When I retired, an astonishingly quick four years ago now, many things changed. For a start, my peripatetic travellin’ life, on the road pretty much 12 months a year, mostly for work but also for pleasure, hit the buffers. I no longer had to get up at 5 a.m. most Monday mornings, leave my Beloved and our kids and fly off somewhere for a week or two (and sometimes more), leaving home comforts like my own bed and my Beloved’s excellent cooking to slum it in mid-range (but sometimes 5-Star) hotels. I still miss that…… My income also fell off a cliff, as overnight it dropped from typically five figures a month to four – and a very low four at that. My own fault, that one: an over-generous divorce settlement twenty years ago that was not re-built during the following top-earning years left me more exposed than I had expected, with no way of making up the lost ground. But we’re ok, and we can manage…….but the luxuries are a thing of the past. Heigh – ho, such is life.
I had to look at my tech kit. I retained my laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad that was relatively new, but did a review of the software. It was then running Windows 7 Pro, complete with all the Outlook Mail and Calendar Tools and the productivity gubbins like Word and Excel, that I had been using for 20 years quite happily, through various iterations foisted on me, like it or not, by Microsoft. I took my free upgrade to W10 when it came out, and have had no issues with it at all. As I wrote in an earlier post I tried loads of different browsers before settling on the baked-in Chromium Edge and, latterly, Vivaldi. I kept Google around to manage my Gmail accounts, but shunted that to the Mail client on W10, added my ancient Yahoo Mail (typically as a back up emergency alternative) and that was all fine (as it is now on Vivaldi’s Mail client)
Security had me scratching my head. I had used Norton for a few years, and paid an annual subscription for the advanced business pack, but didn’t really need that any more: none of my stuff, from retirement on, is in any way sensitive. I looked at free alternatives like AVG, but ended up settling on Windows Defender – baked-in, very easy to set up and perfectly adequate for my needs. OK, I added a couple of extensions for ad-blocking and tracker protection – freebies, of course, being now very budget conscious, and all that worked fine. Of course, with Vivaldi those two extensions are no longer needed, but they’re sitting on the Edge browser for the odd time I use it.
But I did baulk at the price of Outlook and Office subscriptions that suddenly became mandatory – not to put too fine a point on it, Microsoft pissed me off a bit the way they snuck that in. When W11 came out and the whole lot became SaaS I was even less impressed, particularly as I can’t upgrade to W11 as my old laptop doesn’t have the technical grunt to do so. I know SaaS is the way the industry is moving, my old employer, one of the biggest banking system software providers on the planet, was moving its products away from one-off licencing to annual SaaS provision when I left, so I get it. It’s fine for a major corporate user like a bank, but less so for a retired pensioner end-user with limited needs in my humble opinion. So – time to look at productivity suites and operating systems.
Productivity was a doddle. I spent a few days trawling through Google Search, reading magazine pieces and stuff and looking at YouTube videos for all the alternatives, and tried some of them out. In the end it was a no brainer – I settled on LibreOffice and still use it daily. Not had any issues, and it’s improved with every iteration. The process also led me to DuckDuckGo, and that is now my search engine of choice – again, never had any issues and it too seems to be improving with each release.
The exercise also made me learn more about the privacy issues that I had previously heard of but not really thought too much about. Many of the browsers and tools I looked at, including Vivaldi and DDG, made big play in marketing materials about how they protected your privacy better than anyone else – which in itself must be nonsense: they can’t all be the best! But it seemed to me then, three or four years ago, that the entire issue was not something I could do a lot about. As someone who has used Google and Facebook and LinkedIn on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, for the last twenty years, all of these platforms have long had a detailed picture of me (I could see that by the ads that were pouring in) and no doubt sold my data off to Cambridge Analytica and similar sharks years ago. That Pandora’s Box can’t be closed. I still think that, and hence on-line privacy is not an overwhelming priority for me.
But still, I decided to at least consider finding an alternative OS to Windows, just for the hell of it. So back to YouTube and the magazines online to research. A couple of things very quickly became clear.
First: there really aren’t that many alternatives, and unless you have at least some understanding of how, technically, a computer or laptop works, and get the vocabulary, then none of them are – at least in my view – viable. I know, I know: I worked in the IT industry for 20 years, and worked on the best part of a hundred client sites all over the world, so I should be ok, right? Well, no, actually: as a business consultant, my job was to understand how the end user wanted the system to work (or at least the product line I specialised in), help him set the system up to do that, and write a spec for any new functionality that was needed. Then, once he’d signed off, the document went to our engineers to write the new code that was needed and integrate it into the parent software, then help my end user understand and test it. I did not write code, and didn’t need to.
Second, the choice seemed to come down to either Linux or ChromeOS. I discounted the second straight away because, well, it’s Google. That privacy nonsense again… So, Linux then. I dug into it in more detail, and watched loads of videos about it, which is the best distro, why LibreOffice and Firefox should be included in your installation etc etc….. But here’s the thing: nowhere could I find a single video or press article that did a blow by blow comparison of Windows and Linux, in the same way as you can find hundreds of videos comparing, say, Edge v Chrome, Firefox v Vivaldi, the top 10 browsers of 2022 ranked, and so on. I watched loads, but as interesting as they sometimes are, they tend to be about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.
It was also noticeable that the only non-technical stuff I could find about Windows was the reams upon reams of marketing stuff provided by Microsoft on the Microsoft website, and was thus completely useless as an independent analysis. The nearest I came to what I wanted was a bunch of stuff that was basically criticising various new functionality and changes that came with W11 – not in the least relevant to me, now or in the future – and some tutorials, like how to get the best out of Excel, or PowerPoint tips and tricks, by an ex-Microsoft employee: so neither independent nor focused on the OS but instead on the core software.
It seems clear there is no community supporting Windows OS in the same way as there are communities singing the praises of Linux, or various browsers, or even ChromeOS. There is no independent source out there that provides no nonsense, simple to understand reviews of Windows and its associated software, at least that I’ve been able to find. Even the MS Community pages are clearly designed for techies rather than end-users – and I would suggest there are far more of the latter, unsupported, than of the former. I do wonder why that is: I know Microsoft has been roundly criticised over the years for its near monopoly and arguably sharp business practices, but I would suggest the company is no worse than Google and probably more open than Apple – both of whom seem to have legions of fanboys willing to sing their praises in one form or another online. I asked a buddy of mine, a computer service engineer and Linux fan, if he could advise me how to install the system, maybe give me a hand to do so, and he sent me a detailed mail explaining how to install – it may as well have been written in hieroglyphics or Martian for all it meant to me. That was when I decided the hell with it, I’ll stick with Windows.
So……I’m throwing this open to this Community, since I’ve seen enough videos and articles from Linux users to suggest that Vivaldi is extremely popular with the Linux user base. Just what is so good about Linux? Why is it so much better than Windows? If it is such a good OS, why is it not provided as the default on new hardware (that still is dominated by iOS on Apple tech or Windows on everything else)? With Windows, even in the old days, installing a new release – Vista, say – was easy enough: buy the program on a CD, shove it the disc-drive and run Install, and there you go: even I managed to do it a couple of times without any disasters: perhaps Linux should do something similar if it want to gain market share? Or perhaps it likes being a niche tool, only used by “those in the know” (i.e. techies – and I have the greatest respect for them!)…..
Over to you, folks!