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GNU is Not Unix

dosquatch's Journal: Time to switch 3

Journal by dosquatch

I'm a sysadmin in a totally Windows shop. I know Windows. I'm good at Windows. I'm comfortable in Windows. Familiarity breeds this. When I need to twiddle a setting, I know where it is, and if a piece of software isn't working, I know the usual suspects.

Familiarity also breeds contempt. I am no fan of Microsoft. I won't call Windows "substandard" - there's quite a bit about it that's good, but there's also quite a bit about it that's barely adequate. Their business practices are predatory, and in some ways criminal. And there's just something to hate about the 800-pound gorilla, whoever he may be.

The latest version of Windows, though, is too much. An annoyingly intrusive UAC, outrageous system requirements, oppressive limitations on what I may or may not be allowed to do with content I've purchased, compatibility issues with the software I already have, burdensome and expensive certifications required for any software I may buy in the future (that threatens to wipe out small independent utilities or home-grown apps)... it's all just too much. Like I said, I'm a sysadmin, so I'm going to have to swallow this eventually, but not on my personal machines, ever.

Instead, I'm going to (finally) switch to Linux. I've used Linux before for some applications where I needed an inexpensive server or other such dedicated task. It's really good in a "set it and forget it" way. I have never, though, given it a serious run as a desktop replacement. I've wanted to. I've talked about it. I like the ideals of the OSS movement, and I've used many OSS solutions - just on a MS platform.

So why am I writing this? Well, mostly to document my experience for posterity. Somewhat as a goodbye letter to Microsoft. Maybe somebody will actually read this. I don't know, but it seems like the right thing to do at the moment.

And Oh - My - God, where to start... as a "new user" wanting to switch, the first question to be answered is "Switch to WHAT??" There are just scads of distros to wade through, every last one with advocates, apostles, high priests, and holy wars. KDE or Gnome? Debian, Suse, Knoppix, Fedora? As its own distro or as the base for someone else's? "Free as in beer" or "Free as in speech"? Should I bag it all and buy a Mac?

So I've read articles, reviews, and opinions far and wide and have come to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter which direction I pick, I'm in for some pain. This must-have app works great here but not there, but this other one barely works here and fantastic there. Oh, but don't worry, there's a wiki or two (dozen), and on one of those there's the answer that will Make It Work.

That's going to be the biggest pain of leaving Microsoft. For all of its warts, there's a lot of "Just Works" in Windows, as opposed to a lot of "Can Work" in Linux. This is the single biggest issue that holds Linux back from corporate adoption. I have several hundred machines to answer to spanning several generations of hardware. I don't have the hours in the day to hand-hold solutions for Linux that are "click-done" in Windows.

Anyway, I settled on Ubuntu. It seems to be the hot ticket in town at the moment, and if it turns out that I hate it, well - it's free so I won't feel bad about dropping it and trying a different flavor. My first concern was how dog-slow the livecd was. An install to the drive isn't going to be this god-awful, is it?

The only way to know is to do it. But not at the expense of the copy of XP that I already have running. Hey, though, my livecd includes GParted, which rocks some free space on my HD at least as well as Partition Magic ever did. I have to say, that's a good start, and well worth the effort. The install to HD runs as fast, and boots faster, than XP. Even better.

Out of the box it has a few little games, office applications, the normal utilities one would expect out of an OS. It's a nice, pretty blank slate... for which I have no documentation, and no way to get to the documentation I know exists because wireless doesn't work. OK, I can plug a wire in, but still, this is a problem that's a deal breaker. Wireless gets fixed, or I go in a different direction.

Out of Ubuntu, back into XP, off to the wikis. Of course, now I'm not in Ubuntu where I can test the solutions I find... at any rate, a few rounds of this had my wireless running. The deal is back on.

Then the next problem - a web browser, but no plugins. At least it's firefox, that's familiar turf. It's pretty good about going out and finding plugins to make itself happy, this should be easy.

But it's not. I need Java. Another search of the wikis, another set of hoops. Dammit, I forgot to flag the installer as executable. Dammit, now I forgot to type sudo. Dammit, the instructions are telling me to create a symbolic link in a directory that doesn't exist.

Repeat for flash. Repeat for quicktime. And realplayer. And WMV. And I'm a knowlegable user, there's just no way a noob is going through this. I finally have Firefox all tweaked up so it'll show me everything on that intartoobs thing.

Next I need to figure out how to make a DVD play. Ah, well, that's a battle for tomorrow.

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Time to switch

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  • MS released Virtual PC for free, and you can use it to run Linux under Windows while you are still experimenting. See here:
    http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtualpc/downloa ds/sp1.mspx [microsoft.com]

    I have a few friends @ MS who might be interested in your story. I'll pass it along. Sometimes the 800 lb gorilla does some nice things. My friends @ MS are level-headed people who deal with all the issues (LUA, etc -- most of them turn it off). I don't think they (MS) got where they are by resting on their laurels, but I do
    • by dosquatch (924618)

      MS released Virtual PC for free, and you can use it to run Linux under Windows while you are still experimenting.

      True enough, and I did consider that, but I wanted a true picture of usability. A virtual machine would let me get a good feel for the UI, but part of usability is performance and the only way to know that for sure is to run native. Virtual PC and VMPlayer are pretty good about keeping the performance hit to a minimum, but they're still sharing time. I also would have been insulated from any quirks I might've run up against with real hardware, as it turns out I did with wireless.

      I have a few friends @ MS who might be interested in your story. I'll pass it along. Sometimes the 800 lb gorilla does some nice things. My friends @ MS are level-headed people who deal with all the issues (LUA, etc -- most of them turn it off). I don't think they (MS) got where they are by resting on their laurels, but I do think that Vista is 3 years late and chock full of unnecessary stuff

      Hey, then! As long as yo

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