I just finished reading an article on OSNews.com about why people are not flocking to Linux. As usual it turned into an anti-Vista discussion. I will be the first to admit that I do not like Vista. I didn't like it before I ever got it. I do like Linux though, and I think more people would too if they would put as much effort into it as they do Windows.
If you are still reading this, then you probably already know something about Linux or want to know something about Linux. What we commonly refer to as Linux are really distributions that are being generalized as Linux instead of meaning the just the kernel. I have used several distro's over the years; Red Hat (before Fedora), Mandrake something, and a few others. Needless to say that I didn't stick with those because of their alien feel. But I used Windows and lived Litestep. Litestep made using Windows fun for me. We have a great community with Litestep and that is how I heard of Linux. There were tons of themes mimicking Desktop Environments (DE's) for Linux. I loved GNOME themes and KDE themes. There were also a few Blackbox themes, and then I found a Blackbox shell for Windows and tried that for a while. I figured if I enjoyed these alternate shells so much; why not try the real thing? Needless to say, I failed horribly because while I am an advanced Windows user, I was as lost in Linux distro's as Granny Jane Doe (or Grandpa John Doe for you equal opportunity thugs) is with any computer. So I stuck with Litestep and Windows. I learned so much about Windows from my friends in Litestep that I eventually just started following all the geek news sites and read all the articles about Microsoft. Man, what an eye opener.
Then Ubuntu was created (or at least I discovered it). I kept hearing how this was the distro that would make it easy for anyone to leave Windows. So I tried it. I failed again. I had to drop into the Command Line Interface (CLI) a few times and I hated it. When I had to go to the CLI it only served to highlight my inadequacies with this new OS. Suddenly I was no longer the nerd people wanted help from; I was the newbie asking dumb questions. Man that was a blow to my ego. Sooner or later I would just go back into Windows to do something "real quick" and ended up staying in it.
I stopped using Windows personally on Sept 19, 2007 (I still have to use XP at work, and now I have Vista on a laptop for school). Yes, I know the exact date. I had a shoulder surgery and was off work for an extended period of time and decided that I was going to finally leave Windows because of issues important to me; Microsoft's ideas of who owns the software I purchased (licensing), their business model, whom their partners are
the list goes on and on. I guess I like to think of my computer as a friend, a partner, or at least and associate. If this were a person, would I be friends with them? Honestly I don't think I would. Friends look out for each other, don't spy on each other and friends do not cheat each other. It's called trust. Do you trust Microsoft? Microsoft does not trust you. Do you trust any business that wants to collect data on you? I don't mean crash data, I mean usage data. That means wanting to know what you do in the privacy of your own home. Anyways, that is for another time and I digress. Open Source Software (OSS) as I understand it just appealed to me. Yes it is free, and I admit that is what attracted me to it in the beginning because I am such a tight-ass. It started with Litestep, next was GIMP, Mozilla's browser (then Firebird/Firefox) soon followed. Then I just started looking for more OSS to replace other apps that I used. I won't go into detail, but there is an open source app for every common need, and quite a few for very specific needs. Again, I digress.
As I said, I had failed every attempt to leave Windows up to this point. I realized it was because I made it too easy for me to go back. However I also was not ready to wipe the hard drive off completely and need to start over from scratch. So I used a spare HD to install Kubuntu and just disconnected the XP HD so that it would not install as a dual boot. So now I had a machine dedicated to Linux and if I had a problem I couldn't boot into Windows "real quick". I have to admit it was frustrating, but I was adamant. I was also high on pain meds, so maybe I was a little more patient that I would have been otherwise. It was not a smooth transition. I love KDE. I love the look of it, the font rendering; the configuration possibilities are virtually endless. But that also means the simplest task can become confusing. Also, some things that I thought would be obvious and necessary I was not allowed to do or have in KDE. Maybe this wasn't KDE, maybe it was just Kubuntu? I ended up switching to regular ole Ubuntu. I won't go into details on the how or why because honestly it isn't important. After a while I will probably try to go back to KDE because I like it better, but I seem to be able to use GNOME more easily. It's hard to explain. It's like wanting to drive a cool sports car but not knowing how to drive a stick shift.
Needless to say I am now to a point where I can do almost everything I did in Windows. Music & movie encoding, games, office work, anything related to internet or networking, printing, you name it. Now DVD ripping is still a problematic thing for me, but I find that I just don't care enough about the movies to make this an issue. I still make my home videos of the kids on DVD, I still use my Zen Vision: W for video, pictures and music, I browse the internet and send emails, and well you get the idea. The only things I cannot do now that I did under Windows are copy protected DVD ripping and or Windows/OSX only websites. (Do you hear me Key Bank?) I think that is it really.
