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Does this Look Infected? (My Struggles with Failing to Replace Windows 10 with GNU/Linux)

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9 months ago

For a while, it has been a joke in the FOSS community that Windows is not as much an operating system as it is a trojan/virus, thanks to Microsoft's anti-competitive practices and how difficult it is to remove it (with some even making detailed comparisons of the typical characteristics). Recently, I had an experience from which I concluded that there is a lot of truth to this sentiment.

The following definitions of a virus and a trojan are given by Fifth Geek:

A Virus

  • is written in such a way as to alter the system of the computer operation without the knowledge or the permission of the user.

  • might replace some executable files along with a copy of the infected virus file.

  • can infect network servers as well as desktop computers alike.

A Trojan

  • deceives the computer user into thinking it is something desirable or legitimate, but it has malicious intent.

  • looks like a genuine application, but is destructive.

  • can cause loss or even theft of the user’s personal information and data.

  • gives a backdoor entry to your computer system through which malicious programs or users can have access to your system and steal your personal or confidential information.

Microsoft Windows

  • is written in such a way to alter the system of the computer operation without the knowledge or the permission of the user: You cannot stop it from installing updates, which slow down your computer to the point of being unusable and have detrimental effects.

  • might replace some executable files along with a copy of the infected virus file: There are certain files (such as system updaters, genuine [dis]advantage/authenticity check and data-gathering spyware) that cannot be removed (or which Windows replaces if it finds them removed through the use of an external tool).

  • can infect network servers as well as desktop computers alike: Many retailers sell computers preinfected with Windows and do not offer bare-bones systems or installation of GNU/Linux as an option

  • deceives the computer user into thinking it is something desirable or legitimate, but it has malicious intent: Windows is rigid and not user-friendly; it's only purpose is to funnel money into the coffers of a Big Tech corporation and your personal data into its databases.

  • looks like a genuine operating system, but is destructive: It's a load of bloatware that will slow down your system and is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to remove.

  • can cause loss or even theft of the user’s personal information and data: Microsoft uses it (including Edge, which can't be removed) as a data-gathering tool, for selling to shadowy third parties (data brokers and warehouses).

  • gives a backdoor entry to your computer system through which malicious programs or users can have access to your system and steal your personal or confidential information: Windows contains known spyware that Microsoft calls "remote monitoring and assistance tools".

Concerning anti-competitive and impractical as that is, what follows is an account of my recent frustrations in attempting to remove Windows 10 from my new HP laptop and being prevented from replacing it with any of the GNU/Linux distributions for which I have installation DVDs.

It's just so damn difficult to even start the process, never mind succeed. Replacing XP and Windows 7 on older machines was a breeze by comparison. I've done it on many occasions. But no, giving people freedom of choice is a bad thing, as far as Microsoft is concerned.

"Why would you need another OS? Nah, man, you don't. Just trust our very good team of engineers who made our proprietary OS; they know what they're doing. Now pay us a ridiculously large amount of money for it."
— Steve Balmer, probably

At some point last year (2021), possibly September or October, I became concerned that my existing laptop (at least twelve years old, probably closer to sixteen) will soon give up the ghost. To guard against not having a working machine when that happens, I bought myself a new one. Unfortunately, it came infected with Windows 10 (as all pre-assembled machines do in this country; there's no way to get one without it unless building a tower oneself). Following a number of large and unwanted updates (which, of course, I could neither prevent nor disable since Windows does not allow me to do so), the machine now runs so slowly that it freezes/hangs and then BSODs if I run more than two apps at a time (one of which is in a console/terminal window). In order to get anything done, I just about have to use console-based commands and applications so as not to overload it. This makes using the machine impractical for work, since some aspects of it require editing graphics. (For this, I use GNU/Linux on my old laptop. However, the version I have there is a little too recent for the nVidia CUDA drivers to recognise the graphics card, so I need to downgrade that, I am aiming to back up my data on it and downgrade the OS this weekend and coming Monday.)

Having backed up my files on the new laptop, I spent the better part of an afternoon and night doing my level best to either downgrade the OS to Windows 7/XP (a compromise I was willing to accept) or install any version of Debian or Ubuntu GNU/Linux that I had to hand. My efforts only resulted in failure.

PartedMagic, my partition tool, would not boot into a state where X would run, no matter which option I picked. Various installation media could not find a hard drive. That's really strange, since Windows clearly boots and shows a storage device with space available.

For those installation media that do boot into a live desktop/installation process (mainly Ubuntu), my trackpad isn't recognised and I can't use the mouse for navigation. I have yet to try launching terminal through shortcuts, although the keyboard/keypad does work. I would go the text-mode installation route if it weren't for the fact that no storage device is detected. Why that is, I don't know. I can only assume that it's some proprietary/obscure SSD or that Windows has somehow locked it down so that it's undetectable by anything else.

