Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Animal In The Machine

Technically inclined readers will know that Microsoft has recently released the Beta 2 version of Windows Vista, the next generation of Windows. Given that Windows has not had a makeover in some years, and that our home laptop doesn't see too much work that could be considered 'mission critical' I decided to give it a go.

I lasted three days with Vista. Buggy, slow, unpredictable, harder on the eyes than the OS it replaces. However, the real story is not what leads someone to want to lose Vista, it's how difficult it is to do. Once the Beta is on your drive, there's no way to uninstall it. No problem, I thought to myself, I'll just reformat the hard drive and reinstall XP. I had (of course) backed up all our personal files and settings before the Vista adventure began.

Two attempts later and XP still wasn't recognising any hardware on the laptop during the install. Thankfully having internet access from my other machine I was able to search around, and determine that the XP CD that shipped with my computer didn't support the Intel CoreDuo CPU that was in my computer. The technical details of the next 5 hours, I will spare you.

However, the upshot of all this is that I have been thinking about how OSs are named and represented by members of the animal kingdom.

First, MacOS X. All versions of this OS are named after big cats. Sleek, elegant, powerful, fast, efficient, with no excess weight. The tiger and the jaguar are perfect metaphors for what is the best desktop OS on the market today. And of course, when it comes to security, who's going to attack a tiger?

Next, Linux: The Penguin. To the uninitiated, a slightly awkward and ungainly creature, and on land, perhaps that's a fair impression. But watch March Of The Penguins, or see them slide gracefully into the water and swim, and a different penguin emerges. Highly optimised for their environment, graceful, and benign. No penguin has ever set his sights on world domination. The perfect metaphor for the open source OS.

Finally Windows. Before someone coined the Vista name, this version was known as Longhorn. To me, this is a kind of sheep. And again this fits. Large, woolly, not very clever and born to follow, never to lead. Sheep are, of course, also prone to bloating. This describes Windows perfectly. Vulnerable to attack from many predators, Windows needs regular shearing to keep it down to size. And it's only tasty when it's very young. When it gets old, it gets tough and tasteless.

The next time I'm shopping for a computer or an OS, I'm going to be considering what kind of animal I'd like in the machine.