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Arranged marriages January 3, 2008

Posted by reverseengineer in Macs, Windows, Xandros.
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My friend Art happily texted me the other day to say that he had finally XP-fied his Eeepc.

Hm. Not quite sure how I feel about that. I’m not qustioning Art’s judgment – he was Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine Philippines after all. He knows what he’s doing.

But for me, one of the most interesting and most appealing things about this UMPC is the idea that it runs off Linux. A leaner, meaner, more reliable, more flexible OS – and it’s free to boot, even in the literal sense of the expression.

As a Mac user, I’m aware that the underpinnings of my favorite operating system, Mac OS X, is Unix – we’re only shielded from the arcana by the GUI. Which is why the real thing has always been a sort of grail for me to follow. I’ve just been a bit intimidated by the seeming volume of stuff I need to learn – at my age – but now that I’ve started learning it, it doesn’t seem too bad.

Most folk who have lived all their computer life on Windows PCs or Macs get the chills when faced with a CLI – the command line interface. The serious stuff.

The stark, dark, empty screen of a console or terminal window with the blinking cursor is terrifying to someone weaned on menus and icons and buttons. The blank screen demands you know what you’re doing, that you know the commands and terminologies and syntax and directory structures. Linux is the German language of OSes. It’s not intuitive, it’s a precise science; no guesswork, no winging it. A mouse is totally useless; the keyboard is the only thing you use. And it’s unforgiving and merciless. One mistake and you could conceivably hose the system.

Scary, isn’t it?

I’m somewhat affected, but not as much. I don’t have as much dread of CLIs since I started on CP/M and MS-DOS back in the day. The taunting, challenging blink-blink-blink of a cursor doesn’t really scare me. And the commands are basically the same, only with different names. Just a matter of learning what’s changed.

Granted, Linux has been overtaken by the gooeyness of modern GUIs – witness the UNIX eye candy that is Mac OS X. Visually, Xandros on an EEEPC is closer to Windows on the OS scale of things, but it requires some amount of familiarity with Linux, if you want to venture past Easy Mode or do more than just what comes in the box.

The learning is the nice thing, at least for me. Which is why I won’t load up Windows XP.

For one thing, Windows is a demanding bugger, which, with its shortcomings, it doesn’t deserve to be. Hardware-wise an EEEPC is at best barely enough to handle the OS. So why would one throw away a well designed hardware-software symbiosis that is already there and insist on an arranged marriage between this tiny, simple little thing and a big, clumsy and demanding ogre of an OS? Even more formidable, capable, expensive hardware choke on XP already. How would it be for an EEEPC?

Why break up a nice relationship where everything works and works well and force another which would demand more time, patience and resources to just get along, let alone get along well? More RAM, more storage space, more tweaking and looking for drivers and all that crap? All to have a Windows machine with the portability of an EEEPC? Methinks it isn’t worth it.

But that’s the reality, I guess. People will do what people will do. It just has to have Windows. It’s something that even Asus accepts, so that it put a great deal of effort in including instructions for replacing Xandros with Windows in their manual.

When Asus finally releases a Windows version of the EEEPC the rules might change, but because of the very nature of the hardware and software, the price will go up, which misses the whole point of the exercise.

I’m willing to invest a bit of time with the elegant, open-source Xandros. Besides, for work, I have my Macs and Windows PCs.

Those of you who want to go back to prison willfully without knowing why you’re doing it can go right ahead. Me, I’ll stay outside and enjoy the sun for a bit.

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