About 2 years ago now I converted from using Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux on my laptop full time. I had tried to do this before with Redhat and then SUSE but I never got an installation that could handle everything I needed to do, there was always something I had to go back to Windows for. With the release of Ubuntu 9.10 last October, I have finally done away with the Windows partition completely. It was only around to run the Outlook Plugin and the Off-Line Client before that anyway, so it was not that hard. I still have several Windows VMs but my hard drive is all Linux now. Now I am not saying that Ubuntu brings Linux to some sort of operating system apotheosis, but at this point in time (March 2010) and for my needs it is the equal of Windows in all the important areas.
I am currently on my 4th full install of Ubuntu (version 9.10), each time I learned lessons that I applied to the next install and this install is working out very well for me. It boots in around 20 seconds from power up to network ready, it runs for weeks at a time without a reboot, it supports my graphic card, sound card, network card, Bluetooth, USB 2.0 and every other piece of hardware in my laptop.
I have nothing against Windows, I still have a Windows machine in the house. It has it’s place even for “Power Users”. But there are a certain subset of Power Users that find that Linux offers more of that “Power” experience than Windows or Mac does. When I first started programming computers it was an adventure. We had 5K or 16K, maybe, to fit everything into, code and data, and you had to find ways to bend the hardware to your needs. You had to find out how things worked and why the worked and then maybe roll your own software to make it do what you needed it to do. I remember once programming a side scrolling space game on my Vic20 and my brother and I found that instead of wasting memory on bitmaps of rocks flying through space we would just grab a random group of bytes from memory and render them on the screen. The bytes that were grabbed almost always rendered into a jagged little rocks and saved 60-70 bytes of ram. Linux still allows that kind of experience, allows not requires mind you. Windows (and Mac as well) are more of a polished, sterile experience to me. Not bad just not adventurous.
Linux has a couple dozen different window managers to choose from and at least 4 different desktop managers to fit underneath them. If you don’t like your Linux desktop then you can change it in fundamental ways. If you don’t like your Windows desktop there are some tweaks you can use and maybe a third party program you can buy to show you those tweaks but essentially you are stuck with what you get. With Windows you get to use NTFS as your file system. On Linux there are a wide variety of file systems, even encrypted filesystems, that each have different strengths depending on what you store on your hard drive. You can customize as much or as little as you want and it’s all free.
Window/Mac on the other hand have one window manager and one desktop manager. You get basically the same experience as every other Windows user whether you like it or not. Of course, at least in Windows, you can purchase third party addons that can change the window manager but for most people there is little more than themes to play with. There is one filesystem for Windows, NTFS. Which while better than FAT32, is still a behemoth on resources. I have done a hundred different benchmarks and ext4 eats NTFS for lunch in almost every category. The MFT is a great idea for large files but small, often changed files suffer and SugarCRM is nothing but thousands of small files. Throw SVN into the mix and it grinds to a halt. On windows it can take most of, if not more than, 1 minute to unzip SugarCRM. On my linux box it rarely takes more than 4-5 seconds. Lastly, there is the cost, my neighbor who has 4 computers will have to lay out more than $350 to upgrade to Windows 7. That doesn’t include the cost of upgrading his aging OfficeXP or any hardware upgrades he is going to need. Admittedly Windows 7 is lighter on the hardware than Vista was so that last one might not be so bad
So I am going to write a bit about my experience, how I got from there to here and what I learned along the way. I might even mention SugarCRM once in a while.
I thought I would start with some mythbusting (more or less) some old truths
- Linux won’t support my hardware
- This might have been true and may still be true on some hardware. I have loaded Ubuntu on dozens of desktops and laptops and have found that only video cards really cause any issues. Nvidia and ATI video cards are almost all supported though and that accounts for most of the video cards out there.
- Ubuntu even found my wireless network and bluetooth during install, a task that required a driver disk when installing Windows Vista on the same hardware.
- I plugged my wife’s kodak camera into my USB port and the OS saw the camera and loaded a program to pull pictures off of it. Same with her no-name brand MP3 player. From what I understand iPods need not apply but other than that, everything worked just as well as it had in Windows.
- Ubuntu even loaded my networked printer without a driver disk, my USB headphones worked first time, it was great.
- I won’t know how to do things
- If you take the standard options during install, what you will get will be very Windows-like. This is no accident. Browsing the web and Email will be very familiar to you.
- There will be a little learning curve of course but it is not very steep at all.
- I won’t be able to run the apps I need
- This might also be true. I am a programmer most of the time. The vendor I bought my programming environment from (Zend) had a Linux version. OpenOffice is my MSOffice replacement and it does everything I need (even has a SugarCRM plugin for the word processor to generate mail merges), Firefox has a Linux version, Thunderbird is very Outlook-ish and so forth.
- For HTML editing I could use a Linux program like Bluefish or one of a dozen others but I learned Macromedia DreamWeaver a long time ago and own it (version 8) and I love it. It runs great in Linux using a program called Wine. It allows many windows apps to run nativity under Linux. I also run Macromedia Flash 8, WinMerge and PaintShop Pro under Wine and they all work fine. From what I understand MSOffice runs fine under Wine although I have not tried that myself.
- For email I run Thunderbird3. It has everything I need (complex filters & spam-handling) and loads in seconds instead of a few minutes as my Outlook used to do. The searches (even the advanced ones) are about 10x faster as well.
- I use Clam Anti-virus and they make a Windows and Linux version.
- You have to compile everything you want to install or it’s hard to install new software
- I have not compiled anything with this install, or the two or three that preceded it. Nothing
- There is a package manager that downloads and installs just about any program you could need, most others install much the same and on Windows. Once programs are loaded this package manager also makes sure you are up to date and if a newer version comes out it alerts you and lets you update it. Something that Windows doesn’t do for the most part and when it does it does it in a hundred little taskbar apps that sit there and suck memory.
- Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty out there to compile. If you are adventurous it might be the way to go.
- I wont be supported
- Are you supported now? If something goes wrong in windows do you call Microsoft?
- I have a Dell laptop and they don’t even ask what the OS is. So far I have gotten excellent hardware support when something has gone wrong.
- There are dozens of forums and most all real IT people are comfortable in Linux at least enough to fix software issues.
- You can even pay for support if you want.
Next I will write a few posts going over the lessons I have learned from past installs, what choices I made and why and things like that.