 3100.

So, back to Linux. I did several magical commands, but finally realized that my xorg.conf file was bogus from the ATI follies. Restoring it got the desktop up. Window movement was slow. Audio worked.

DNS stopped working during all this for no reason. I added the mvdomain dns server’s IP address to resolv.conf and would not be surprised if some program got rid of it. Somehow, networking decided to create yet another eth# interface – 4 this time. At least it had the correct, fixed IP address, though it’s hard to figure out how it got it.

Meanwhile, also during all this, Grub worked about once in 5 times. Error 18. Old error for old disks and old BIOS’s. During the video board follies, the ZT hard disk with Windows on it disappeared from BIOS’s list. Gone. A power cycle and some futzing brought it back. Probably the internal video needed to be explicitly disabled. Or something. Anyway, after I did that – and turned around and touched my nose with my left hand 3 times – Express Gate came back (it had died, too) and the disk came back.

All in all, this has been pretty much what it always is when you try to slightly alter a PC.

Oh. Did I mention that the machine’s four 3″ disk slots are really only three slots, unless you pull the CPU heatsink and fan. I started to do that before an imaginary helper slapped my face and I said, “Thanks. I needed that.” I simply bent some sheet metal.

So. 6 AM and back to breaking things. Gotta see if I can get the machine working with ATI. This Nvidia video is pretty bad. It takes most of one of the four cores just to paint System Monitor’s line. And Google Earth is black.

Long time later: All works with ATI on motherboard. Unfortunately, no particular method to make it work. Read some obscure web site that told how to downloaded and install ATI’s latest driver. Did several reboots and some things outside their “Control Panel”. Like most such software, their “Control Panel” is ragged. Must be run, sudo. Menu choice for doing so doesn’t work, of course. Must be run from command line by a secret name, “sudo amdcccle“. The chief outside program was aticonfig, a grabbag program. The chief outside task was to swap the monitor cables. Sure, taking 4 hours or so for video might seem excessive, but in fairness to Ubuntu, I didn’t get Win7 working well with the Nvidia board. I only tried for about 10 minutes, though. That’s enough time to spend on Windows troubles. It’s broken if it doesn’t work. With Linux, you’ve got to pour 12 hours in to something before you know it’s busted.

ZT update: The USB and card reader slots seem to be upside down. It took a second to find out why an SD card didn’t fit in the slot. And, there’s no excuse for the front panel USB being flipped. USB is troublesome enough with respect to orientation.

ZT update: When checking the specs on this box before buying it I completely forgot the little 400 gig music disk. Luckily, the ZT’s Asus motherboard had an IDE/ATA plug. The BIOS sure wanted to boot off the IDE drive, but all worked out in the end.


One of Linux’s “killer apps” is that it can be moved to new hardware. “asuka”, A.K.A. “www.tranzoa.*” has roots back in the 90’s. This move of “spring” to a new box was not without troubles. But let’s put it in perspective. As a practical matter, moving to a new Windows means you start from scratch and reinstall everything you use. And the OS jump is generally through hyperspace. Moving a Linux box should be quick and easy. And has been for me several times.

Not this time.

Networking took an hour or so to get working reliably. In the end, I tossed the Ubuntu network manager entirely. That thing doesn’t work. And the horrid Gnome applet just makes it worse. Ubuntu would cut the distance it is behind Windows by half if networking, USB and video worked.

I am hoping USB2 works on the new box. I did use the built in SD card reader today – a good sign.

VMWare noticed that the host PC changed. I told it to “Move” the VMs, both XP and Karmic 32. Eventually, after VMWare zapped the VM around the screen like a jack rabbit, the Ubuntu Karmic 32 guest settled down to be OK. Full screen doesn’t work any more. The full screen “window” is put on the wrong monitor and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get it right. In full-screen, Windows XP stole the mouse focus and would not let go. Luckily it would not see the keyboard so ALT F4 saved the day. I’ll simply have to avoid going full screen. Sad. The Windows screen automatically scales to the window size, so desktop icons shuffle around making the VM pretty ugly. Now that Semware’s TSE almost runs under Linux there’s a lot less reason to kick over to Windows. Linux does need 4DOS or something like it. Gosh, all those Python shells and none are what I want. If it weren’t such a great idea for the ’80’s, I’d get to work on one, finally.

Anyway, VMWare’s “Player” keeps getting worse, version by version. Quite odd, that. Too bad kvm/qemu requires guru training and hours of net study to run.

The joke is on me: Turns out that the old “spring” box is probably just fine. No memory problems after all. Just bad software. My mistake. I bought a machine I did not need.

Signs of the times: When your new PC is a quad core, 3ghz, 8G, 1T box and it’s a “mistake,” you know that CPU and disk are officially plentiful.

So, bottom line: I stayed with Ubuntu. But I swear, if I get sucked in to many more Linux time sinks, that Win7 Terabyte drive that Ubuntu doesn’t see is gonna look real pretty to me.

Costco ZT Affinity AMD Phenom II x4 945 Win7 Home Premium Review

Out of box:

The expectation and included pictures had it that the machine had PS-2 plugs for both mouse and keyboard.

It had one PS-2 plug labeled with a keyboard picture.

The included Microsoft keyboard and mouse were both USB.

