Almost 5 years have passed since I erased my Microsoft Windows partitions to switch to Mandriva Linux (Mandrakelinux 9.1 at that time). And I never regretted it. However, I try to keep myself informed of what happens in the Windows world, just to be able to help relatives when they're in trouble. So I keep an eye of all the stuff I don't use on Linux: anti-spywares, anti-adwares, anti-viruses, anti-everything.

Yesterday, I had a Windows box to cure. Randomly, some Internet Explorer windows would pop up, and bring the whole machine down to its knees, eating a few hundred megabytes of memory, and causing lots of swapping. I could download Firefox, then killed all the iexplore.exe processes, and was able to browse the web to find a new antivirus and antispyware to see what was going on. Using Firefox, no ads appeared.
All this made me remember why Windows is a nightmare to maintain.

Here's what I was painfully reminded:

Finding what is wrong is extremely time consuming. If you're not the person who installed the program, you have no way to know from what the "add/remove programs" tells you, what a program really does. No description. No file list. Nothing. So you can't just uninstall everything that has a name you don't know/like. You're then left to hours and hours of scanning, in the hope that you chose the right tools, and that they will detect the annoying software that causes the problem. Well in fact, it didn't happen. Neither the antispyware not the antivirus could catch it.

What was utterly annoying, was the fact that I left the computer on the whole night to let the antivirus perform a complete scan, but that this piece of sh*t just stopped at 35% to show a popup asking me what it should do with the virus it had found (in a quarantine zone of an older antivirus). I really would have preferred it had scrolled the whole disk and asked me afterwards, or that it had taken a temporary decision for me just to ask me all the questions at the very end. But no. You have to stay if from of the antivirus, or come regularly during the 4 hours it will scan the 146GB of data stored on the disk. Nice.

So, after a few hours of scanning the hard drive, I got sick of that and stopped the scans. Looking at the name on the popup's title bar, I could find a clue to determine from the configuration panel what was the name of the annoying crapware. That was an MSN Messenger addon. Uninstalling it, everything went fine again. Well, excepting the normal Windows "rot" problem. Having to wait for so long to just have my computer started would make me mad. That makes me think that for 90% of normal Windows users, Linux would indeed start quickly enough. A freshly installed Windows box boots faster, but after 2 months of installing/uninstalling software, Linux wins hands up.

Sometimes, I think of what the Linux distros landscape would be if it reached a critical mass, like 20% of the desktop world. Will those threats shatter my tranquility again ? People using a computer just install every software they can find, and Linux won't change that I think. So even if using only Free Software protects me, third party vendors will start distributing crapware to inexperimented users, and all this will start over again...

For the moment, I enjoy just being a dumb user that just wants something that works. And Linux distros are currently good at that, even if I think they're still too focused on what in new instead of what is bug-free. But overall, these last 5 years have been a much funnier experience using Free Software. Software that you use, and make you feel that there's real people behind it. And that they care about you. The biggest difference I see between these two worlds now is that in the Windows/proprietary world, by default, you can't trust that new software you haven't heard about before. In the Linux/Free Software world, by default, you trust it, because having the source, even if you don't read it, is a mark of trust. Hope this will never change.