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home > tidbits2007 > the windows
Distance Multimedia: 4 score & more

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Looking out the windows permanent reference link
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(1965) "Same old places and the same old songs...        
It's the singer, not the song." - Jagger/Richards
(1929) "You may forget the singer, but don't forget this song." - A.P. Carter

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pixel January 2, 2007 -- While the "real world" mourns President Ford and ponders the past, present, and future of our planet, many in cyberspace find now the time to ponder hardware, software, and Internet platforms. Questions such as the following seem to be asked now, especially:
  1. Should I buy now or wait for faster/better/cheaper?
  2. Should I upgrade to VISTA and/or Office 2007?
  3. Should I switch from Windows to Apple or Linux?
  4. What should I do with the old hardware?
These particular questions are mostly asked from the perspective of personal computers -- the server concerns and dynamics are related, but considerably different. I ask them of myself and they are asked of me fairly often. I've spent a fair amount of time the last few weeks trying to reexamine major issues and rethink answers. Today I'll summarize hardware aspects and plan to follow up with windowing system and application software issues later.
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pixel My most recent thinking on these questions was spurred last year when an old 486 machine was donated to my church for use in a prayer room. The donors assumed that it would be fast enough for web browsing, for example, for looking up scripture passages. Windows 98 or older seemed unacceptable from a from Windows security perspective. Seriously considering newer Windows seemed unreasonable both in terms of purchase price and performance. There was a perspective that Linux would be faster than Windows and that Firefox on Linux would be a good solution, even on this ancient box. My own experience with Linux on 486s contradicted this, but I found a 400MHz Pentium II (Celeron) machine and 512MB memory for it.
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pixel Since ubuntu has earned such a strong reputation for desktop Linux, I gave it a try instead of the more familiar (to me) Fedora distribution. Ignoring performance, I was very pleased. But it took many minutes just to get to a login prompt and minutes more until Firefox was usable. That was very disappointing, but the price was right, so the machine was installed with warning that patience is a virtue. (Once Firefox got going, performance was acceptable.)
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pixel The next impetus has been assessing the sufficiency of my "iBook Mini". At first I was using the KVM to switch between XP on the Latitude and OS X on the iBook, but as the iBook seemed more and more adequate, carrying the Latitude between rooms seemed unnecessary. Though I could run XP on a seven-year-old Optiplex, that machine also runs Fedora 6, so trying to get along without Windows seemed an interesting experiment -- getting Fedora to add pieces not freely found in OS X, e.g., an adequate version of VNC. (Though I had previously built TightVNC for OS X, that build was not nearly as usable as the Windows version.)
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pixel I use Fedora all the time on old 450MHz Optiplex machines, and Windows XP had seemed pretty sluggish on the old Optiplex, so the notion of using Fedora as well as OS X seemed quite promising. However, most of the time when I use Fedora, it is from the command line, rarely venturing into X Windows. When I started depending on X Windows on the Optiplex, I was dismayed by waiting for applications to start -- the wait seemed much longer than with Windows XP on the very same hardware.
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pixel Soon I was immersed in ad hoc benchmarking of every interesting operating system and browser at my disposal, on hardware dating from 2005 back to 1991. (I have Solaris 10 but have not booted it in a couple of years. The other obvious omissions include the BSD flavors of Unix and Opera.) The basic notions are to time how long it takes a particular hardware/software combination to bring up a usable GUI (X Windows, Mac, or Microsoft Windows) and to measure time from power on until a browser is usable. More and more combinations came to mind. When the 1990 notebook that had run Windows 3.1 and Mosaic would not power up, I spent more time than I should admit getting Windows 3.1, Mosaic 2 and Netscape running on the 1991 JAWS -- thus the ∞ allusion in the table. The table is mostly ordered by decreasing hardware/software age.
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Machine
CPU
Clock
Memory
O/S Seconds to GUI Browser Seconds to Browser
1991 Dell
"JAWS"
486DX
50 MHz
32MB
Windows 3.11 ∞? (80) Mosaic 2
Netscape 3
Netscape 4
90
100
110
  Dell SVR4 2.2 110 (none)  
    Windows 95 70 IE 5.5 125
  Windows NT4 130 IE 6
Netscape 4
Firefox 2
160
165
255
  Red Hat 5.2 145 Netscape 4 250
1998 Dell
Optiplex GXa
Pentium
266 MHz
192MB
Fedora 1 195 Firefox 1.5 230
1999 Dell
Optiplex GX1
Pentium II
450 MHz
384MB
Windows 98 55 IE 6 60
  Windows NT4 75 IE 6 80
  ubuntu 6 145 Firefox 1.5 160
1999 Dell
Optiplex GX1
Pentium II
450 MHz
512MB
Windows 2000 170 IE 6 225
  Red Hat 9 210 Firefox 1.4 230
  Windows XP SP2 150 IE 7
Firefox 2
165
205
  Fedora 6 300 Firefox 1.5 320
2004 Apple
iBook
PPC G3
900 MHz
640MB
OS X 10.4 60 Safari
Firefox 2
70
105
2004 Apple
eMac
PPC G4
1517 MHz
512MB
OS X 10.4 40 Safari 45
2004 Sony
Vaio
Pentium 4
2800 MHz
1536MB
Windows XP SP2 65 IE 7
Firefox 2
100
200
2005 Dell
Latitude D510
Pentium M
1733 MHz
512MB
Windows XP SP2 60 IE 7
Firefox 2
120
185
  Fedora 6 90 Firefox 1.5 110
2006 Apple
MacBook
Core Duo
2000 MHz
2048MB
OS X 10.4 30 Safari
Firefox 2
35
50

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(Some disclaimers before a few semi-random observations. There was minimal effort to be even-handed in the comparisons and to try to make the timings reproducible. The two timings listed tend to bring out the worst in most platforms -- once a platform is up and running, it is often much faster to close/re-open a browser, for example. Some of the hardware was disadvantaged by what might seem like unusual peripherals and/or multi-boot configurations. My natural tendency is to advocate Unix derivative systems, i.e., to give preference to Linux and OS X. I use and probably will continue to use Windows XP as my preferred GUI. I own shares of MSFT.)
coda
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pixel I haven't been spending all my time resurrecting Windows 3.1 -- it just seems that way. Besides recovering nicely from cataract surgery, I have resolved essentially all of the LDAP problems that discouraged me two years ago and have proceeded a little further with VOIP. More on something next time.
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