Bye bye Windows 10, and good riddance

Up until a couple of days ago my family’s PC, an Acer Aspire XC600 tower purchased in early 2014, had Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit) installed. Because of a problem updating Windows 10 which finally rendered the PC unbootable and the OS unrecoverable, I installed Lubuntu 17.10 (64-bit). It is performing very well and my family are finding it easy to use. Although I had no intention of installing Linux on this machine before the problem updating Windows arose, I’m now glad to be rid of Windows on this machine, as Windows has been a pain to use and maintain.

The Windows update saga

When I bought the Aspire XC600 in February 2014 it came with Windows 8 pre-installed, and I immediately upgraded it to Windows 8.1. I say ‘immediately’, but it actually took me three days to get Windows Update to install it properly; the first attempts resulted in what looked like Windows 8.1 but turned out to be incomplete installations, and several times I had to roll back to a Restore Point and try to update again.

I upgraded the machine to Windows 10 Home when Microsoft offered it free-of-charge to current users of Windows 8.1 and Windows Update informed me the update was available to install. The early Windows 10 Home was buggy, but various updates by Microsoft eventually got it to a reasonably stable state by the time the so-called ‘Anniversary Update’ (Windows 10 Version 1607) was released in 2016. I again had to struggle for several days before I managed to update Windows 10 Home to Version 1607.

In April 2017 Microsoft released the ‘Creators Update’, and in October 2017 the ‘Fall Creators Update’. However, no matter what I did it was simply impossible to upgrade Window 10 Home Version 1607 on the Aspire XC600 to either of those 2017 updates. There are hundreds if not thousands of posts on the Web regarding problems installing these updates on various PC models from various manufacturers, with similar or even identical symptoms to those I was seeing. In my case the update process froze at 33%, 75% and 83%, despite Microsoft’s update utility informing me that the CPU, RAM size and HDD free space were valid for these updates. Furthermore, I only tried to update once Windows Update had informed me the updates were available to install. I should also point out that I regularly made sure the OS had all other updates installed.

I lost count of the number of times and hours spent trying to update to the Creators Update and the Fall Creators Update. Each time I had a go at updating, after two consecutive attempts Windows 10 Home would give up and, when I eventually cycled the mains power in order to exit the frozen state, would roll back to Version 1607. However, during my latest attempt a couple of days ago, Windows 10 Home would no longer complete booting, instead popping up a window informing me the machine needed to be rebooted to complete the installation process. Every time I clicked ‘OK’ in the window, the machine would reboot and the same window popped up again. So I dug out the Windows 10 Home Recovery Disk (actually a USB pendrive) I had carefully created as soon as I had upgraded the installation from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 in November 2016. (That pendrive had previously been the Windows 8.1 Recovery Disk that I created as soon as I upgraded the installation to Windows 8.1 in February 2014.) But, no matter what I did, the Recovery Disk would only re-install Windows 8, even though the time-date stamp of the files on the pendrive corresponded to the date on which I created the Windows 10 Recovery Disk. And, strangely, there were three so-called Recovery Partitions on the HDD.

Several attempts to re-install using the Recovery Disk had the same outcome, so I decided to install a couple of Linux binary distributions in succession, both of which worked fine and definitely removed all traces of Windows from the HDD, including the three Recovery Partitions (I checked using GParted to make sure). Then I tried again to re-install Windows 10 Home from the Recovery Disk, but it still created three Recovery Partitions and still installed Windows 8.

Clearly it was not going to be possible to re-install Windows 10 Home using the Recovery Disk, so I instead used Windows Update in Windows 8 to update the installation to Windows 8.1, a process that took several hours and reboots. Once Windows 8.1 was installed, I tried to upgrade to Window 10, first using Windows Update and, when that told me there were no updates, by using the Recovery Disk. Neither approach was successful, so I was stuck with a working, fully-updated Windows 8.1. The trouble was, Windows 8.1 is no longer supported by Microsoft (‘Mainstream Support End Date’ is 9 January 2018). Not to mention that Windows 8.1 is even worse than Windows 10.

