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Is Windows or Linux easier to install?

Microsoft's been at this longer so Windows should be easier to install, right?

(LinuxWorld) -- I've been preparing my Sony Vaio for an extended tour of duty at my girlfriend's new home. To make it as familiar and easy to use as possible for her, I decided to make it a dual-boot system. That way she can run Windows if she wants, and Linux awaits when I inflict her with my presence. It turned out to be a great opportunity to compare the installations of a popular Windows release with the latest from Red Hat. I kept copious notes as evidence.

My goal was to install each OS, get Internet connectivity via a Netgear PCMCIA NIC working, make each OS recognize a USB IBM PC Camera, and apply the latest security and bug fixes to the OS and default applications. Since Microsoft has been in the operating system business for exactly 21 years (DOS 1 debuted August 12, 1981), and employs 50,000 souls, I expected Windows 2000's installation would be seamless, fast, and lightyears ahead of upstart Red Hat's by any measure I could concoct. It turns out the Windows 2000 Pro installation is superior to Linux, but in two dubious categories.

First batter, Windows 2000 Pro

The clock was striking high noon as I inserted the first of three Sony System Restore CDs supplied with the laptop. I sat back to see what might happen.

Right out of the starting gate, Microsoft wanted me to accept the EULA. It didn't show me the EULA, but rather referred me to the Introduction to Windows 2000 Pro manual for a copy. Half an hour later and all three CDs had been fed in, it was time to reboot and continue the adventure.

Windows took a long time to boot, evidently checking everything to make sure it was to its liking. Then a Setup Wizard appeared. First order of business? You guessed it, accept the EULA. Then I set the time and time zone. Again, it rebooted to continue.

When Windows awoke from the reboot this time, I was attacked by a flurry of competing screens. One was a hardware wizard, another wanted me to register the Sony Vaio, and yet another was a sales pitch for McAfee's Virus Scan. But that's not all. There were three more under all those: a guided tour for getting started with W2K, a second hardware install wizard, and a request for me to insert the first Application Recovery CD.

Sticking to my game plan, I closed everything but the Applications Recovery process. Then I inserted the appropriate CD and clicked the OK button. After a brief period of no visible activity, a new prompt appeared asking me to insert the Word 2000 CD. A minute or two later and it was time to reboot, you know, in order to continue.

The hardware wizards reappeared following the reboot, but thankfully, they came one at a time. I installed the Netgear CD and unclicked the "Specify location" radio button. It breezed right past the needed files on the CD. I clicked Back, selected the "Specify Location" option, and tried again. This time it found the file it needed. I gave up trying to puzzle out the connection between specifying a location and it searching the files on the CD.

Next came the IBM PC Camera CD. I avoided a big problem by refusing to accept the Win98 .inf file it suggested for the device, pointing it instead at the Windows 2000 version. I knew from previous experience that had I accepted the default offering, the camera would not have worked.

Up popped the Internet connection wizard. A couple of clicks and I could try to connect. The first time failed, but on the second attempt it worked. A very intrusive popup from Macromedia appeared wanting me to install a plugin. Finally, the screen was cleared of unwanted clutter and I could begin the final part of the installation, which was updating the OS and apps.

I selected "Windows Update" from the Control. A scan of my system revealed I needed a number of patches. Guess what? Several must be installed by themselves, and each had its own EULA to click through. Amazingly, or perhaps not, each required a reboot to continue. (If you're not keeping score at home on the number of times I had to reboot, don't worry; I reveal the final tally later.) Ah, Windows, no wonder I haven't missed you.

First came SP2 for IE 5.01, then came IE 5.5, and then Windows 2000 SP3. The SP3 update took the longest -- 30 minutes for that update alone. Finally, the remaining three critical updates could all be installed together: two security updates for IE 5.5 and one for the Windows Media player. There were more upgrades for W2K that did not fall into the critical category. They required another 30 minutes to apply. When all was said and done, the entire process had taken 2.5 hours.

Second batter; Red Hat 7.3

Then it was Red Hat's turn. I inserted the first installation CD and rebooted Windows. I chose to manually partition the disk using fdisk. First, I deleted the partition I had originally created for Linux. Then I created a 256-megabyte swap partition and gave the rest of the drive to Red Hat, choosing the ext3 journaling filesystem.

Red Hat asked a few more questions about the system than the Windows installation did, but the default selections were always satisfactory. I chose to use the GRUB boot manager, to place it on the MBR, and for the Linux to be the default. Next, I accepted DHCP as my network settings, medium security, and picked my time zone. The installation asked for a root password and then let me set up as many user accounts on the laptop as I needed.

