Monday 28 January 2008

Taking a look at Vista

Traditionally Microsoft software has ignored the fact other operating systems exist. Installing Windows will usually attempt to destroy any other non-Windows partitions, in a Darwineque way, and Windows certainly doesn’t come with anything like a boot manager that lets you select alternative operating systems (although it does offer a boot manager that lets you switch between versions of Windows installed on the disk).

Out in the real world Microsoft is making moves towards opening up and allowing competition. Is there evidence of that in Vista? While it might be a pipe dream to expect Vista to interoperate with other operating systems, is there evidence of toleration of other operating systems?

Of course not.

The installation partitioning tool identifies Linux partitions on the disk but isn’t quite sure what to do with them. It doesn’t identify them by name or file system but simply assigns them a number. But, for that matter, the partitioning tool doesn’t even identify existing NTFS partitions by name or file system. It’s not a particularly helpful piece of software.

Any changes you make to the partition system at this stage are carried out instantly. If you expect to make changes and then be asked to confirm them later, as with practically all Linux installation routines, then you’re in for a shock. There’s no room to experiment with different partition setups.

I installed Vista on a notebook computer that had Ubuntu Dapper installed as its main OS, alongside Windows XP Home. Did Vista install a boot loader that let me boot into my choice of operating systems? Of course not. The boot menu identified Windows XP on the same machine as an “Earlier version of Windows”, indicating a weird kind of snobbishness toward all other non-Vista OSes. Ubuntu definitely wasn’t on the list. To restore my ability to boot into it I’m going to have to reinstall GRUB from a rescue disc.

How about within Computer (aka “My Computer” in earlier versions of Windows). Once Vista was up and running, did it identify the ext3 partition? Did it, gulp, install file system drivers so I could access the contents of my ext3 file systems?

You know the answer.

It looks like the same-old Disk Management snap-in is available from the Computer Management console. As with Windows XP, this merely identified the ext3 and Linux swap partitions as “Healthy”, and reported then to be 100% free.

I’m not sure what excuse Microsoft offers for this lack of functionality. The main open source file systems are extremely established and popular, especially on servers. It wouldn’t be a huge task for Microsoft to provide rudimentary access, even if it’s simply read-only.

In some ways I’m not surprised. I know the nature of Microsoft. But if I ignore this, and pretend for a moment that I’ve no idea of how Microsoft operates, then it’s actually quite shocking that Vista doesn’t interoperate at all with other operating systems. Why not? Doesn’t Microsoft want its product to appeal to a sizable section of users, on the desktop and server, who use Linux?

Over the next few days and weeks I’ll examine more of how Vista interoperates with Linux (and vice versa), so check back. I’m also going to take a look at some of Vista’s features compared to Linux alternatives.

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