There is life after Windows and it is not Apple!
There is life after Windows and it is not Apple!
Microsoft Windows has had a tough time since Windows XP. First came the misfire of Windows Vista, then the universal dislike for Windows 8, and subsequent scepticism of the much improved Windows 10. Even with Windows 10 Microsoft appears to have demonstrated a unique knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, with ill-thought-out upgrade policy, the rather useless Edge browser, and the creepy telemetry, the Microsoft battle-wary fans have to wonder where they could go for salvation.
Some users have serious concerns over Microsoft’s push to Service-based software and cloud computing with all the privacy issues that this strategy implies (we include ourselves in that group). Windows 10 telemetry is given most of us the creeps and concerns over the integrity of our data. Moving to Apple does not really solve privacy issues and for most people the cost is prohibitive, let alone the effort needed to get used to a new operating system. After all, most of us are trying to run our business and our time is better used in our business rather than learning quirks of yet another new Operating Systems.
Many of our clients have been voicing their concerns about Microsoft move to subscription and hosted applications, whilst many cannot afford the move to Apple or are just as suspicious of Apple corporation. Customers have been asking for our advice and thoughts on the subject, so we decided to find an alternative for us and our clients.
Having to accept the end of Windows 7 support is neigh, and Windows 10 is not bringing anything new to those without touchscreen (at least nothing worth having), the question is where do users go from here.
Linux, the State of Independence!
This is an easy decision for us as we use Linux servers for our business (we are a hosting company after-all!), so the natural thing was to try out the desktop version. To this end we decided to install Linux on an old and unused Acer Aspire 1 netbook we had almost retired! We thought this would be challenging enough for the hardware and will really put to test the claims of Linux being a more efficient Operating System.
When switching to Linux you have 2 choices. You can install both Linux and Windows on the same hard-drive with dual-boot (as long as you have partitioning), or go for single boot, and no partition (Check this great Linux Installation Video). Just remember if you go for broke and Linux only option, you need to back up all your files on an external drive as this approach will wipe everything from your hard-drive and with no hope of recovering it!
What hardware do I need?
We tried single boot on a puny Intel Atom N450 processor & 2GB RAM on Acer Aspire netbook and it works fine. It runs a lot faster than the Windows 7 Home Edition. It is only a small rocket (may be just a sports car really) but no more waiting around for the processor and the RAM to catch up. It does run as you have a right to expect but interestingly it does not drain the battery so fast now as it is not forever hunting between the RAM and Hard-disk.
Ultimately your hardware will determine your experience with Linux as with any Operating System. Suffice to say, if you replace your Windows with Linux on your existing machine the only thing you will notice is the faster response with Linux but if you are starting from scratch this is what we recommend:
- What hardware to buy – Buy a Windows Desktop or Laptop off-the-shelf as you get more choice and lower price than machines with preloaded Linux! (crazy we know but that is life!)
- Processor – Choose at least Intel i3 or equivalent AMD processor (if you can afford it push it to i5 or i7). The same applies to Linux as with any other operating system. The meatier the processor the quicker the operating speed.
- RAM – Linux package suppliers claim minimum 500MB, but for real life 4GB is recommended but if you can afford it we would go for 6GB or 8GB. We had just 2GB on our test netbook and it works fine but we are not pushing the system much when we are out and about seeing clients.
- Hard disk – You need about 5-10GB hard disk for the OS and then whatever you think you need for your storage. We had 120GB on our netbook which is enough for everyday use, but just buy whatever you think you need.
- Screen – This is a tough one as it all depends what you want to do with it. Anything like VGA 1024×768 would work fine
There is also a very useful page on Linux Mint website that checks for hardware compatibility
What Linux Package to install?
Linux has a number of distributors each with their own “package”. The real noticeable difference in packages is the User Interface. The 2 most popular packages are Ubuntu and Mint.
Ubuntu was designed by Canonical and is an attempt for Linux to take a shot at the Business users and Enterprises. The operating system and package is free to download and install. They also offer different packages including Enterprise, Education, Developers, Government, each with specific Applications preloaded. Canonical offers Paid Support which is great for any business regardless of the business size but also useful for individuals who are not keen in tinkering on their own.
Mint is in fact based on Ubuntu but took a different take years ago and is more akin to the average Windows users. We all know Support from Windows is non-existent so if you have been flying solo for the last 3 decades with Windows, then you should be fine with this! Just like Microsoft and Windows you will have to rely on searching on the Knowledge Base and Forums to find answers, which many would say “So what, we have been doing this for years with Microsoft!”.
Mint offers the closes experience to Windows (XP or 7) for users if you combine it with Cinnamon UI. The User Interface is pretty close match to Windows and you will soon pick up some of the nice tricks that Windows cannot match. If you want to directly replace your Windows, we suggest this is the way to go. Here is a great article comparing the pros-and-cons of Mint vs Ubuntu
What about usability?
We love it. In fact we now fight over who is taking the netbook out and who is going to see clients with the crappy tablet (mentioning no brands)!
