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. And it's not "Linux" either, it's GNU/Linux. I'm a victim of these misunderstandings myself and, if there be no objections, i'm gonna go ahead and use the term 'Linux' as if i never knew the difference. Now where was i...
Anyone who has had the misfortune of running Windows 95 might agree that it was an unstable, bug-riddled piece of shit. The Windows 98 virus was much better, relatively speaking, but it was still full of annoyances. I have to say though that it was a pretty good gaming OS once you beat the thing into submission. The XP virus largely destroyed the gaming aspect of 98 when it was first released, but things improved a great deal through patches. I used a heavily tweaked version of XP 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 still people 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 wanna dump on them out loud), but i wouldn't be surprised if they are safer with 9x than 10 these days since there's probably no one writing viruses for the damn things 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, mostly with regard to my digital privacy. The exceedingly bright chap 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 do-dads. This revelation was further reinforced upon discovering the forum post, 'Microsoft's Really Hidden Files' by 'The Riddler' on fuckmicrosoft.com. I believe that domain was eventually hijacked by Microsoft at one point which i think is quite fitting, don't you? I think they should 'ing' it to 'fuckingmicrosoft.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 maybe he was the 'computer guy' at work or whatever. It was a long time ago. I asked him several (and apparently one too many) questions about what kind of personal data Windows stores and how it stores it and how that data can be accessed and used by LE (that's "Law Enforcement" for you nooblets) to screw over us dweebs that paid for an OS which is designed to spy on us. Having thought i'd established an acceptable level of trust with the guy after several emails over the course of several days/weeks (it's called "social engineering" nowadays), i finally uncorked the question that was burning a hole in my brain capsule: 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 ask any more questions.
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 maybe one or two others over the years and every attempt i made to adopt Linux as my primary OS quickly resulted in tragedy followed by regret followed by my prompt retreat back to my Windowed safe space.
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 quite fragile compared to a well tweaked Windows XP or 7 and i still feel that way. I also found it to be too limiting, which i'm sure will shock the Linux fanboys. Often there weren't any good software counterparts to Windows stuff and many hardware drivers were garbage. If a driver worked, that's pretty much all it did. Most of the granular settings for coaxing the most out of your uber-expensive octa-core giga-capable quantum-tech hardware simply didn't exist.
Worse than the software and driver issues was the lack of stability. I remember booting a very mainstream distribution and changing some benign setting for whatever and *poof*, it never booted again. On one occasion i was playing around with another mainstream distribution when my drunk neighbor chainsawed my electric pole for firewood (lie) which caused the power to go out (semi-truth). This was before i knew what a backup power supply was. That OS never booted again either. What the bloody hell??? I rarely had these kinds of fundamental problems with Windows 98, much less with XP or 7, both of which were a full 3.307 orders of magnitude more robust than any Linux distro i had tried.
Though i was fine with Windows from a usability and stability angle, the fact that it was propitiatory, and the associated risks to my privacy that comes with that, never stopped eroding my mind and so i decided, come hell or high water, Windows 7 would be my last Microsoft OS, period! Then came Windows 10 but once again we savvy Microsoft-hating Windows users were smart enough to block the so-called "upgrade" that the monopolistic retards in Redmond wanted to infect us with. The in-your-face assault to personal privacy that 10 presents is unbelievable, as are the annoyances that come with it.
Even though i wasn't running 10, I was so damned disillusioned with Microsoft by this time that i dumped Windows, switched to Linux and deleted all my customized Windows installation images and license keys in order to make returning to that pit of despair as difficult and expensive as possible should i ever suffer a relapse in ethics. I was going to run Linux whether i liked it or not!
Linux has come a long way since i last went distro-hopping in the early 2000's, but i have to say that some of the same problems exist still, though to a lessor degree. And although the drivers cover a much wider array of hardware and work generally better, they can still be problematic and wimpy. Nowhere was i able to find a driver for my laptop camera, not that installing one would help much since i stuck tape over the thing. Stability is still an issue with Linux, however the problems aren't nearly as bad and it seems to be more tolerant of hard resets for example.
Currently i run
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 boot or resume from standby to a black screen where the log-on screen was supposed to be and sometimes this required a hard reset. Really??? This is one of those most basic issues that should simply not exist.
And the software repositories! Why 'repositories' and not 'repository'? Why does nearly every major distribution of Linux seem to need its own software repository? In my mind this is a colossal waste of time, effort, resources and infrastructure. Why do package maintainers have to make changes to a program 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 really frustrating for end users since the software package they want may not be readily available for the distribution or desktop environment they like.
