February 27, 2012

Windows vs Linux story

You have been warned, although mostly emergency medicine related, my blog is also about IT. To the heart of my IT experience is converting from Windows to Linux, the best decision I have ever made.

I like collecting stories about why this is good. I've just read an interesting article from PC World where IT geek Tony in 30 days tries out one of the Linux flagships: Ubuntu. I will not go into his incomprehensible approach of installing it inside Windows and expecting to get a Windows clone which completely defeats the purpose of his experiment... But reading through the comments has revealed to me some very good Windows to Linux conversion success stories and learning points which I'd like to collect here.

Take home point: "... but the point should be clear. Microsoft effectively owns your Windows computer, while you own your Linux computer."

ricegf Mon Jun 06 06:55:52 PDT 2011

"@blamblam: What are some concrete examples of things that you cannot do with a Windows computer that you can do with a Linux machine

Excellent question. Though I'm not the original poster, I'm a libre software advocate based on hard-won experience, so I appreciate the opportunity to point out some practical implications for free vs proprietary software. I'll do so with first-hand anecdotes, and leave you to draw general conclusions.

I helped Mike (a friend), whose hard drive had crashed, to install a new one. When we reloaded Windows, the software refused to accept the 40 character authentication code (a pain not inflicted on Linux folk), deeming it invalid. We spent 30 minutes on the phone with 3 different people at Microsoft while they decided if we would be permitted to use the software he'd bought or would be required to purchase a new copy, since his machine might be considered "new" because of the replaced hard drive - the End User License Agreement (EULA) didn't define "new", leaving its interpretation at their discretion. In the end we were "permitted" to use the product for which he'd paid (via a new 40-character code), but this was the wake up call that caused me to begin my Linux transition.

I've received two physical letters from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) asserting their right to enter my home and "audit" our personal computers at their convenience to see if any of my applications are improperly licensed. They claim their members' EULAs grant them this right (the specific EULAs are not identified). I would certainly deny them access to my Linux computers, however, since they run no EULA-impaired software at all (the Gnu GPL is not a EULA).

I helped my daughter build a desktop, and purchased a retail copy of Windows XP so she could run certain games. After it was overrun by malware, we reloaded from CD - but the authentication code was rejected as "pirated". Unable to convince Microsoft that we'd purchased an original CD, unable to obtain a refund for an "opened product", and unwilling to continue buying new copies for the same hardware, we acquired a copy via different means to get the machine operating again (though it won't accept any non-security updates).

I have more stories, but the point should be clear. Microsoft effectively owns your Windows computer, while you own your Linux computer.

From another perspective, I'm able to upgrade any of my computers to the latest or any older version of Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint et. al. at any time, to share any of these systems and all of my apps freely with friends, and to run as many copies as I like in my virtual machine system (Windows most common EULA limits use to 3 copies total on the same hardware). I can run and publish benchmarks and comparisons (which was prohibited by Microsoft's EULA last time I checked). I also have confidence that the software isn't siphoning off information without my knowledge: I haven't checked personally, but independent people that I trust have - and have found that some proprietary software (not Windows) does indeed send personal info back to corporate headquarters without the user's knowledge or consent (instances occasionally pop up in the trade press, in case you follow it).

From a practical perspective, I've found Linux software to be generally better than Windows for my needs. New versions of Microsoft Office, for example, often require reformatting of complex documents while OpenOffice.org (which uses an ISO-standard file format) does not. Of course, we can (and do) use the same software on the Windows computers in the house, which illustrates another advantage of libre software - it typically has been ported to all systems! You can even find mainstream libre software on quite obscure systems such as Haiku and Plan 9, while many proprietary Windows apps won't even run on a Mac.

Speaking of apps, installation and maintenance (which is centralized through an "app store") is certainly far better under Ubuntu than any competitor I've tried (except perhaps the late unlamented Lindows) - Microsoft plans to address this at last with an app store for Windows 8. The Linux system is also far more useful out of the box (which you concede), and obviously is far less expensive to set up from a licensing perspective.

The biggest practical barriers to a Linux transition are for Photoshop users, those dependent on certain Windows-only vertical market apps, and for those with a large investment in DRMd media (Linux generally doesn't support DRM, since given source code DRM is trivial to defeat - though no DRM system has survived very long in the wild even on Windows).

Overall, my personal experience with proprietary software has been quite negative, because power corrupts and the BSA members seek near-absolute power over their customer's computing devices as the above anecdotes illustrate. My experience with libre software has been uniformly and overwhelmingly positive, and I'm far more productive - and certainly more free - than I was on Windows.

I speak only for me, your mileage may vary, but I hope this gives you some food for thought.

JoeAnotems5445 Wed Jun 29 05:53:34 PDT 2011

"The author missed the most important thing. With Ubuntu or Linux Mint, you don't use AV and you don't get infected. Microsoft gets infected with viruses, botnets and has many other security issues. Microsoft Windows cannot operate without AV, ever. Microsoft never had secure source code, and with millions of lines, it's unlikely they will go back and fix it. Linux has open source (freely available to anyone) source code and security is designed into every line. It's been that way since version 1 in 1991. Android is Linux.

I've used Linux for over 8 years without any AV and with absolutely no infections. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu but has many extra codecs for playing Microsoft media and playing and recording DVD's - right after the install.

I've never seen the problems with arrogance from Linux users on the help posts the author mentions. If he is a Microsoft user, he is probably not familiar with the terminal commands that are commonly used when someone is trying to help. These commands have to be typed in exactly as described or they will not work. It can be frustrating and overpowering to a new user.

Also, Microsoft enjoys a large market share that has been developed over the years, even through some monopolistic practices.

Linux was never meant to be a copy cat of Windows. The authors' approach is to treat it like a Windows wanna-be. Remember, almost all Microsoft programs use a proprietary function called Active-X or Direct-X. Over the years, this has been responsible for a tremendous amount of security issues. Linux does not use Active-X. Neither does Firefox or Google Chrome. That's why they are becoming so popular, people are getting increased security using them with Windows instead of Internet Explorer.

Linux Mint is the #2 Linux OS in popularity. It's absolutely fantastic. I'm using the 64-bit version on a dual core HP with 2GB of ram. I have an ATI 2GB graphics card with a custom ATI driver meant for Linux. I use FireFox4 and Google Chrome 64-bit, both with Ad-Block Plus. I installed Google Earth, Google Picasa, TrueCrypt, FileZilla, K2B CD-DVD burner, Scribus publishing, Google DNS, Youtube-dl among others. Also, Mint comes with LibreOffice office suite that parallels Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. It also comes with Gimp, which is a multi-layer photo editing program similar to Photoshop.

There are over 33,000 free applications that can be installed from a repository with a couple of clicks using the Software Manager. All you have to do is Google for the Linux equivalent of the Microsoft program you want, and you can usually find it. For example if you Google Microsoft Publisher, you get Scribus and Lynx, which can be installed for free.

For me, Linux installs in about 8 minutes with no product keys, WGA or DRM to contend with. I can't even imagine my family or I going back to any MS product. If you are a Windows user dealing with one or two computers, AV and infections seem to be manageable. If you're responsible for 20 or 30 computers, Linux requires virtually no maintenance and gives you your life back."


"Windows is a lot harder to install than Ubuntu. People usually don't care because it's preloaded on new computers (as well as bloatware).

I have to remove all the viruses/trojans from my Mom's windows computer everytime I go visit my family. I installed Ubuntu on her laptop so that she stops complaining about it being slow. She was doing fine after that.

Windows doesn't just work, or else I'd be still using it."