1. Stuck with Windows
Windows has drawbacks. Buying all that software is expensive and Windows is evolving in a direction that many people do not like. This has been an issue with Microsoft products for decades. Microsoft, by-and-large, expects to be the boss of your computer and decide what is best for you. If you choose against Windows defaults you often will be nagged into making the choice they want after awhile. Security is a mess with Windows products. Viruses are almost exclusively a Microsoft thing on desktop systems.
Windows isn’t all bad. It was familiar enough for me to use with little confusion. There are so many software choices that you can have a field day installing neat programs. If you buy a computer that is not an Apple product, it probably is a Windows computer. There is huge support in the computer industry for Microsoft products.
2. Then why GNU Linux?
Starting with Windows 8 it was apparent I would not be moving forward with Microsoft’s new editions. Windows is nagware (and many will argue it’s spyware as well) that breaks easily if I try to customize the operating system. As a computer tuner, this eventually became unacceptable. Also, keeping up with the hardware upgrades in a performance system is expensive and heavily encouraged in Windows-land. I was more and more using open source software, so I decided to make the leap.
Linux is often as easy to install as Windows now, and there are A LOT of different distributions available. Anything from HTPC to Gaming and lots of other orientations. Linux can work on outdated systems and also with high-performance ones.
Much of the software you could need is kept in “repositories” that hold the software that the OS supports. Many times you have a good selection available, with numerous choices for any type of software you are looking for.
There are two more advantages to central repositories. First, system and program updates are a breeze. They are often as easy as pressing update and entering the administrator password. Second, the risk of getting malicious software is much, much smaller than going to your favorite search engine and looking for software that way.
One of the best things to me about Linux is tinkering. Modifying the OS is usually straight-forward, once you get the hang of it. If you do something that borks the system, you almost always will know by the next boot or when the modified program is used. With Windows, problems are often hidden until it all piles up and the system is toast.
Lastly, it’s free! The most obligation you might feel is to donate to projects you use or like, or to help others find answers to their problems. Helping others solve their problems is one of the most rewarding things about being on the internet.
3. What was it like learning Linux from scratch?
It was not easy at first. Let me remind you that I am a system tuner, so I have a desire to “funk” with my systems. If you just need a web browser and email or want to watch movies on a quiet little box you won’t have the same trials I subjected myself to.
What I did was install Linux on a different hard drive so I could keep Windows running like it should. At first, I had problems with hardware like graphics cards and wireless adapters. Some distributions (aka flavors, or distros) have very good support for lots of hardware, some not very much. If you use an ethernet jack and a video card that isn’t bleeding edge, I think you will be okay. Wifi adapters may be a bit of a coin toss. I think this is more true with the newer adapters like wireless N.
Then I had to go through the learning curve. Some problems were so confusing to me, that I had to give up and reinstall the OS later or select a new flavor and try again at some point. Usually after the sense of shame from failing so hard had subsided :)
Eventually (a few accumulated weeks of daily effort, two or three months tops) I knew enough to start trying to find solutions without bouncing around to different flavors or reinstalling. I remember describing to a friend how it was the wierdest thing, because to solve any problem or make a customization I had to learn like three new things just to find one answer!
I still have to do web research, but know what I am doing with most things (like modifying the config files needed to bitstream audio with my music and video players) so it just takes a little time if I am starting from a fresh install. Just imagine it, no activations…
4. What about software?
There is plenty of software available, usually many different approaches made by different developers. Remember, not every flavor has everything in their repositories, but they will have some things. As an example, there are many music players on Linux; some are the kind that connect to all sorts of online sources and radio streams, looking up lyrics and can update your song’s metadata tags from online databases. Then there are some that are very minimal and is essentially a file browser that plays your collection. Others orient themselves towards audio quality. I like Foobar2000 for Windows a lot, but Linux doesn’t have that one. I found some good replacements with QuodLibet, Audacious, and Guayadeque.
If you don’t want to go without your Windows programs, try WINE. It can run many Windows-native programs. Another option is learn how to use Virtual Machines. Virtualbox is a good solution. A good thing is that many software projects are free and open source these days. For instance, Mozilla products like Firefox and Thunderbird (email) are open source. I am using LibreOffice which is an open alternative to Microsoft Office; Open Office is another option.
So when you are searching the repository (there is almost always a GUI) just use basic terms like “video player” or “email” or “P2P” to get an idea of what it is that is available. Or by all means, search for a specific package (aka program.)
5. What flavors are good for beginners?
I started with Debian stable, but it was too vanilla for me with no cutting-edge software.
So I tried Manjaro, which is an excellent choice for people who want a wide range of support with cutting-edge or bleeding-edge software packages.
Try Fedora if you need something less flashy. This is a good choice if you have a workstation or “serious” computer that isn’t just for fun. Fedora keeps packages very up-to-date, so don’t worry about being left behind. A couple points:
-Fedora is on a fast upgrade cycle. About every 6 months, the new version will come out.
-You will need to enable some third-party repositories (RPMfusion) to get the most out of it. This will be needed especially if you want to play mp3’s and the like.
Ubuntu is recommended by many people, but I never tried it. I heard they are losing some steam these days, so they may not be doing so well.
Check out this resource, https://distrowatch.com/ to get an idea of what is out there. It’s a great site.
After you decide on an OS, search for “top things to do after installing (whatever edition of Linux you have)” You do not need to do every recommendation, but there will be some things, like mp3 support on Fedora, that you may not want to live without.