This was prepared as a scheduled post when internet was bad in Kovol, I just uploaded it to get it out the way πŸ™‚

You know you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for scheduled posts when you start talking about operating systems on your computer! I expect a very small subset of people to be interested in this post! πŸ™‚
Abandoning Windows 10 has been sweet relief to many of our computing woes though.

At the start of this year I switched from Windows 10 to Ubuntu, a free Linux based operating system, and Gerdine made the switch a few months later when her computer started playing up. Why’d we do it? If you’re still reading then you’re nerdy enough to find out!

  1. Smooth updates
    Updating Windows is a pain at the best of times, and even more painful when your internet connection is bad.
    First off Windows 10 is a rolling release – there will never be a Windows 11. Any and all improvements and changes to Windows need to be downloaded and an old version of Windows 10 can become as out of date as Windows 8.
    Windows 10 is a moving target – which means lots of, and frequent updates to download.

    You can’t always tell Windows to update either – a Microsoft AI will let you know when you’re allowed to get the newest update, and sometimes will even do so behind your back. We’ve all seen the “Shutting down and updating, do not turn your computer off” when you select shut down and want to quickly pack your laptop up and move on πŸ™‚

    Here in PNG where data plans are expensive, we like to plan ahead and buy an hour data plan to do big tasks like uploading a video, or update our software. Windows doesn’t cooperate though and we’ve had times we weren’t able to update when we wanted to, and other times we were forcibly updated on a slow connection when we didn’t want to.

    Contrast that with Ubuntu – it’s a fixed release, the LTS edition is good to receive security updates for 5 years – we’re not getting a new OS every few months, and you tell it when and where to update and it does what you ask, it’ll even estimate the update download size for you.
    Saves us in headaches and runaway data bills!

    The firewall is MUCH easier to lock down too, and data usage as a whole is lower – Linux saves us money!
  2. The package manager
    Every so many years we need to get new computers. The tropics is hard on them and they need replacing. What irks me about this chore is downloading all the software I need.

    On a Windows machine, a new installation requires an hour or two of surfing the web and going to dozens of websites to download the latest installers. I need to get Firefox, VLC, Anki etc, etc. Everyone settles on the software they like to use and is comfortable, but a new computer is so time-consuming to set up to get it just the way you had the last one.
    This gets worse for Windows because if your computer does last a few years Windows OS gets pretty bogged down and a refresh/reset is a good idea – you can keep your files, but bye bye programs.

    Linux has a package manager. To install Firefox I just type “sudo apt install firefox” into the terminal and it gets to work. The magic is I can store a string of these commands in a script that I can run on a brand new installation. I can double click my script and leave it to download and install the several dozen programs I’ve told it to get, and I come back to everything installed.

    Updates are even better. In Windows I need to manually update each and every program when it gets an update (anyone else tired of their web browser poking you about updates every month?). In Linux the package manager that installed the software also monitors for updates, and you update all the software on your machine in one go. Easy, peasy!
  3. Not being funnelled into Microsoft services
    This one probably is more for those of us who regularly have problematic internet. Back in the day Microsoft used to earn money by selling Windows, nowadays Microsoft is earning most of its money from selling services – subscriptions to things like OneDrive and Office 365 that you pay yearly for.

    Microsoft really want you using OneDrive, and it’s built right into Windows 10. The problem I have is that our internet is unreliable and I don’t want any of my documents in the cloud.
    Cloud storage like Onedrive is great for backup and for accessing data over multiple devices, but we’re much more old school – offline most of the time and wanting to work on our documents without a sniff of the internet.
    That’s, of course, possible in Windows 10, but I get annoyed that OneDrive is binging at me all the time; and that I can’t get rid of the shortcut and never see it in Windows explorer’s quick access menu.

    It’s not a bad service, but it’s not suitable for me – and Microsoft has a vested interest in putting it in my face and steering it towards me at every opportunity. Unfortunately, Windows is more and more involved in advertising for services.

