With a friend, I agreed to use Windows for six months on my new laptop. He swore up and down that by the time I was done I'd have found it so easy to use I'd never want to switch back to Linux again. What I found, though, is that while Windows has its advantages, it sure offers a lot of difficulty to the average user. We also agreed that I wouldn't ask him any questions, to better simulate the experience of a novice user to Windows.
Let's start with installation. I got the Windows CD through an "academic" program at my school. It took them several days to burn the CD and get me an "install key" though. When I asked them if I could just download and burn the CD myself, they just looked at me funny and told me they weren't allowed to tell me. They must just be worried about too much bandwidth being used on the distribution mirrors or something.
Well anyway, they eventually got me the CD, with an "install key". When I asked them if it was really a good idea to have someone else generate your initial crypto key, they looked at me funny again and told me it was to prevent "piracy." Now what a crypto key has to do with boats, I don't know. I'm not taking my laptop on boats, knowing my luck it'd get splashed! But they were quite convinced of this.
Well, now I had my CD, so I popped it in to install. There was already a "home" edition of Windows on the laptop, but they told me the "Pro" edition through the school's program was better. When I asked why you couldn't just upgrade through the regular repository, they had no idea what I was talking about. I decided not to press the issue and just upgrade from the CD.
Well, anyway, turns out the "upgrade" from CD formats the entire drive! While I didn't mind too much, this would sure be a nasty shock to a user that had important data on it! They really should encourage people to use a repository upgrade instead. I couldn't find a word on how to do this, even after several Google queries. Someone really needs to get to writing better documentation for novice users, I think.
Well, anyway. I got partway through the install process and was asked for my "key." I put it in, but apparently they'd given me the wrong one! I was told to call a phone number. Now really, why they couldn't just have you generate a new key at the time is beyond me, especially since it took me halfway to forever to input the long code into the phone system, and another half hour or so on hold. I was then transferred to a guy I could hardly understand. His English was alright, but really, they'd do better directing you to an IRC channel-accents don't matter there!
Anyway, as I learned to understand this guy, he kept asking me if my copy was "retail" or "OEM". I told him that my school had burned my copy for me. He then kept asking me the same question, and telling me that burning a copy was "illegal"-or that's what it sounded like. I finally read him the paper I'd been given from my school, and at that point he seemed to change his mind. He gave me a second code to put in, which finally allowed me to complete the install. Now, granted, I'm quite familiar with computers, but this would really have been a significant frustration to the novice user.
Well, after that the install seemed to go through alright, and I removed the installation CD and rebooted. I noted with some dismay that I had not been prompted to create a password, and wondered if the system would do so after the reboot. However, after the reboot, I was let right in without a password! Later on, I came to find out that this "passwordless" user is the default! I certainly would be hesitant to keep any important files on such a system with such a basic flaw in its security model.
Well, of course this was unacceptable, so the first thing I did was attempt to open a shell. I first looked under "accessories"-nothing. I then used ctrl-alt-F6 to attempt to switch to a virtual console-and again, no result. I tried "system," and every menu on the system, but was just unable to find a shell altogether.
Well, eventually, after some Google searching, it turns out you must hit the "run" button and type in "cmd" to open a shell. Now that's a bit arcane, but that's not the worst of it! Turns out, the default shell does almost exactly nothing! After trying "passwd", "password", and several other variants, I did some more Googling in search of the correct command. Turns out it's not even possible to set your password from the shell! (I was wondering at this time how a remote SSH user would possibly manage, but it turns out it's not even possible to log in remotely to a shell via SSH!) Well, anyway, I finally found the "control panel", and managed to get the password set.
I noticed at this time my user was set as a "computer administrator"-this seemed quite odd. After yet more Google searching, it turns out that not only does Windows create a passwordless account upon install, but this account has root privileges! Not only that, but any further accounts created have, by default, root access as well! Do you really think the average user, setting up a child's account, for example, would have the sense to downgrade that user's privileges? It may seem a little thing, but it's this type of reason why Windows is simply not ready for the average user's desktop.
Finally, I had absolutely NO luck figuring out how to use the Windows repository. No amount of Googling could get me the answer, and on the Windows forums I posted on the users seemed not even to know what I was talking about. Generally, you have to go out on the Internet, and find -every- program you wish to download! Really, Linux solved this problem years ago!
Well, I figured I'd set up a way to log in remotely, though I was a little leery of this given the seeming lack of security. I did find a way to do this, called "remote desktop"-though one must log into a graphical environment. However, this type of login has a serious bug-a remote login kicks any other user offline! And if the local user logs back in, the remote user is similarly kicked. I quickly gave up on this, there's no telling what other bugs might be present in such an obviously flawed application.
So, overall, while I did enjoy some of the Windows games, and it was a different experience-overall, I'm sure glad to be installing my nice familiar Linux environment, as the six months are up today. Maybe in five or ten years Windows can be overhauled to be ready for the desktop, but right now? It's not even close.