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My Windows boxes are self-upgrading machines

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About a year ago I bought a desktop machine for my son. I wanted something powerful enough for him to browse the web, read his e-mail, use gtalk, manage his music collection on his iPod and type documents for school work.  No need for games, we have another PC dedicated for the task. I purchased a Zotac box with an Atom processor and 1Gb of RAM, everything integrated and completely noiseless, for a bit less than 200 euros.

Most importantly, I wanted to spend the least amount of time doing sysadmin on his desktop so I naively decided to give Windows 7 a try. Little did I know…

Installing Win7 on the box was quite painless. The trouble began immediately after it got connected to the Net. “Windows is downloading updates” would take pretty much all CPU, RAM and bandwidth available, to the point that the mouse would hardly respond at all. I disabled every possibly useless service, removed disk indexing, disabled Aero, but the damn thing was still crunching updates full time for about an hour every time we would switch it on. Starting up iTunes would require a full 10 minutes of waiting and it was impossible to listen to music while managing an attached iPod.

We survived like this for about a year. Once a week, I would switch on the PC early in the evening and let it run its upgrade dance until late at night.  Since it was pretty much impossible to do anything else but watch the progress bars move slowly there was no point in being in front of the screen anyway.

Recently, Windows updates got to the point that I would need to leave the machine on for a full night to get it upgraded. But what really got me was the fact that after installing 36 new updates and a reboot, another 32 updates were waiting for installation, followed by a reboot, and then some more updates. And sometimes everything halted with a happy message congratulating me for having purchased a Microsoft mouse and please click Ok to continue with the zillion more updates, or asking me to confirm that the program “Windows update” was allowed to bring modifications to the system.

I wiped the disk off last week-end and installed Ubuntu. Things fly. My son’s iPod is completely managed and we can finally do something with the box. And it is a pretty fast desktop too!

Ok so that box was not spec’d enough for Windows 7? Interestingly I got the same story with our gaming PC: a one-year old quad-core machine with 4Gb RAM and a fast disk, which took a full night to update itself in several steps (reboot, click “yes” once in a while, reboot, wait). And of course the same story on a Windows 7 Virtual Machine I use at work, after which I completely disabled Windows updates.

Seems we have reached quite an extreme there. At any given point my Mac is reporting a Google daemon looking for updates to Google Earth and Chrome, an Apple daemon for iTunes, Safari and Quicktime, a Java daemon, a Blackberry daemon, an Adobe daemon, in addition to regular OS updates. We have reached the point where the only possible work you can do on these machines is sit down and look, and you cannot even leave the room! Everything stops at random intervals to ask you for a damn click.

From a security point of view I can only wholeheartedly agree with automatic updates, but going back one step I realize this is getting ridiculous. Did I really buy so many computers to dedicate them to maintaining themselves? Somehow it reminds me of the most useless machine ever.

I would not mind if this was limited to Windows but my Android smartphone can be quite a pain in the butt too, with daily update downloads running around 20-30 megs on average and a frozen phone for 10 minutes afterwards.  Did I mention my Mac ate more than a Gb of updates from Apple last week?

Good thing I am not running Debian unstable on my desktop anymore.


Written by nicolas314

Tuesday 28 June 2011 at 12:03 am

Pigs don’t fly

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Looking for a lightweight desktop environment for a micro PC? Just poking around yields millions of answers from Google on the topic. One of them actually goes into depth trying to measure memory usage for KDE, Gnome, XFCE and WindowMaker.

Desktop memory usage

Surprisingly, the author found out that KDE is actually using less memory than Gnome. According to his experiments, firing up Gnome is likely to eat up just about all memory you can throw at it. Gnome is a real PIG when it comes to memory usage. Sorry, does not fly for me.

So I (briefly) tried KDE and installed kde-full… and regretted it almost immediately. First thing I noticed was that kde has dependencies on mysql-server. Yes, a database server is required on your desktop to run what amounts to a nicely integrated window manager. I repeat: the guys need a FUCKING DATABASE SERVER! Are they insane or what?

Looking for detailed dependencies gave me the answer: KDE boasts a stand-alone data server called akonadi to store all of your personal information, in turn offering it to all KDE-compatible applications with the same interface. Sounds like a nice idea from a design point of view but there has to be another way. Installing mysql-server in Debian means you always start a local instance of a MySQL server, which is a deal breaker on tiny machines like MicroClient. Here comes another PIG. Does not fly better.

Silly but I remember running KDE on a 200MHz machine about 10 years back and it was really responsive, elegant, and resource-respectful. It is now 2009 and the bloat on these graphical environments has reached a level never even imagined before. A MicroClient is 5 times faster than my fastest desktop 10 years ago and cannot even run the default Debian or Ubuntu desktop suite. KDE developers may come up with the best justifications, there is no excuse for exploding bloat like they did.

Oh yes, and I started XFCE and it is working great. From where I sit I see exactly the same functionalities as a brilliant Gnomish or KDEish thingy and does not try to kill my CPU through preposterous use of limited resources.

Written by nicolas314

Saturday 20 June 2009 at 4:55 pm

Posted in desktop, gnome, KDE, xfce