I was eating in Chipotle, browsing Hacker News on my phone when I read some outdated article about how the NSA may or may not have backdoor access to some cryptographic function of Windows.
Considering that the NSA's interest in my computer is probably around zero, and that I don't even use windows cryptography, this backdoor probably wouldn't ever affect me. But the sentiment of it did, and it was just enough to push me over the edge.
I'm not new to Linux. In 1998 my friend Phil and I drove across town to a shabby computer store to by Slackware Linux on CD. He sideswiped a lady as we approached the parking lot, so I ran into the store to buy the CDs while he swapped insurance cards.
We ran Linux for the summer, or at least dual-booted it, but eventually practicality made way and Windows was installed again. Diablo II just wouldn't run in Linux.
Windows wasn't much to look at in those days, but Linux GUIs were even worse. They were ugly, inconsistent, and counter-intuitive. The saving grace was the command line, but even that could be frustrating.
Every few years I've given some Linux flavor another shot, and every time it looks promising, but ends up not quite being good enough.
Five years ago I caught a crazy deal: $25 a month for a pretty awesome dedicated server. It had no control panel, so everything had to be installed from the Linux command line. That was tricky at first, but eventually I started getting the hang of things, and even developing a sixth sense for where in the bizarre file system (/usr/local/bin/...?) a file probably belonged.
As SETT began to accumulate more bloggers we moved servers around, at one point distributing the load between three separate servers. I had to really get my hands dirty for that sort of stuff, and I actually began to enjoy it. Once a certain repertoire of commands gets etched into your brain, working with Linux is pretty effortless.
Last week, prompted by the NSA story, I cautiously gave Linux another attempt. I downloaded Ubuntu 13.04, loaded it onto a flash drive, and booted it up. What I saw was amazing -- Unity, Ubuntu's GUI, has gotten really good. It's organized intelligently, looks nice and has a lot of powerful features (like integrated sound menu, integrated calendar menu, smart indicators for programs).
Windows has been getting better over time, but not consistently. Windows Vista was pretty bad, Windows 7 was pretty good, and then Windows 8 was worse than both. Microsoft is making things simpler and dumber, and prioritizing form over function even more than Apple is.
OSX, from my outsider perspective, seems to be getting consistently better, but slowly and mostly in ways that don't appeal to me.
Linux is getting better rapidly, way faster than either OSX or Windows. I don't have any conviction that it will overtake either of its competitors in popularity, but the experience of using the OS is currently far better than Windows 8 and probably in the same ballpark as OSX. At the current pace, it should be clearly better than Windows and OSX within a couple years.
As these three operating systems have evolved, so has the way that we use computers. So much of what we do is online now that native software selection, while still important, has become a lesser factor.
Developer software for Linux is excellent, and I spend most of my computing time on developing. Sublime Text runs on Linux, as does Chrome. All of the server software, since our SETT server is also a Linux server, is exactly right.
The one and only big missing gap is a replacement for Lightroom, the software I use to manage my photos. I still haven't found a good analogue, and I can't get it to run in Wine (which is apparently possible).
So far everything I've mentioned puts Linux on par, or slightly worse, than other operating systems. What pushes me over the top is the ability to customize my environment, and the belief that I'm running an OS with longevity.
Windows keeps making changes that I find horrifying. The start menu disappeared in Windows 8, and this ridiculous "charms bar" appeared on the right hand side. The OS is being geared towards touch, and I have no desire to touch my screen. It's sort of like living in an apartment where the landlord keeps moving walls around. I might stay a while, but I won't settle in.
Linux is going in a direction that I like. It's becoming more aesthetically pleasing and more user-centric, but it's not compromising the features that appeal to power users. This makes me feel comfortable and willing to invest in the platform.
I can write little programs to automate common tasks, and I know that they'll still work and be useful on the next iteration of Ubuntu. If Ubuntu starts going in a direction I don't like, I can switch to Mint or Arch and keep everything I've built.
