A personal perspective: From Windows to Linux to Windows to Linux to…

i don't do windows

The first personal computer i purchased was infected with the Windows 95 virus. I’m sure i hadn’t even heard about Linux at that point and, while we’re at it, let’s get something straight right off the bat: Linux is not an operating system! Linux is a part of Linux-based operating systems, known as the kernel. I’m a victim of this misunderstanding myself and, if there are no objections, i’m gonna go ahead and use the term ‘Linux’ here as if i never knew the difference.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of running Windows 95 might agree that it was an unstable, bug-riddled piece of… crap. The Windows 98 virus was much better, relatively speaking, but was still full of bugs, problems and annoyances. I have to say though that it was a pretty good gaming OS. The XP virus largely destroyed the gaming aspect of 98 when it was first released, but things improved a great deal as it matured. I used a heavily tweaked version of XP Professional for many years before migrating to a heavily tweaked version Windows 7 somewhere around 2011. Us weathered Windows users were smart enough to skip Vista as though it never existed. By the way, did you know there are people still using 95 and 98 as their daily drivers apparently? I’m not sure what to think about that (actually i am, i just don’t want to dump on them), but i wouldn’t be surprised if they are safer with 95 than 10 these days since there’s probably no one writing viruses for the stupid thing any longer.

Around the time i was using Windows 98, or rather around the time it was using me, as Richard Stallman might say, i started to become interested in the inner workings of Windows, computer security and digital privacy. The exceedingly bright chap that i am (0.003% of the time), i quickly deduced that running a closed-source, proprietary operating system from a company well-worth hating was probably not conducive to maintaining an acceptable level of control over my digital belongings. This revelation was further reinforced upon discovering the forum post, Microsoft’s Really Hidden Files, by “The Riddler” on f**kmicrosoft.com (you can fill in the blanks – i try to run a clean shop here, more or less). I believe that domain was eventually confiscated by Microsoft which i think is quite fitting, don’t you? I think they should ‘ing’ it to ‘f**kingmicrosoft.com’ and use that as their official domain. Anyway, my reading of that article eventually led to my being put in contact with a cop who, as i recall, had something to do with computers or computer forensics or was the computer geek at work or maybe he knew what a computer was or something. It was a long time ago. I asked him several — apparently one too many — questions about what kind of personal data Windows stores it and how it stores it and how that data is used by law enforcement (LE) to screw over the people that paid for an OS that spies on them. Having thought i’d established an acceptable level of trust with the guy after several emails over the course of several days/weeks, i finally uncorked the question that was burning a hole in my curious little bean: Can LE access a Windows computer remotely without first installing a RAT (Remote Access Tool – think ‘Trojan’)? His non-answer answer was, “What do you think?”. At that point he apparently thought i didn’t need to think any more and so he broke off contact as i recall.

I don’t think it was long after that when i started playing with Linux… or was it the other way around? I recall booting Mandrake, Red Hat, SUSE, Debian and likely one or two others over the course of several years and every attempt i made to familiarize myself with Linux resulted in tragedy followed by regret followed by my retreat back to my safe space: Windows. Part of my Linux problem was that it worked quite differently and so i simply wasn’t comfortable with it. Another problem was that every distribution had major bugs. Lots of major bugs. And they still do. ALL of them. I found Linux to be very fragile compared to Windows. I also found it to be too limiting, which i’m sure will surprise some Linux fanboys. Often there were no good software counterparts to Windows stuff and the hardware drivers were garbage in many cases. If a driver worked at all, that’s pretty much all it did. Most of the granular settings for coaxing the most out of your expensive ‘octa-core giga-capable nano-tech’ hardware simply didn’t exist. The lack of stability was the worst of it though. I remember booting a very mainstream distribution and changing some benign setting for whatever and *poof*, it never booted again. On another occasion i was playing around with another mainstream distribution when my drunk neighbor chainsawed my electric pole because he needed firewood (lie) which caused the power to go out (whatsa BPS?). That OS never booted again either. What the hell??? I rarely had these kinds of fundamental problems with Windows 98, much less with XP which was a full 3.3 orders of magnitude more robust than Linux at that time (it’s only 2 now).