Next came package selection. I selected three package groups: GNOME, development tools, and Games & Entertainment. Red Hat's installation correctly identified my video card as an S3 Savage. Then I was all set to start reading the packages from the CDs. My group selections resulted in 697 packages to be installed. The process of reading the packages from the CDs began. After 20 minutes or so, the Installer asked me for CD No. 2, and 10 minutes later it asked for CD No. 3.

After all the packages had been read and installed, I was given the opportunity to create a boot diskette, test the default display resolution and color depth, and choose whether I wanted a CLI or GUI after booting. Those tasks done, it was time to reboot.

When the GNOME 1.4 desktop appeared, I closed the "Start Here" window and looked around. A round icon with a bold exclamation point in it caught my attention on the toolbar. I clicked it and learned there were critical updates awaiting my attention, which totaled 59 updates in all.

It took a few seconds to register at Red Hat, and then I launched up2date. It took about 30 minutes to download and install the updates. I checked the IBM PC Camera by starting xawtv and sure enough, Red Hat had it working without any effort on my part, just as it had done with the PCMCIA NIC. The install was soup -- no dependency insanity, and just one stinkin' reboot.

The box score

Windows 2000 Pro vs. Red Hat 7.3 installation facts

Now let's compare and start with the facts. W2K itself took 2 hours and 5 minutes, and required CDs to be fed eight times during the installation. It required eight reboots.

Red Hat 7.3 was considerably quicker, taking only 1 hour and 35 minutes. It was much less pesky, too, requiring three CD loads. Red Hat required one reboot. Red Hat did ask the user to get more involved in the installation than Windows, though the defaults were usually correct for my situation.

What annoyed me most about the Red Hat installation was reading not one, but three tales explaining how Red Hat came by its name. Did it result from Marc Ewing always wearing a red cap during his college days, or from an affinity he had for his grandfather's red lacrosse hat? On the other hand, is it because of what red has symbolized throughout history? Not that I really care, but it bugs me that Red Hat can't stick with one fable, or lacks the cleverness to poke fun at its myriad tales.

Several things bothered me about the W2K install. First, the jumble of windows popping up following the first boot after loading all the data from the three restore CDs. That is simply stupid design.

Next, the default security of W2K seems to be create the Administrator account with no password and to use it for normal computing. This is not the stuff of trustworthy computing. I've been told that Setup asks for the Administrator's password to be set, but I don't remember seeing it if it did. No password becomes the default simply by being accepted.

The number of reboots is another aggravation. It is also a clear sign the RPM package system is superior to whatever Windows uses. One of the Red Hat updates was a new version of the kernel. A screen appeared recommending a reboot so that the new kernel could be tested, but otherwise "reboot to continue" is just not a part of the Linux experience.

Another area of comparison is the question of functionality right out of the box. I call this category a draw. Sony ships Microsoft Word with W2K Pro, while Red Hat 7.3 has AbiWord. The real answer depends on the functions you require. Need a full-featured spreadsheet? Red Hat Linux wins by providing Gnumeric. Need a video camera editor? W2K comes out on top. I should point out, however, that if I had wanted to, there were hundreds of applications I could have selected to be part of the Red Hat installation. Not so with W2K.

Lastly, the constant click-through of EULA's and supplemental EULA's is tedious and legally pointless from the consumer's perspective. If you buy an operating system and you agree to its license terms, that should be the end of it. But I had to click-through a mind boggling 8 EULAs to get W2K installed and updated. On the Red Hat side, there were none.

Post-game analysis

Do Windows users have a choice? Sure. They can continue to run the older version of Windows with the original license, but if they do they are begging for someone to crack them.

Bruce Sterling had it right when he said at the recent O'Reilly OSCON, "Microsoft Windows is slowly but surely becoming an armed terrorspace. It's like an airport. You go into an airport nowadays, it's really kind of amazing that the people who run them still expect you to spend money in there. They still pretend to you that you are this pampered jet-set consumer, instead of a captive under armed guard, which is what you are."

For example, to get a more secure version of Internet Explorer, consumers must give up their freedom of speech. That's right. By clicking "I accept" you agree not to "disclose the results of any benchmark test of the .NET Framework component" unless you have written permission from Microsoft.

But there is more. We're talking about gagging consumers with the sheer volume of the licenses, not just their terms. How can anyone keep up with all they have agreed? Multiple Windows EULAs are a shell game on steroids. I didn't read each EULA carefully, and may have pledged allegiance to the French Foreign Legion.

Hold it. What am I doing? I can't do this. I've changed my mind. I'm going to wipe W2K off the laptop. If she wants Windows, she can install it herself. There won't be an end anytime soon to the problems with Windows software. Or with the egregious terms Microsoft imposes on its customers. I should have known better. Friends shouldn't help friends run Windows.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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