The move to Linux

At this point I’d had more than enough of Microsoft Windows. Therefore I used my laptop to download the ISO for Lubuntu 17.10 and create a LivePendrive, and I installed Lubuntu on the Aspire XC600. Although I use a source-based Linux distribution on two laptops, for ease and speed of installation and maintenance I opted to install a binary-based distribution on the family PC. I chose Lubuntu specifically because it uses the LXDE desktop environment, which is closer in look and feel to classic Windows than e.g. the Unity or GNOME desktop environments in Ubuntu, and is not as ‘CPU-hungry’ as KDE. I found that Lubuntu worked extremely well out-of-the-box, including scanning and printing using my Canon MP510 MFP. I used the GUI Software utility (‘System Tools’ > ‘Software’ from the LXDE application menu) to uninstall AbiWord and Gnumeric and install the LibreOffice suite. I added user accounts for the members of my family (‘System Tools’ > ‘Users and Groups’). Since the machines on my home network use SMB to share files, I installed samba and sambaclient and edited the smb.conf file via the command line, and browsing SMB shares worked first time. We have a decent family PC again.

There was not much more for me to do to make the installation behave exactly how I wanted it to:

  • I configured the installation so that each user’s avatar appears on the login screen (LightDM GTK Greeter).
  • I have an external USB HDD permanently connected to the PC so that users’ files can be backed up. I configured the installation to unmount automatically this external USB HDD when any user logs out. The USB HDD is automatically mounted anyway when another user logs in, and, by unmounting it automatically at logout, the next user can access the USB HDD properly via the GUI File Manager (the USB drive is mounted as /media/<username>/FREECOM HDD).
  • I installed Language Support so that I can switch to some other languages I use, and I configured LXDE so I can click on an icon on the panel (or use a keyboard shortcut) to switch between the associated keyboard layouts.
  • I installed the anti-virus utility ClamAV, the ClamAV daemon and the ClamTk GUI front-end, and configured the installation to scan automatically any files downloaded to each user’s ~/Downloads directory, and to quarantine infected files and notify the user via a pop-up window and log file.
  • I configured the installation to create a network route when I log in, so that I can access in a Web browser the GoAccess dashboard for database reports produced by my network server.
  • I configured the installation to backup the files in each user’s ~/home directory to an external USB HDD at shutdown (impossible in Windows 10 Home — see my comments further on).
  • I installed Skype Preview for Linux, which worked out-of-the-box with a GUCEE HD92 HD 720p USB Webcam with built-in microphone.

I intend to explain in future posts how I implemented each of the above.

Backing up users’ files at shutdown

Windows XP and Vista on my family’s previous PCs were able to run a batch file (BACKUP.BAT) automatically at shutdown to backup the users’ files to an external USB HDD (and, crucially, to wait until the batch job was completed before powering down the PC). To achieve this I used the utility Xecutor by Xpertdesign Software, which enabled users to use the normal Windows method of shutting down yet allowed the batch file to run to completion. However, such utilities do not work in Windows 8 and onwards. A kludge that is often suggested is to add an extra button on the Desktop or Taskbar to run the backup commands then shutdown the machine afterwards, but I did not want to do that because there is no guarantee my family would click on it rather than shutting down Windows the normal way.

Another method of configuring Windows to run a batch file at shutdown is to use the GPE (Group Policy Editor) a.k.a. GPOE (Group Policy Object Editor) to configure the Registry. However, Windows 10 Home does not include the GPE, so I was unable to use the GPE to configure Windows 10 Home to run a batch file to backup users’ files to an external USB HDD at shutdown. (Actually, as Windows 8/8.1/10 makes it almost impossible to interrupt the shutdown process once the user has initiated shutdown, I wonder if a backup batch file would actually run to completion if the GPE were used in an edition of Windows that provides it, such as Windows 10 Enterprise.) It is possible to configure the Task Scheduler in Windows 10 Home to run a batch file at shutdown, but it is impossible to pause the shutdown process to allow the backup batch file to run to completion. Believe me, I tried everything, and it is impossible to backup automatically all users’ files for multiple user accounts at shutdown with Windows 10 Home (even though it was possible in Windows XP). So I had to resort to a kludge recommended by Microsoft, which is to configure the Task Scheduler to run the batch file at startup instead of shutdown. Clearly this is less safe than backing up before shutting down the PC.

Actually, it is possible to install/enable the GPE in Windows 10 Home — there are many Web sites explaining how to do this — but Microsoft has restricted many GPOs (Group Policy Objects) in Windows 10 Home, and therefore adding a GPO using the GPE or by editing the Registry directly in Windows 10 Home will have no effect. Even if you enable the GPE in Windows 10 Home, the policies will not work until you buy a licence for the Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise editions. In summary, in Windows 10 Home it is a waste of time either installing/enabling the GPE or editing the Registry directly.

