Windows XP and its successors

Here’s a picture of my one remaining Windows XP machine:

You may think “Whoa, that’s a whole bunch on obsolete technology!”, and you would be right. But as a hobbyist and hardware hacker, and this stuff is my hobby. Now, despite being NT-Based, Windows XP still allowed enough access to make this stuff work. Specifically, it allows installation of unsigned drivers out of the box.

Driver signing may or may not have real security benefits – assuming that the signing certificate isn’t compromised, which given the current flood of severe security bugs is hard to believe. But it’s also an unnecessary stopgap against people who know about computers. Basically, the computer is my slave, waiting for my command. I paid for it, and I expect the machine to do what I want. And if I’m okay with a driver, I don’t take “Sorry, can’t do that because it isn’t signed as an answer” – I demand the ability to say “Shut up and install the driver” and Windows XP still offers that, while newer versions of Windows don’t.

Well, actually, newer Windows versions do apparently offer a way to disable driver signing. The problem is that it’s problematic on x64 and that Windows displays annoying nag messages. Also, I had some issues with Sound Drivers, although I don’t want to exclude the possibility of me making a mistake (there are also rumors that signed Audio/Video drivers are required for DRM reasons, but I haven’t found hard evidence on that).

In any case, if you are a hobbyist that requires a good amount of control over your system, Windows XP is the last Windows Version that allows that control. Linux might be an option if your applications run on it.

That being said, this is my only WinXP machine, my main OS these days is Windows 7. In fact, I just configured a new Laptop (Lenovo E440) with Windows 7. I am very aware of the genuine improvements that Microsoft made with Windows 8 (The task manager is much better, still no Process Hacker though, and seeing statistics on file copying is nice), but even though I tried to give it a chance for several months on both 8 and 8.1, it’s simply not a good operating system. It’s an awkward fusion of two completely independent systems that just suck on a non-touchscreen PC, it looks ugly in a lot of places, driver compatibility is abysmal (I had to use the Windows 7 WiFi driver on my Lenovo Q190 because neither the official 8 nor 8.1 driver worked) and it simply broke games – Windows 8.1 is actually much, much worse than 8 was. It is simply not well executed, not stable, and not ready for use. It’s inferior to both ME and Vista in their first releases.

Touch screen devices are awesome if you’re browsing the internet and if you like to draw. But for actual work, they are inferior to Mouse/Keyboard control. Speaking of that: When I press the Windows key in Windows 7, the start menu opens without stealing focus from my current application. In Windows 8, it’s like someone explodes a flashbang, completely ripping my out of my focus. YMMV as usual, but that was the final nail in the coffin.

If Microsoft gets their stuff together and produces another good desktop OS, I’ll gladly give it a shot. But right now, all signs point towards Windows 7 becoming the next XP – the eternal Windows.

Be careful with free fonts – double check the license

I’m looking for a few fonts right now that can be freely redistributed. One of the sites that popped up was Open Font Library, a site that boasts logos from Mozilla and some other companies to appear credible. One of the fonts they list is Estrangelo Edessa, licensed under MIT (X11) License according to the site.

The problem is that all of my research point towards this being dangerously wrong. Specifially, everything points towards the font being owned by Microsoft, and they have their own licensing options. The TTF and OTF Files in the archive specifically mention that the font is copyrighted by Microsoft – I have found no, absolutely no evidence that the Font is in any way free. It is included with the Windows Operating System which makes it readily available, but if you need to distribute the font (e.g. as a Sprite Font for a game) to non-Windows-OS, you enter very shaky legal ground.

I am very well aware that there is a certain attitude towards downloading and using fonts that ignores all licensing concerns, and I doubt that anyone cares if you use a pirated font to print your “Yard Sale and Tom’s 6th Birthday party” flyer. But if you want to distribute a font as part of a product or use them in very public publications, I highly recommend reading up on font licensing. NBCUniversal got sued at least twice over using unlicensed fonts and even though in both cases they settled out of court, it’s reasonable to assume there was money involved. Rick Santorum and Microsoft also have tales to tell regarding font lawsuits.

Fonts are copyrighted computer programs, and just because some website claims that the font is “free” doesn’t mean that they are right. And even with free fonts, sometimes they are only free for Non-Commercial use. Always double and triple check who the actual creator of the font is and what the actual license is.