My column in the Nov. 14th edition of the Middleboro Gazette discussed my wife converting from Windows XP to Linux. Basically she just got fed up with having to baby the machine and spending inordinate effort to prevent viruses or clean them up after the fact.
My first computer ran Windows and I was relatively happy with it. Then I discovered Unix. I came to view Windows as an unstable joke of an operating system that was so fragile that it was laughable. This is in my mind today because of a ZDNet article I read today about a longtime Windows users who had finally gotten fed up with it.
I’ve also cajoled and coaxed countless ailing systems back to life, but during that time I’ve come to realize how fragile the Windows operating system is, and how something small and insignificant as a bad driver, incorrect settings, or the stars being in the wrong position can bring a system to its knees, and result in hours of work searching for a solution.
That’s basically what drove my wife to Linux and what drove me to it almost 20 years ago.
My very first distribution was Transameritech Linux around 1995. I was using Unix at work and wanted a similar system at home so I could play around it without fear of wrecking one of the $25K servers at work. I’ll never forget seeing that familiar Unix-like boot sequence on home computer which was running Windows 3.1 at the time. From there I went to Slackware and frequently had to build my own kernels. From there I moved to Redhat. At this point I was becoming quite the veteran and was becoming annoyed that many of my standard programs like emacs weren’t included by default. Then I found Mandrake. In my mind this was the first distribution that was really done right. It had a very polished desktop and an elegant menu system. Redhat looked positively primitive by comparison yet was getting all the press. I ran Mandrake for a number of years and eventually switched to Fedora. After that I think I ran Mepis for a couple of years. At some point I started running Ubuntu. There are a number of flavors of Ubuntu and I’ve run a number of them: Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, and my current favorite Linux Mint.
That’s a lot of different Linux’s and I enjoyed them all. The desktop experience of most of them weren’t all that different from one another. Once you got the install done and got the gist of the menu and configuration it was a piece of cake. On all of them I ran the same web browser, editor(emacs natch), email, messaging client, etc, etc.
As I wrote in the Gazette column, I finally threw up my hands in discust and banished Windows from the home computer about two years ago. My wife has been using it at home during that time and so moving to Linux wasn’t all that scary. Her main applications for work are Excel, Word, Quickbooks, Firefox, and Thunderbird. LibreOffice easily covered for Excel and Word – even handling linked spreadsheets adroitly. Firefox and Thunderbird run natively on Linux so that was no problem. Quickbooks was the one that wasn’t simple. There is nothing on Linux that can read the Quickbooks format. I tried running Quickbooks under Wine withou success. Finally I installed a Windows XP virtual machine where she can run quickbooks natively. Windows because just another application that is running in its own window just like your spreadsheet or word processor.
Every year Linux pundits would predict that Linux would finally take off on the desktop. Even today desktop Linux accounts for a miniscule percentage of computers. Linux dominates today not because it conquered the desktop but because computing fundamentally changed. Android smartphones and tablets are actually running Linux under the hood. Chromebooks are running Linux. Many if not most smart devices are running Linux. It is taking off as the platform for automotive entertainment systems. Basically if your device has any level of complexity, there is a very good chance it is running Linux.
As I said in the column – I am not advocating that everyone switch to Linux. Pick a platform that works for you and lets you do you business with the least hassle.