Are you a Windows user who has heard of Linux and is considering trying this new operating system? Very good. You have made a very wise decision. Not the test itself, although it may be a pleasant experience, but the very fact that you have opened up your mind to new possibilities. That in itself is worth its weight in gold.
But before you do anything, let me dampen your mojo a little. Your Linux experience will be inversely proportional to your expectations, as well as your level of preparedness. So, if you want to test Linux, maybe even move to it one day, you should make sure you approach the adventure with a solid dose of soberness and reality. To wit, this article.
Oh so typical
For most Windows folks, their first and often the only experience with Linux can be summed thusly. They have a nerd friend who is all leet and dabbles in Linux. The friend shows them his beautiful free-of-charge desktop. The Windows folks get all excited and want to partake in the experience. The nerd helpfully points them to the nearest distro site, they do a bunch of stuff together, and eventually, Linux is installed. Then, the Windows folks realize that this new operating system is so vastly different from what they know and care for, they promptly go back to their old, familiar technology. The phenomenon is also known as One Night in Bangkok.
Let’s try something different then
I do not want to focus on the technological parts, although they are important. Yes, you do need to know what hard disks and partitions are and how they are numbered in Linux. You also need to be able to dabble in your BIOS, and make changes to the boot order, if necessary. Burn ISO files to DVD or copy them to a thumb drive. Be willing to search for solutions to problems, read a little, check error logs, and even log into an odd forum or three, and ask a few questions. Then, the learning curve, or rather, the learning hyperbole.
Things get even more complicated when you start considering the vast array of Linux options out there. Distributions, flavors, editions, semi-rolling and rolling in my 5.0, with the ragtop down, long-term versus short-term, 32-bit versus 64-bit, desktop environments, windows managers, package managers, file formats, binary compatibility, I want to die, please.
To use my favorite analogy world, cars, asking someone to move from Windows to Linux is not the same as driving car A and then switching over to car B. It’s more like learning to drive a moped, and then be asked to drive a Sherman tank, in reverse, blindfolded while wearing high-heels two sizes two big for your feet, with Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights blasting in your headset, and no air-conditioning.
It is trivial once you get to know it all, but it is a huge stumbling block for most people. Especially since most people do not care, do not wish to care, and never will about the technological nuances between operating systems and their various layers. It’s boring and meaningless, and not how normal people perceive the world.
But all of this can be solved.
When someone is determined enough, they will figure out a way. Yes, they will learn, and it could take them three or four Fedora installs until things get tight like a tiger. For free, it’s a fair price to pay, especially if you are keen on your new exploration and knowledge. After all, throughout the ages, humans have learned new technologies. Even today, if you look at smartphones, they are completely different from the computing devices we used to have a decade back, and yet billions of people of all ages and intelligence quotient buckets are using them. So it’s not about things being foreign. There’s something bigger.
The fundamental difference
The killer thing that will stave most people off Linux has nothing to do with the way Linux works per se. That is meaningless. What will decide the user’s decision to stay with Linux or go back to Windows is how the user experience in the new operating system comes to bear. If it does, good, if not, it’s a failure. Let me elaborate.
People usually use technology with a goal in mind, an end state they want to achieve. They have a need, and when that need is fulfilled, positive emotions emerge. Conversely, if the needs are not met, the users will be deeply dissatisfied. And that’s all there is to it. Whether the technology, whatever it is, can make the users happy. If it can, they will master it.
There’s your big problem. Linux may or may not be able to satisfy the Windows user needs. People go from one world of bytes to another, but their needs do not change. And this is where so many people fail, and they blame it on all the wrong things that are completely irrelevant. It’s not that Gnome 4 or KDE 7 are better or worse, from the technological perspective. It’s not whether the monolithic kernel is superior to the micro-kernel. It’s not about network protocols, buttons on the left or right, or even the price. It’s all about IF the technology can make the user feel the way they are used to, and expect to, from their former experience. Which brings us to our checklist.
The holy checklist
This is the bare minimum set of things that a Windows user should consult BEFORE attempting Linux. If any one of these conditions are unmet, the attempt will be futile, pointless, a waste of time and nerve, an ultimate disappointment, an anathema to one’s beliefs and practices, and a serious roundhouse kick unto the Linux success. You don’t want people giving up on Linux just because they came expecting shiny rainbows and unicorns, and you give them ponies and snow. Think about it.
Let’s face it, fixing hardware issue is as productive as putting a tourniquet on your neck, unless you do it for fun. For a strange reason, some people enjoy it, but for most humans out there, it’s a stupid exercise in making someone else’s product work. If you are a Windows user, and you’re wondering if your system will support Linux, flawlessly, you should make this first preliminary check. Select a distribution that you find visually pleasing and boot into a live session. Here, at least, is one great advantage of Linux over many other operating systems, in that it allows you to test the hardware compatibility and feel the operating system before you decide to commit it to disk.