Though i was fine with Windows from a usability standpoint, the fact that it was propitiatory, and the associated risks to my privacy, never left my mind and so i decided, come hell or high water, Windows 7 would be my last Microsoft OS, period! Then Windows 10 came out but once again we Microsoft-hating Windows users were smart enough to block the so-called “upgrade” that the monopolistic self-serving morons in Redmond wanted to infect us with. The utter, in-your-face assault to personal privacy that 10 presented was/is unbelievable. I was so disillusioned with Microsoft at that point that, even though i wasn’t running 10, i dumped Windows, switched to Linux and deleted all my heavily customized Windows installation images and license keys in order to make returning to that stink-hole as difficult and expensive as possible should i ever suffer a regression in ethics. I was going to run Linux whether i liked it or not (i don’t) and that was that! This video of a guy ranting about Windows 10 kind of sums up my sentiments regarding Windows:

Linux has come a long way since i last went distro-hopping over a decade ago, but i have to say that some of the same problems exist still, though to a lessor degree in general. And although the drivers cover a much wider array of hardware, they can still be problematic or simply wimpy. For example, there is nothing like the good old kX Project sound card drivers for Linux that i’m aware of and therefor you can’t take full advantage of the Sound Blaster cards that the kX Project supported. Nowhere was i able to find a driver for my laptop camera either, not that installing one would help much since i have tape over the lens. Stability is still an issue as well, though it appears Linux is more tolerant of hard resets at least. I’m currently running Linux Mint Manjaro Linux, but when i was running Mint, and even after a couple of major version releases and plenty of updates, on occasion my computer would still boot or resume from standby to a black screen where the log-on screen should’ve been. Really? The solution was to simply jab the ‘Esc’ key which caused the log-on screen to appear, but this is one of those most basic annoyances that simply should not exist.

And the software repositories! Why ‘repositories‘ and not ‘repository‘? Why does nearly every flavor of Linux seem to have its own software repository? To me this is a colossal waste of time and resources, including the server infrastructure required to host all these repositories. Why do package maintainers have to make changes to OpenOffice, for example, to get it to run on different distributions? Or another desktop environment? Is this not as ass-backwards as i think it is? This can be very frustrating for the end user since the software package they want or need may not be available for the distribution they like, or perhaps not for the particular desktop environment they chose. Oh, yes, let’s not forget the graphical environments; the Linux desktops. Linux is all about choice, so they say, but do we really need 20+ buggy desktop environments to choose from? I’d gladly sacrifice half of those for just a couple of bug-less desktops to choose from and i’d bet 99.9% of the entire Linux user base would gladly do the same.

And why are there so many different distributions? There are somewhere around 300 different flavors of Linux at the moment, every one likely requiring significant resources in terms of developers, project managers, funding and infrastructure. I understand Linux is all about choice, but who the hell needs this many choices? And more importantly, at what cost do all these choices come? How many of these distributions are a result of ego battles among developers? How many are actually fundamentally different as opposed to simply having a different logo or set of icons or something meaningless like that? Imagine how the development pace and quality of Linux-based OSs might skyrocket if the people working with some of the more obscure distributions contributed their talent to the more mainstream ones that the vast majority of us end users actually like. Here’s the “choices” you get with Linux:

  • you get to choose what distro you want and, in doing so, the average user has little choice but to use whatever software is in the repository that’s compatible with it
  • you get to choose the desktop you want to and, in doing so, you neuter the selection of software you can use or end up installing mega-massive dependency packages for desktops you don’t want
  • you get to choose that you want more security holes than Windows if this guy is right
  • you get to choose that you want truck loads more bugs than Windows
  • if you decide to run a Long Term Support edition of Linux (Mint for example), you get to choose to run often outdated and sometimes buggy and feature deprived software because that’s pretty much all that will be available in your assigned repository
  • you get to choose to spend hours scouring the web for solutions to trivial problems that should never exist and then spend more time staring at a terminal running commands you don’t understand but pray will work and often don’t
  • you get to choose to have this window look like this and that window look like that because you hate consistency – think that setting a mouse cursor theme is system wide? or a window theme? Fooled ya!
  • you get to choose to run an OS that just feels a lot less robust than Windows