In al lot of ways, my computer usage experience is far superior or at least identical to Windows. There are few things that are worse though.
Package Management I choose this one first on purpose. A lot of people just cannot get used to installing software in Linux. Let me correct that, Ubuntu. Since that is what I am learning on, that is what I will be referring to. Synaptic, in my opinion, is awesome. It took some getting used to at first. If you are used to Windows, you know the drill. If you want to install an app, go to the website and download the installer. Here is an example. You have a clean install of XP and you want Firefox, Thunderbird, Gaim/Pidgin, a Texas Hold'em poker game, jukebox, FTP client, and VideoLAN. That would be seven websites. Then seven separate downloads. Then seven new folders on the Start menu. Then you delete the seven downloaded installers. Then you regularly check for updates on those seven websites. Until you actually write this stuff down, you don't realize how many steps there are in it. Now in Ubuntu, open Synaptic and hit search and type the app name. Tick the install button and repeat for however many apps you want. Once they are all selected, hit apply. They are all downloaded and installed along with the dependencies. The menu entries are put into existing categories that make sense instead of alphabetical by company name. That's it.
One thing I used to do was use search for a specific need and find apps that fit the need. Now I do that in Synaptic. I would look for "Mario" and find games like Maryo (which is awesome) or find Super Nintendo emulators (which are awesomer). If I didn't like it, I would mark "totally remove" in Synaptic and it is gone. No folders left behind, no menu entries that point to nowhere, and no registry entries to deal with. I have found a ton of apps this way.
Lack of Advertising You may not even realize this at first. On occasion I have had to use someone else's computer, and I was inundated with advertising. For example, open up AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or just about any messenger. There are those little banners or text advertisements on the contact window. Open up a new conversation window. What's at the bottom? Mortgage rates? Florists? ADVERTISING! Ooh, I know, let's send an official Austin Powers Wink! Or a Pepsi sponsored nudge or some other equally useless feature that is nothing more than an excuse to sell advertising to companies. This is when you realize that Windows is not about the user, it is another platform for companies to place advertising in the home just like the TV or radio.
It isn't limited to messengers. In Firefox, I use NoScript, AdBlock Plus, and R.I.P. to get rid of overbearing advertising. I have never, and I do mean never, purposefully clicked on banner, flash, or text advertising. I can't stand it. So when I come from my computer at home and use IE at work it is like browsing two different internets. Thank god Firefox is cross platform. There are also the Office app's. How much is Office nowadays? $400? $500? And if you want to customize it, you have to pay for third party modifications. Buddy, if I pay that much for it, I should be able to change the appearance in infinite ways and I shouldn't have to pay to change the UI. Again, OpenOffice is cross platform. Thank goodness for that.
It's everywhere in Windows, Acrobat has ads now too. Evince doesn't. Winamp on Windows has advertising on its little browser. WMP
Do I really need to say anything about that? Rhythmbox and Amarok don't have advertising AND are fantastic players. Anyways, you all see what I mean.
OEM Crapware I just bought a laptop for school. So I had no choice but to get Vista (I am going for PC Technician/A+ Certification, so I have to have a Windows installation on it). There were no less than 50 programs that I uninstalled. 50! Now granted I may be more anal retentive than some people, but there is no excuse for that much crap on a PC. There is even a script out there called "The Decrapifyer" or something to help remove these programs from new PC's. There was the afore mentioned instant messengers, Office Demo, Antivirus demo, card printing demo, anti-virus demo, you name a demo and it was on there. It took what seemed like forever to get rid of them all. Not to mention all the reboots. Needless to say this is not an issue under any free Linux distro that I am aware of.
Work Environment I can't think of a better way to describe this, so I just called it the work environment. So far, the Desktop Environments I have tried all have given you the ability to manipulate the application windows. For example, roll up, vertical maximize, horizontal maximize, always on top, snap to edges, and virtual desktops. Now these are all available on windows from third party vendors, but shouldn't they be a part of the OS? Not in Microsoft's' eyes. There is no money in that. There is money in bundling the media player and browser though.
How about those times when the computer is running just a little slow and stutters for some reason? In windows you bring up the task manager. In Gnome and KDE there are simple meters that can be put on the panels, kickers or whatever you want to call them. I personally like GNOME's implementation the best. I have three on my panel; CPU usage, RAM usage, Network activity. They are just basic graphs that tell me performance. Oh look, CPU is at 100%, that explains the slow down.
Some might mention CompizFusion now. There is very little there that interests me. Just like Aero doesn't interest me. Some may like it, but it doesn't bring me anything I need.