In the live session, you should check all that you can, including Wireless, Bluetooth, audio, graphics, and all the other components that you consider dear and mandatory for your daily habits and fun. If some do not work, you might as well quit. Or try a different Linux distribution. But there’s really no point mucking about, unless you are already a highly experienced Linux user, and you like that sort of thing. Just to give you a few rough examples, take a look at my past woes with Nvidia in Ubuntu, Realtek network problems in Kubuntu, or the fact virtually no distribution could use my Wireless N-band card on a Lenovo T400 laptop. I solved some, I gave up on others. As a first time user, you should most definitely not. Simply not.
This is really a big one. And by printing, I also mean digital cameras, scanners, card readers, Wacom tablets, and all other peripherals that you might be using in Windows. If you discover that some of these cannot be detected or properly initialized in Linux, you should probably not move forward. For me, printing has always been, and still remains a tremendous obstacle in the use of Linux, for all my passion and knowledge. But many distributions ship with broken applets, or they happen to be unable to browse Samba shares for Windows printers, or they may have bad generic drivers, or the printer vendors may simply not care about Linux. Bottom line, printing is not a given, and whenever I test, there’s a sense of anxiety. Will it work, will it work? This is not a challenge you should face on your first date with Linux. Try a different first date, or stay home.
Can you plug in your precious brick of metal and plastic and sync your music and whatnot? Can you use the music store or whatever it is that your smartphone mandates? Is there any special complementary desktop software for your phone that has only been designed for Windows? If this is the case, then you might not want to use Linux, because you will feel miserable, and you will have to compromise on your ability to smoothly and flawlessly integrate all your computing devices. And it’s not about who is to blame. Far from it. It’s all about results.
Office & Adobe products
This is a hot one, almost like an atmospheric reentry vehicle. Do not let anyone tell you LibreOffice or any other office suite will cut it. It’s simply not true. 99% of the stuff will work, but you will lose your next job offer because of the 1% problems in the formatting of your resume. Imagine this scenario: You used to worked for a clock company, and you make sure to write that in your beautifully styled interview form. But then, you try to save the document as a Microsoft Office file, a glitch happens in the conversion, and then, the letter L is missing from clock. Your impressive resume is not so impressive anyone.
If you depend on Microsoft products or Adobe products, for that matter, then you cannot use Linux as your only operating system. Period. This is the ultra-harsh truth. It is not feasible to run these products using the WINE compatibility layer, either. Yes, nerds will tell you about WINE, and how it lets you run Windows programs. Well, it’s like saying that Earth supports life, but you can’t have humans surviving in the middle of an ocean for long, now, can you?
Honestly, this is one of the most critical problems. All and any Microsoft software will probably be the deal breaker. Expensive image and video manipulation suites are right there, side by side with Office, Visual Studio and friends. You can blame Linux, you can blame the companies, but it does not matter. If you must, you must, and there’s no way circumventing it.
Recently, this has become less of an issue. You may thank the Valve Corporation for making their Steam platform available for Linux, and in so, revolutionizing the gaming world. More and more companies are now developing or making their titles available for Linux, and this is a truly great achievement, one of which will allow Linux to become a critical factor in the desktop world, as well.
However, not all is golden. Not all games run on Linux yet. And they never will. If this is the case, moving to Linux will mean compromising on your pleasure. If you’re okay with that, go for it, if not, don’t. Take a look at the author of this article, mr. me, I make a living out of Linux, and I am still not willing to commit all my home computing resources to running just that. I still heavily rely on Windows, especially for gaming. I do not wish to curtail my fun because of ideology or technology.
Longevity & support
Most Linux distributions have a lifetime of a butterfly. They come and go before you can say gadji beri bimba. To make things even more complicated, most Windows users never install their boxes. Hardware comes preinstalled with Windows, and when the time comes to replace the hardware, the operating system is replaced along with it. Few people bother to perform system installation out of this refresh band. And it’s a thick band.
Computers have a relatively long life. Five or six years for high-quality desktops. That’s fine, because most versions of Windows are supported for about a decade or so. Most Linux distributions are supported for nine months, and then you must upgrade. The only exception are Ubuntu family Long Term Release (LTS) images, which offer a whole of five years of security patching and updates to home users, plus some derivatives of RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), including CentOS and Scientific, which are supported for about ten years or more. That’s rather reasonable, but hardly the rule.
You may think this is an anti-Linux article. Far from it. I want Linux to succeed, which is why I do not want to see it fall into the wrong hands. People ill prepared for a situation may very well choose to blame technology, which is not the kind of help you need in spreading Linux, right. We need to make sure that when Windows users step in to try this new operating system, they do it with the full realization of what may go wrong and high. With the right kind of expectations, you get the right kind of results.
You can’t expect Windows people to abandon their software and ways just because there’s something else out there. There must be a common need. For me, all of the above are a dire must before I would consider recommending Linux to any one of my friends and colleagues. That way, when they do switch, the won’t go back. So let me ask you, what is your dealbreaker?