So why did i choose Linux if i have so many gripes, you wonder? Because i had no choice. I wasn’t going to continue to run an operating system that i knew was spying on me, constantly sending who knows what to who knows where. Even with all the registry tweaks and all the hosts file redirects and all the firewall rules and all the 3rd party cleaning and anti-spying tools, etc., you can never trust a proprietary operating system, period.

The following presentation titled ‘Windows is AWSOME!‘ by Bryan Lunduke (which he gave at a Linux conference by the way) will provide another answer as to why i made the switch. It’s a really fun watch too…

For the average user Linux may not be as good as Windows from a usability perspective, but it’s not authored by a f’n evil company. It’s not proprietary. It’s code isn’t hidden. It doesn’t have back doors built in. Its licenses aren’t restrictive. It isn’t designed to spy on its users and make them the product. Its objectives aren’t based on greed and control. In a way, it’s not what Linux is, it’s what it isn’t that makes it attractive to people like myself who care about what organizations, values and standards they want to support, now and in the future. People like me care about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we leave for our children. There is more to the free software ethic than “free” software. It’s a way of living. It’s freedom.

Although my path to Linux has not been free of stumps, it has been worth the journey. It’s very comforting to me to know that i can trust my operating system to not engage in nefarious behavior behind my back. It’s nice to not have to create piles of firewall rules in an attempt to keep it and its software from phoning home. It’s nice to not have to evaluate every update, wondering if Microsoft will try yet again to push some garbage down my throat that i despise. It’s nice to not have to deal with anti-virus software, which provides a false sense of security anyway. It’s comforting to know that Linux doesn’t lend itself well to viruses and unethical software developers or companies. And as for the problem of multiple software repositories, at least one can largely trust the software in those repositories and they do present a convenient one-stop-shop for most everything you might need.

If you decide to give Linux a spin, i might recommend Linux Mint because it’s currently one of the more popular and polished Linux distributions that’s oriented toward beginners. I think Windows users will find its interface fairly familiar and it comes with a lot of decent software as well as most/all of the hardware drivers one will need to get their computer and peripherals up and running. The best way to try Mint is to download an ISO image and write it to a bootable USB memory stick, after which you can boot the stick and try it for as long as you like without affecting your Windows installation. If you later decide to install it, you can do so right from an icon on the Mint desktop. Everything you need to know should be in the installation guide.

Start with Mint if you’re new to Linux, but if you ever get bored with it and begin to feel more comfortable with Linux, have a look at Manjaro, an up-and-comer that aims to be a user friendly rolling release based on Arch Linux. The primary advantages with Manjaro are that you never have to reinstall the OS since it’s a roller and the software repo is quite large, plus you can access the AUR which provides another plethora of user maintained software packages, though you have to be careful with that.

2 thoughts on “A personal perspective: From Windows to Linux to Windows to Linux to…”

  1. Everything that you have said about the comparison between Windows and Linux is dead on. I have been on the Ubuntu distros for five years and even though I just got a refurbed i5 machine with Windows 10 on it, I am going to do a dual system on it very shortly. There are some things that only effectively work on Windows, so I am keeping it for that reason only and spend the majority of my time on Ubuntu.

    1. yeah, Linux is a double edge sword for sure – all depends how much one values their privacy

      Linux was not my first choice as an alternative to Windows. ReactOS was. ReactOS is an NT compatible OS. Problem is, development moves so slow that i’ll be pushing daisies before they release a 1.0 stable – it is fun to play with though.

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