Three blue screens of death and an iTunes mess

"Read my lips; no new taxes," President George H. W. Bush; "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," President Bill Clinton; and "Windows Vista has turned into a phenomenal product, better than any other OS we've ever built and far, far better than any other software available today," Co-president of Microsoft's Platforms & Services Division Jim Allchin. Three great recent lies, but there's only one of them that's still being maintained as the truth: That Vista is a great operating system. Please, it's not even stable.

Vista SP1 was supposed to make Vista all better. It's actually more of a band-aid on a severed hand. If you must use Windows, you're much better off with Windows XP SP3 than Vista SP1.

Take, for example, Vista, and indeed Windows' biggest BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) of all time at the Beijing Olympics. Over a billion TV viewers got to see Vista on Lenovo hardware go boom. Listen, Lenovo? Are you really sure you want to drop desktop Linux?

Of course, Vista will also fail on the smallest of stages as well as Philip "Pud" Kaplan, founder of a now-deceased company Web site [Not Safe For Work] and currently president of products at AdBrite discovered. Kaplan installed Vista Home Basic, the most minimal, in every sense of the word, version of Vista on an older ThinkPad and discovered a "Wonderful News Windows Vista Feature. If you don't want to go see it for yourself right now, I'll give you a hint: It involves a BSOD.

Next up in my BSOD line-up we have a fake BSOD. I know, why bother to fake something when it's so easy to get one in real life. But, with Windows, you can't even count on consistent failures. So when NIN (Nine Inch Nails) needed a BSOD on cue for their concert tour, they recorded one to be presented at just the right moment. Since Trent Reznor, the man behind NIN is a well-known Mac-user, I presume he's using Macs to run the light-show. After all, he wouldn't want a real BSOD to get in the way of the scheduled one.

Finally, and on a more serious note, there are the BSODs that are associated with iTunes 8. Some users, some of the time, are seeing BSODs after plugging in an iPod on a Vista machine running iTunes 8. I've tried to get this one to happen with my lone Vista system, a HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n PC running Vista Ultimate SP1, but, darn it, I can't get this BSOD.

Ed Bott, who knows his Windows, tracked down the problem to an updated driver: the ever cranky GEARAspiWDM.sys CD/DVD driver. Ed also reports that Apple has released an updated iTunes 8 with an earlier, and Vista-friendlier, version of the problem drivers.

Apple shouldn't have released iTunes with such an easy-to-detect bug; I mean how hard is it to install iTunes on a few Vista systems, plug in an iPod, and then say "Whoops!?" But I can't put all the blame on Apple, because, call me silly, but I don't think installing a new device should crash an entire operating system.

Oh, there are some drivers, like the NVIDIA ones that Microsoft says were responsible for 10% of all pre-SP1 Vista crashes, where I can understand why a driver failure means you can't run the PC. After all, if your graphics are fouled up, who cares that what you can't see is running? But, an iPod? Come on.

Vista runs a monolithic kernel and, despite all the nonsense about Vista being better because it only runs digitally signed drivers, the truth is that because Vista runs drivers right in kernelspace where bad, bad things will happen. Yes, it is true. Drivers tend to be badly written, and since many of them are closed source, you can't just go in there and fix them. But, that's been a given for more than thirty-years now. Smart operating systems, like, oh, say Linux, support drivers in userspace. With this much more intelligent way of doing things, when something goes wrong with a driver, it doesn't need to bring down the house.

Linux, I will add, isn't perfect this way either. Many drivers still run in the much more dangerous kernel space. For better or for worse, Linux is also stuck with running some firmware as binary blobs in kernel space for device compatibility. That situation grates on open-source developers both because of the stability issues and because it runs counter to open-source philosophy.

With all that said, Linux is far more stable than Vista in any situation, and when it comes to handling misbehaving drivers, it does a much better job of it. I'd like to suggest that for Windows 7, Microsoft give serious thought to dumping its current driver scheme and moving to a userspace system like Linux's. It's not like this is an open-source issue; userspace drivers are simply the better way for any operating system to handle drivers.

Better still, I'd like to see all operating system developers to take a long hard look at what Andrew S. Tanenbaum has been up to with Minix, the operating system that inspired Linus Torvalds to write Linux. In Minix 3, all device drivers live in user space and its use of what Tanenbaum calls proper fault isolation goes a long way to making sure that bad code in a single place can't take down an entire operating system.

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