More than anything, it feels good to be using an operating system that's geared towards power users and doesn't try to sanitize everything. Yes there's a software center that lets me install pretty much any Linux program with one click, but I can also compile it from the source if I need to make changes. Having that breadth of possibility is very liberating.
It feels good to be running Linux. I think I'm here to stay. Now if only I could find something that could handle all of the images I foolishly converted to Adobe's DNG format.
Photo is me playing a piano.
Hi Tynan. As a Lightroom alternative have you tried Lightzone? Used to be commercial s/w, now open source. For me, it may tip the balance in favour of Linux adoption
I want to switch to Linux 100% too but for me it is a few video games, Photoshop Elements and PhpEd that are holding me back. I think you can run almost everything in Wine but it feels laggy.
However, cygwin is awesome, provides linux shell and many linux utilities in windows.
Also check out Mint Linux, supposedly nicest Linux distro out there.
This is hilarious. I'm a recent (1 year) convert from Windows to Mac, and just now my cofounder is switching from three years on Mac to Windows (looking at the Samsung Ativ 9), and you're switching from Windows to Linux. Funny how there are strong convictions for each OS.
I love Mac because of the ease of developing and using the terminal on a Unix system combined with the fact that pretty much all the software I need is available for a Mac (and then some, since Mac natively supports the Panasonix Lumix GMC1 RAW format and Windows doesn't), which is likely not the case for Linux. Installing apps is also a serious pleasure, being able to just drag them to the Applications folder instead of going through a convoluted installation procedure like on Windows. A multitouch touchpad tops it off brilliantly, and it's definitely the best touchpad I've ever used. Used to hate touchpads on Windows, but it turns out it was probably just me using low-end/poorly integrated touchpads rather than touchpads per se.
My cofounder's switching over to Windows because there's just too much software he can't get on a Mac, which I suppose is a legitimate concern if you don't want to be cranking up a virtual machine every day.
And you're switching to Linux because there's a ton of freedom, few compromises on functionality, and the promise of stability in the future.
Kind of awesome. Always good to know there are viable alternatives
Photo is of you playing a piano? That's all you got to say about that? Where is that piano on a cliff and how the hell did you even see the keys? What were you playing? ;)
Or is that some photoshop job and I'm missing a big joke?
A friend was getting rid of his old piano, so we brought it to the top of a huge hill in a public park and played it there. I played the first half of Moonlight Sonata, but it's really hard without being able to see the keys!
You're running it on your Zenbook? How has hardware support been?
I'm also using the Zenbook Prime UX21A, with Linux Mint and Windows 7 in a dual boot install. I installed it right when I got it last year, and everything worked fine - except for the brightness control by keyboard. Implementing advanced touchpad gestures takes a little work, but I barely use that anyways.
I barely use Windows anymore, and when I do, I become annoyed within minutes by it's... well... paternal annoyingness. I pretty much only use it to load songs on my iPod because I don't have any substitute for iTunes. I think there is one for Linux, I've just been to lazy to look for it. Otherwise I might seriously consider just getting rid of Windows; it takes up quite a lot of my rather limited disk space.I love many of the standard features that I'd need some third-party software for in Windows, like multiple workspaces. I usually have 7. And seriously, what is up with Windows taking forever to move large files up one directory level or stuff like that?
Yep, the Zenbook. I should have mentioned that in the article-- literally everything worked out of the box with no extra drivers. It's amazing.
The only thing that isn't 100% is that if I boot with my second monitor attached, the internal screen won't work. If I boot with the internal screen and plug the monitor in a few seconds later, everything is fine.
Possibly look into configuring your xorg.conf file, and / or using xrandr and making xrandr changes persistent. I had a similar problem a few weeks ago in both Ubuntu and Arch.
Hey Tynan, glad you've seen the light and recognise the great feeling that it really is your computer again. Of course, this comes with a price, of having to admin and fix little issues here and there, plus a certain degree of learning too.