If you have been using Windows 7 or Windows XP, you will take to this like fish to water. The icons are in the same place, there is a “Start” button on the bottom left (OK a Mint button), there is tool bar at the bottom of the screen, there is a desk top just like before (no crazy tiles in sight), LibreOffice included which we love anyway (some prefer OpenOffice but frankly we cannot see the difference), and it has all the functionality of Windows 7 Professional and MS Office.
How about Networking with Windows Desktops?
It took less than 3 minutes to set it up in the Homegroup network with our other Windows 7 and Windows 10 desktops as well as file sharing with other PCs. In fact it was easier to set up Linux machine on a Windows Homegroup than setting it up between Windows machines! Linux discovered the network by itself, showed the devices, and asked if we wanted to join the party with the network/PC password!
Just a word of warning, Linux is security mad so if any of your devices on the network do not have a user password, you have no hope of file sharing or printer sharing. Ah yes, the printer. It even downloaded the printer driver itself, installed it, and hey presto we are sharing the printer!
What are the highlights?
This is when it gets really exciting, so our advance apology for drooling!
- No Anti-virus – Linux does not need Anti-virus unless you install “Wine” Windows emulation package which allows you to run pure Windows apps. If you are running Wine, then you should install an Anti-virus but as we won’t be running any Windows apps on this machine, we don’t need to worry for now!
- No Defrag – Linux does not fragment unless you get near to full capacity on your disk (anything under 80% and you don’t need to worry). The reason is simple, Windows tries to write files as close to the start of the disk as possible for quick access. This means it inevitably gets into a mess as it is forced to split files as it runs out of space at the start of the disk. Linux writes the data from the centre of the disk outwards because it tries to keep the optical head equidistant from any potential data location. Centre of the disk is equidistant to any end point of the disk, so no need to split the files. It is brilliantly logical and simple and it works.
- Less RAM, More Juice! – Linux uses less bloatware so it does not need to use so much RAM, which means faster processing, hence needs far less juice, and less wear on the hard-drive. We recommend you go for 4GB at the very least.
- Updates – There are only 2 Mint releases per year so no need for constant update and patching, etc. You also can select which updates you want to download and install (remember the good old days of Windows and Choice!). It just does what it says on the tin every time.
- Applications – If you use any smartphone or tablet, you will find the concept of “Application Repository” (or Apps Store) easy to understand these days. However, before the world went mad on smartphones, this concept was strange and perhaps difficult to get your head around (shows how far ahead Linux was). Nowadays this is just routine stuff, so go to the “Application Repository”, search for the app you need and just install.
- Crashes – Well haven’t had one yet even though we have been bashing the life out of the poor old netbook and have copied across nearly 60GB of data on it!
- Tinker Tailor Soldier! – You can tinker until your heart is content and adjust everything everywhere, but if you can’t be bothered there is nothing wrong with the default settings. Just plug and go.
What are the downsides?
Just a few grumbles if you can call it that but it is just matter of getting used to it.
- Semantics – Semantics are of course a little unfamiliar but they are still logical so you can figure out what it means. If you had never seen Windows you would not even think about it.
- Windows Office – Confession time. We have not used Windows Office since 2006! We moved over to OpenOffice (+ Thunderbird to replace Outlook) and have not looked back since. LibreOffice is just another take on OpenOffice and frankly they are cleverer and more intuitive than MS Word, Excel or PowerPoint. For example, the auto-suggest which we now take for granted in our smartphones has been available on OpenOffice since 2006, and it even learns new words as you use them, just like your smartphones. Sorry iOS and Android fans, this was you guys catching up with OpenOffice! So for us, this is no problem but we appreciate some people will take a while to break old habits and get into the groove but it is worth the effort to breakaway from Microsoft. OpenOffice and LibreOffice can save and open documents in any format you want so you can receive files from and send files to your Windows friends that you have left behind!!
- Login – One of the safety features of Linux is that you cannot change any critical settings or install anything on the system without using your username and password. This is how Apple OS protects itself, and Linux is the same. Even when installing a Printer Driver, which the device has already discovered and downloaded, you need to enter your password before it can be installed. It gets a little weary after a while but it is worth the pain when you think you do not have to worry about virus!
What is the verdict
The transition for us was painless and successful. We have had no issues to date and do not expect any either. This we feel is the best option for anyone who wants to leave Microsoft’s Windows environment without financial commitments and steep learning curve of Apple operating system.
If you are Windows 7 or Windows XP user go for Mint package with Cinnamon UI and other than colours which you can customise, your desktop will look as it did before.
If you are Apple Mac user, well don’t feel left out, there is version for you with a UI that looks just like Mac!!
You could always give this a try by installing Linux to coexist with Windows, and then use a dual-boot option to select which OS to use today! You can try it, get used to it, and if you like it then make a break for it and free yourself from all the Corporate Directives from Microsoft. Make your PC Great again! (sorry couldn’t resist that one!).