Linux and the Post-XP Cry for Help

Well the Linux landscape shifted dramatically last week, and not just because of the discovery of the Heartbleed bug.

No indeed, there’s another key reason this little planet of ours isn’t the same as it was a week ago, and that’s none other than Windows XP’s long-anticipated end of life.

“As of April 8, 2014, support and updates for Windows XP are no longer available,” wrote Microsoft.

’10 Boxes Are Still Running XP’

Linux Girl

The news was hardly any surprise, of course — but neither was the cry for help that rang out soon thereafter in the Linux blogosphere.

“Recently my boss has asked me about the advantages of Linux as a desktop operating system and if it would be a good idea to install it instead of upgrading to Windows 7 or 8,” wrote an anonymous reader in an “Ask Slashdot” item two days later. “About 10 boxes here are still running Windows XP and would be too old to upgrade to any newer version of Windows.”

There was, of course, a catch: “Since I am the only guy with Linux experience, I would have to support the Linux installations,” said reader added.

Within seconds of the item’s posting, cries of anguish and sympathy could be heard echoing throughout the Linux blogosphere. Linux Girl grabbed her Quick Quotes Quill and jumped into action.

‘Danger, Will Robinson!’

“This one screams, ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ to me,” began Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien.

“The experience of Munich and other successful migrations is that to be successful you need to do careful planning and preparation, and make the change slowly,” O’Brien explained. “I would certainly use this to point out that the company is on a bad treadmill, but all it can take is a few complaints that ‘I can’t exchange documents/spreadsheets/etc.’ to make everyone think that this open source stuff is cheap crap.”

Moreover, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” O’Brien added. “Today there are already a lot of people whose idea of what Open Source can do was formed 10 years ago and has never been updated — such as the idea that to use Linux you have to be on the command line all of the time.”

‘I Would Sit With Individual Users’

Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone had a different approach.

“I would handle it in one of two ways,” Stone told Linux Girl. “One, I would sit with individual users and try to get a feel for how they use the computer and how flexible they are to change.”

Just because an individual is still using Windows XP “doesn’t mean that they’re particularly stuck in their ways — it could be that they could easily adapt to a new Linux environment,” he pointed out.

‘They Accept It Very Well’

Two, “I would make Linux look as much like Windows XP as possible,” Stone said. “One of the many great things about Linux is that it’s easy to make it look like pretty much anything, including making it resemble Windows XP to the point that many people couldn’t tell the difference. It may not be a positive experience for the end user, but at least it will be a negative experience that they’re familiar with.”

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol has been transitioning users for years, he told Linux Girl.

“At first users find it strange, but once they learn they are protected against virus, malware and data loss, they accept it very well,” he said.

Of course, “training is essential,” he added. “But once you train your crew, it’s just sit back and relax.”

‘They Can Stop Wasting Time’

Blogger Robert Pogson has “converted hundreds of PCs to GNU/Linux,” he told Linux Girl, and “it helps to give the users a user-interface not too different from what they have been using with XP. I recommend Debian GNU/Linux with the Xfce desktop.”

Pogson also recommends “warning staff that the PCs have been rejuvenated so they can stop wasting time leaning back in their chairs, getting coffee or chatting before getting down to work,” Pogson added.

“If I were responsible for a roll-out in business, I would be sure to run an SSH server on each machine and establish passwordless SSH logins from my own PC or server so that software and performance could be managed remotely,” he suggested.

‘Users Notice That’

“A sure-fire way to impress the staff is to give them the performance of GNU/Linux from a new PC or server instead of their old machines,” Pogson said. “I recommend using LTSP if you have at least one powerful PC or server on site.

“The big advantage of this is that when some common operation is done by any user, the executable files can be shared in the RAM of the server so that the user’s hard drive doesn’t have to seek all over Creation to find everything,” he explained. “So, instead of LibreOffice taking 10s to open its window on an old PC, it can happen in less than 2s. Users notice that.”

In short, “when I converted a bunch of XP machines to GNU/Linux, my administrative workload plunged because GNU/Linux just keeps on working,” Pogson concluded. “No Patch Tuesdays. No malware. No constant re-imaging. No replacing PCs every few years. We even tripled the number of PCs in the system and still the workload was trivial.”

‘People Are Shocked It’s Not Windows’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack also singled out the Xfce desktop, but with a different distro.

“If (and I mean IF) all of the apps they need will be there, then I would suggest starting with Mint + Xfce,” Mack told Linux Girl. “It is relatively lightweight on older hardware, and you can put the button bar on the bottom so things arefamiliar for XP users.

“Seriously, people are shocked when they watch me use my PC and find out it’s not Windows,” he added.

