imnuts' Blog
Random stuff from my mind…

System Stability is All in the Hardware

People have long stated that Microsoft Windows is an unstable operating system. However, I have seen many cases where Windows is just as stable as Linux, Unix, and Mac OS, so what is the root cause of this assumption. My primary guess is that much of this stems back to the days before NT4 and then the period between NT4 and Windows 2000, the 95/98/ME days. This does a very large chuck of Windows history, but it also includes the worst of Windows in my opinion. Since many people did not even have computers prior to Windows NT4, we’ll focus on Windows 95 and later here, mainly because this is also when most people actually started getting computers for themselves as prices dropped significantly. Now, in their day Windows 95, and then Windows 98, were not bad operating systems. They worked very well, but did have the occasional BSOD and did have their own issues. Overall though, Windows 95 and 98 were not that bad, although they were not rock solid by any means.

Then, there is what is likely the biggest reason that Windows is considered unstable, Windows ME. It is quite possibly the worst operating system ever released, and was extremely unstable. A user could install Windows ME, and even as they were starting it up for the first time, they would get a BSOD. If you didn’t restart or shutdown your computer everyday, it was likely that it was going to BSOD and shut off randomly, if it didn’t do this on you already. If users got their Windows ME computer to stay on for a week without problems, many would likely consider them very lucky. Then, there was the whole issue of driver compatibility, or lack of compatibility. Since ME never really caught on, manufacturers soft of just skipped an entire generation of Windows and mostly just made products supporting Windows 98 or 98SE instead. With all sorts of random problems, lack of drivers for a lot of common devices, and just a poor system in general, I think this one poor operating system is haunting Windows to this day.

There was later Windows 2000, which never really came into the home user arena and stuck mainly with businesses, although gamers seemed to like 2000 a lot as it was very stable and ran games very well. Ever since Microsoft ditched the 9x series, which included ME, and switched back to the NT Kernel, Windows has been very stable. Now many people still say that Windows XP is very unstable, but I don’t really see how this is true. I have worked on hundreds of different installations of Windows XP, both Home and Pro, plus MCE and Tablet PC, and I have yet to see where Windows itself is actually the culprit of the operating system being unstable. Windows Vista seems to be behaving in the same fashion, even in the beta stages. While, there have been times when Windows Vista, or its alpha versions, codename “Longhorn”, have been unstable, it has been very stable for a number of testers in the world. What is it then that is causing Windows to get a bad reputation as being unstable, even if it isn’t.

I would have to say that the quality of the hardware underneath the hood of the computer would be the largest contributing factor to how well any operating system performs. Mac OS has been rock solid for a long time now, and despite the fact that they are pushing out a ton of security updates now, it continues to be, even on somewhat sub-par hardware. The big reason behind this is that Apple makes nearly everything in the system, and therefore, can essentially make a problem free operating system if you know the hardware that can go into the computer. Where as Windows has to be able to handle millions of different combinations of hardware, Apple has to deal with only a small handful, with the video card being the only major component that can really change all that much. With Windows, you have to worry about the motherboard, video card, chipsets, processors, network adapters, audio adapters, and pretty much anything that can go into the system. With all of these combinations, it’s no wonder there are some problems sometimes.

Now, you may be saying that Linux and Unix do not suffer from the same issue, but I have seen and heard of unstable installations of Linux. Usually, it’s also on the same computers that have issues with running Windows as well, not much of a coincidence. The computer is much more than the operating systems that run on them, and thus, poor hardware results in a poor user experience. If the end user selects quality hardware to put into their computer, they are going to end up with a very stable operating system, no matter what they install. But, if you have low quality components, and many OEM manufacturers do, you can end up with a very poor computer. While there are several people that have much more luck with Linux and Unix even when Windows doesn’t want to work properly, Linux and Unix have a huge developer base compared to Windows. You have several thousand distributions out there, a few hundred of them have funded projects for development, plus a ton of individuals writing their own drivers and patches to fix things. The nature of the operating system itself allows for it to be much more flexible, and thus can deal with sub-standard conditions better in certain situations.

There is also the fact that there many of the people in the world that do run an open source operating system tend to be running it on a decent computer as well. This is because they are already experienced computer users and know the difference between good and bad when it comes to system components. That, and if one is going to run solely Linux, they usually look for compatible hardware so that custom drivers aren’t needed and they can get up and running quickly with the built in drivers. Odds are, that if you took the average Linux system and put Windows on it, Windows would not have a problem running either. It is really hard to compare Windows and Mac OS, seeing as they just become somewhat compatible, but all reports that I have heard thus far say that Windows is very stable on the new Intel based Macs. In fact, some users are having fewer problems with Windows on their Macs than they are with OS X on their Macs, at least after figuring out the right-click issue they are. So, what is really the cause for an unstable operating system, is the operating system itself, or the components underneath the software that are making the system go that are the real issue?

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