Dear Linus (cc: Bill)

Dear Linus,

A short while ago, you were quoted saying, “I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease.”

So I guess you haven’t been playing with Windows much. After all, why would you? You were the original developer of Linux, which is a perfectly good operating system. But I’ve been having to play with Windows. My mother relies upon it and she’s afraid (for good reason–I’m job hunting and would prefer to leave the country) I’ll move far away and no one will be near to help with Linux if we switch her over. So Windows it is.

In my first career, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a computer programmer. Not much of one, mind you. It was a misguided career choice. But I made a go of it for a few years before I burned out. So I have certain expectations of operating systems.

Except on rare occasions, Linux fulfills those expectations. (See, I’m not all that unreasonable.) Linux does things like copy files when I ask it to. That doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable request now, does it? But I guess it is.

Because my mother’s old computer was dying. You know, planned obsolescence and all. It was over three years old and the USB, with which she connects her printer, her mouse, her keyboard, and her camera was failing. The system ran Windows XP. I had tried the “reboot and reinstall” thing, sure that something evil was running around what was by now a pretty crufty installation. Only that didn’t fix it.

So, we saw an ad for Office Depot, went down and picked up a new Windows Vista system for her. She doesn’t need a lot of high end power so we got it pretty cheap. I’ve been playing around with Windows Vista on my old laptop. Yes, I’ve heard the hue and cry about Vista, but really, if you manage not to get two firewalls trying to run on the thing, it isn’t totally unusable.

When I had done the “reboot and reinstall” on her old system, I had painstaking copied her user account to my old laptop. It had Vista on it, and a larger disk, so I could set up a file share (and actually, I have one on my new laptop as well–thanks Samba). This was horrendous. It took me all night. Because, you see, Windows has an excuse. You can’t just copy an entire user directory because given the path name length restrictions that Windows designers imposed, the path names that Windows designers created in structuring user data are too long. And there are files it doesn’t want to copy because it thinks they’re in use. And you have to unhide directories (why you’d hide them in the first place is incomprehensible to me) and go through multiple levels of hierarchy to try and get all the files that have user data in them. It was painful. Did I mention I was up to nine the next morning trying to copy a whopping 1.25 gigabytes? No, not terabytes. Gigabytes.

So now I’m looking at going through this again. It turns out that yes, there is a way to copy a user account. It is a little weird and you have to reboot once (what is it with Windows and all this rebooting all the time, anyway?), but I did it. Got my mother’s new computer plugged in, copied everything back to an “old” folder because, you know, this is Windows and way too much is mysterious and I’m guessing it is a bad idea to assume Vista arranges things the same way as its predecessor.

Only Windows is special. You see, it doesn’t copy files. Path names are too long. Some files are in use. Some files it assumes you really don’t mean to copy. Like all of her old email messages. And by the way, the new Windows email program refuses to import the Outlook Express messages even from the backups I had from the “reboot and reinstall” episode.

Linus, I have to tell you, because apparently your new friend, Bill [Gates], doesn’t realize that copying files is fundamental. We even did it when I was a programmer. We even did it a lot. You might not remember magtapes; you’re a little young for that. (We had disks, too, that took an entire large room to hold what you can put on a thumb drive now.) But yeah, we copied files. Maybe you just take it for granted.

But Windows doesn’t copy files. And you think hating Microsoft is a form of mental illness.

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