‘This Is Expert Territory’

One of the big challenges in getting Linux working in a business desktop environment is that “managing Linux workstations is just different than it is for Windows workstations,” Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl.

“Unfortunately, this is expert territory, so you are likely to need a couple of expert admins instead of an army of minimally competent ones,” he asserted.

However, “numbers win out over quality in terms of price, so you are likely to save quite a bit of money by having a few expert admins design and maintain your Linux desktop environment rather than have Windows workstations,” Travers predicted.

‘Better Off With Out-of-Date XP’

Last but not least, SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet wasn’t so sure.

“Until I can hand a customer a Linux box and be assured that five years from now the drivers will still be in 100 percent working order, there is no comparison,” hairyfeet said. “In fact, if the choice is running XP with a third-party browser and antivirus versus running Linux? I’d still vote for XP — it will last longer without major breakage.”

In short, “the answer is simple,” hairyfeet said. “Unless you have skilled Linux gurus on hand that are willing to put in the hours OR you spend more than Windows on support contracts for Red Hat? Then all you will end up with is headaches and failures.

“At the end of the day, until someone makes MASSIVE improvements to the desktop user experience, software and driver stability, and ease of use,” he concluded, “any company would be better off with out-of-date XP or buying Win 7 and using XP mode for unsupported software.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


    • Then take The Hairyfeet Challenge and post it to youtube, otherwise all you are doing is spewing Dogma and anecdotes and are no different than a religious loon spouting scripture.

      The challenge is simple, easily reproduceable, and can be done by anybody with any $50 or less PC picked up off of CL…yet even after 5 years nobody will accept the challenge, why? Because you KNOW that your OS will FAIL HARD. To make it easier for you (since you may not know how to Google) here is the challenge..

      Take ANY mainstream (not LTS, because even Ubuntu advises against mainstream users using LTS) from FIVE years ago, this simulates a 5 year typical lifecycle. This BTW is less than HALF a windows support cycle, so I’m cutting linux a break. Lets say you use Ubuntu, that would be Ubuntu 9.10 and can be downloaded from their archive. Install it on ANY PC, desktop or laptop (NOT VM as that isn’t real hardware and comes with special drivers) that has a wireless card. Wireless is required because more and more mainstream users are ditching wireless and nobody wants a laptop that doesn’t have wireless, do they?

      During this phase you are the system builder so CLI (which is usually required because Linux driver support is poor) IS ALLOWED. Once its installed you are no longer the system builder but THE USER, so like a windows user you are ONLY allowed to use the GUI. You then get to "enjoy the freedom" of using nothing but the GUI (because if you can’t even update the thing without CLI you’re no match for windows are you) of updating to current…with ubuntu that is SEVEN RELEASES, just FYI. You will film this and post it to youtube, you only have to upload the final install process of each release and a pic of the device manager showing working hardware, but the complete video should be hosted on dropbox to prove you aren’t faking it.

      Of course you won’t do this, know why? Because with just HALF the windows lifecycle Linux WILL FAIL HARD and puke on its own drivers! So if you think I’m wrong, don’t be a coward, PROVE IT. Either step up or let everyone know that you have no confidence in your OS…which is it? Oh and just FYI I did this exact same test with windows, going from XP- Win 8, that is nearly TRIPLE what you are being asked to do and…drumroll…the drivers ALL WORKED at the end! XP required driver installs but from Vista on up the drivers were included and installed by first boot, I look forward to seeing your proof.

      BTW with the death of XP over 100 million PCs no longer have a supported OS, Linux gains from this? ZERO SHARE, the latest numbers don’t even show one tenth of a percentage point in growth. Your OS can’t even gain when the other guy practically hands you the field, what does that tell you about the quality of your product?

        • After five years, nobody has taken up ‘the hairyfeet challenge’?

          I’m not surprised.

          I’ve been using linux since 2000 odd, and only occassionally have I run ‘upgrade’ type tools. It’s much more less hassle to do a fresh install and tell the installer not to format the home partition, ’cause it’s data that is important, not drivers.

          Your position has some small merit though, I skipped Ubuntu 12.04 as I had an issue related to the Broadcom 4303 wireless card driver defaulting to the AM erican setting so it could not see the wireless access point as it was outside the permited range in the US (but not the EU). Not a big issue I just switched to another distro. I could not do so with my XP partition though, it also refused to connect, and even plugging it into a wired ethernet link failed to pick up any updated drivers to allow it to work so I had to put it out of its misery.

