Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 22/09/19

You Can't Fight The System(s) *NOW WITH ADDENDUM!*

I used to work exclusively in IT for the Depratment, but I was shuffled out of that gig in 2008 (a process described here and here).

Since then, my support for colleagues was provided on a totally ad hoc basis (i.e., I wasn't paid any more for it), until I was allowed the terminally self-important title of 'Digital Ambassador' towards the end of 2018 (for which I'm not paid any more either; see a pattern here, boys and girls?).

My previous experience in that line of work had served me well when it came to solving my own domestic technological arrangements, but as time has gone by such knowledge as I had gained has gradually become obsolete to the point of sometimes being an absolute hindrance.

I'm beginning to wonder if that is what I'm facing now.

You see, the thing is that my secondary PC here at JudgeCo™ World Headquarters is an old Windows XP rig which I've had since November 2007 (this one). Now, XP finally went out of support over five years ago, so no more security updates for it were forthcoming. The risk to me was minimal, because for nearly seven years I've been using my Windows 7 rig for just about everything.

The trouble now is that Windows 7 itself goes out of support in January 2020, so I am faced with a fairly imminent situation whereby I'll be using an operating system which will not be patched any further. One of the big things I learned in the Depratment is the importance of up-to-date security, and it is one thing I will not compromise upon.

I have no intention at all of getting a new system because that would inevitably mean Windows 10. I've used it at work for the past couple of years and - whilst recognising that it is quite robust (Windows operating systems seem to alternate between the very good like XP to the appallingly bad like Me and Vista) - contains far too much "Gosh, wow!" stuff for my taste, tells far too many tales back to Microsoft, and - as my old oppo Phillip has recently discovered, and as I can confirm from work - has a nasty tendency to void your settings every time there is even a minor update and think that it's doing you a favour by doing it.

So, what options are left? Well, the most obvious is that I should switch to an open-source operating system. This, in effect, means Linux (although other O-S Osses are available), so I thought I'd use the XP machine for a trial run. This is going to be absolutely essential because I have read just enough on the subject as to be utterly intimidated by the prospect. I mean, the vocabulary, m'dears! I'd always thought that sudo was either two-thirds of a number puzzle or a description of Jonathan Jones' latest bilge subjected to the Grundiad's customary attention to accurate communication; and talk of 'mounting partitions' was clearly a reference to a facility used to aid the usual shenanigans at office parties. Familiarise myself, I was going to have to.

Luckily, there are ways in which you can try one of the so-called 'flavours' of Linux without actually installing it, namely, viz. and to whit, running it from a DVD or CD, and this was the first step I took.

So I went to Ubuntu's website and downloaded the latest Long-Term Support version. As it's a complete operating system, it's quite a lot to download - just over 2Gb - so it took the better part of two hours to come in over my increasingly poor broadband. Once safely arrived, I burned the image file to a DVD-R, powered up the XP rig, went in to the BIOS to change the boot order so that it would load up from the DVD drive, put said disc in and rebooted.

This is where the problems started. The black screen showed odd error messages about not being able to find IRQs and about being unable to do something with 'lfence'. After a minute or two, though, the Ubuntu splash screen appeared with its little row of dots flashing on and off to indicate - so I thought - that it was loading...

...but that was all that happened. Figuring that, obviously, it would take longer to load from a DVD drive than it would from a hard drive, I left it. In fact, I left it for over twenty minutes. Nowt down. I went back to my W7 PC and started searching for answers to the error messages which had come up earlier, only to find that nothing there made any sense even in the few instances which referred to running Ubuntu from the DVD rather than installing it (it hadn't even let me get to the stage where it offered me the choice). Disconcerted, I rebooted the XP, went back into the BIOS to change the boot order back, removed the DVD-R and shut down.

Perhaps, I pondered, there was an 'issue' with trying to run Ubuntu on old hardware, although it seemed that the XP had more than enough resources to handle it. So the next day I went and downloaded Kubuntu, which is a lighter variant of Ubuntu, clocking in at just under 2Gb. Again I burned the .iso file to DVD-R, powered up the XP machine and waited...

...and found the same thing happening again; the errors about IRQs and 'lfence', followed eventually by the splash screen and nothing more.

It was clear by now that it would be necessary to approach the matter in a more oblique way. I remembered that, some years ago - possibly on the XP rig, possibly on its predecessor, the Windows 98 (Second Edition) machine which was my first PC way back in 2001 - I had successfully run Puppy Linux, which was an even lighter 'flavour' of Linux. If there were any questions about the hardware, I thought, this should get around it. I downloaded the latest version, burned it to a CD-R (it's designed to run off a CD rather than a DVD), fired up the XP (which by now was getting a degree of attention that it hadn't had for years) and loaded it up.

I was still getting some errors, but I stuck with it as it seemed to be loading successfully despite.

Hurrah! I now found myself sitting in front of the Puppy Linux desktop with the settings screen ready for me to make my adjustments...

...except that now the mouse and the keyboard wouldn't work. For fuck sake! I went back to my main machine and did a bit more searching, but without finding anything of use, comprehensible or otherwise. I did a hard reboot of the XP, changed the boot settings back, then powered it off.

And that, chums, is where I find myself with it at the moment. And I have a message for all the evangelists for open-source operating systems across whom I have come online and elsewhere:

How the Fedora do you expect people to adopt your software if - even with a modicum of knowledge and a soupçon of confidence - it is so much of an absolute sod to get working? I know that there is a huge variety of 'flavours' (including, now, from my own experience, 'wormwood', 'gall' and 'arsenic'), but they all seem to share the characteristic of being beyond the wit of the even slightly above-average domestic user to implement.

Oh, I'll probably keep trying, because that Windows 7 support deadline is getting ever nearer; but I can't say that I'll be doing it with any enthusiasm...or hope.


ADDENDUM (23/09/19)

After putting this piece to bed last night (immediately prior to joining it, metaphorically speaking), I remembered that back in the days when Usenet was still A Thing (July 2004, to be precise), Lisa Williams - aka 'CCA' - challenged the denizens of alt.fan.pratchett to produce a computer-geek version of Paul McCartney's atrocity against music, We All Stand Together (you know, the one with the frogs in it).

Here was my contribution:

XP Home, DOS and risc,
How many OSes will fit on a disk?
Interface to interface
We all scan together.
AVG, ZoneAlarm,
Working together to keep you from harm.
Port by port, file by file,
They call spam together.

Running your defrag at night
(Zzz zz zz zz...)
(La la la la)
By morning it's right,
Your system is tight.

Switch to Moz, Thunderbird,
Don't use IE 'cos it stinks like a turd.
OE creaks, grinds and leaks,
They crash-land together.

Installing ME on your drive
(Dumb, dumb, dumb, DUMB, dumb, dumb)
(La la la la)
Performance will dive,
Your PC won't thrive.

XP Home, DOS and risc,
How many OSes will fit on your disk?
If it's big, like 80 gig,
It all crams together.

<big finish> It all...hangs...toGETHER!