From Windows to Linux (almost) not looking back

This article has been originally published in Italian (here). Feedbacks on content and translation are appreciated. Contributions are welcome. The original article must be considered the reference in case of updates. I won’t tell you Windows XP is dead and must be replaced, unless you want to withstand assaults from any kind of pirates and viruses without defence. I won’t even tell the “N good reasons to switch to Linux”, because there are a lot more 😉 and everyone could find another reason, better or worse, not to switch to Linux 😦 . I won’t tell you that all Windows versions I dealt with until now (from 3.1 to 7, luckily just a quick glance to 8) have been an endless sequence of BSOD, slooooooowneeeeesssss, WTF?! moments and cursing of increasing intensity, because that would not be the truth. There were and there are moments of satisfying use and performances, provided I took care of the Windows-of-the-time like an eternal newborn, changing often the diaper, feeding it only with healthy food and burping it. Since at work I am bound to use Windows (that’s why I wrote “almost” in the title), I constantly make comparisons (and rants) about the good habits I have built on my Linux box at home: “why can’t I do this?”, “why is this so awkward?”. So, here are some considerations, even on minor aspects, on what Penguins offer and Windows never will: draw your conclusions.

Dual pane” file manager

This is an idea that Microsoft seems unable to conceive. After all they sell “Windows“: obviously they wish you to open as many windows as possible, even though that would make a mess on your screen.

dolphin_dual_pane

Dolphin – everything you ever wanted from a file manager but you never had!

Is it too difficult to show two columns side by side? That would be extremely practical and productive but… no, better stick with single pane. What about tabs, at least? Please, oh pretty please!!! If you ever need to categorize your holidays pictures (did you expect some extremely nerdy task?), you might appreciate to have source and destination folders both visible, side by side, without manually aligning the two file manager windows (more on this below). Or maybe you simply want to have a look into a long forgotten folder while still browsing the pictures. In any case, you need something that is not Explorer; any hope for Windows release… 12? 26? 39? When?!?!?

Windows management

Grab a window, put it there, a little higher, a little lower, a bit on the right, no, wait, too much, almost there… Oops! Your mouse slipped away and now half window is out of the screen. Why not keep it “always on top”? Nope, unless the program you’re using takes care of the task. Win7 took some little steps forward in management, but it’s still far from allowing a comprehensive control. Win8 (used with the famous “live tiles” as Redmond geniuses would like) just got rid of the problem: one full screen window, because two of them is too much of a challenge. How pleasing it is to be treated like an idiot, eh? On a Linux desktop windows stick on screen or other windows margins just like magnets on a fridge, allowing a fast and accurate positioning. “Always on top” and other useful tricks (vertical or horizontal maximization, to name a few) are standard features of any available graphical environment (yes, there is plenty of them!).

Non-centralized installations and updates

The idea of “Store” from which you can pick and install verified software is not new: linuxers call them “repositories” and have been using them for quite a long time. Of course you can go outside, being aware of risks: better than roaming the Web to look for, download and install each required piece of software. Considering that Windows comes only with Notepad, Character Map and a few more tools, we’ll need lots of “3rd party” stuff. And once you have everything in place? You’d better keep everything up-to-date: enter Windows Update, Flash Player Update, Adobe Update, Google Update, Antivirus Update, Updater Update, Everystupidsoftwarehasitsownupdater Update, … Result: a panic struck, or highly frustrated at best, average user dealing with dozens of pop-ups and reminders from each process, each one requiring his slice of RAM, each one playing the “Yes/No/Remind me later” game. Sorry y’all, but I need to use my computer in the meantime… Linux just needs a single process, even a single command launched just in case, that updates everything (software and operating system), relieving user of the infamous job to remember what to update (and then update!).

Reboot, always reboot

An evergreen argument when it comes to “Windows vs Linux” comparisons. Installed anything? Reboot. Updated anything? Ditto. Removed anything? Same story. Did you change something more than the wallpaper? Well, reboot just to be on the safe side (and waste a few minutes more).

