Admiring the Vista

I’m taking a couple of weeks off from the Saturday posts. Specifically, there wasn’t one yesterday because I was prodding around inside my old Dell PowerEdge SC1430 server and trying to get the RAM cooling fan working without any ear-piercing squeals. Dell used a proprietary 5 pin connector on this fan and the cheapest I found online was £25, which feels more than a little excessive and nobody around that price range had it in stock anyway. So I instead took matters into my own hands, which involved removing a wire guard, peeling the sticker off the hub and squirting generous quantities of lithium grease into the little hole. The machine has been running for nearly a day since said bodge was applied and appears happy, so apparently that’s a job well done and the next task is tidying some loose ends and cleaning some crap out of the other fans.

Whilst delving around in one of the local charity shops a few days ago I stumbled across… a boxed, beta release of Windows Vista! The case proclaims it to be part of the Customer Preview Program and it shipped with two DVDs for 32- and 64-bit installs. When booted there’s a watermark on the desktop saying it’s an evaluation copy of Windows Vista Beta 2, gives the build number 5384 and plays Windows XP sounds for events, all of which I know because… well, I installed the 32-bit version on a spare laptop for gits and shiggles.

Unsurprisingly so for something that’s both a beta and Vista it’s very flaky, but some of the problems were fairly extreme for something released to the public; closing the lid suspended the machine which was fair enough but it got stuck making a sound when resuming that only stopped when another played and, after one routine reboot, the login screen completely forgot how to keyboard. I didn’t install any drivers for the wireless network hardware but it couldn’t see the LAN either, so my “plan” to download Chrome and write this post on the Vista install itself fell by the wayside… oh, and it’s a timed beta that I got installed by setting the system clock to late 2006 because the manual said it’d expire at the start of June 2007.

Being curious and resetting the clock back to 2019 whilst writing this post got me a window on boot saying that “your activation period has expired and Windows is no longer working” that didn’t go away when the clock was pushed back again; that’s understandable sure, but it also seems to have completely broken the install since that screen wants to get online to validate any option I select and can’t due to a distinct lack of LAN connection. Instead it just sits there for a few minutes, throws up an “authentication failed” dialog, then rinses and repeats whilst trying to shut down gets it stuck on the “logging off” screen. Oops…

Early steps with Linux

During the last week I’ve been playing a little with Linux. Now, this isn’t my first outing with it because I had a Ubuntu desktop for about six months some three or four years back but it was a secondary machine sat next to my main Windows XP box. This time I’ve gone a little deeper into the rabbit hole, spending six or seven hours last weekend setting up an old Viglen 520S as a commandline Debian box to act as DHCP server to our LAN because the battle weary wireless access point doing the job previously was really starting to struggle with the load placed on it. That was followed by another install of Debian a few days ago onto the Acer TravelMate 2350 I’m currently typing this blog entry with. Neither machine is particularly powerful (the Viglen is the bigger of the two with 1.7GHz of CPU power and half a gig of RAM) but they do the job more than adequately now they’re running.

But the result of getting them to that working state is that I now harbour a sort of love/hate relationship with Linux in the sense that, whilst I love the idea of Linux and getting away from Microsoft operating systems, as a n00b I’m surprised by how fiddly it can be to get things working. This is, I suspect, why Linux hasn’t made the massive inroads into the desktop market that supporters felt it should a few years back; if you’ve got some knowledge of computing and don’t mind rooting around (excuse the “pun”) then using most flavours will probably be okay if a little time consuming to begin with, but for the average user who has enough problems keeping a Windows box going, anything more complicated than word processing or perhaps web browsing will be a bloody nightmare!

I’m fairly sure that some of the issues are down to me making a rod for my own back by choosing Debian rather than going for one of the distros that try to make Linux more Windows-like such as the more commonplace Ubuntu or Mint but, with so many options around, that average user I mentioned earlier is probably going to struggle finding one that works for them. And in my case I wanted to install Debian if I ever get around to upgrading my servers so it seemed sensible to get stuck in rather than pussyfooting around with the simplified options. Generally speaking I’m sort of glad I did because, although there’s still a significant distance to go before I feel comfortable with the idea of having a primary work box running Debian and this laptop doesn’t even have sound working right now, I do at least feel smug happy that most of what I’ve attempted so far has worked.

One final and slightly unrelated thing I noticed, when typing this post into Open Office it didn’t flag the word “n00b” as incorrect – I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not…?