Monday, January 15, 2007

Windows screwup forces Ubuntu shift

You never quite wrap your head around how anti-consumer Microsoft's policies are until they bite you in the bum. Add in the customer antagonistic policies of its patsies, HP in this case, and vendors like Promise, and you have quite a recipe for pain. Guess what I did today?

It started out quite simply, a client needed to set up a small branch office, something I do almost every week. Four workstation and a repository for files, occasional backups, and a shared printer is all they would need, nothing special. Five HP 5100s, a printer, a Promise TX2300 with mirrored drives and a DVD-R was all I needed. That was the easy part.

Out came the anaemic 40GB drive from one HP, and in when the Promise controller and two WD 200GB SATA drives. The TX2300 was a snap to set up, the hardest part was rebooting 10 times until I caught that CTRL-F is the key to get into the card BIOS. A minute later, the RAID was built and it was time to restore the OS from the CDs. Two thumbs up to Promise here, it really could not be easier.

This is where the pain began. Microsoft has a policy where the vendors can't ship you a Windows CD so instead they have to send you a series of restore CDs. These option-free exercises in rookie programming mistakes are a shining example of what is wrong with the industry. HP, like the weak willed jellyfishes that they are, went along with this plan rather than stand up for the people paying them.

The problem? The #*&$ers at HP made it so the brain dead restore scripts would not see any hardware other than the parts they shipped, and it would not recognise the Promise controller. Fair enough, it isn't HP's duty to recognise everything, that would be well beyond anything I expected. You just press F6 and install the drivers manually, it gives you the standard Windows prompt there.

Looking past the problem of the machine not having a floppy, you can easily add one for the initial install, things got ugly quick. The problem? Those weasels at Captain Junior Spy Central disabled the F6 driver install on their restore CD! There is no Windows CD so you can do it manually, you either use theirs or have your own copy.

If you have a copy of XP to use, guess what? The key that comes with the HP box is restricted to the version of Windows on the restore CD. Vanilla XP will not work, nor will any of the copies I have lying around. Your choice, use only HP hardware or buy a copy of XP. A big FU to MS and HP for this little ray of sunshine.

Money grubbing and brain dead tactics aside, I figured I could boot from the Promise CD and possibly manually format the drives and dump the install CDs to the HD. That trick will often work to get you by initial unrecognised drives. That is when I learned half of the problems with Promise, the CD it provides is not bootable and contains nothing resembling a tool. Sparse would be a step up from what it offers.

Biting back my fervent desire to throw this mess out of a window, get a gun, and go to Redmond, I put in the original HD and booted into it to see if there were any interesting tools to help my plight. I tried to install the drivers and noticed the second problem, the #$&#ing Promise CD doesn't have drivers on it! No, I am not kidding, they ship the card with a CD, but that CD has no drivers on it! Honestly.

If you click the install drivers option, it prompts you to put a disk in the (nonexistent) A: drive to make a driver disk. There is no option to unpack, no option to put it in any other location, you are just screwed. Manually browsing the CD comes up with the same programs the moronic installer offers you. A: drive or the highway. In this day and age, there is no excuse for not shipping a driver with hardware, Promise really screwed this up.

So, unable to transfer the install easily, unable to legally use a different CD of Windows with my legally purchased key, and unable to install the drivers with the one I had, I was left with only one option. The machine was put in place Saturday running Ubuntu. The owner of the chain was informed of it, why it was done, and what the ramifications, mainly stability and security, were.

Luckily, he is a smart man, and from this point on, Linux will be the OS of choice on all his servers, it is cheaper to buy, cheaper to install, and much more secure. Desktops are under evaluation, but Microsoft lost this chain for sure on the server side. If it doesn't think their brain dead policies are costing them money, I am proof positive that they are, and I am willing to bet I am far from alone.

By Charlie Demerjian

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