Zak Stephens

Breaking up with Windows

I inherited my first computer when I was about 10 years old. It was a beige-and-aluminium artifact from a time when HP meant Hewlett-Packard and IBM would have you know that you were getting exactly what you paid for out of your “PC clone”.

I didn’t use it for anything important – I drew crappy pictures in Paint, wrote crappy stories in WordPerfect, did… Something? In Toy Story 2 Print Studio (what do you do in Toy Story 2 Print Studio?) and played StarCraft and a snowboarding game I got in a box of Nutri-Grain that rendered in software and ran like shit.

My PC ran Windows 98.

I still have the disc for some reason. Not StarCraft though, a "mate" borrowed it in high school and never gave it back.

As most kids do, I survived until high school. Here, I discovered thumb drive culture – flash games, emulators, piracy and viruses, all a copy away on Windows XP.

Because you needed XP – the old 98 toaster at home didn’t know what to do with the 256MB USB stick included in my booklist, and I wanted to use it for games! So, when I tracked down a white CD-R with “Windows XP Professional” and a license key scribbled on it in sharpie, I upgraded. Now, my PC ran slower, looked like a Fisher-Price toy, and played the shit out of some flash games.

XP saw me through three or four shitty computers, which I used over the course of about five years. It was where I cut my teeth – first, on computers in general, and later, on computer programming (HTML and Game Maker, please don’t laugh).

Come my last year of high school, I finally had the money to buy a computer that didn’t suck. After an hour-long conversation in a computer shop with the Simpsons Comic Book Guy about the trailer for Prometheus, I left with a coupon for a one new laptop, which I got a week later. Despite assurances to the contrary, the machine only had a dual core processor, and so ran Skyrim pretty poorly. It sucked, to be honest, but it didn’t matter; I played a lot of Skyrim anyway.

My laptop came with Windows 7 – the new XP.

To this day, I’ll fight anyone that disagrees that 7 is slower and more slapped together than XP was, but like its ancestor (not that one) it does what you want and gets out of your way. And I still think it’s pretty; it looks nicer than Windows 8 ever did, at least. I got used to it eventually, and that was it; whenever I was using Windows from then onward, it was Windows 7.

My personal development with Windows more or less ended there. I used Windows 7 through university, learned to program in Visual Studio, graduated and got a job wrestling spaghetti in a .NET shop. Now, when I use Windows, I still use Windows 7, if I can help it.

I have been exposed to newer versions, of course. I even run the travesty known as Windows 10 on my work computer. But, before I say any more about Redmond’s mistakes, a quick tangent:

Meet my new computer, Piplup.

Piplup uses the stocky, white H200 Mini-ITX case from NZXT.

Like all of my computers, Piplup is named after a Pokemon, because you have to put something in the “hostname” box and I’m a real adult, damn it! (Please don’t tell Nintendo, I don’t want to get sued and don’t tell me they wouldn’t.) I’ll get rid of the rainbow lights when I work out how, and I might yet swap the Wraith Prism cooler for something that doesn’t sound like a hive of bees when I play Doom.

Piplup does not run Windows.

Because, while I was at university, and Microsoft was taking turns giving different CEOs the chance to shoot the company in the foot, I found Linux. And like a reformed man at an AA meeting with the good book in his hand, I cast off the shackles of (software) propriety and was born again into the religion (definitely a cult) of capital-F Free software. Hallelujah.

And why? Well, Linux is better.

But also because Windows had changed. Sure, Microsoft was always a fairly seedy company, but Windows? What was once a fairly solid, honest, if janky software line had been perversely transformed into a manipulative, barely functional chimera of obsolete features and contemporary corporate malice, utterly beset by bloatware and spyware.

Who had the idea to turn Clippy 2 into a fucking wiretap? For God’s sake.

My introduction to The Unix Way at university was the start of an awkward dual-booter phase that lasted until a few of weeks ago. I was trapped, like many others; a Linux man beholden to the long-time gatekeeper of PC gaming. Because Linux? It languished in the catch 22 of any platform without a game library: nobody made games for it because nobody played games for it because nobody made games for it. To play PC games, I needed a Wintendo. In this climate, how could I not continue dual-booting?

But, a couple of things changed recently.

1. Linux graphics drivers don’t suck anymore

Nvidia has been good here for a pretty long time, but who would have thought that Team Red, AMD, the comeback kid, would put out an open-source driver which would outperform their own proprietary extensions? Built right into the kernel, no less, so you get it by default. Sure beats fglrx.

2. Proton exists

My boy, Punished Gabe, took the time out from releasing card games nobody cares about to drop the best chance Linux has yet had to claim Microsoft’s title as the system powering the game toasters of the masses.

I’m not quite sure what Proton is – it’s Wine and DXVK, and they hired the guy who did FNA, so maybe a bit of that, and a couple of other Windows to Linux compatibility tools, rolled into one package, designed for video games. It’s not perfect, but most games I care about without a native port just work on Linux now, and it’s getting better all the time.

These tools are the special sauce desktop Linux was always missing. It’s always been good at (pretty much) everything else, but now it’s good at games too. And that’s all I was waiting for.

So, I think I am done with Windows now, for real.

I’m out.

I may be nostalgic for how it used to be, but I’ve only ever been here for the third-party software, and I can say without reservation that Ubuntu does most things better. I think it’ll do “being Windows” better when Microsoft eventually gets around to killing all the old Win32 stuff, too.

So long, Sweaty Steve.

(Steve Ballmer demonstrates that he is the last living specimen of Homo Erectus man.)

It’s been a ride.

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