Turns out, that’s perfect for me. I could use an extra, junker, USB keyboard for a current project. USB mice are as good as PS-2 mice. After I get the machine set up I’ll use one of the old NMB (AT/PS-2) keyboards. I’ve stopped using the IBM AT boards because programs want F11. And, the AT boards take too much juice to be run from a USB port, powered or not. Anyway, it’s important on a main machine to use a PS-2 keyboard port because of the Control key problems with PS-2/USB keyboards.

The system is a better configuration for me than what I thought I had bought. No negative points.

Let’s fire up Win7…

Win7 comes up asking your country, time, etc. There’s a glitch in the day selector’s display attributes and for some reason the time zone was Pacific but the time was Eastern. No biggy. No points plus or minus.

Norton comes up with a huge buy button labeled “Activate Now” and tiny text link: “Close without enabling security”. Negative points.

After the Norton thing, the UI went to the Control Panel. Since I always set XP systems to Windows Classic, the Win7 Control Panel was unfamiliar. It did not take long to remove Norton. And I spent a couple minutes playing with desktop backgrounds and such. Postitive points.

Played two or three games. The presentation was very good, both audio and visual. Ties to the net were well balanced. The whole “experience” in the game area was smooth, comfortable and pleasant. Many positive points.

Aside from Norton (a program that remains on PCs because the US government IBM-ed Microsoft), the only clutterware on the box was something called “Express Gate”. There was no indication of what it was, though it seemed to want to copy bookmarks from browsers. A quick web search found that it’s ASUS’s quick-OS. It boots Linux from motherboard flash memory in a few seconds when the PC powers on. That makes a PC act like a countertop device, able to hit the web quickly without all the time a full OS needs to start. Negative points for presentation inside Windows. Express Gate is not useful to me as I keep main machines on 24×7. But I know no downside to Express Gate being on the machine.

Express Gate: Must be turned on with an “Enable” buried in the BIOS. So only geeks would know it exists. There really should be something at the Windows level to explain it and to turn it on and off. But, it’s nice. Quick and clean. I didn’t look at it enough to see for sure, but the big gap appears to be no concept of a user. Without a user, the 3 communications pieces (Pidgen, Skype and Firefox) are not integrated and Firefox has no secure password storage. It’s easy to see why there is no integrated user name / password, though: slippery slope and probable customer troubles. They have links for support forums, etc. which I did not explore. The games page had its own feedback thingee. I was impressed by Express Gate. With an integrated, secure password store I can see a consumer PC not being fully booted very often.

Anyway, just to be clear, positive points for lack of clutterware, ZT.

Alerts: Win7’s alerts seem nice enough. Perhaps a bit too quick to go away and I did not see a way to get a history of them. With no Norton, they lead you quickly to IE8 and a Microsoft web page with a large list of anti-virus products. Once IE8 comes up you’re also led quickly and easily in to Windows Update, where the first download seems to be Microsoft’s anti-virus program. The “experience” is not too in-your-face and justified as it will be some time before anti-virus/firewalls disappear in to the fabric of the universe. Slight positive points. YMMV.

A Win7 background picture of note is the startup/shutdown/logon image. Its Rorschach ink blot impression to me is that it covers the human demographic completely. In the South East corner there is a leaf or snowflake or white bird or something appearing out of the glare. I’m thinking, “aromatherapy”. There’s estrogen in the South East, y’all. But, now look at the North West. Jet trails. Why no tiny outline of an F-16, I cannot understand. Anyway, the whole picture is Bauhaus sparse, but weird. Positive points.

Disk organization: It appears they’ve gone Unix-like to put users in their own directories off C:\Users. Positive points. But a hassle for me as the root directory is admin only and I have a lot of system things off root in my standard setup. Turns out, this was not a lot of trouble even for my evolved setup. A couple of environment variables and all the important things went under C:\Users\alex.

“My …” directory names? Negative points. Childish. A single word is good. i.e. Music, Pictures, etc. That keeps the space character out of the directory name, too.

Let’s play “find the IP address” – without cheating and running ipconfig. Or going to the firewall and viewing its table. … … Buried where it’s not too hard to find. But buried. A less buried window that shows “IPv4 Connectivity — Internet” could have included the IP address directly. I’m guessing that anyone who knows what IPv4 is would be able to guess what meant. Negative geek points.

What? Hold on. Let me check the date. 2010. Yep. And Windows dialog boxes are still not expandable? I fuss about Linux not remembering window size and locations. (Yes, “Linux”.) Negative points.

Windows versions: Home Premium (whatever that is) is like XP Home in that it does not remember networked drive connections. The bait and switch is still there. You can tell Windows to store your “credentials”. You can tell Windows to connect the drive when you log in. But Windows doesn’t listen. Negative points. And sloppy.

Negative points that Home Premium does not allow remote desktop. No ssh server either. Hmmm. Can 4DOS do ssh server? No. Cygwin, then. Yuck.

The usual negative points for Microsoft’s money stream of product differentiation. Windows comes in 11-teen confusing versions. You don’t care. You get whatever happens to be pre-installed on the box you buy. But these 11-teen versions remind you that Microsoft is – like any bank, insurance company, telephone company or government – not on your side. Count your fingers, my friend, after you shake these guys’ hands.

All in all. ZT gets a thumbs-up for a clean system. And Win7 gets thumbs-up for the same. Win7 does not scream “DOS 4.0″/”ME”/”Vista”.

Now. The grass sure looks green. Do I go back to Windows from Ubuntu?