Why Switch to Linux?

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I first became interested in Linux in about the year 2000. I was reading everything I could get my hands on by Neal Stephenson and ran into his article In the Beginning was the Command Line. I found it to be an interesting look at another way of using computers and decided I was going to give Linux a try, but didn't take the next step of actually installing and using it. By the way, In the Beginning is still interesting reading, but even Mr. Stephenson admits that most of it is now obsolete in this interview (the quote is a fair way into the interview, but it's there. The rest of the interview is pretty interesting too, though, so don't be afraid to read it all.)

It took a new computer with Windows Millenium Edition installed on it to finally get me to install Linux. I won't go over all the problems I had, but they probably weren't any different from anyone else's. I ended up buying Windows XP which was a huge improvement, but was very bitter about having to fork out $150 CDN to get an OS that works.

I downloaded and installed Red Hat 7.2. Linux didn't immediately replace Windows for me. It took time for me to learn how Linux worked, and it took Linux time to improve and mature, a process we're both still undergoing. I still have Windows XP, but now the only time I use it is to troubleshoot problems for others. Linux is now at the point where it is easier to install than Windows, and just as easy to run. My two printers, new DVD burner, and digital camera were easily detected and usable with Linux (okay, maybe not the camera). When I replaced my motherboard Linux just detected it and kept going. Windows wouldn't even boot. And with Linux you don't have to run antispyware and antivirus software.

I see three reasons a person may want to switch. First, she may be tired of fighting malware, such as viruses and spyware. She may want an alternative to Microsoft's increasingly restrictive licensing schemes. And she may just want to try out something new as a hobby.

If you belong to one of the first two categories, the first thing you have to do is find out if you can accomplish the same tasks in Linux as you can in Windows. Many times there are equivalent programs, and sometimes there are not. People will tell you that Wine will let you run Windows programs under Linux, but that's only partly true. Wine can be difficult to configure and will not run all Windows applications. Crossover (a commercial, tweaked version of Wine) may be a good solution, but check to make sure the application you want to run is supported.

My mother uses these basic programs on her computer: Firefox, Thunderbird, ExpressScribe, Word, and iTunes. Five. She runs five basic programs. Firefox and Thunderbird already run on Linux, so those are no problem. OpenOffice can replace Word for her. And there are many music players on Linux, I'd probably pick Amarok for her. That leaves ExpressScribe, which is Windows only. But wait, it can run under Wine. She is a perfect candidate to switch to Linux.

A professional graphics artist using Photoshop will not want to switch to Linux. There is an excellent graphics program for Linux called the Gimp, but it won't replace Photoshop for a professional. Photoshop doesn't work well under Wine, and is still buggy when run under Crossover.

Games are another weak spot in Linux. There are lots of games under Linux, but chances are that your favourite game in Windows will not run. People do run World of Warcraft under Wine, but that's one of the exceptions. One thing to consider is getting a console to game with, and using your computer for the internet and productivity. This is a personal decision.

You can still have the best of both worlds. There are live CDs that let you try Linux, although because they run off the CD drive they can be slow. You can also dual boot Windows and Linux, which means you can choose which one to run when you turn on the computer. This way you can use Linux for everyday, but when you need to do something that you have to do in Windows you still have that option.

Of course, if you're perfectly happy running Windows with no problems and have no desire to try out this other hippy OS, there is no reason for you to switch. You also probably haven't read this far, so I could really say anything I wanted to about you. But I won't. It's all about choice.

Why did you switch to Linux? Why aren't you switching to Linux? Thinking about it, but not sure? Let me know in the comments, or in an email.

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About Steve R.

  • ME
  • I switched to Linux just because it is far more usable for me than windows is. I do websites, have to test them in various platforms and vmware virtualization software works better under Linux than it works under windows in terms of performance.

    Apart from that, software updates from ubuntu works better than windows-update. Linux is also more secure and I don’t have to bother with attacks when I am connected to the internet via wireless networks outdoors (my virtual xp box still do get affected by them).

    Wide variety of software and debian’s packet management system makes installing software easier than it is in windows.

    To sum up, Linux helps me more than windows in productivity. That’s why I switched.

  • MN

    I switched to Linux because I am bored with Windows. Windows doesn’t fascinate me anymore and let’s be serious… how many Windows users have licenses? Probably 10% or less?… Would you like to be a Internet pirate all your life or maybe until they catch you? Do you enjoy viruses or maybe you like to chase all day long viruses insteed of working quietly on your PC? You like gaming? Then buy a PlayStation or Xbox console… and SWITCH to Linux now!