Oh, yeah, 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 most of those for just a few bug-less desktops and i'd bet 99% of the entire Linux user base would 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. Who the hell needs this many choices? And at what cost do all these choices come? How many of these distributions are a result of ego battles? How many are actually fundamentally different as opposed to simply having a different logo or set of icons or something rather trivial? Imagine how the development pace and quality of Linux-based operating systems might skyrocket if the talented people working with some of the more obscure distributions contributed to the more mainstream ones that the vast majority of us end users use. Here's some more "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 for that distro
- you get to choose the desktop you want to and, in doing so, you further neuter the selection of available software or end up installing mega-massive dependency packages you don't want
- you get to choose that you want more security holes and truck loads more bugs than Windows according to this guy who writes, among a plethora of other problems:
Critical bug reports filed against the Linux kernel often get zero attention and may linger for years before being noticed and resolved.
and this guy who gives us the reason for the above:
Linux Torvalds is famous for not caring much about security and very few implementations in the Linux kernel is developed with security in mind. That is why, in the world of the Linux kernel and Linux distributions, security is mostly something you have to "add on" or patch, which is the wrong approach to security.
- if you decide to run a Long Term Support edition, you get to run often outdated, buggy and feature deprived software because that's pretty much all that will be available in your repository
- you get to choose to spend hours scouring the web for solutions to trivial problems that shouldn't exist, then 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 window or mouse cursor theme is system wide? HA!
- you get to choose to run an OS that just feels a lot less robust than Windows, assuming you were very careful with how you configured the system and what software and updates you installed
So why did i choose Linux if i have so many gripes, you ask? Because i had no choice. I couldn't continue to run a proprietary operating system that i knew was spying on me and sending who knows what to who knows where for who knows why. Even with all the registry hacks and all the hosts file redirects and all the firewall rules and all the component removals and all the 3rd party cleaners and anti-spying tools, you simply can not trust an operating system for which the source code is unavailable, full stop.
And as far as the stability i enjoyed with Windows, i very well may be an exception to the rule as there are tons and tons of horror stories involving botched Microsoft updates that caused massive problems for many users and businesses. I attribute my ability to avoid such disasters to my software and updates selectivity.
This fun presentation, 'Windows is AWESOME!', by Bryan Lunduke, will provide many more answers as to why i made the switch. Mind you, Bryan gave this talk at a Linux conference...
For the average user Linux may well be as good as Windows from a usability perspective and it's not authored by a f'n evil company. It's not proprietary. It's workings aren't kept secret. It doesn't have back doors built in to it (so far as we know). Its licenses aren't restrictive. It isn't designed to spy on people 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 those who care about privacy and what organizations and values we want to support. There is indeed more to the free software ethic than free software; it's a life choice and some of us care about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we leave for future generations.
Although my path to Linux hasn't been free of landmines, it has been worth the journey. It's very comforting 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 single update, wondering if it will push some despicable garbage down my throat. It's nice to not have to deal with anti-virus software, which provides a false sense of security. It's comforting to know that Linux and the free software movement doesn't lend itself well to unethical software developers. It's also damned nice to distance myself from Billy 'The Asshole' Gates. And as for the problem of multiple software repositories, at least one can trust the software in those repositories and they do present a convenient one-stop-shop for most everything you need.
Unfortunately your computer runs more than one operating system and so installing Linux alone isn't a complete solution for the hardcore privacy and security geek. Motherboard firmware performs various tasks before the system is handed over to the user-facing OS and some of this stuff is a privacy and security nightmare. One example of this is the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) which is replacing the traditional Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). You can read more about this massive assault to your privacy and computer security in the articles 1.4 UEFI... The Microsoft Kill Switch and The Fight for a Secure Linux BIOS. You gotta start somewhere though and Linux is a massive step up in terms of privacy.
If you decide to give Linux a spin, i'd recommend a distribution that makes switching to a GNU/Linux system as easy as possible and there are at least several of them. Though i've never used it, Feren OS (review here) is specifically designed to ease the transition from those "other" OS's to Linux and it has some very interesting and useful features for doing so. Linux Mint is another popular choice and is the one i chose when i first dropped Windows. Most any popular Linux distribution can be test driven before you install it by writing an image to a USB stick and booting it. You can run it this way as long as you like without affecting your Windows virus and if you later decide to install it, you can do so right from an icon on the desktop. There is no shortage of resources to help one get started with a Linux-based OS, one of them being the Linux for Starters: Your Guide to Linux website.
If you ever get bored with with your distribution of choice and begin to feel more daring, i might suggest Manjaro Linux which is a slightly more stable, user friendly fork of Arch. Like Arch, Manjaro is a rolling release meaning that, unlike most distributions, you don't have to reinstall it to receive core system updates, however rolling releases are generally less stable than a static release based on, for example, Debian.
In the end, Linux is miles from perfect, but it runs on virtually any hardware you can imagine, new or old, and it provides a degree of trust that is nonexistent with any other proprietary computer operating system. When you choose a liberally licensed, open-source operating system, you're making a choice which has benefits that extend well beyond the individual; you're choosing to support freedom for all.
Good luck. And if there's anything i can do to help, leave a comment.