Thinking about windows distros

We know that Linux has a lot of advantages. We speak about performance, about design, about freedom to choose the provider that better match our needs. Sometimes we speak about the goodness of linux`s open source nature... But this goodness is something more than check the code, download and play it easily.

I remember that some years ago, I install at home a box for see films and play music. I use a light distro that has only the programs that I need for entertainment. I don’t remember the name of the distro (at this moment we can choose between several distros, sure), but the idea was use a customized distro for my purposes. Windows Media Center appears some years later. It was so late for my experiment. Really, the fact that we could have the possibility of specialize a Linux distribution is a key feature: you can customize the operating system just for the tasks that you need where a general purpose box will be not so much appropriate.

Another example of a customized linux distribution is Agnula. Agnula is a project that born on 2002 and was financiered by the European Commission and Red Hat. Agnula project is a linux distro tuned and used for music production. But Agnula involves more than applications. The kernel was patched for low-latency and other special features specials for make music. Now the link is down, but you can find its work in another kind of distros. Agnula is an example; the promise of Ubuntu is another.

We know other examples at the enterprise world. We use Oracle Enterprise Linux or Red Hat for Oracle Databases or high performance systems. I don’t remember any Java or Oracle based system that I design where I use a Windows Server for production. Why never a Windows box it`s my first choose? The answer is easy: we can only tune few aspects of a windows box, while with Linux we can control every aspect related to the implementation easily. Of course, the freedom to choose a provider, the other components of the ecosystem and the customer`s preferences are keys for choose the operating system. But thinking clearly, only in the technical stuff, a Linux flavor will be my first choose. If it`s vanilla flavored, better :)

The absent of tuning means less flexibility and less specific use. Sometimes we make a conceptual mistake: tuning is not only a performance question. Probably, tuning a Linux box will not represent more than the 5% of performance. We know that play with the limits, open files, by example, can define the frontier where you have a constraint at your system or an issue. If we can`t tune this limits, we have a constraint for serve pages even if the hardware could, by example. Other good example is play with the journal of the file system. At home or at a simple system this will don`t worry us. Imagine a System with Tb of documents…

Of course, the boys of Microsoft do some work in this aspect. I’m writing this post from one founder mini-note, with an XP tablet edition, and at office we have vista media center at the meeting room. But, really, is not enough.

Some days ago, I test a windows distro: WindowsUE. The author says that he close his page because the actions of Microsoft. You can read it in Spanish under Of course, you can find more versions out there from another people. There are a lot of modified windows such SuricataOS, VelenoOS ,biowindows or Angelical. This and other windows distributions have more or less the same features such less drivers, tweaks in the registry for stability and performance, the default programs are removed, and some of them has a special install GUI for unattended installation and some options.

We can analyze this situation. I have a lot of licenses of different Microsoft operating systems. Even I have some of this licenses that I don’t use because in some of my boxes I have installed Ubuntu. Why, if there is a good Windows tuner, that makes a really good Windows Distro, I can`t use it? This distro has an incredible performance, only the basic features that I need for some uses, and the better: you can find distros about 150 Mb each iso that can run comfortable on 64Mb pII boxes.

For test and show products to my customers, for example, I use virtual machines. This represents for me a lot of space (we speak about Gbs). Some many Gigabytes mean to me time and money: Time for copy, install and move the virtual machines. I spend money for RAM , harddisk space and, of course, time. I have low performance because I use a general purpose windows XP box. If I use the classic virtual machines, I have three options: use windows 2000, use this kind of tuned windows distros or use linux boxes. In a lot of scenarios, use a tuned windows distro will be the better option: easy, light and with the sufficient performance. I don’t need to carry so much unuseful binary (we speak about Gb) that I don’t use. If I don’t have this option, then better use linux.

This will be piracy?

But use a tuned distro of a Microsoft product isn`t a estrange practice for Microsoft. At windows mobile world, this is a common practice. At we can find distros for our HTC machines that match exactly what we want. The result of this practice is that there are a lot of cookers that cooks its own distro. Now, by example, for my HTC TYTN, we can use the Faira32 ROM with Windows Mobile 6.1: Faster, tuned and with more performance that the original from HTC. Probably, without this option, I would move to another kind of operating system.

The guys of Microsoft must evaluate if this way of understand an operating system is a piracy or really is a new practice that the market demands. I don’t think that this is an option. A kit for make your custom distro of windows and a more permissive license would make that a lot of people that now use other operating systems in specialized cases continue using some of the great features and products that relay on Microsoft Windows. Microsoft give us an option: windows XP embedded. But this option is more focused on the machines than targeted in our needs. I have the same feeling about the license, not suitable for follow the c2c and web 2.0 patterns focused on users.

Anyway, I will continue using my favorite’s linux distribution for my production environments. Every element at nature is tuned for a special purpose. Why not our systems? If Darwin were a Software architect probably wouldn`t use Windows: It`s only prepared for survive in a limited ecosystems rather than in complex environment.

Eva, my partner, toll me that in Cabrera, a Little Island near Mallorca, were living a special kind of goats with only frontal vision and short legs. They were happy while not other components were living there. And then the humans come… What happens when arrives to a homogenous Microsoft architecture some new components (requirements at all) or load demands? The goat is there…

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