  • Bliffle

    I plan to switch to Ubuntu as my internet-connected frontend running Firefox, etc., on my main laptop (IBM T40)and any legacy Windows apps running on an old laptop (IBM 570) which will probably be RJ45 connected.

    My intention is to improve security by isolating app functions from network functions.

  • f0rw4rd.sl4sh

    I switched to Linux around the same time in 99-2000.
    Started off with RH7. Wasn’t impressed at first. I kept learning more about the system though, and gone through many a distros. I ended up using Ubuntu & OpenBSD. I know I need a variety of functions, word processing, spreadsheets, music, videos, burning CD/DVDs… What I use now (Ubuntu) can handle all of that. I am IT consultant by trade. Everyone I know who is just starting out with a PC I recommended, and have set them up with an Ubuntu box (most with existing high speed internet connection). No one has ever called with a problem or howto.. Top it off, most of the folks I helped out never had a PC before. After I explain what needs to be done when using Windows & then Ubuntu. Folks are thanking me for a system that is far less taxing on the maintenance, and rocks with speed and security..

  • Greg

    I’ve been wanting to switch to Linux as a primary OS for several years, but have yet to do so. I use it for servers, and develop on it (well, remotely over Samba and SSH). For a while, it was lacking a good text editor for Perl, but now there’s Komodo (which I currently use on Windows). I know Eclipse is there, but it sucks for Perl, or did last time I tried it out. I still don’t know what I can use to replace MusicMatch, but I’m sure I’d find something. I’m not keen on GAIM instead of Trillian (which I prefer by a wide margin), but I could get used to it. The only remaining issue is gaming. I have a group of friends that play games online, and rarely are there linux versions of the games we play. Most of them do not work properly under WINE or Crossover as well.

    You know what would go a long way to fixing this problem? Linux adding supported for binary drivers. Nvidia and ATI would be able to make better linux drivers that are easier to install and upgrade. Same with sound cards and other hardware. Once that was resolved, a lot of the problems with doing 3d graphics on linux would be overcome, more people would try it out. With more marketshare game developers would take it seriously. Maybe that’s a pipedream, but I think it could happen. I know why Linux doesn’t allow binary drivers, and in Utopia that is a noble decision. In reality, it’s a terrible decision, and it’s the users who lose out.

  • I am using WinXP MCE and heard very good things about MythTV. I develop websites (http://www.in4matrix.co.uk) as well but am sure there will be plenty of HTML editors out there that work well on Linux. The tough decision for me is what version. I considered Ubuntu and Linspire but need help deciding. Any ideas very welcome.

  • An option for games that wasn’t mentioned in the article is Cedega. There is a list of games that work with it here: http://transgaming.org/gamesdb/

    Greg- Under Ubuntu at least, installing and updating binaries for Nvidia or ATI is very easy once you add the proper repositories. And it looks like the next version of Ubuntu is going to install them by default, although there is a little controversy over this.

    What do you use Musicmatch for? There are lots of options for burning and ripping CDs in Linux as well as organizing your music. Banshee is one that will do all of that, but there are others as well.

    Santa Clause- Nobody can tell you which distro is best for you, but I would suggest trying out some of the free distros like Ubuntu or Freespire before you pay $50 for a commercial version of Linux (Linspire). And once you find out it works for you a $50 donation to your favourite distro would be appreciated by them.

  • My switch started because I was getting increasingly paranoid about malware. I heard about Firefox at version 0.8, tried it, liked it and switched. Right around the end of 2004/beginning of 2005 I started looking into Linux. I tried Ubuntu Warty and was quite impressed. I slowly found myself using Ubuntu more and more until I was able to ditch Windows in mid-2006 when Google released Earth for Linux 🙂 Right now I’m using Feisty; its still in alpha, but its amazing to watch the rapid pace of development!

    I got my neighbor across the street, a nice little old lady, to use Ubuntu when she got a new computer since it doesn’t need as much maintenance as Windows and didn’t get the IE pr0n popups that were upsetting her. After a while I got her daughter and granddaughter to switch too 🙂

    I think that identifying the main programs/activities one uses a computer for is an excellent way to determine if someone is ready to use Linux. For the average persn who just wants to surf the web a little, play card games and send the occasional e-mail, there is no excuse to pay for a shoddy OS like Windows 😉

  • h3

    I did switch to linux for about 6 months. I had a new laptop and I decided I’d try to learn Slackware.

