I used to think that installing Microsoft products was fairly easy. In fact, even though I am a self-confessed fan of *nix operating systems over Windows, if you’d have asked me a while ago I would have said that installing Windows was easier than installing a Linux operating system.
But I now have a much different opinion…
My sister doesn’t have a computer, and I had one sitting in the spare room, so I decided to give it to her. The snag was, of course, that at the time it had FreeBSD running on it. Great operating system for servers, not brilliant for people who don’t know much about computers! So, I thought I would reinstall my copy of Windows XP on it, and give it to her. In the past, I’ve never had a problem installing Windows on computers (I’ve installed 95, 98, 2000 and XP several times each on various different computers without any problems). This time, though, something was different: the filesystem wasn’t formatted with a partition which Windows could recognise (Windows can’t read Unix partitions, although Unix can read some Windows partitions).
When I tried to start up the setup, it just came up with a blank screen. “Ok”, I thought, “I’ll try removing the Unix partition.” I booted using my Ubuntu live CD, and used fdisk to remove the partition, and in its place created a Windows (FAT32) partition. Great, I could boot into the installer! But when the Windows installer had copied the files and rebooted, I got the message: “Error loading operating system”. I did a bit of searching around, and found a few things I could try. None of them worked.
So, I tried rebooting using my live CD again, and this time complete removed any partitions on the disk. This time, when Windows rebooted during the installation process it came up with the message “NTLDR Not found”. Again, did a bit of searching around but couldn’t find a solution to the problem.
In the end I had to boot using my live CD and use the Unix ‘shred’ utility to complete destroy any data on the hard disk. Then, Windows actually was able to install properly. All in all, the process took a few hours over several days and a lot of cursing at Microsoft!
But it doesn’t end there. At work, we recently bought a new laptop which had Windows Media Centre Edition on it. Don’t ask me why we bought a laptop with Media Centre on it, I think it was just because it was cheap! Anyway. We didn’t want Media Centre, so we uninstalled it and instead attempted to install Windows XP Professional. Sorry, no. It got to the installation screen, and then came up with a message saying no hard disks were installed. What? Windows just booted of that freakin’ hard disk, how can you say there was no hard disk?!!!
Long story short, after much frustration we eventually had to take it back to the place where we bought it and get them to re-format and re-install.
Anyway, going back to what I was saying about the difference between Windows and *nix installations – in both of those scenarious above I tried a *nix distribution, and it worked flawlessly. Linux seems to have much better hardware support out of the box than Windows, and supports a wider variety of filesystems etc. The bottom line is, if you want your installation to “just work”, I’d recommend using a Linux distribution like Ubuntu (it should also be pointed out that my installation of FreeBSD was absolutely painless as well). Microsoft just make too many assumptions about your computer when they do an installation, which can make it a nightmare at times (we all know that to assume is to make an ass out of you and