Last thing, so far all my application are unified in appearance. My office applications match my media player
and my messenger
and my file manager.
Install, upgrade, and give it away This is the biggie. My one Ubuntu disc has been installed on no less than five different computers. No serial numbers, no activation, no Ubuntu Genuine Advantage, no restrictions on how I use MY copy. Oh no! My kids used my installation disc as a Frisbee and ruined it! Oh wait, I can just download it again. I don't have to repurchase it, or pay shipping for replacements. I don't even know if Microsoft or manufacturers will give you replacements.
What is even better is the fact that I haven't been over to those people houses since I installed Ubuntu. I used to have to go over weekly to "fix the computer" for them. Now granted these people were not experienced Windows users, they are computer novices. A great example is my in-laws, and this is the honest to god truth. The PII 233 computer they had died finally, so they bought an Acer with an AMD Athlon64 3700 processor with a gig of ram and I think 120GB HD (Totally irrelevant, but the monitor was a beautiful 19" widescreen and they loved that part). They thought they bought a bad PC because it was so slow; slow at booting, launch apps, even opening pictures. There was no reason for it really. It came with Vista Basic and it was special sale at Best Buy, so I didn't expect much. Boy did it meet my expectation. It should have been screaming fast compared to their old computer, but everything just crawled. I put Ubuntu on it with a Metacity theme to look similar to their Vista Basic visual style and they loved it. They thought I had fixed the problem because it was suddenly so much faster at everything. They even bought some cheapy games at Wal-Mart and installed them and they worked without a hitch thanks to WINE. I have since told them that they are no longer running Windows and changed the appearance to something a little easier to read for them. BIG fonts, higher contrast, stuff like that. But since everything works for them, they said they were fine without Windows.
I wish I could say that everything is better under Linux in general, but alas it is not true. There are a few things I personally miss or prefer in Windows-land.
File Manager I like a ton of options in my file manager. I used to use Directory Opus, and then xplorer2 became my favorite. Either one of those however had oodles of options, views, and layouts. I just cannot find a file manager that comes close to those applications. In xplorer2 (which used the explorer engine) you have the details, list, icon, tile, and thumbnail views. There was a treeview and dual panes with their own multiple tabs. Just a ton of options and it was still pretty lightweight. The closest I can get is Konqueror but it is a pretty big app and kinda feels cumbersome.
Good example of something I miss. My music library is highly organized. Artist/Album/Tracks is my folder hierarchy. I have a JPG of ever CD I have ripped in the folder named "folder.jpg" and when I had thumbnail view selected, I had a visual collection to browse. Can't do that in any file manager I have found yet. I tried using xplorer2 via WINE and it installs no problem, but you can't do a lot of the things it does under windows.
Prevalence of GUI's I understand and appreciate the power of the CLI, but dammit I just want to use a GUI whenever possible. I sometimes wonder if programmers just want to be elitist and not make a GUI. I can use the CLI, I just don't like it.
Software Availability I know I hailed the package management up above, but this is a little different. This is when you find software than just isn't available for Linux. Or it is available but not in your repositories or in the precompiled format you need (.deb or .rpm for example). Let's face it; there are more applications for windows than any other platform.
Folder Structure I know it sounds like I am reaching here, but this is important I think. Folder names in Windows make sense. Hmmm, I wonder where this program was installed to? Oh yeah, it is in the "Program Files" folder. Where are system vital files kept? The Windows (or WINNT) directory. Not in Linux. We have folder names like /bin, /usr, /etc, and /tmp. Myb y cn ndrstd ths, but I prefer my folder names spelled out. Just so you know, your /home folder is where your personal data is stored. Not /usr. I can't really talk much more about this because I still don't understand it. I understand /home, and even have mine as a separate partition for a slew of good reasons. Maybe I'll talk about that later.
Gaming This really doesn't bug me, but sure as hell if I don't mention it someone will point this out as something I glossed over. I play little PC games nowadays. Even before leaving Windows I did little gaming on there. I like single player games with storylines. I play games to get away from people. Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, Warcraft 3, Jedi Outcast, Ultima VII Part 2
that's what I played. I heard that a lot of games are difficult or even impossible to get working on Linux. If you are all about small time waster games, Linux is your platform. You want a game system for the future, its Windows.
Man, I thought I had more for the negatives, but I really don't. I don't think I have a point other than don't follow the Microsoft dogma about "it just works". That's a lie. I can personally vouch that Windows without manufacturer support is terrible. Put some effort into your computing purchase. Oh well, do what you want. It's no skin off my nose if you stick with Windows.