    Ubuntu is a great alternative. It’s free and open-source -there’s no product to sell and it’s very flexible. I can set it up to suit my unique use case without being funnelled in any particular direction.

    A huge benefit to this is the lack of bloat too. No tracking, no advertising, no pile of unused unwanted applications that you can’t get rid of.
  4. The command line
    I guess you have to a certain type of person to see typing commands in white font on a black screen as a good thing, haven’t we moved on from that?
    The command line does take a little effort, but once you start getting it, it opens the door to a world of automation.

    Think of a routine task you do on your computer, wouldn’t it be great to get the computer to do it for you? Almost anything you do on your computer will have an equivalent command-line command (or string of chained commands), and if you can translate your task into those then you never need to manually do them again!

    One example I’ve used is when creating a batch of multimedia flashcards in Anki. Anki shows me a picture with a prompt (like “what is this?”), gives me a moment to think about it and then responds with the answer, both written and played through the speakers. You can imagine how useful that is for language learners!
    Say I’m creating 100 of these cards and have 100 pictures named picture1.jpg etc. I create a .csv with columns and rows for each entry. To import it into Anki I need to tell Anki to look up <img src=”picture1.jpg.”>, so I need to add <img src=” to the start of and ” > to the end of my picture’s filename.

    That could be a lot of manual typing, or copy pasting. Using the Linux sed command I can read my .csv a line at a time, find ***.jpg and add the required tags before and after.
    Once I’ve perfected the command line recipe I can make the 100 changes in a single command (there’s a history feature where you can pull up commands you’ve previously executed).
My new desktop environment
  1. Programming is even more powerful
    This ties into the command line. I write all kinds of scripts and applications in the Python programming language. Windows always felt like it was an untouchable mystery box the level above the scripts I was writing.
    On Linux my Python scripts have full access to system calls in a way that feels so much easier and more natural than in Windows. I can pipe the output of command-line commands into a Python script, and then pipe that on to something else in a way I never could in Windows meaning I can write shorter, more focussed programs.

    I’ve written some very basic programs in Windows that ended up being pretty complex because I had to bundle a GUI in as that’s what’s more natural for a Windows user. The command line being a normal part of using Linux opens up options I never had before.

    Along with that is the fact the Python is preinstalled in most Linux distributions and it’s easy to get dependencies for projects. While working on CLAHub it’s been necessary to configure it to work with the Apache webserver. To do that in Windows I have to download a third-party application like WAMP that has all kinds of things bundled I don’t need, whereas on Linux it’s “sudo apt install apache2” done! Most web apps are deployed on Linux servers anyway (ours is on a raspberry pi), so it’s nice to work in a Linux environment to develop it.

What’s Gerdine make of all this?

She has no idea what I’m talking about! (I’m sure she’s not the only one!!). Her laptop is 4 years old though and was looking like it’s on its last legs. Her system had slowed to a crawl.
On goes Ubuntu and Gerdine has said “It’s installed already? Wow that was fast!” Hooray for scripts πŸ™‚
She restarted her computer and went away to do something and was shocked to see that it was ready for her “wow, that was fast!”. So far she’s liking it.
You don’t have to do all the nerdy command line stuff, and the click the mouse on simple buttons approach also works πŸ™‚

What’s not so good?

  • I still need Windows around.
    Adobe Premiere Elements, which I use for video editing isn’t available, neither is Microsoft office and some of the games I like to play.
  • Libre office is a good free MS office alternative, but it’s not as good
    We’ve been getting used to it, but it’s not quite as intuitive and powerful as MS office, and we’re expecting some potential compatibility issues down the road
  • It’s free – but that doesn’t matter
    You can download it for free, but the computer you’re using probably came with Windows – which you’ve paid for. It’s pretty hard to find computers with Linux preinstalled, it’s a niche market.

For the two of you that read the whole thing, I’m sure we could have a nice chat sometime. For everyone else don’t worry, normal blogging will hopefully resume shortly when internet returns to Kovol!


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