Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
I'm using the Linux distribution Ubuntu for over a year now – I hopped on the train with version 8.04 LTS. Although I still 'need' Windows for a number of things, like vector editing for example, – no vector drawing software in Linux satisfies my needs – I am more than pleased with this operating system. OK, I've never tried another distro since, but why should I? It runs perfectly – almost, that is.
Before this I was, like most people, using Windows XP. I didn't cross over to the Linux-side out of grudge against Microsoft. Hell no: Windows XP is a great OS, no matter what anyone claims. To me it was just as stable as Linux – and I must say: it caused less driver issues than its free competitor. Anyhow, the things that led me to give Ubuntu a try were the following.
I was just getting tired of Windows XP. It held little or no secrets anymore so it became kind of, well, 'boring' to use. I was in need of a new challenge and at the time Linux was the way to go for me. Another reason was that open source software is, in fact, free – in a sense that the user doesn't need to pay in order to get it. Whether using Linux as an OS costs nothing is the subject of perhaps another article.
Friends asked me why I didn't consider Apple to be an option. The answer for me is quite simple: I want my computer to by my computer. I remember a funny video that's still very popular on the web. The guy in the video calls using a Mac as 'tricking it into what you'd like it to do'. I couldn't agree more. It just doesn't provide the freedom that Window and Linux have to offer.
For a heavy computer minded person as myself the two reasons mentioned above were more than sufficient to consider leap into the realms of the Linux-world. But why would anyone use Ubuntu as main OS? Or keep using it in the first place? I can only speak for myself, but all of my attempts to install Ubuntu, on several computers, were successful. I admit that not everything worked out of the box and some hardware caused problems that I couldn't solve. My home computer on the other hand seems to be extremely Ubuntu-friendly since everything worked out of the box.
A downside of the story is that Ubuntu, like other distributions, lacks a real device manager. The device manager of Windows XP is everything a device manager should be. You plug in hardware, you select the correct driver and off you go. Of course there are also advantages about the way that drivers are handled in Linux, and I do not wish to start a discussion about which driver type had a better performance in use (although I my opinion Linux-drivers perform better – if they work as they ought to). The advantage of driver handling in Windows is that it's comprehensible to most users and that it allows the OS to support virtually any hardware.
So, why do I keep using Linux, or more specific, Ubuntu? Or: why do I prefer to use Ubuntu rather than Windows XP? Here are three reasons why.
1. Out of principle. Ubuntu is free and therefore I don't have to convince a major corporation every once and a while that I really do own a license. Besides, I can try another distro if I like, without charge. You cannot download a live CD of Windows just to give it a try.
2. Out of ease. A fresh install of Ubuntu costs me about an hour. If I'd like to set up a clean Window-install then I lose half a day. I especially like the fact that program setting are stored in the home directory; put it on a separate partition and previous settings will be automatically restored upon reinstalling the software. Awesome, isn't it? Also the support of usb storage devices works like a charm, unlike in Windows XP. In a way you could say that Linux is more plug and play than Windows, but unfortunately you would be only half right. But the biggest advantage is that my Ubuntu system doesn't really need any maintenance, whereas when I was using Windows computer maintenance was on my monthly to do list.
3. Out of coolness. Ubuntu provides a desktop environment that I find to be superior to that of Windows of OS X – although there's still plenty of room for improvement. With a nice graphic card and enabled desktop effect you can get the smoothest eye candy ever. And again: my desktop is my desktop, Linux desktop managers in general are far more adjustable then their colleagues. On top of that customizing the Ubuntu-desktop doesn't stress cpu nor memory as much. To skin Windows XP to your satisfaction you will need external utilities – as WindowBlinds – since the internal skinning capabilities are quite limited.
Sometimes, however, doubt crosses my mind. There do exist some reasons to go back to the Windows-world. For myself the three most important ones are the following.
1. Hardware support. Windows XP offers a kind of consumer freedom that doesn't exist in the Linux- of Apple-world. I can go to a computer shop and buy any hardware I like, it will work with Windows since the package contains drivers for it. Although companies sometimes also provide Linux-drivers for the hardware they sell, you don't get any guarantee that they will do the trick flawlessly. This 'different' kind of consumer freedom can be just as important when choosing an OS, in my opinion.
2. Available software. There exists plenty of free software on Windows. On top of that the choice in commercial software is immense, so if you really need a program to do a certain task you can buy it, because more than likely it will be available. Not so in Linux.
3. Compatibility. Most people use Windows and Microsoft Office so exchanging document is a burden. Reading the text of a document isn't much of a problem, but keeping the formatting and the lay-out seems impossible. One time a friend came to me with a Word 2007-document for printing, because she was out of ink. OpenOffice totally screwed the lay-out so the only remaining option was to go back home and convert the document to pdf. OK, I guess she should of converted it in pdf anyway, since this is the only way to keep the lay-out safe, but unfortunately that's not how most people expect it to be. They made a document and they want to print it, that's all.
All I've written here I wrote from an end user perspective. I my opinion the arguments mentioned above are the ones that will attract new users or push them away. Among friends I keep promoting and advocating Ubuntu – I advise people to give it a try. Unfortunately, few stick to Ubuntu and after some time they are drawn back to the Windows environment. They don't care that Ubuntu is safer, more reliable, performs better and faster. They want to stick to the things they know, they don't need a new challenge like I did.
Steven Van Landeghem (Belgium)