i don't do windows

From Windows to Linux – A personal perspective

Windows 95 was preinstalled on the first personal computer i was infected with. 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, rather it is a part of the operating system known as the kernel. I’m a victim of this misunderstanding myself.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of running Windows 95 might agree that it was an unstable, bug-riddled piece of crap. Windows 98 was much better, relatively speaking, but it still had many problems. I have to say though that 98 was a pretty good gaming OS. XP 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 7 somewhere around 2011 or so and Windows 7 would be my final Windows OS (us weathered Windows users were smart enough to skip Vista entirely).

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 and, in turn, digital privacy and security. Naturally i quickly deduced that running a closed-source OS from a company well-worth hating was not conducive to maintaining an acceptable level of control over my digital privacy. This was further reinforced upon reading the forum post, Microsoft’s Really Hidden Files , by “The Riddler” on f**kmicrosoft.com. By the way, i believe the f**kmicrosoft.com domain was taken over by Microsoft. Ii think that’s quite fitting, don’t you? 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 just the computer geek at work or maybe he knew what a computer was or something. It was a long time ago. anyway, i asked him several questions about what data Windows stores and how it stores it and how that data is used by law enforcement (LE) to screw the user that paid for an OS that spies on them. Having thought i’d gained some trust with this guy after several emails over the course of several days, i finally unleashed the question that was burning a hole in my mind: Can LE access a Windows computer remotely without first installing a RAT (Remote Access Tool – think ‘Trojan’)? His answer was, “What do you think?”. He broke off contact with me at that point as i recall.

I don’t think it was too long after that education that i started playing with various Linux distributions. I recall booting Mandrake, Red Hat, SUSE, Debian and possibly one or two others over the course of several years and every attempt i made to familiarize myself with Linux resulted in my going back to Windows, partly because i was very comfortable with it, except for the privacy aspect, and partly because every distribution had major problems. And they still do. ALL of them. I was simply not familiar with Linux and i found it to be too different and too limiting compared to Windows. Often there were no good software counterparts to Windows software and the hardware drivers were garbage in many instances. If a driver worked at all, that’s all it did. Most of the granular settings for tuning a driver and coaxing the most out of your hardware simply didn’t exist. Perhaps even more important was stability, or lack thereof as Linux seemed to be extremely fragile. I remember booting a very mainstream distro and changing some benign setting for the display and *poof*, that system never booted again. On another occasion i was playing around with another mainstream distro and the power went out (this was before i started using a BPS). That OS never booted again either. What the hell? I rarely had these kinds of basic problems with Windows. Windows 98, and particularly XP, were an order of magnitude more robust than Linux according to my experience.

As the years rolled by, and though i enjoyed using 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. Once again us Microsoft-hating Windows users were smart enough to block the so-called “upgrade”, choosing instead to run the OS we wanted to run rather than the OS the monopolistic self-serving morons in Redmond wanted to infect us with. The utter, in-your-face assault to personal privacy that Windows 10 presented was unbelievable. I was so disillusioned with Microsoft at that point that, even though i wasn’t running 10, i dumped Windows and switched to Linux, later deleting all my Windows installation images and license keys so that i would have a hard time returning to it even if i wanted to. 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 on 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 significantly lessor degree. And although now covering a much wider array of hardware, drivers can still be an issue. For example, there is nothing like the kX Project sound card drivers for Linux that i’m aware of and therefor you cannot take full advantage of the cards that the kX Project supports. Nowhere was i able to find a driver for my laptop camera either. 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 versions 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 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 developer 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 another distribution? Or another desktop environment? This is so ass-backwards in my opinion. It’s can be very frustrating for the end user as well since the software package you want may not be available for the distribution you are using, or perhaps not for the particular desktop environment you 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+ desktop environments to choose from?

And why are there so many different distributions of Linux? 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 at what cost do all these choices come? How many of these distributions are a result of pure ego? How many are actually fundamentally different as opposed to simply having a different logo or set of icons or whatever? Imagine how the development pace and quality of the distributions might increase if half of the people working with some of the more obscure distributions contributed their talent to the more mainstream distros.

Here’s the “choice” you get with Linux:

  • you get to choose what distro you want and, in doing so, the average user has no choice but to use the the software repo that’s compatible with it
  • you get to choose the desktop you want to use and, in doing so, some of the software in the repo may not work at all, or may not work without installing massive dependency packages
  • 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 buggy software because that’s pretty much all that will be available in your repo
  • you get to choose to spend hours scouring the web for solutions to trivial problems that should never exist and then spend more time looking at a text console (terminal) running commands you don’t understand but pray will work and often don’t
  • in at least some cases 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? think again!)
  • 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 OS that i knew was spying on its users, 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 totally fun watch too!

That’s one reason i dumped Windows. For the average user Linux may not be as good as Windows from a usability perspective, but it’s not authored by an evil company. It’s not proprietary. It’s code isn’t hidden. Its licenses aren’t restrictive. It isn’t inherently 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; people who care about what organizations, values and ethical standards they want to support, now and in the future. People who care about what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we leave for our children because there is so much more to the free software movement than “free” software. It’s a way of living.

Although the path to Linux has not been free of roots, it has been worth the journey. It is very comforting to me to know that i can trust my operating system to not engage in nefarious behavior behind my back, wondering if it’s calling home and what it might be sending. It’s nice to not have to create dozens of firewall rules in an attempt to keep it and its software from phoning home. 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 you can generally trust the software in those repositories.

If you decide to give Linux a spin, i might recommend Linux Mint as is currently one of the more popular and polished Linux distributions that’s oriented toward beginners. It’s easy to install and use and it comes with a lot of good software as well as most/all of the hardware drivers one will need to get their computer and peripherals working. 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 Mint for as long as you like without affecting your Windows installation. If you later decide to install Mint, it is trivial to do so right from an icon on the Mint desktop. Everything you need to know is 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 which aims to be a user friendly rolling release based on Arch Linux. The primary advantages with Manjaro is that you never have to reinstall the OS since it’s a roller and the software repo is very large, plus you can access the AUR which provides another plethora of software packages, though some can be problematic. Another disappointment with Manjaro is that Pamac, the GUI package manager, pales in comparison to Synaptic and apt in my personal opinion.

2 thoughts on “From Windows to Linux – A personal perspective

  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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