Vista at its periapsis

I came to the closest point in my orbit around Planet Vista today (yes, you silly bird, that’s what a periapsis is), and the view from my distance was rather interesting.

I call it interesting, but that’s not a good thing. I was in a local electronics department store (six stories of electronics! I love Japan!) pricing laptop hard drives this afternoon to replace my crashed drive, and after I jotted down some prices, I strolled through the new laptop section.

Of course, every machine was running Vista (except for the Apple section), and most of them were running a rolling bubble screensaver. But only a few had the full Aero effects in place, which is what drew me to take a closer look.

(Of course, the next few notes are exceedingly biased. I don’t even pretend to be evenhanded in my descriptions here. I am a Linux fan, and I don’t bother masking it.)

I tapped the touchpad on one laptop and watched the screen refresh. The first thing that grabbed me was how slow the redraw was. Mind you, I’m used to slow redraws. I work with a machine that was obsolete in 2001. There’s nothing about slow redraws that I can’t suffer.

But these seemed unusually slow. I checked the system specs, expecting something bargain basement, but it wasn’t — dual core 1.8, 1Gb, ATI X1300. That’s very recent equipment, and now the slow redraw seemed all the more curious.

So I started moving windowpanes around. Again, sketchy redraws — once or twice, it even jumped a few pixels. Nothing hideous, but again, plainly visible.

Well now I was sure I was just dealing with a clunker. “A price tag around $1300 and video performance like that?” I thought. “No way.” So I shifted down the line to a top-end machine — something marked at roughly $2400 — and tapped the touchpad.

Again, slow redraws. The kind where you can see the panes reform over top of each other, which spoils the illusion. Moving windowpanes was better, but this one had a CPU load meter widget running, and the needle spiked to 50 percent while I was shifting windows around.

“That’s nuts,” I thought. “There’s no way a dual core machine like this needs 50 percent of its processing power just to move pseudo-glass-pane windows around.”

Things were starting to look lousy. I drifted the mouse over the load meter, which triggered a tooltip, and the meter spiked again, this time to around 25 percent. Mouse hover was torquing the processor. So I brushed the mouse back and forth over the widget, and the fade-in-fade-out of the tooltip was yanking the needle on the meter like a yo-yo.

“Unbelieveable,” I thought. The more I skimmed the arrow over the widget, the more the processor spiked. I knocked it up over 90 percent at one point, and that’s when I realized the weird, Hofstadter-esque recursion I was watching — that just monitoring the processor was overwhelming the processor.

I’m not a programmer. I’m not interested in making the perfect desktop operating environment, and I don’t know word-one about how to make the innermost guts of a computer do what you want. I’m an end-user, period — albeit a fairly adroit one, and I like to think I know a thing or two about how to whip a machine into shape.

But after that brief glimpse of a high-end machine struggling just to monitor its own processor load, I realized there wasn’t anything of interest to me, as an efficiency freak, in Vista. I really don’t want anything to do with an interface that is getting in its own way. And if brushing the touchpad back and forth over a load meter is going to burn up a dual processor machine, then there’s absolutely nothing in it that could interest me. From my perspective, even at such a removed distance, that stuff is garbage.

Again, I know I’m not being fair, but I’m not interested in fair. (You want fair, try and find a newspaper that isn’t owned by a media corporation. That will be fair — and next to impossible too.) I know there are variables that I can’t account for — graphics cards, current drivers, etc., etc. And I know a proper Windows enthusiast could probably set that machine free, and make it into a wonderment of modern technology.

But for me, I’ll stick to my old 1Ghz machine, with the outdated Geforce 440 card, the lovely-but-somewhat-scratched 1600×1200 screen, and a squeaky-clean, stripped-down Ubuntu installation that still has that new-car smell. Because for me, no matter how I look at it, Linux just works. And when it works, it doesn’t get in its own way.


2 thoughts on “Vista at its periapsis

  1. Darrell

    Machines from the turn of the century are quite capable (I use one of this vintage) particular with certain distros. My favourite is Knoppix installed, or if you fancy slightly more conventional Kanotix or Sabayon. You’re right, there’s no need to be dogmatic about operating systems. You just need to look at the evidence for what works best for your system.

  2. Bradley

    Disclosure: I use Linux ALMOST exclusively at home, I do keep XP around and updated for an app or two. I am also a MCSE. Vista? Really hard on the hardware regardless of Aero. After tweaking and tweaking, the answer to make Vista run better is excessive budget busting on everything. talking like 10k rpm hdd, lots of of memory, start at a gig and keep adding. 2 gig is really the recommended starting point. Processor? Go big! MHz really counts more then dual or quad cores. Video, with Aero, think BIG, really big, like the latest in the gaming cards, and the most expensive ones. Without Aero, just a good card works ok, but last years big boys don’t hurt. XP? I still have a PIII 500 capable of running it, Xp required memory more than anything. Vista? Requires you to remortgage your house. My suggestion for those who want Windows? Reformat, and put XP on it. You will be happier. Want to be real happy, keep the old dog, put Linux on it, and spend the money on fun things, like a 50 inch plasma screen to hook up to your computer. It will look really cool, and it costs the same as a machine that can run Vista worth a hoot.


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