Oct 252011

Chapter 2. Before starting this series or even before starting the switch to Linux, I did a lot of research on the internet. One of the inevitable hits on search engines are the “Top xx reasons (not) to switch to Linux” topics. For this episode of Switching to Linux I started reading up on them.

I soon realized that almost all these posts seem very polarized: both the pro and contra camps have their arguments. Most arguments make a return in each article. However, what I did not find was the middle ground. Apparently you are either against Linux or against Windows. And that is where this article comes in: I use both and will continue to do so in the future. Here are my personal reasons for doing so and not doing so.

Before listing my reasons, I have to make one thing clear. I switched to Linux on my main workstation. This means I simply shifted focus. My biggest focus is now Linux, but I still use Windows too.

What reasons made me switch? (The “right” reasons)

OKFreedom: Linux allows me to do what I want

Don’t like the look, you can change it, all of it. Don’t like the software, you can remove it (yes I am looking at you IE and Windows Update). Don’t want a GUI, just don’t install one. I wanted possibilities and accept the extra effort that comes with it. Most Linux distributions have excellent mechanisms to provide you with lots of software with very little effort.

Variety: a flavor for everyone

Windows is windows and will always be Windows. But Linux is…you name your favorite distribution. Linux comes in all sizes and flavors. While this is probably one of the reasons the OS has such a small market share (no standard way of doing things), this is one of the things that I really like about Linux. The choice is often difficult, but in the end you will find a distribution that suits your needs.

I want something fresh

It really is as simple as that. After using Windows for many years, I just wanted to try something new. I gladly accept the discomfort that comes with that. I also like the Open Source ideology, the perspective it brings.

I got tired of updating programs one by one

Most users have more than 10 software packages installed on their computer at any given time. In windows, you (the user) have to keep an eye out to see if the manufacturer released an update. You then have find a link to download the update, wait till it finishes, find the file, execute it, answer some questions and accept the license agreement. Then repeat the whole process until every program is up-to-date. Not so in Linux, the update (or package) manager does it all for you. You simply have to review the updates, start the update process and sit back. The same is true for most device drivers.

Reboot: no thank you

This is a point that is often ridiculed by Windows users, but it is true as far as I am concerned. If you use Windows, you have to reboot, a lot. Not only does almost every Windows Update require a reboot, but every other program installation requires one too. Install office: reboot, install a certain PDF reader: reboot, install a certain media player: reboot. The list goes on. Unless you change something to the kernel, the boot loader or install a proprietary driver, Linux does not need to be rebooted. And those are things you don’t (need to) do very often.

What reasons did not play a part? (The “false” reasons)

Not OKLinux is Free

As far as I am concerned this is not a correct argument. Not because Linux is not free (it is) or because working with Linux costs you money because you spend time on it. No the point I am trying to make is this: most people I know buy their computer as a whole at a computer store. The vast majority (if not all) of these machines come with Windows pre-installed (or OS X if you buy a Mac). These consumers don’t ask themselves if they have another choice. And even if they did, removing Windows from the computer would not affect the unit price.
As for software: there are plenty of free programs available for Windows too.

Linux is better than Windows or vice versa

This is far to personal to make it into a general argument. Both operating systems have strong and weak points. Everyone should be free to decide on their own. Also, the reasons why I find something great may be totally irrelevant or simply not true for someone else. That’s one of the great things about computers (and sometime the greatest frustration for a computer technician): no two people use them the same way and no two computers are identical.

If you use Linux, you don’t have to worry about viruses / spyware

I am not questioning the validity of this statement, you DO have far less chance (if any) to contract a virus in Linux. No I am speaking about the reason for this: if you develop a virus or spyware you go for the maximum impact. Just put yourself in their place for a moment: if you had to develop something like that would you go for the option where you had a chance to impact >80% of computer systems (Windows) or would you go for < 2 % of the systems (Linux)? I know what I would do…

Linux is more stable than Windows

Again, I am not speaking about the general truth in this argument. I am looking at the reason why an operating system crashes or becomes unusable. Speaking from experience (I have more than 10 years experience in servicing computers) crashes are generally not the fault of the company that made the operating system (be it Microsoft or Apple or a Linux Distributor). Most problems are caused  by bad software / drivers or user action. These condition can also arise in Linux. I have worked with windows for years and if you take care of your system, it is very stable. Just like Linux is in fact very stable.

Linux is faster and stays fast no matter what

While this might be true on older hardware, if you have a modern computer the difference is neglectable. The claim that Windows becomes slower the longer you use it, is an urban legend as far as I am concerned. From what I can tell and observe, the fact that Windows slows down has to do with the way software is installed, updated or uninstalled on Windows systems. If you take care and follow the instructions, you should be OK. But because there are differences between the software and there is no one way to install or remove a program, things go wrong and bits and pieces get left behind. Those slow things down. I will admit that it takes some expertise to prevent that from happening. But if you do, Windows will stay as fast as the day you installed it, and so will Linux.

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