And I mean “Reboot now” otherwise it’ll keep reminding you again and again, never giving you the chance to choose “F**k off, not now! I’ve got to get things done!”.

In my world it works like this: “Hey dude, everything went smoothly. Just replaced old stuff with new stuff and you didn’t even notice. Y’know, I also had to change this big piece here but OK, reboot whenever you want. I see you’re in something cool now, so I’ll leave you to that. Peace, bro!

Bye Bye Bloatware

Every “branded” PC with pre-installed Windows comes with the unavoidable burden of useless programs, whose purpose is only to remark the name of the brand itself. Throw in also a bunch of trial versions that will a) stop working and b) start hassling you with “Buy me!” notifications after the short trial period has expired, and you’re set. I have already gone through this hell and it was not fun. The added value people are paying for is operating system pre-installation, not the un-value of a slowed-down, crap-laden system, that will require time and patience to be properly “sanitized”. If you buy a PC with pre-installed Linux, you have two things: a computer with all hardware correctly configured (ok, a little sh*t may happen sometimes) and a nice collection of software with 0 (zero!) ads. The only drawback is that your tolerance level against bloatware would considerably decrease: weird and uncontrollable reactions are possible, including itches, while dealing with such a poorly treated PC.

The ill-famed terminal

While Windows Colorized Box logo command prompt is a mysterious and quite neglected item (although you can actually do something useful with it), Linux terminal is kind of an “alter-ego” of graphical interface. If you are not frightened by the roughness of a simple cursor, you can really turn your system upside-down (fix it or break it) never touching the mouse.

A few frequently used commands are actually enough for everyday computing life, you can simply punch them in into a terminal window and get back to your social life. Half a line can, for instance, update, remove or install software. I got so used to the command line (CLI) that even under Windows I have an open command prompt, although I try to run ls and cp instead of dir and copy, and I still expect them to work!

A Register full of bad notes

Windows registry holds everything about your current hardware and software. Such a big book can be read and written only through the Registry Editor tool. Nothing wrong in that, except when the registry itself gets corrupted (it happens!) and the system doesn’t start.

Linux programs instead store their configurations in plain text files. If something goes wrong (it goes!) the most trivial text editor can save the day.

Last but not least…

An action I often perform in Windows is a center button (scroll wheel) click to paste text. Useless anyway, since such an operation is typical of Linux systems: if you just select some text, it will be stored in a buffer, separated from the one used by the usual copy & paste (CTRL-C / CTRL-V). So, there are two different “containers” that might result very handy when you’re dealing with lots of text! A small but helpful detail. Let’s talk about money: you would normally want to replace a nicely working PC only if it doesn’t fit your needs any more (or maybe we want to treat ourselves with a little gift). Otherwise just keeping the system software updated is enough. Being forced to buy a new computer to cope with new hardware requirements (or even compatibility) is not a typical scenario for Linux users. Of course hardware requirements changed over time also for Linux, although at a lower pace. Anyway, there are lots of distributions meant to run on older hardware: you have a lot of choices to avoid trashing your current hardware and save money.


Final notes

I have covered some of the reasons, to “make the change” to arouse your curiosity. On purpose I have disregarded the most common points (no cost, better protection against viruses and so on…). The main point I want to convey is that Linux, in all its “shapes”, works the way you want, instead of making you work the way someone else has set. Old times when peripherals would not be recognized or not work at all (unless you make some strange ritual to ancient gods) are gone (mostly…): download any distribution you fancy and try it, but do not expect to find some sort of “Windows with a penguin”. Some aspects are similar (the way you may interact with your computer, mainly), some others are quite different because they result from different approach and ideas. If you accept my advice and make a little effort to “embrace the change” you’ll be rewarded with great satisfaction.

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  1. Pingback: Visto nel Web – 142 | Ok, panico

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