How Vista screws dual-booting nirvana

The other day I found myself staring out the window next to my desk. It was around 6.30 in the evening and the lights had just gone on over Hyde Park.

The whole scene was one of winter serenity aided considerably by the window sill which prevented me from being exposed to the chaos that is Elizabeth St Sydney at peak hour.

In my sanguine state I didn’t even notice that I had just told Ubuntu to hibernate instead of shutdown. Generally I tend to avoid hibernating my notebook. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to treating an OS like my office; the first thing you do when you open the door in the morning is open up some windows.

So I hopped on a train and headed back to my place a.k.a. Casa del Penguins – more because of the absence of heating than the (admittedly above average) volume of Linux machines in attendance.

After a little dinner and a vain attempt to warm myself under a pile of stuffed animals I booted my notebook into Windows XP for a little bit of World of Warcraft.

All well and good and entirely within the parameters of an ordinary evening. It wasn’t until I got to work the next day that I found something which made me squeal for joy: my Ubuntu session was still hibernated!

Yes folks that long rambling anecdote was all leading up to this point – a good boot loader in this case GRUB allows users to do wonderful things.

Since finding this I’ve checked it out and even Windows XP can be simultaneously hibernated with Ubuntu on my notebook meaning that I can always have a session of each ready.

Sheesh Windows recovers ridiculously quickly from a hibernate somewhere in the order of 10 seconds… I wonder if I’ll ever shut it down again?

It’s kinda like virtualisation nirvana – today!

Well now that the hyperbole is out of the way it’s a great find one which I assume many other Linux users who aren’t so scared of the hibernate function have had the joy of discovering before me.

It does also bring you a step closer to the end result of true virtualisation – fast switching between operating systems admittedly not quite the ALT + TAB affair that the proponents of true virtualisation describe but still very handy.

Now the seriously ill informed amongst us may be wondering why the headline attacks Windows Vista and I have yet to even mention it. Why because of this blog post from late last year on MSDN about the Vista boot loader gentle reader which explains that Vista will continue to wipe your master boot record on install. And so begins “The case against installing Windows Vista (volume 658 943)”.

Nerfing a PCs master boot record (MBR) in order to install your operating system is to put it mildly somewhat unfriendly behaviour. And this line from Microsoft about their users finding the OS too complex to install if they are presented with an option to reveal advanced options is frankly the usual despicable buck passing and FUD I expect from the company behind “Get the Facts”.

And who the hell runs an OS installer to repair their MBR? I just whip out Knoppix mate.

Sorry hasn’t anyone mentioned that your Sysadmin tools are a total joke?

That in order to pull in the bucks from pricey certifications you’ve dumbed the tools and procedures down to the extent that even our (Mac-olyte) online editor Dan Warne passed his MCP qualification with no study whatsoever at TechEd last year?

No amount of posturing by some “frank and honest” (cough) blogger from Microsoft is going to hide the fact that it’s yet another example of business as usual at Redmond; embrace extend and extinguish – in this case your entire system configuration.

Every Linux distribution detects the presence of another OS and configures the system accordingly even being nice enough to add Windows to your boot loader automatically (should you choose to keep it).

Why can’t Vista simply include a decent boot loader thus removing the onus from the user or the installer to determine what boot loader is installed and configure it accordingly?

Interestingly if your boot loader is a Microsoft only one and the installer detects that it is a newer version than the one it is installing it leaves it intact. Which pretty much makes all of the arguments in that post complete dross.

And besides it’s not the open source community who are unwilling to publish specifications and allow products to compete with theirs on a level playing field so for Microsoft working out how to interact with open source software is actually a lot easier than it is going back the other way.

As such it’s a matter of some of the management at Microsoft getting their heads out of their collective posteriors and waking up to the fact that interoperability isn’t just a vague desire of some consumers – it’s the single most important one.

I say management because if this commendable post by Chris Wilson of the Internet Explorer team has even a grain of truth in it the engineers at the company are already completely aware of it.

Considering how Windows interferes with my ability to interoperate with the systems I need to in order to do my job I’m sure they are painfully aware of it.

Whether you’re talking about the consumer side and making sure that your iPod works with your LG refrigerator or about the enterprise side and ensuring that documents can be opened and printed out correctly wherever you email a file interoperability is the only game in town these days.

If Dar/wine were mature enough to allow OS X and Linux users to run absolutely any Win32 application Microsoft would be finished. Kaput.

Take note Redmond; the goodwill is gone. People use your software because they have to not because they want to and all the aero glass in the world won’t change that. Every time you make a decision like this in designing your software God kills a Windows PC I maintain.

And every time one dies it gets reborn as a SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 machine or an Ubuntu machine meaning that they become emissaries of change.

Just having them there for people to look at and play with is the best advertisement for Linux I have found because in terms of performance and usability they make Windows Vista look positively medieval.

After all they even open all your document formats – something your own Office products have a hard time doing consistently.

And yes I do have Vista machines here too – it’s a frigging PC magazine. Users generally come away from an experience with them confused and disoriented. If that was your aim good job!

Getting back to the catalyst for this largely stream of consciousness opinion piece: Vista keep your paws off my MBR. The fact that your boot loader is completely primitive is your fault not mine.