Saturday, 22 November 2014

GNU Territory! Part 1: Why?

Windows is a good operating system; it fulfills the majority of my use cases. The system can run any game I want to play, it has an endless library of applications, almost all tasks can be accomplished via the graphical user interface, and it is reasonably fast at doing all of these things. So, why would any Windows power user such as myself decide to switch to Linux? That is what I hope to answer in this post. I want this post to help the both of us decide whether Linux is an option for you to consider or help you understand exactly why someone would give up Windows. This is, of course, an opinion piece and should be judged as such. I have labeled the majority of my crappy opinions under "rant" and "review" portions so if you wish to skip them feel free to. With that, lets jump right in!


Windows 8 and 8.1 get a lot of shit flung at them, but seriously... What the hell Microsoft? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I don't care that you broke the user experience in 8 but why keep it broken in 8.1? At first, I didn't mind 8.1, but it quickly got on my nerves. Why can't I change the name of my applications in the start menu? Or use a shortcut in the Start menu quick launch? I really hope Windows 10 is great as it will likely be the operating system I will switch off of GNU/Linux to.
Too long; didn't read: I don't like how Windows 8.1 behaves and I'm too much of a scrub to change it. I don't believe I should have to fiddle around with a product that costs as much money as Windows 8 does.

The best way to get a good Windows product is to challenge Microsoft with good open source products. This has been proven time and time again; just look at the attack advertisements Microsoft ran as Open Office and the Chrome book began to gain traction. The only way the open source experience will continue to remain competitive is if people use it, improve it, and bring other diverse users in. I've been watching Linux distributions evolve over the past few years and the advancements have been significant; this is quite evident when looking at the user interface and experience. Of course there is still lots of work to be done, but I have faith.

DotA2 never crashed on Windows 7! Why all of a sudden does Windows 8 hate it? Why am I going to pay for incomplete, broken, and buggy products? I've done that with video games such as Brink... I don't want to do that with operating systems as well.

I know. I get it. Some of these changes were enacted to improve the average user experience. The Windows Store was made the distribution hub of Windows 8 and 8.1 because it's an easier interface and process for "mom and pop" to navigate. Their upgrade path would be from 7 to 8 so it makes sense for them to install the application and upgrade from that. Skype for Modern Windows covers the explosive trend of using the PC as a tool to keep in touch using Skype; when a user upgrades to Windows 8, Skype is ready, waiting, and always on. It streamlines and centralizes many processes and procedures such as these.
Too long; didn't read: Windows is like any other company; they are taking risks and attempting to find rewards. These hiccups are steps towards making PC's as accessible as mobile phones so I understand why they are necessary.


Windows is generally slow, especially on my aging hardware. Couple with this the fact that it slows down over time based on usage and installed applications. There are options like C-cleaner but in my opinion those are merely bandages. I typically reformat 1-2 times per year so an overly slow PC has never been a major issue for me but I've seen the speed and responsiveness that Linux can offer out of the box. Oh, also, the file browser in most Linux distributions won't crash when I try to access certain folders of music...


Switching to Linux will be great for learning new things and expanding my horizons as a system administrator. I hope to become much more proficient with Wine, video drivers, and the day to day operation of a fully Linux desktop environment. Currently, I run a laptop with a dual boot of Windows 7 and Kali Linux (although I prefer to run Kali most of the time) and I've always had my desktop as a back up for regular tasks, Windows-only apps, and obviously games. Now I will be forced to take on all challenges thrown at me with my Windows 7 laptop to be used only in an absolute emergency.


A common reason that people switch to Linux so I won't spend too long on this one. The security options Linux offers me as well as its native robustness are quite attractive. Windows security has improved; most security breaches now come from social engineering, malicious executables, and exploitable third party apps such as web browsers. However, what enables these attacks to be successful is through the architecture of the Windows operating system and its practices in regards to proprietary bug fixing.


This was made especially apparent when I wanted to install Windows 8 and 8.1. All I wanted to do was download an ISO and burn it onto a DVD. I like to do this for future installs; I will have the ability to insert this DVD into any blank PC and install Windows onto it. Why did Microsoft remove this and now forces the use of the Microsoft Store to create an installation media? I don't care about the Microsoft store! I reiterate, Microsoft: I did NOT ask for this, I did NOT want this. What I want is the ability to easily install this operating system anywhere. Why must you add this extra step for me to create an installation media on your terms? I'm tired of being treated like I'm stupid and a criminal! Not just in this instance but in many others. For example, Skype for Modern Windows and Skype for Desktop! It's like they really turned their brains off when they incepted that brilliant idea!
Too long; didn't read: Microsoft's new installation methods and Skype sucks. 

To avoid the Microsoft store, I downloaded and installed the Windows 8.1 Enterprise evaluation ISO. Upon installation, I entered my Windows 8 Enterprise product key and received a green checkmark for validation. "Okay." I thought, "I'll just use the evaluation until the trial runs out. Why use my key when I can try for free?" So on I went for 90 days. At the end of this period I attempted to enter my key and was refused. "Okay." I figured, "I have an 8.1 Pro key. I'll just downgrade from Enterprise to Pro." Nope, can't do that. So now I'm running on borrowed time with "slmgr /rearm" Why do I need to jump through these hoops? Thanks Microsoft. All I can say is that I'm glad that I'm trying before I'm buying.
Too long; didn't read: Windows 8 effectively gets rid of the ability to install an operating system without a product key. This made my installation experience frustrating and I ultimately ended up with the wrong product.

On another note, Windows is just messy under the hood. On the surface and for 99% of tasks, Windows is perfectly acceptable if not preferred. However, when I've had to dive deep into the operating system, it has been a horrible experience. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a strong suit of Linux either. With Linux, the nuances of the operating system have more detailed documentation and help is readily available. I feel more confident performing complex configurations on Linux than I do in Windows.

I am not saying that Linux is free from hoops to jump through; that would be incredibly ignorant. Linux has its own unique set of hurdles. Generally, the obstacles GNU/Linux throws at you require skill and technical knowledge rather than red tape over the operating system. That's only my experience of course, your mileage may vary.


I want to evaluate GNU/Linux as a replacement for my family's computers. I have relatives whom I give old PCs I build from spare parts; often times, Windows 7+ has a hard time running on old processors and DDR RAM. Running GNU/Linux would not only help to keep them relatively virus free, but also help with speed and reliability. Not to mention the fact that I could SSH or remote in to help them with less hassle and risk.


This argument will be my most "posh" of all; that's how a friend of mine described it. Linux is an operating system that allows me to put my money (or lack thereof) where my mouth is. I value transparency, equality, and community in many of the things I do. I place high precedence on these values in government, educational institutions, and employers. Software is another place where I want to find my values. With Windows, transparency is obviously almost non-existent. The considerable price tag on a Windows license makes it rather difficult for low-income users to afford the software and does not encourage equality. Finally, the community aspects of open-source should be evident; Linux has a tradition of community.


I'm just tired of complaining about Windows; everyone can complain about it. I might as well find something new to complain about. At least with GNU/Linux my whining might be slightly productive.

My next post will detail my own build and the considerations I must make to ensure my migration goes as smoothly as possible. I will be discussing driver/hardware support and other topics such as RAID and personal file management. It will be a much more technical post as opposed to this one. I encourage you to continue reading if your are still interested!


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