    Ok it was quite hard to start and slackware isn’t the most user friendly distribution. But once I figured out how it worked I’ve managed to make every single part of my laptop work as good as on windows. And I learned a LOT of thing that still are pretty usefull to me.

    I really enjoyed my experience on Linux, but at the time I often had that little feeling of using an unfinished OS, or at least unpolished.

    Now I run windows XP on my new laptop, but this one is powefull enough to let me run multiple OS with VMware. So I’ve tried Ubuntu and I have to say that I have been really impressed by the maturity of this distribution. If my job didn’t require me to run windows I would probably run Ubuntu.

    Anyway, one thing’s for sure. My next OS won’t be Vista.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Brilliant Article…
    I can definitely agree that there is a need for change. It’s evident that MS doesn’t care for it’s customers because they charge a fortune for buggy, unstable releases.

    Though, I find it funny that alot of users that complain about viruses with XP, still rely on MaCafree(?) or Norton which are just as at fault as MS. I use Kaspersky…It runs lite and I don’t have any issues. (Yes, I understand that it will always be a problem until people start writing viruses for linux)

    And,How many people run XP pro and don’t use msconfig or “System” under the control panel to weed out the security breeches?

    There will always be pros & cons but I will have to wait until my system is upgraded before I want to run multiple Operating systems.

    Honestly, why don’t you just spend the money on a mac? They are more reliable and powerful and you can run XP (or Vista) as a second OS.

  • Nick

    I literally just switched to Linux yesterday (Kubuntu 6.06). Here’s the short version of why I switched.

    Until about six months ago all I used my computer for was as a word processor and e-mail machine. I was vaguely aware of this thing called “open source” and agreed with it in principle (I’m a bit of a leftist) but, had no real application of it in my life. Explorer and Word seemed to work just fine. Then someone introduced me to Firefox and realized what software could be… it really revolutionized how I looked at my computer. I’ve been teaching myself a little bit of programming in VB, learned to edit my registry and tweak XP, and finally last night got Kubuntu up and running.

    I’ve still got XP on my machine as I’m not quite confident enough yet in Linux to make the switch complete, but after playing around in it for a day it’s hard to imagine I’ll use windows much longer.

    A more stable, less buggy, more user-friendly, more secure OS that’s not only available for free but was built on a model of voluntary cooperation and not economic domination? It’s no-brainer really.

  • Pam Hayes

    I’ve been using Linux long enough that I cannot remember much about how to fix Windows machines. The latest revisions of OpenOffice, the coolness of compiz and distributions like OpenSuSE 10.2 make Linux far easier to digest. The switch is nearly transparent with very rare exceptions.

    3D support in Linux, especially for NVIDIA GPU’s is great too. The drivers put out by NVIDIA pretty much just work and the installation and management of them is pretty simple if you can follow a 3 step guide.

    Now we just need to revive Loki and get the games part back under control. I refuse to believe that company went out of business because the market wouldn’t support their products. I do buy all the consoles that come out after the first couple of price drops because I have bought into the separation of games and PC’s but nothing beats a Linux Mahjong machine! 🙂

    Anyway, great article.

  • In early 1997, I was burned out by Microsoft’s corrupted mistakes and screw-ups.

    I heard of GNU/Linux, got TurboLinux, Red Hat, the quad package of Linux distros, and, BSD! http://Cheapbytes,com became my friend, and since, I have reveled in Open Source!

    I function at three Linux Users Groups, plus dozens of trade shows and conferences, Ham meets, and computer fairs.

    Since Klaus Knopper and his team released Knoppix, I have pushed that, in some 310 distros. http://livecdlist.com I have handed out over 1,000 Cdroms since 1997, and converted over 250 computers and their owners. Recommended over 10,000 times on comments to windoze lusers.

    My favorite Distro for most noobs and schools/businesses is http://pclinuxos.com

    The trouble is this, sheeple believe the media, and the gold rules that domain. Microsoft will have market share until they run out of cash.

    But, grassroots can overthrow tyrants, and will win this one. Patience is a virtue we have on our side.

  • Grrmo

    how do u get your computer to offer you the option to run linux or windows? ive been interested in that fact but never knew how? help anybody?

  • when i first moved to ubuntu from xp i had a problem that i was not able to use gimp like Photoshop and it wa sa big problem for me , but because of the interests i had for linux i learned gimp and never gone back to windows