Monday, March 30, 2009


Just a note that I've fixed the blog comments settings, so now you don't have to have an account or identify yourself to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DLLs and booting

My last post about Windows v. Linux boot times garnered some interesting comments - some on other blogs. What strikes me, though, is not that my experience is fairly typical (Linux boots faster) but that people reported such varying boot times for Windows. Some users claim 15 to 25 minutes to boot Windows, others say it takes only a minute.

I understand that it depends on what software has been installed - a "bare" install takes very little time to boot (from power switch to desktop) while systems that have a lot of applications installed take much more time to start up.

Why is that? It doesn't make sense to me that having more applications loaded would affect how long it takes Windows to boot up.

I'm sure I'll hear about DLLs. Linux has shared libraries, which are essentially the same. On Fedora, the Linux distro I am most familiar with, there are lots of shared libraries to support the many applications that get installed on the system: GIMP, Firefox, OpenOffice, Evolution, GTKpod, chat, etc. But Linux system performance obviously didn't suffer from having all these shared libraries installed.

What's unique about how Windows uses DLLs that having many applications installed can make a system slow to boot?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A minute faster

I promised in my last post that I'd run a more detailed test and get back to you ...

My wife's Linux laptop is an IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad T43 (model 1875M2U, purchased in early 2005.) It has an Intel Centrino CPU (1.86 GHz) with 512 MB memory. She is running a generic install of Fedora 10, with all the default startup processes left running. This is how the system would be set up if any non-expert user had installed it. More importantly, it's what my Linux laptop would have looked like if I could run Linux at work.

My Windows laptop is a Dell Latitude D430 (purchased in late 2007 or early 2008) so it's about 3 years newer than my wife's laptop. It has an Intel Core2 CPU (1.20GHz) with 2 GB memory. I'm running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3, installed for me by our desktop support folks at work, using the standard "manager laptop" image. This is exactly the same image that every other manager at work is using. I don't know if any of the usual startup services have been disabled.

In short: the Linux laptop is about 3 years older than the Windows laptop. The Core2 CPU has a slightly different design than the Centrino, so you can't directly compare GHz speeds here.

At work, I'm a manager, so I typically only run things like Office and Firefox to do my work. Every morning, my startup routine is the same: boot my laptop, start Firefox, login to our webmail system and check for any urgent emails. I also login to our web-based calendar system to look at my meetings for the day. So it shouldn't be a surprise that I measure the time by which I can start doing work by how long it takes to boot my laptop and run Firefox.

This afternoon, I ran a side-by-side boot test, using a simple "minute:second" stopwatch to see how long it took to boot each system. The results are interesting:

Powering on both laptops simultaneously (a "cold boot") it took about the same amount of time for both to prompt me for the hard drive encryption password. Windows was ready for me a fraction of a second earlier, so I typed my username / password there first before typing my passphrase into the Linux laptop.

Windows felt like it was taking a long time to boot. I've previously discussed how you never really know if you've launched a program or opened a document in Windows, or merely selected it. While booting, Windows doesn't tell you what it's doing. You just get the "cylon" progress bar, so at least you know Windows hasn't hung. (Linux has a neat little progress bar while it's booting.)

Surprisingly, both laptops also prompted for login at about the same time (1:15 after boot.) But Windows was deceiving; after pressing ctrl-alt-del to start the login process, it took several seconds before the username / password dialog box came up. As a result, I had already typed in my username and password on the Linux laptop by the time Windows was really ready for me.

As soon as either laptop presented me with my desktop, I immediately launched Firefox. The Linux laptop brought up Firefox and presented me with a web page (2:10) much faster than Windows (3:07). So, about a minute faster.

As a point of interest, I was able login to our webmail system at work, read an email, and delete it in the extra time it took Windows to start Firefox. And that's on a laptop that's 3 years older.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boot takes too long

I haven't timed it, but Windows takes forever to boot up. When I used to run Linux, I had tweaked my system to not start unused services like sshd, nfs, rpc, and so on. My Linux system always booted very quickly, from a cold boot to login prompt. But on Windows, it takes a very long time. And Windows isn't done once I get the login prompt - launching Firefox takes a while, too. Since I use the web browser for my work email, that's a long wait before I can start work in the morning.

My wife still runs a Linux laptop at home, and when I upgraded her system to Fedora 10, I opted not to remove the extra services from the boot process. This was mostly because I was being lazy, but partially because I wanted to see how quickly a "vanilla" Fedora 10 system would boot. Her laptop is about 2 years older than the Windows laptop I'm running, and hers boots in far less time.

I think I'll have to run a side-by-side test to compare how long it takes my wife's old laptop and my newer Windows laptop to boot, login, run Firefox, and bring up a web page. It should be very interesting. I'll post the results here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

That's not a yes-no question

This morning, I was trying to tidy my "My Documents" folder on our network drives. I write a lot of documents, and regularly will "Save As" to a new filename (document1.doc, document2.doc, ...) in case I need to jump back to a really old version of my document. I'd eventually stacked up about 6 or 8 "backup" copies of a strategy document I'd written - so I selected "Cut" on each of the old copies, made a new directory called "Drafts", then tried to "Paste" those files into the new folder.

That's pretty standard for file management in a GUI - I'd done this countless times under Linux.

But under Windows, I got this interesting dialog box:

First of all, I was doing all my work in Windows Explorer (the file manager) not Internet Explorer, so I don't know why the dialog claimed it was from the web browser.

But the message "Do you want to move or copy files from this zone?" isn't a yes-no question. That's an either-or question! The errors on Windows make no sense to me, and this is a perfect example. I didn't want to lose my important work, even though I was only working with old drafts of a document. So I needed to be clear which button to press - if I pressed the wrong button, would Windows lose my files?

After a (long) while, I figured the question only made sense if it was asking "Do you want to move or copy files from this zone?" That is, do I really want to do this file operation? That's the only way I could read that question as a yes-no question. So I clicked Yes.

Sometimes these dialog boxes make me feel like I'm disarming a bomb. Click the wrong thing, and it's all over.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Something else that I find confusing in Windows is where to edit the preferences for an application. Under Linux, this was always located in the same place: the "Edit" menu. So to edit the preferences for a program, I clicked "Edit - Preferences".

In fact, the "Edit - Preferences" menu item is dictated in the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (Standard Menus.) So it's the same in every Linux application I used under Fedora.

Not so under Windows. It's under the "Tools" menu. It just doesn't make sense to put them there; the preferences and settings are not tools.

To add to the confusion, every Windows program calls the preferences and settings by a different name. Under Internet Explorer, it's "Tools - Internet Options", although you might think that menu item controls only your proxy settings (which it does) and not your home page and browser history. For Windows Explorer, preferences are in "Tools - Folder Options". Firefox calls it simply "Tools - Options".

Don't get me started on Office 2007 - it's a completely new paradigm! There are no "menus" in Office 2007, at least not as you normally think of menus. Instead, you access the settings for, say, Word 2007 by clicking on the program icon in the upper-left corner, then the "Word Options" button. It's a freaking button here instead of a menu item, like every other Windows program, but at least it's labeled to indicate what it does.