However, now that Lubuntu 17.10 is installed I was able to configure it to run a Bash script automatically to backup all the users’ files before the machine actually actually shuts down or reboots. In a future post I’ll explain how I achieved that.

Summary

In my opinion Microsoft jumped the shark a long time ago. I had plenty of trouble with Windows Vista (to the extent I had to ditch it in the end), but Windows 7 was not bad (although on a couple of occasions I had a big scare with ‘Windows Backup and Restore’ that necessitated restoring the MBR via the command line). Windows 8 and 8.1 were awful, and Windows 10 is not much better in my opinion. Furthermore, I think it is very bad form for Microsoft to release updates to Windows 10 that cannot be installed on a machine that is only four years old and still has a reasonable specification: 64-bit Intel Pentium G2030 @ 3.00GHz, 4GB DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8GB), Intel HD Graphics (Xeon E3-1200 v2/3rd Gen), and 1TB 7200RPM HDD. I’m now glad Windows 10 is history on this PC and I’m typing this in a Linux installation.

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About Fitzcarraldo
A Linux user with an interest in all things technical.

6 Responses to Bye bye Windows 10, and good riddance

  1. Pingback: Links 5/1/2018: Mesa 17.3.2 RC, Meltdown/Spectre | Techrights

  2. reloaded says:

    Just a word of thanks for your Samba configuration which works much better than my previous complex configuration. I also played with Lubuntu which is a good choice for beginners but I tired of the Ubuntu base and moved upstream to Debian but hung on to the LXDE desktop which I find light weight and highly configurable. Maybe a little old fashioned but I like simple menus.

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      Glad to read that the Samba configuration is working well. I am pleased at how easily my Samba configuration works on the new Lubuntu installation mentioned in my latest blog post. Lubuntu is a good choice for a family PC used by people who have simple needs (Web browsing, word processing and the like). On my own laptops I use Gentoo Linux, which is more sophisticated and configurable. On my laptops I use KDE; LXDE is not as feature-rich but is more than good enough for the family PC. The only thing I have noticed missing in LXDE that would be useful is the ability to change the icons of individual folders.

      • reloaded says:

        Not so fancy as KDE but fleet of foot. I can only express my awe of anyone with the time and patience to manage Gentoo. I may find time in the future to play, in which case I will know who to pester for advice.

        • Fitzcarraldo says:

          ‘Time’ and ‘patience’ are the operative words. Gentoo Linux is very flexible and an excellent distribution if you want to learn about Linux in depth and to have full control, but, being a source-based distribution it does take much longer to install than a binary-based distribution and can take a long time to install major updates (e.g. an update to all the KDE packages), since they all have to be compiled. Also, the package maintainers of a binary-based distribution will generally have sorted out all the dependency blockers for you, whereas you may have to resolve blockers yourself when you install or update a package in Gentoo (Portage, the package manager, will tell you what the blockers are). So Gentoo is certainly not for your average user. I suppose it is for the more-technically oriented user who wants to be able to tinker and customise. In fact, some Gentoo users refer to it as a ‘meta distribution’ because each user’s installation is different: you ‘roll your own’. It’s the next step up from LFS (Linux From Scratch).

          On a different note, have you noticed that Leafpad, the default text editor for LXDE, can lose some of the text at the end of a text file residing in an SMB shared folder? That is what I am experiencing with Leafpad Version 0.8.18.1-5 in Lubuntu 17.10 on my family’s PC. Leafpad works fine with local files on the PC, but if I use it to edit a remote file residing on any of the other machines on my home network, it sometimes loses some of the text at the end of the file when I save it. So I installed gedit, which does not suffer from the same problem. With gedit I can double-click on a Samba-shared text file in a PCManFM window to open it and edit it, and when I save the file in gedit nothing is lost; the modified file is saved intact on the remote machine.

        • reloaded says:

          Not noticed the problem with Leafpad but I tend to use it mostly as a viewer of text files and Mousepad as simple text editor and then nano for system files. I have used gedit but not since I moved away from Ubuntu Lubuntu. Leafpad is pretty basic along with some of the LXDE default stuff but I still use what I can to keep desktop mpg as low as possible also I’m a soft touch for the under dog.

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