It is this course of events, in addition to what else I know about Microsoft and its OS, that leads me to think that Windows is not so much an OS as it is a virus/trojan. It certainly has the hallmarks of one. Why Microsoft had to get greedy and go to all the effort of such anti-competitive practices to make installing something better, (instead of making their OS better, not worse), I don't know. That's just mean. Is GNU/Linux, which has only 2% of the world's user base, really such a huge threat to them?

It's so fucking frustrating trying to work around the obstacles they've put in place in the guise of "security". Just getting access to the BIOS to turn off all the crap took about half a day to get right. It's a pretty weird combination, falling just short of sacrificing a goat and a virgin to the eldritch god of bullshit:

  • Log into your Windows user account.

  • Wait for at least a couple of minutes while Windows starts up all sorts of services and programs you don't need it to.

  • When the taskbar shows up, eventually, click on "Start".

  • Click on "Power".

  • While holding down <Ctrl> + <Shift>, click on "Restart".

  • Wait for Windows to finish buggering around.

  • From the menu, select "Use External EFI Device" in order to boot from a USB device (flash drive or external DVD drive)

  • Make sure to change the boot order of your devices and disable both Secure Boot and Fast Boot, too, or else your machine will boot back into Windows.

If that's not weird enough, I ran the Windows-based installation launcher for Windows. I get the expected "continue installing Debian GNU/Linux" option when I reboot, but if I choose that, my screen goes blank after choosing an option from the menu and I can't revive it in any way (even if it's the "automated graphical install").

Unless I pay a professional IT company/guy to get GNU/Linux installed and running on the machine, which I currently can't afford, (or learn how to do everything I need to through console-based programs, such as those that use ncurses), it is effectively useless to me and a waste of money. I can't even run a VM, because it is just too power-/resource-hungry. I might as well be using (and developing for) FreeDOS.

As mentioned above, the only option available to me, as I see it, is to back up the files on my old laptop, downgrade the OS (from Ubuntu 18 to 16) and set up a development/Web server environment (including SSH, which I can hopefully access from my new laptop). I also want to install Manjaro for gaming, seeing as it sets up Steam/Proton/Vulkan from the get-go. That way, I at least have something I can use for getting work done, until such time as I can afford to build my own rig, devoid of Windows. (if I can get audio editing, gaming and software/Web development to work on GNU/Linux, I have no further use for Windows.) My concern is that, should that machine fail before I have a replacement (more a case of when than if), I don't have a workstation. Setting up some sort of regular rolling backup will minimise data loss, but it's no good having files but no hardware.

The only other thing I have is an old tower running Windows XP 64-bit. It's probably too under-powered for Windows 7 (not that I want to install that, anyway). Perhaps I should get it to dual boot with GNU/Linux as well, as a backup. The caveat with that machine is that it doesn't have a graphics card and isn't portable.

I'm done with laptops, portability be damned. I don't want to have to take an EE degree just to be able to open it up and access the parts (or pay someone else to because I don't have the requisite fine motor control). Next time I buy a PC (if I ever again get to the point where I can afford to, which is a long way off), it's definitely going to be a tower and I'll assemble it myself or go through a tech company and insist that they install GNU/Linux instead of Windows (because I don't want to deal with the hassle of that infection ever again). It just makes life too difficult (not that it isn't already). At this stage, I feel like taking a hammer to my tech for all the issues it has given me.

What would be really great (but extremely unlikely to happen) is if someone would sponsor me the money to purchase a rig I can use for both mining and work. I've got a case and hard drives I can use, but need to get a new motherboard, CPU and RAM.

As I see my current situation, the options available to me are these:

  1. Learn Powershell, C/C++ C#, F#, Python and Nim and build all my apps as console-only versions.

  2. Install Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), with a console-only version of Debian or one of the other supported distros. Learn bash, C/C++, Python and Nim and build/install console-only versions of my apps.

  3. Use a browser-/cloud-/Web-based OS/environment, such as Jolicloud (The caveat with that is in order to make maximum use of it, I need to have a fast and reliable Internet connection, which I don't.) Alternately, I learn PHP, ECMaScript, Angular, HTML5 and CSS3 and build all my apps using those technologies running on an Apache or NGINX server. I could also use Java and Tomcat.

At any rate, being forced to use Windows on my new laptop for the foreseeable future (because I cannot completely replace it with GNU/Linux) is far from ideal.

Anyway, I best press on with backing up my old laptop and getting it set up the way I want, before carrying on with work. Hopefully, the electricity supply will remain stable (as if), since the machine has practically no battery life any more (one of the reasons why I bought a new one). Unlikely as it is, maybe today might mark the start of my increased productivity and actually being able to get enough work done that I can earn a living. I have my doubts, but the only thing I can do is persist until the point where it pays off.

Snark out!

Lead image: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from/on Pexels

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