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 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 crap. 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 as it matured. 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 want to dump on them), 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 would say), i started to become interested in the inner workings of Windows, computer security and 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 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 (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 used by LE (that's "Law Enforcement" for you nooblets) to screw over those that paid for an OS which is designed to spy 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 (it's called "social engineering" nowadays), 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 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 familiarize myself with it 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 some Linux fanboys. Often there weren't any good software counterparts to Windows stuff and many hardware drivers were garbage. 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 uber-expensive octa-core giga-capable quantum-tech hardware simply didn't exist. The lack of stability was the worst 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 (semi-fact). 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 which was 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 angle, the fact that it was propitiatory, and the associated risks to my privacy that goes 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 at that point 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 hell 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 well 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 and wimpy. For example there's nothing like the good ol' kX Project sound card drivers which transformed some old Sound Blaster cards into a million dollar sound studio, free of charge. Oh, wait. I lied. Long after i originally wrote this i found KXStudio which has some really impressive software, including Carla. Nowhere was i able to find a driver for my laptop camera either, not that installing one would help much since i stuck tape over the thing. Stability is still an issue as well, though to a lessor degree and it appears Linux is more tolerant of hard resets. 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 was supposed to be. 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? To me this is a colossal waste of time, 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 available for the distribution they like, or perhaps not for the particular desktop environment they chose. 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 99.999% 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 more importantly, 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 trivial? Imagine how the development pace and quality of Linux 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 actually 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 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 (Linux Mint for example), you get to choose to run often outdated, 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 shouldn't exist and 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
So why did i choose Linux if i have so many gripes, you ask? 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 for who knows why. Even with all the registry hacks and all the hosts file redirects and all the firewall rules and all the 3rd party cleaners and anti-spying tools, etc., you can never ever trust a closed source, proprietary operating system, period, and that's not an option for us privacy advocates.
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 avoidance of such problems to my software and updates selectivity which allowed me to avoid the garbage and malware, and possibly a dose of good luck.
This fun presentation, 'Windows is AWESOME!', by Bryan Lunduke, will provide some key answers as to why i made the switch. He gave this talk at a Linux conference by the way...
For the average user Linux may 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 code isn't hidden. It doesn't have back doors built in (so far as we know). 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 those who care about privacy and what organizations, values and standards 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 our children.
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 Microsoft will try yet again to 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 anyway. It's comforting to know that Linux doesn't lend itself well to viruses and 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 privacy and security geeks. Various 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. Perhaps the most egregious 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 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 needed to get stuff up and running. To try Mint, or most other popular distros, you can just write an image to a USB stick and boot it. You can try it for 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. Everything you need to know should be in the installation guide.
If you ever get bored with Mint and begin to feel more adventurous, have a look at Manjaro which is quickly becoming a stable, user friendly Arch-based OS. It's also a rolling release meaning that, unlike most distributions, you don't have to reinstall it when it's updated.
In the end, Linux is miles from perfect, but it runs on virtually any hardware you can imagine, new and old, and it provides a degree of trust that is nonexistent with any proprietary computer operating system.
Good luck. And if there's anything i can do to help, leave a comment.