Is the Linux-Windows debate about OS politics, or something more pragmatic?
Years ago, I was a reasonably content Windows desktop user. Then something remarkable took place that changed everything: I began stumbling upon various open source projects that I found to be nothing short of amazing.
The first open source application I happened upon was a project called "Firebird." Destined to become what we today refer to as the Firefox Web browser, Firebird offered me a whole new way to look at software.
Even back in the early days of the Firebird/Firefox browser, I knew it was going to take off like crazy as development began to pickup. As time went on, I found myself using open source software over that of the freeware/shareware alternatives. Software cost was certainly part of the reasoning for my change in computing habit, but so was the speed of application development.
Today I'm a full-time desktop Linux enthusiast, who is familiar with dozens of popular distributions. I'd consider myself very comfortable with Linux on the desktop. What's interesting though, is the change in how I view Windows.
These days, I avoid Windows as much as possible since I feel much more limited with it. Perhaps this is what Windows users trying Linux feel when stepping outside of their regular computing routine?
Whatever the issue happens to be for others, I've found myself disliking any non-Linux experience on the desktop. The reasons for my view of Windows are bountiful. However I can't say that everyone reading this is going to agree with them.
Regardless, this is simply a deeper look into what makes me embrace Linux and avoid Windows whenever I can...even though I own a Windows 7 PC.
Where's the software?
Based on my own experiences with Windows 7, the software included is laughable. There is no default office suite, the productivity software is missing out of the box and most of the time the driver support is painful to behold.
Just to make the Windows 7 desktop usable in my office, I must hunt down software solutions that mirror my Linux desktop experience. Though, to be fair, there are some very solid applications available for Windows users. Claiming otherwise would be disingenuous.
However, finding these software titles can be tedious. Worse, I find myself using search engines and shareware websites to fill in software gaps for application discovery. Considering that Linux software is available from Linux software repositories, along with the plethora of apps already installed, Linux has software availability won hands down in contrast to Windows.
I've also found that many of the applications I've come to love on the Linux desktop aren't always available on the Windows desktop. For instance, one example occurs to me from the video editing space. I could go with VirtualDub for Windows, however I'd rather stick with OpenShot instead.
There are other Linux software titles I've run into this with, but this is one example that is something I came across recently. We are victims of what we consider familiar, I suppose. However this is hardly true only for users of proprietary desktop operating systems. It seems that Linux enthusiasts can also suffer from platform shock when going back to a non-Linux experience.
Dollars and "sense"
One thing I find most annoying about Windows is how I must spend extra money every time I update the operating system. I’m not saying this happens with each Windows release cycle, rather with every two of them.
The problem is that even if I stick to open source/freeware applications on the Windows desktop, Windows 7 seems to "dislike" peripherals aged more than 3-4 years old. It amazes me that I could take brand named devices, connect them to a Windows 7, only to watch as the installer coughed up excuses instead of getting the devices up and running. Even peripherals that worked out of the box in Windows XP failed miserably with Windows 7, due to drivers.
To be fair, this is not the fault of the operating system so much as the idiocy that is today's peripherals marketplace. Apparently many peripheral manufacturers stop producing new drivers after a device hits a certain age.
Seems these short-sighted companies believe there is no money in ensuring a decent experience unless you own the latest and greatest peripherals. In contrast to that experience, I've found that modern desktop Linux distributions support peripherals both new and old alike. Thanks to the community backbone making sure devices of all ages receive driver support, every peripheral in my home office works out of the box with Linux.
The software differences and the maddening driver shortcomings have indeed made using Windows a "non-starter" for me personally. And after inquiring with others who use Linux on the desktop, I was shocked to hear I was not alone.
The reasons for disliking Windows for these individuals was less about software politics and more about the desktop experience itself. Despite the Linux desktop often presenting similar challenges for newcomers, at least those challenges can be overcome without a shopping trip for new peripherals. At worst, it's a matter of a small learning curve or some minor troubleshooting.
Even when things work they fail
During several discussions with Linux users, the topic of store-bought software and peripheral driver CDs came up. If you've ever run a printer driver installation CD, you know exactly what I'm about to say. Installing a Windows driver using these discs is an exercise in patience and sanity.
Not only are you left to play "dodge ball" with software installations that you never asked for, the installation process itself takes entirely too long. By the time the driver CD is finished, I might as well have carved pertinent details of the document into a stone tablet.
