Linux: what’s the big deal?

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!


Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you very much for this article. It is indeed an eye opener for someone like me who does not have a technical background.

    1. Hi. I’m glad you enjoyed it! To be honest, I don’t really have a tech background: most of my working life I worked in investment banking and stumbled into a tech company that develops and sells a banking system. All my work there was focused on the banking element and I have no real understanding about what goes on under the bonnet, so to speak. I’ve become more interested in tech since retirement, as I’ve diversified away a bit from bog-standard Microsoft and Google products on cost grounds, but I find most articles and videos are aimed more at tech-savvy users rather end-users like you and I.

      Hence this piece asking for simple-to-understand explanations – that are still so far not forthcoming.

    2. Linux is not better, it’s just an alternative. The good point of Linux is it allows people to keep using devices that become obsolete. For example my Apple Inc. iMac16,2 became obsolete in 2020. Since then it has been running Ubuntu and is currently running Ubuntu 22.04.1 LTS. However, if I bought an new iMac I would prefer Apple OS to Linux, only turning to Linux as the new machine ended it’s support cycle. That’s how I personally use Linux.
      Linux is also the backbone of Android, so if you use Chrome (I also have a Chromebook), or any kind of Tablet, you are basically using Linux. You can even run Linux on your phone by downloading a program called Termux. I love using that one.
      Anyway, the great thing about Linux is that it’s just so much fun.
      cheers,
      Jeff

  2. Hi,
    Coming from the Forum.

    I’m not a Linux user but installed some distros few months ago, in a Real Laptop with dual/quad boot along with W7.

    You can do that if you have a spare computer and Disk or start with some VM and try there.

    Did it to revive the computer but at least here doesn’t had too much difference.

    Compac 6720s
    Dual core 1.6
    2Gb Ram DDR2

    Being that Vivaldi kept as main and it’s based on Chromium, I’ve noted quite similar in practice for the performance.

    Tested 86

    Mint 17/19
    Mint LMDE
    Zorin 15.3
    Pupi Linux

    All on XFCE

    Finally went back to W7 it’s quite configured to run as best as it could with my knowledge which is far more that for Linux.

    So,
    Try it,
    Start with easy distros, learn on VForum and it’s respective and spend some time if you want/need, ultimately you would return to Windows.

    So Spare device or Virtual Machine as recommendation from a newbie.

    1. Hi, Zalex, thanks for the replies – but I’m afraid they don’t help me too much! I have a single laptop, so no spare discs to try Linux out on, and tbh I wouldn’t know where to start with setting up a VM….I’m familiar with the term and have in a past life worked with VMs, but as a simple user, not configuring them.

      I’m guessing that your are, for want of a better word, a techie, so familiar with how all this stuff works, and Boots and everything that goes with it, but THAT is the stuff I have no clue about – and it’s the continuing problem I have as a non-tech savvy user, and why I am never really sure why Linux is so popular. It seems to me that most Linux users tend to be at least somewhat tech savvy and hence happy to play around with it, tweak code etc….I’m not. And that’s fine – we all have different talents, right?

      If the OS was available on a CD or something that I could plug in, click Install, and wait for the machine to do the business for me, I would be happy, but I think is not available, right?

      Guess I’ll stick with Windows….

  3. Forgot to mention,
    I’ve used *Grub Customizer* despite some people doesn’t likes but made a big difference to keep the Multi boot organized and easily fix Boot problems.

  4. Hello, you seem to have already dealt extensively with Linux and the advantages of open source over Windows seem to be clear to you.

    However, you will also find many pages on the net with comparisons between Linux and Windows.

    The simplest Linux installation is, as I said, ‘Q4OS’, like a Windows program.
    You keep your old Windows and then have Q4OS Linux next to it.
    When you start it, you decide which system you want to work with.
    If you don’t like Q4OS, you can delete it like a Windows program.

    This type of installation for Linux is currently only available with ‘Q4OS’.

    1. Hi, ingolftopf. thanks for your reply. I’ve never dealt with Linux at all, only researched it via videos and articles, and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never used a Linux computer (if I can call it that) in my life. I’m also not completely convinced about open source, either: I understand the concept but it seems a bit dangerous to me. In my consulting job for a software company, we had what I think is called a closed system, in that any changes to the source code or our system made by someone other than our own technicians was considered unlicenced and therefore we would not touch it. If it caused a problem with the wider system – and I came across a number of instances where it did just that – that was tough luck on the bank who made the change. It would have to fix the problem itself or pay us a small fortune to do it for them (which is what generally happened). All of this left me with a feeling that open source must be inherently unstable…..but then as a non-tech user I guess I would.

