Monday, March 05, 2007

Why I Switched

I have a confession to make. Well, it's not so much a confession as a proud proclamation. I don't ever use Microsoft Windows by choice.

In 1996 I moved away to college taking a 486 DX4 100 with me. It ran DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1. That's what I used for a year and a half. But I started getting tired of hardware problems, configuration problems, and general usability and overall coolness problems.

I talked to my friends who had switched to Linux. They told me "Sure. You wouldn't be having these problems. Instead you would have a whole other set of problems to deal with."

At the time I didn't want to make computers my career. I was on the road to be a pilot. At the Christmas of 1997 I had enough of Windows 3.1 I went home, taking my hard drive with me. I asked my brother to upgrade me to Windows 95 and while he was at it, could he install that Linux thingy?

So he gladly did. Then he gladly showed me my way around Linux. He showed me the virtual terminals and explained how you didn't need graphics to use to operating system (sort of like DOS, but way more powerful). He showed me X Windows, including several desktop managers including Gnome, KDE, OpenStep, and a few others. At the time Gnome and KDE were more than my memory could handle, so I stayed with OpenStep. But the point was not lost on me. Unlike in Windows or Mac, I was not locked into one graphical desktop manager.

At first I had no idea how to use Linux. I would have to call my brother up, long distance and ask him "How do you get a directory listing at the command line?" But it got better. Apps became more plentiful and easier to use. At first I did all my work in Windows 95, but would go into Linux just for fun. Just to do little more than look at it and double-click random icons to see what they did.

It all changed when I learned to get the internet working under Linux. Then there was very very little reason for me to go back to Windows. I set my computer up as a web/ftp/ssh server that I could access from school.

So I was a confirmed Linux user from 1998 onward. My friends were right. A lot of my DOS 6.2/Windows 3.1 problems had disappeared. But a whole host of new problems came along. Linux does support a lot of hardware. More than what you may think. But, when you buy something, unless it's a piece of networking equipment, it almost never says it works with Linux. In my experience I have less hardware problems with Linux than Windows. But you become really cautious about buying hardware.

The worst part was software installation. With Windows when you install something the Windows Installer holds your hand through the process. In Linux not so. A lot of times you just get the source code. You have to compile and install the program yourself. It's been my experience that it will compile only half the time.

The help docs are terrible for this. They seem to be written for the programmers with 15 years of C experience or something. Not for the average person trying to get once piece of software installed.

Package managers don't make things much easier. They're always whining about "failed dependencies". That means the program you're trying to install requires another program to work, but you don't have that other program, or it can't be found. So then you go and install that program, but it has failed dependencies. It turns out to be a huge vortex and you give up before you find the solution.

But it's still a lot better than using Windows. I had no fear of virii. I had decent security. I knew there were more than one way to do each thing I needed to do. I could administer things in X Windows, or at the command line. I knew that if a program did have problems, then people were working on them. And also, 99% of what you could want to run on Linux is free as in speech, and free as in beer. I could also be one of those smug Linux users.

Then, in 2004, when I was to first move to Ottawa for four months I needed to take a computer with me. I thought I might be doing a lot of moving around so I wanted a laptop. I still wanted to avoid Windows. And I was worried that if I got a laptop with Windows pre-installed, then when I would try to install Linux it might have some piece of proprietary hardware that wouldn't work in Linux.

I knew Mac OS X was built on Unix and came with Apache web server, MySQL, and PHP, so I could do my work and install many of my favorite apps. It came with an X Server, so I could run my Linux programs, from my Linux box on my Mac! And best of all, it wasn't Microsoft! And since it was for my business, come tax time it was a business expense!!

So I bought an iBook G4 and very quickly fell in love. There were a few things at first, which I will write about later, that took this ol' Linux user some time to get used to. Installing applications was a breeze. And if hardware supported Mac, the box generally said so. The software, specifically iLife, was great!

For the non-Mac users, iLife is a suite of software including: iTunes as a music player. No. It's not just a player. It's a music management system. And now it does video, movies, and TV shows. Plus internet radio, and podcasts. iLife also has iPhoto which is a photo-management system, iDVD for making DVDs, iMovie for making movies, and GarageBand for recording music with incredible ease. Since then iWeb has been added to allow you to easily create a web site. iLife has great integration within itself and the operating system. The integration, the little things they thought of, amaze me to this day.

I still like Linux. Ideologically Linux is the best. That position is very hard to argue with. My desktop computer (which hasn't been on in months) still boots into Linux. I will probably stick with both Linux and Mac for a long time yet. Each have their place in my computational world.


Anonymous said...

Good god! Let it be already... there must be something more exciting in your life than finding time to be overly verbose about your computational preferences every few posts! Go out... find a girl... DO HER... find something new to talk about!!! And you know I say this with love and because I'm truly concerned about your wellbeing.

Andrew said...

Not till you upgrade your browser.

Anonymous said...

I seem to protected by a Windows guardian angel, because I've always used Windows and IE, with no anti-virus software whatsoever, and I've never had a serious problems. When the computer is getting a bit slow, I just buy a new part or two, and I'm good for another few years.

I even use Outlook, which is the Queen of Harlots, Mother of Abominations, in the anti-Microsoft world.

Andrew said...


How do you know you haven't had a problem if you have no anti-virus software?

Anonymous said...

I either have had no viruses, or none that have affected my computer in any noticeable way.

Usually there's a sign like slow-down, popups, auto-dialers, malfunctions, error messages, etc...

I'm just cautious about where I surf, what I install, etc.. and I reformat every so often. Keeps her purring real nice.

Andrew said...

Heh heh heh. Reformatting every so often. It's funny that people just accept this. I reformat when I install a brand new version of Linux.

It's estimated 1 in 4 computers is infected with a bot that sends spam. Most wouldn't even be aware that they have one. (Okay, hardly any would know they have one.)

Anonymous said...

Reformatting, oh, the inhumanity. It takes less time and is easier than endlessly screwing around with anti-virus software, updates, etc... It takes maybe 30 minutes every few years, plus you get back-ups of your personal files, which is handy.

Andrew said...

It seems to me the choice is:
1) Reformat every few years
2) "...endlessly screwing around with anti-virus software, updates, etc...:

My point is that this is just accepted, but shouldn't be. After running Linux for a number of years either option just seems strange. Sort of like paying for software seems strange. Or how Windows doesn't even come with a zipper/unzipper program. I find that really strange.