Then we have Windows networking configuration. You've got to be kidding me, Microsoft. While I believe that networking two Windows 7 PCs is reasonably easy thanks to the provided tools, cross-platform networking with Windows 7 requires more patience than I have on tap during any given day.
Sure, I've done it successfully. However, it's easier to cross-platform a network with OS X to Linux, than with Windows 7. Even Windows XP made this easier, which is pretty sad considering the age of the OS release.
Next up on my complaint list is software management in Windows. Earlier I discussed my grief with software discovery, now it's time to roll my eyes at how Windows handles software removal.
On a Linux system, just run the proper commands from a shell. If you need a GUI, you have solutions such as Synaptic, among a few others. Yet when I use Windows 7, I must remove software one-application-at-a-time. To the very best of my knowledge, there is no method to safely remove more than one application at a time.
To me, this is time wasted and if I was more daring, I'd bill Microsoft for each moment I lost during the experience. The entire experience is dated and in dire need of an upgrade.
Windows Me and Windows Vista
Anyone who has paid attention in recent years will admit that the two worst releases of Windows have to be Windows Me and Windows Vista. The reasons varied between the two releases; however, both shared their need for deeper development and bug removal.
The point here is when each of these Windows releases came out, there was no current Windows alternative available. The only option was to stick with an earlier Windows release or just deal with the flakiness of the newest release.
For Linux enthusiasts, on the other hand, we are fortunate in being able to "distro hop" whenever the urge happens to strike us. Unlike Windows, there are plenty of release options out there to choose from.
The best part is that most distributions offer fairly substantial differences with regard to their desktop experience. From varied desktop environments out of the box, down to the applications installed by default. Even the control options made available tend to flow in different directions from distro to distro.
Repairing what's broken
I would be doing everyone here a disservice if I claimed that the popular Linux distributions available all do everything 100% correctly out of the box. Obviously this isn't the case. However, fixing something that's amiss on the Linux desktop comes with a greater chance of success than with the Windows desktop.
The same issues that might plague a Linux newbie are a sign of control to the more advanced Linux enthusiast. Whether it be a tweak here or a "config file" edit there, most issues are easily fixed once the problem is diagnosed.
The same isn't always the case with the Windows desktop. When something like a wireless dongle isn't working, there is little recourse available other than to try another driver. With Linux, you’ll often find the solution is to tweak the driver that was installed to gain the desired result. While the circumstances on both platforms can be considered a pain, the latter isn't waiting on the manufacturer to "correct" whatever the problem is.
Distaste for Windows vs Disliking Windows
By now, many of you might believe I happen to dislike Windows and all things Microsoft. The truth couldn't be further off.
I do have a strong distaste for Windows 7. It's a buffed up version of XP in my opinion, with some minor improvements sprinkled along the way to make it feel like a new operating system. Unlike Windows XP, however, Win7 has offered nothing of value to the end-user in my opinion.
This view, not a dislike for Microsoft, is why I avoid newer Windows products like the plague. Fact is, Windows XP has a much larger spectrum of peripheral support than Windows 7. Think I'm wrong? Do some testing with older peripherals and you'll be amazed. Running a PC shouldn't require maintaining an active balance on one's credit card.
My reason for sharing this article is to show what it's like to read "Linux reviews" written by proprietary OS shills. The difference with this report, however, is that I share my own honest experiences with both desktops as used on a daily basis.
Unlike many of the Windows-using "Linux reviewers," Windows 7 is my secondary desktop here in my home office. While I avoid using it whenever possible, I do run it out of necessity due to the nature of my work. I need it to compare how things work in contrast to Linux, what advancements have been achieved on the platform, and so on. I do not use it with any of my software, documents or anything that takes place in my daily life. It's used for testing and research only.
The title of this article begs the question of whether using Linux makes end-users such as myself "dislike" Windows. The answer for myself is, no, it doesn't make me dislike Windows at all. Hating an operating system is silly.
I will say, however, that Linux has made me rethink how I spend my money and how I spend my time. Linux is most definitely not a magic bullet for all applications nor is it a match for all computer users. Many of you may be better off with Windows.
But for those who are willing to walk on the wild side, Linux is a tool that has the potential to reshape how you use a computer overnight. However, your own mileage during such an experience may vary.