Usage of operating systems is like living in countries: There are laws, things you may or may not do. Also, there are people, talking one or two certain languages, behaving in a certain way. Operating systems are like that: There are restrictions on the system what you can do and what is more difficult. And there is software, supporting certain languages, behaving in a certain way. You can of course decide to use two or more OSes, but it's like renting a holiday cottage and visiting it a few times a year. There's always home, as there's always a primary OS.
I chose this simile because it reflects a bit of myself. I lived a certain amount of my lifetime in Russia, and now I live in Germany. Two different legal systems, two different kinds of people. As it is with switching my primary OS: I've been using Windows for a certain amount of time and now I switched to Linux.
Why? Windows more and more gives me the feeling that it's nothing but a machine for procrastination and entertainment (besides being a cash cow for Microsoft). Like Facebook, where scrolling through your feed gives neither knowledge nor wisdom, it's only good at burning time. Also, Microsoft's recent publications marked them the enemy for me: What reputable, customer-centered company would publically say "Our goal is to have 1 billion Windows (10) installations by 2018"? It just shows me that Windows is no longer the OS "you want to fall in love with". Also, when Windows 10 was announced along with the Windows-as-a-Service plan, I really started to question my habits. I would not want to pay for an OS which spys on people and restricts both your creativity and productivity.
My intention with this post is to show how easy or difficult it is to switch to Linux and what steps it involved for me so you get an idea how much work is needed. The thread can then be used for discussions.
The first decision one needs to make, besides deciding to actually switch, is which distribution one's going to use (and which desktop environment but that's another thing). Since I work with SUSE Linux Exterprise in the company, I wanted to use OpenSUSE. So I downloaded a Live CD of it, wrote it on a USB drive and attempted to start it. It didn't work, it hang on a "Assuming drive cache: write through" message referencing the USB drive. To see whether it's a problem with USB, I went ahead and installed it. This time, it worked, and I was welcomed with GNOME. And while I was making my first steps in this new world.. it hung itself up. Just like that. It still did after several reboots.
So I was thinking, maybe it was a driver issue because I experienced dozens of those in the past. So I downloaded Ubuntu to see if this would work, and the Live CD did. I didn't install it, though. It's popular and maybe it has the highest compatibility with different kinds of hardware (due to easy access to proprietary drivers) but I thought to myself, I don't want a distribution aimed at beginners. I also used Linux Mint on my netbook and found it too much pre-configured (but Cinnamon was cool!).
So I decided to go with Debian out of a few reasons.
- I like how Debian puts you in control while you don't need to configure everything in detail.
- There's this huge software repository, of course.
- It's well documented and supported.
- I also like Debian's mindset about free software, like the DFSG (there also were some guidelines on behavior inside the community or something like it but I don't find the links anymore ).
Installed, booted, same hanging. Here the DE would "crash" and show a shell with one repeated message from nouveau: "GPU lock". This is where I knew it has to be the open source driver causing this; it forced me to use the proprietary driver for now. Its installation could be done in two ways: By downloading it from nVidias homepage or from Debian's non-free repos. I chose the latter since it was easier to set up. I even found a guide for this. Anyway, the drivers fixed the only hardware problem I had with switching.
Next steps included the configuration of the OS for production.
- Setting up Cinnamon
This included spawning a few desklets and altering the taskbar. xkcd on your desktop, what could be cooler than being greeted with one of these when you log in? And of course a system monitor.
- Mounting the other drives
I reserved a 500 GiB partition for Linux, but there's still the other half of the hard drive plus my Windows 8.1 SSD and a 2 TiB media drive, all of which I wanted to have access to from Linux. Mounting the SSD and the media drive was easy and I "hardcoded" it directly into /etc/fstab. But the other half of the hard drive caused a small error. The thing is, it still contains a working Windows installation which I kept there to allow troubleshooting the SSD in case it failed. mount told me it wouldn't mount the partition in read-write mode because Windows was allegedly not shut down completely. I don't know what the Windows 8 bootloader is doing but going through man mount I found an option to clear the hibernation cache or something which did the trick.
- Installing and setting up programs I needed
I was using mostly open source and cross-platform software on Windows, in general software which was also available on Linux. Even migrating settings sometimes involved a simple move command (like Firefox and Thunderbird profiles). Also installed Steam and Wine. And Steam on Wine, though I use this combination in very rare occasions. I was very surprised to see almost all games I played on Windows were available as Linux builds on Steam. So much for "Linux is not ready for gaming". Also: openvpn and airvpn, both of which work much better than on Windows in terms of stability, qbittorrent, vlc, PDF editing tools, a number of others as well. Some of these apps were installed to replace already included things, for example zsh instead of bash.
Linux is a wonderful desktop OS. But it depends on many points how easy or difficult it will be for you.
- Sometimes the switch fails because of unsupported hardware.
As you have read, the open source driver nouveau has its problems with certain nVidia graphics cards. When I searched for this on the internet I found out I am not the only one with this: nVidia don't support nouveau like they supported nv so most work on nouveau had to be done by reverse engineering their proprietary drivers which involved much work and time I imagine.
- Most people at my age don't switch because they use Windows for gaming, especially for playing the notorious "triple A" games which are traditionally Windows/DirectX only, using the newest tech hardware and software can offer.
I can understand this point of view, even I still have Windows on my SSD which I see as a last reserve when Wine fails. There was no reason to boot Windows yet so update-wise it's like 60 days behind.
- But in most cases it fails because people have no experience with Linux.
Most of them expect it to work like Windows. "Windows != Linux" is often cited in this case - Windows is not Linux. Linux does not aim to be like Windows, Linux also doesn't want to be a replacement for Windows. Understanding this is key if you're new to it. If you do the switch, be ready to read. Like, a lot.
As for me, I had experience with Linux before. The hardware problem was a small one, multiple smaller complications arose, ensued, were overcome and I don't focus my time on gaming. My choice is clear.
What about you? Planning on switching? Maybe you already use Linux? If yes, tell us which distribution and desktop you use and why. Give some tips for "potential switchers", for newbies and for pros if you like.
Windows you ditch,
to Linux you switch.
I have stumbled upon my second self on Reddit who wrote this:
Now that I have been through that experience, I know exactly why I prefer Linux. It's not because I am a hipster of the PC world, or a power-user who loves to write his own software (I don't even know how). It's because Linux comes with zero bullshit. Zero. It comes with the necessary files and drivers to make my hardware work and everything else is installed only if and when I say it is. Linux is a fast and effective tool that allows me to play my games, draw my pictures, and browse the internet without interruption or delay.