          If I had the time, the spare machine and the patience for such a pointless challenge I might try it, but you’ve failed to anticipate that the ‘ideal linux’ tends to wander between distros over time. i.e. Ubuntu was the favourite for a while, followed (so Mint users tell me) by Mint and before that, Mankdriva(Mandrake) etc. It ‘s not like Windows, with one Mega-corporate owner, able to direct and influence what gets worked on. Linux is produced mostly by volunteers, and so they generally work on what interests them or what they see as needing to be done within their own time.

          I’d be surprised if there are many windows users aside from competent people such as yourself who have ever done an upgrade, it’s generally ‘buy a new machine’ with the new version already installed.

          Linux is making inroads with the demise of XP and the Windows8 ‘grand’ experiment, it’s just not called Linux. Look for Chrome, Android, FirefoxOS and Sawfish. And with the quiet rise of Tizen.

          • You can tapdance and spin all you want, the simple fact is if you can’t find A SINGLE DISTRO, not one, that can pass a challenge that isn’t even HALF of the support cycle of Windows? Than it isn’t a suitable replacement now is it?

            The entire "Linux is a suitable replacement" argument is nothing but anecdotes and bullshit, no different than saying "all people should forge their own silverware" because there is 0.1% of the population that has the skills to forge their own silverware. the average user, be they home or business user either doesn’t have the ability to NOR do they want to spend countless hours learning to, in no particular order..

            1.- ascertain the exact make/model/rev of every single piece of hardware they own, 2.- Do a step by step systemic diagnosis to figure out what EXACTLY is causing a driver to fail, 3.- discover how to use search engines and forums in conjunction with 1 to find drivers for a failed piece of hardware, 4.- understand bash scripting enough to edit the code for the driver so they can tweak said code to work with their system.

            Like it or not Windows doesn’t make the users deal with any of that. Oh I have no doubt we’ll hear some more anecdotes and BS but there is a REASON why Windows is the #1 desktop and its not marketing, its because for the vast majority Windows will work from RTM to EOL without fail, see how many are holding onto XP because even after 12 years of updates it STILL runs day after day with 100% working drivers and no failures.

            The Hairyfeet Challenge so honestly be trivial for Linux to pass and the fact that after FIVE years there have been ZERO who have taken the test and passed? Well that more than anything I can possibly say shows that Linux is a hobbyist programmer’s OS and not ready for the masses. The challenge is so stacked in favor of Linux it isn’t even fair, only 5 years of support instead of the reality which is 7-10 years for modern multicores, NO support for printers,scanners, and other devices that are in most homes and SMBs, and no file and printer sharing which with Windows Homegroup has become commonplace. yet with al of these advantages Linux can’t even offer a lousy 5 years of updates without crapping all over its own drivers…what does that say about the quality of the OS?

  • Your column is (at times) like a barrel of the finest wine.

    Q: "What does one get when one adds a cup of fine wine to a barrel of sewage?" A: "A barrel of sewage."

    Q: "What does one get when one adds a cup of sewage to a barrel of fine wine?" A: "A barrel of sewage."

    Every time your resident screwdriver-shop-owning paid troll adds his THIMBLEfull of sewage to your otherwise barrel of fine wine, Twinkletoes turns your–and all your other experts’ barrel of fine wine into excrement.

    But you and your editors already know this. And you know that we know.

    Don’t toss Twinkletoes overboard because he’s been figured out long ago; keep him because he’s a barrel of sewa…, er, laughs.

    • I’m assuming you’re referring to HarryFeet, which if you are I agree. It’s obvious no one takes him serious on Soylent, hardly anyone ever bothers to respond to him because all he does it try to start arguments, and I know no one took him serious on /.

      I’ve been installing and using Linux on both new and old machines, Laptops and franken desktops, for over seven years now and never once have I had a driver issue. It’s clear he’s parroting FUD that’s been going around for the better part of 20 years, but hasn’t been true for at least 10. I’ve also experienced my fair share of driver issues with all of the windows incarnations. Windows 2000 and Vista being the worst. XP didn’t break the mold in that respect either, it was a PoS until at least service pack two came out.

      That said I’m definitely not on the side that Linux is ready for corporate PCs, certainly individuals within a corporate environment could make the switch, but to move an entire business all at once over is inviting trouble. There’s bound to be some, "you can’t make me" people that are going to find and/or makeup and exploit issues and just generally be a PITA for anyone working in the IT department. "ZOMG!!! My header font is 1 px bigger in this Libre office CRAP than it was in saintly word. DOOMMMMM!!!!!"

      Move a couple people at a time, offer the "special" training, associate the move with good performers and people will be jealous they weren’t chosen as one of the few to use a newer much more productive tool. Then when their turn comes around they’ll be excited rather than being a dissenter.

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