A Tale of Two Computers
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times … (Sorry I could not resist. It has to be the best opening ever for a novel. Kudos to Mr. Dickens.)
My wife and I bought two computers at the same time. Hers was a laptop and mine was a desktop computer. Both came with Windows XP pre-installed. She uses Windows every day and I never use Windows, but instead have run a version of Kubuntu or Ubuntu since the day that I bought it, almost five years ago. Those are the facts.
In all of that time I have but one problem with my desktop computer; I had to replace the power supply and bumped up the RAM to run VMs. I have had no software issues. I have re-installed Ubuntu every six months or gone the upgrade route once or twice. I have run alpha versions to final releases of many distributions including the above mentioned.
My wife has had problems with several viruses, trojans and the like. She has used anti-virus software from all of the major distributors, Symantic, AVG, Panda, Avast, Kaspersky, and Trend. In addition, she runs anti-malware and anti-hijacking software that detects changes to the registry. She does not indulge in any risky practices. She uses lots of email and clicks on links that people send her. In short, she is a typical user with average skills.
Her computer slows down to a crawl much to her frustration every month or two and it needs to be defragmented, the system tray needs to be cleaned out, her desktop needs tidying, her menu need to be cleaned up, her temporary files need to be wiped, and her registry tidied up. I am not making that up. She cannot do these things herself, so I do it.
In comparison, my computer which runs Linux needs none of that. I run no anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-torjan, anti hijacking software in the background. My system tray has no applications running in memory that did not come with the OS. My desktop is clean of shortcuts. My menu does not need to be re-ordered. My computer runs as fast as it did when I got it almost five years ago.
When I have had to re-install Windows on my wife’s computer after say a virus infection which trashed the computer, I was able to back up all of the data (using a Linux Live CD, BTW) and get it back in running order. After dedicating a full day to do it.
Each time I had to re-install Windows. It takes at least three times as long to install Windows XP, as it takes Ubuntu and Ubuntu comes with much of the software that I use. I must add to my Windows installation time it takes to install drivers, install four years of Windows updates, download and install anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-trojan software, and re-boot countless times. Then I must install all of her applications and add updates to those. Yes, re-booting even more. Finally I have to put all of her data back in place.
When I re-install Kubuntu, I download the ISO, put it on a usb stick. I only back up my package list. I re-boot. I re-install Kubuntu to the same partition. I keep my home partition unchanged and re-use my user name and home folder. I re-boot. I do updates which are at best a few days old, so there are few of them. I do not have to play with any driver disks. Everything works out of the box. I open my package manager and point it to my text file of the software that I had installed before the re-installation. I hit Apply and it does its work. While it is doing that, I can use my computer with no problems and not once did I have to re-boot. The process is completed in an hour and a half or less. No fuss, no muss, no pain.
I could be accused of being a fanboy of Linux for mentioning the obvious differences. It could be just my imagination that Linux is better. Or it could be just my subjective opinion. But if anybody could choose to have Windows behave the same way, then my money would be on that they would choose to have Windows behave like Linux. They would love to have there computer run without anti this or anti that. They would love to have to not worry about viruses and the like. They would love it if their computer did not degrade in performance over time. They would love it if Microsoft actually improved things when they released an new version.
With all of the money that Microsoft has, they keep on doing things the same way. They churn out a product that is only marginally better and in some cases (Vista) worse than its predecessor. They do not fix the problem of lax security, but add glitz and add a few features to disguise it. Their code is bloated and still there exploits built in.
Once a security hole is discovered, it takes them days to admit it and weeks to plug it. Meanwhile it has travelled half way around the world and caused untold hardship. Yesterday, they discovered a security flaw in Firefox. It was fixed the same day. It is not Linux, but it is open source and follows the open source model which is collaborative. Things are shared. They are out in the open and fixed in a timely fashion.
In my opinion, this points to the glaring weakness in using proprietary software. You are paying for something that essentially belongs to someone else. They do not have to fix it. They can take their sweet time about it. And there is little that you can do about it.
Users have free choice and I would never deny them that. Use Windows if you want. Pay for the privilege. Just don’t cry and whine when you have problems. And don’t tell someone who makes a different choice that he is being a fanboy for telling people that it does not have to be this way.
The problem is that most users are prisoners. They do not know that there is such a thing a software freedom. They are denied that information. It is partly the fault of the software freedom community. We do not have an advertising budget. We tend to be quiet and just do our own thing for the most part. As a consequence people do not know of our existence.
It is also because those who sell proprietary solutions do not want the truth to get out. They launch FUD campaigns at great expense to counter anything that we might say. They pay bloggers and writers to deny the truth and to strengthen their own position. They use their muscle on hardware manufacturers to make sure that Linux does not come pre-installed.
Some people would say that desktop Linux is where it was several years ago. I say, no, it is much farther ahead. Its user base is much larger in absolute numbers, but it is proportionately the same. We have not grown in terms of percentage, but we are not going away either. But for me, progress isn’t in the numbers, but in the experience.
There was a time when you needed to be a total geek to use Linux. Now anybody can try it by putting the disk in your computer with the advent of Live CDs, and now DVDs. You can run it from a usb stick. You can install it from inside Windows without having to partition, through the wonder of WUBI. If you choose to install it, it can share a drive with another operating system. It takes care of shrinking and partitioning. But that does not tell the full story.
Linux is on par with any OS in terms of its features. It can be incredibly stable if you opt for something like Debian stable. It can be bleeding edge if you opt for Fedora or Ubuntu. It can be in between. It can be a rolling release that you never have to upgrade or one that you can make new every six months. It can be a very basic system that you build from ground up yourself or a complete working system that is easy to install and use. There is nothing to compare with it. If I was a company that produced anything less than this, then I would be scared, too. I would set in motion FUD like you could not believe since ignoring has not worked.
Some people want us to be quiet. They cry foul when we mention the problems with other OSes. It is rude of us to gloat about the superiority of Linux. They denounce us as fanboys. There are trolls who masquerade as one of us and say that we are letting the side down, or worse.
But if people are to know about Linux in the face of the all of the FUD that comes out of Redmond and Cupertino, then how do we get the word out? If we stay silent then we are playing into the hands of people who want us to do just that.
My wife is not about to use Linux, just because I say that it is better. She has heard all of what I have written here. Sadly, for her. Windows is all that she needs and she does not have the time to try anything else. She uses Windows because that is what she uses at work. One operating system is enough to handle for her and many others. I get that. I am not speaking to users like her when I write these things. People who are happy with Windows should continue to use it.
I am wring to people who are unhappy with Windows and want to try something different. I am writing about not only a different operating system, but a different way of doing things. Many people accept the Windows experience because they think that everything has to be that way. They know that Macs exist, but are too expensive. They don’t know that they can transform their own PCs and enjoy a totally different experience.
You do not have to accept the status quo as normal. You have real choice. Some people will investigate. Others will not. Each is fine. After all, I believe in freedom to choose. But I won’t be quiet. It is not in my nature.
Note: This posting was prompted by criticisms of a previous post that accused me of being a Linux fanboy and that there is no problem with Windows or that Linux has no advantage or some such thing. 🙂