For the past few days I have been trying out the Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer Preview. For the most part, I would call Windows 8 a crap wreck, but it is not without a few advantages over Linux.
Last week when out in Bellevue to talk with Gabe Newell about Steam and the Source Engine on Linux, for being a former Microsoft employee his criticism was very surprising. As mentioned in last week's article, "Listening to Gabe Newell talk about Linux for hours made me wonder whether he was a former ex-Microsoft employee (where he actually did work in his pre-Valve days in the 90's) or the director of the Linux Foundation. His level of Linux interest and commitment was incredible while his negativity for Windows 8 and the future of Microsoft was stunning." His criticism of Windows 8 made me very curious to try out this upcoming Microsoft OS, and he also wanted to know what I thought of it, so as soon as I returned to Chicago I downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. In this article are just some of my brief thoughts as I tried it out for a few days.
I ended up installing Microsoft Windows 8 to an Intel Sandy Bridge laptop, which was sent over by Intel as part of their reference Software Development Platform for 2011. The installation process went smooth, but I continue to be amazed how long Windows takes to install compared to Ubuntu and other Linux distributions. Even using the Fedora installation DVD generally installs faster than Windows 8 did on this modern multi-core Intel laptop. At least with Windows installations, every time I have ever installed Windows (version 8 and prior) there have not been support problems. I still install Windows 7 from time-to-time when working on the limited Windows port of the Phoronix Test Suite or when conducting performance comparisons between Windows and Linux.
Unlike Linux, I've never had a display fail to light-up when booting the Windows installer (compared to open-source common Linux graphics driver issues on new hardware), never had an issue with Windows detecting the hard drive, never had to re-configure my BIOS with its settings for items like SATA/AHCI or ACPI, nor have I ever had to pass any special parameters to the Windows installer to get it to detect the hardware to either boot or get through the installation process. Windows 8 continues to be slow to install, but at least it seems Windows can always install. Gabe mentioned he has never been able to successfully install Linux on his first try, due to hardware issues or hitting other quirks.
Linux hardware support continues to improve and with that the level of open-source Linux hardware enablement when new hardware ships, but there is still a lot to be desired. Intel hit the head on the nail with the Ivy Bridge launch where I have yet to hit any Panther Point motherboard issues with support for them and the earlier Cougar Point chipsets having their kernel support land well in advance of the product launch. Intel's open-source Ivy Bridge graphics driver support was also first published last year and now at the time Ivy Bridge began to ship last month, there was support already found within Ubuntu 12.04. However, there are support improvements, better performance, and other features found in the more recent code (an article looking at the differences will be published on Phoronix this month).
Unfortunately, Linux users cannot upgrade their open-source graphics drivers without having to upgrade much of the stack, including the Linux kernel. Upgrading the Linux kernel could be scary for novice Linux users and sadly may not be regression free or upgrading to the latest kernel for better graphics support could cause compatibility problems with out-of-tree drivers, some virtualization platforms, and just other headaches. Meanwhile for the AMD Radeon HD 7000 series graphics cards, which have been shipping for months, there still is no fully working open-source graphics driver for Linux.