I was an Ubuntu user since the beginning (4.03 perhaps?) and really enjoyed it for the first 5 years, but due to their divisive decisions (amongst other things), I switched to Arch a couple of years ago and felt the same sense of freedom I got in the old days. Sure you have a lot to learn just to install the thing (UEFI is not so fun, for example) but once it's done, it's all yours, just how you want it. It's certainly not for everyone, but installing packages is a breaze, it has a wonderfully quick boot time, sticks to vanilla packages as much as possible and, last but not least, has done away with the legacy, and somewhat arbitrary, /bin, /usr/bin and /usr/sbin filesytem distinction so all binaries, system and userspace, go in /usr/bin.
Tynan, in some of your older posts you talk about how much you hate trackpads (me too). Is that still the case for you? Personally, I've been opting to use a wireless mouse but even then the trackpad becomes an occasional annoyance when it is accidentally swiped while typing and suddenly my letters are showing up in some other place on the screen. At any rate, I also recall you mentioning that you prefer trackpoints. I used those briefly in the 90's or early 2000's and remember liking them much better. Do you know if any modern laptops still come with trackpoints instead of trackpads?
Yes, I really still hate the stupid trackpad. They're definitely better than they used to be, and bigger, but still very annoying. Lenovo is the only one that makes really good touchpoints (they license older versions of the patent), but their current crop of laptops are disgustingly bad.
I bought an external thinkpad keyboard, but it's too big and the function and Ctl keys are switched from my laptop.
You can disable your trackpad, either by using the Fn + Fwhatever (picture indicating a touchpad), or perhaps there is a physical button near the trackpad itself, or, on some models, there's a dot on the corner of the trackpad itself that you can double-tap to enable or disable it.
Lenovo ThinkPads do come with trackpoints, as well as Dell Latitudes, but double-check the specific model. I don't personally know of any non-business computers to come with trackpoints.Something that you (and Tynan) could possibly look in to is a ThinkPad USB keyboard. The name describes it perfectly -- compact USB keyboard with the ThinkPad feel including a trackpoint, and I've seen some with the trackpad as well.
Same situation.. I moved from Windows to Mac about 9 months ago because I was totally unimpressed by the Win 8 Previews. I am now pretty pleased with Mac although I did struggle to start with. I have also been playing with Linux for a few years now but didn't really gel with it until I found Mint 14. I have just been on holiday and took my Win XP Lenovo Net Book with me with Mint 15 loaded. Have installed MS Office 2003 on it as well under Wine and it works well... it gave me a very usable platform for occasional holiday use... very easy to set up and customise. Mint could become a really good replacement for Windows XP for low use people who don't want to, or need to, change their machines, but should because of the withdrawal of support for XP in April 2014. I am certainly going to try to encourage people I know to try Mint...
To break with my normal style of post, I thought this week I'd share some of my favorite software that helps me get work done on a daily basis. Because I use Linux it won't all be applicable to you, but maybe some of the ideas will be, and a lot of the software is cross-platform.
Ubuntu + Gnome
I love the Ubuntu operating system. In particular I like how everything just works super easily (including typically tricky things like printers), and that it's infinitely customizable. I spend a lot of time on my computer, so small customizations have a big effect on long term productivity.
Gnome is a "window manager" for linux. I switched on a whim and I LOVE it compared to Ubuntu's default window manager. I think it's way better than OSX, Windows, and Unity (Ubuntu's default).
Burn the heretic, he has cast doubt on the almighty..
There's no doubt about it, if you want to start a flame war in the tech community then there is no better place to start than the world of the Linux Distro. When it comes to waving the collective wand around, Linux fanboys are notoriously hardcore and put even the most ardent Mac vs Windows debate to shame.
When it comes to versions of Linux there are two big players here with Ubuntu in the one corner which without a doubt shook the Linux world by its coat tails and brought as promise Linux to a wider audience. It's changes are seen by many as potentially disrupting there is no doubt Shuttleworth the companies talismanic Jobseque leader has a grand plan, and that alone is making Ubuntu in many quarters mean Linux.
Then there is OpenSUSE the distro has been around since the dawn of time, ok it hasn't but it feels like it. The original desktop Linux OS lost a lot of ground to Ubuntu and has been occasional confusing, so how many built in package managers do you need?