  5. Ok,
    So for VM (Virtual Machine), you could go to VirtualBox.
    And for Linux, Q4OS, which forgot to mention since tried as well by the forum’s user recommendation or Mint.
    It’s “easy” but needs some time reading and watching tutorials.

    What didn’t knew is about Q4OS as a Program, this would be the most comfortable to take a first contact.

    On my point of view, you (anyone), has to have the need or wanting to spend the needed time to learn a new OS with it’s multiple options.

    First of all, do the System and Data Backups as a habit and right before enter into any of the testing options.

    😉

  6. Hello, you cannot generally apply your professional experience to open source operating systems, programmes and apps.
    Open source is neither “dangerous” nor unstable!
    The generally (!) offered open source software has been checked and tested 10,000 times worldwide by voluntary experts, developers and programmers.

    With ‘Q4OS’ based on ‘Debian’ you have, as already mentioned in the forum, a very stable Linux system that can be installed like a Windows program.
    You then have a ‘dualboot’ system as the Linux is installed alongside your Windows.
    If you don’t like it, you delete it like a Windows program, without leaving any residue.
    There is a forum for ‘Q4OS’ and a room for ‘Jabber/XMPP’, a very good open source messenger:
    xmpp:q4os@conference.monocles.de?join

    Help would also be available via our ‘Digital Consultation Hour’ with ‘Jitsi Meet’, an open source video conference, in our Jabber/XMPP ‘Literatur Café 7’.
    xmpp:test-ccc-1@conference.monocles.de?join

  7. Glad you’re considering taking the leap away from the Redmond behemoth.

    You need a Linux Distro that is stable, long-standing, full-featured, well-known, well-supported, and user-friendly.
    I think the most correct answer here is the obvious one – Ubuntu, and I mean the stock version. There are other variants of Ubuntu which are also good, but reading what you’ve written, I advise generic, stock Ubuntu – it is NOT a compromise – it’s just what you’ll it easiest to get help with – certain techies dislike it because it is “too corporate, too mainstream” – ignore them.

    First thing’s first, and DO NOT ignore this – backup everything personal on that laptop – documents, and especially photos as they’re irreplaceable.

    This installation will wipe EVERYTHING – no come-backs – ALL GONE, FOREVER. I say again – Backup your stuff.

    You will need an USB Thumb drive or SD Card or a writable CD/DVD.

    Go to https://ubuntu.com/tutorials/install-ubuntu-desktop and that will contain all the instructions (very-well written too) that you need, so I won’t repeat it here.
    Three notes:
    1. When it tells you to “download an Ubuntu image”, it does not mean a picture file – it means a very large (~3.5GB) “disk image” that is “burned” onto the CD/DVD/SD card.
    2. Choose an image with “LTS” after its name (currently that’s “22.04 LTS” despite the instructions mentioning an older version). LTS stands for Long-term support which means it will get security OS updates for 5 years, and general user software updates for about 3 years.
    3. There is an option to try Ubuntu, rather than installing it. This is good, but the “preview” is much slower than the installation, so if it seems slow, don’t worry and don’t dismiss Ubuntu as a choice. The “Try” option is mentioned in the tutorial but not the associated slowness.

    I’ve used various Ubuntu flavours since 2007, and they’re rock solid. I recently moved over to the stock Ubuntu distro so as to be able to talk sensibly to my daughter, who’s now just left home, about her Ubuntu laptop* if/when the need arises – she has no interest in IT, and has had no issues.
    (* I’d feel dirty giving her a Windows anything )

    Did I mention – backup your irreplaceable files beforehand.

    1. I have been a Unix user long ago, and intermittently Linux, and I like your no-nonsense approach. The question “What is so good about Linux ?” can’t be “because it’s free” or “because it’s not Windows”. And as a not-too-technical user, the fact that it is open source etc. doesn’t matter, because you won’t look at it. One potential argument is that Linux (hence Ubuntu) is a bit faster on machines that aren’t new. But again, the “mainstream Ubuntu LTS” that is likely the most standard Linux is not the fastest one. So you quickly fall in the “it depends on your needs” caveat. As if Windows or Mac users were asked what their needs are in terms of OS ! So indeed, since Windows 11 will be pushed and your laptop can’t support it, you may try Ubuntu 20.04LTS and tell us your adventures in this blog 😉

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