A few years back I decided to take the plunge and strip my computer of the Windows OS to replace it with Linux. I did this in an effort to force myself to discover whether it really could be a complete replacement for Windows. It took a while to familiarise myself with some of the quirks, but I have never looked back. Not only can I do anything that I need to do with the vast selection of free software, I can also do many things that I simply cannot do on Windows. I won’t go into the finer details here, but I have to say that whenever I am faced with having to use a Windows machine I end up being very, very frustrated.
Linux is not new to me, I’ve been actively trialing it since the 90’s. My first encounter was when I actually bought a copy of Red Hat Linux 5 (for a whole £30 if I remember correctly). This was a bit of a challenge. There was no such thing as auto-configuring hardware, drivers were not plentiful and you needed to know how your computer was configured. Ah, the good old days: 386, 486, Pentium was the latest and greatest of the day, IRQs being set with jumpers on the board, how I miss it (not). Obtaining and compiling drivers was a bit hit and miss. You were pretty lucky to get the graphics card to work, let alone a network card. I did manage to get it running though, but in the end, it was all just too hard for general use.
Thankfully, things have moved on, and we now have very capable distributions of Linux, most of them pretty easy to install and use (thanks in part to amazing advances in hardware technology). While I kept my finger on the pulse all the way through, testing each new distribution, I felt that Linux had finally gotten to the point where it was ready for general consumption, and I was right.
If I remember correctly, Mandriva was the first to be taken on. I actually liked it, a lot. It was very polished with a pleasing interface and it included everything the average person may need. The problem was that on the hardware I had at the time, it just wasn’t stable enough. I decided to move to the ‘obvious’ choice, Ubuntu. The early Ubuntu was a pretty solid distribution, and very stable for the most part. Hardware support was good, performance was also very good. I did try Kubuntu for a bit, but KDE was too much of a beast for my laptop, so I had to drop it.
I stuck with Ubuntu for a couple of years, and actually made it into a very effective workstation for what I needed it to do. Much of my work at the time was developing web sites and doing database work, while also doing graphics for the web and other media. When they released the new ‘Unity’ interface, it fell out of favour with me because I just didn’t find it to be effective enough for the way I worked. I’m pretty old school, I know, but that’s just the way it is.
This was when I switched to Linux Mint. Mint offered the stability and compatibility of Ubuntu, but with a slightly different approach. It was very customisable, allowed me to do fun things like install Compiz Fusion and Cairo Dock (both of which could misbehave on occasion, but it was worth the frustration). I had lots of fun with these. I’ll never forget sitting at my desk, flipping workspaces with the cube effect. On more than one occasion, I was asked if it was the new version of Windows which was soon to be released. I couldn’t contain my laughter, and still have a good chuckle whenever I think about it. Shame, they’re probably still stuck with just one workspace.
In the end, I did prove to myself that Linux was a suitable alternative to Windows. Even with the fact that my day job was entrenched in the provision of Windows infrastructure architecture and solutions, I kept my promise of using it exclusively, and even found that I was using it in the Windows environment for more and more tasks, simply because it was more effective and/or less time consuming. I suspect this will continue, mostly because the Linux community focuses on continuous improvements, and Microsoft tends to focus on new features.