After a failed attempt at using Linux 10 years ago, this year I finally plucked up the courage to try it out again. This time round it was a complete success and now I use this almost completely in place of Windows. The performance and cost advantages for outweigh compatibility problems and re-learning requirement to use it. Windows isn’t the only operating system out there! Why don’t you give something new a try? And you can always jump back between Windows and Linux whenever you need.. you can’t lose!

The first attempt in 1999

I heard about Linux many years ago as an alternative to Windows. Out of interest I decided to try it out to see what it was like. I came across a version called Armed Linux. Now usually Linux doesnt use windows filesystems (in those days it was FAT16 and FAT32) and I dont remember such luxuries as partitioning or dual boot. If I wanted to use Linux I would have to switch completely over from Windows. However, Armed Linux was special in that it ran a complete filesystem within a single file on a windows formatted hard drive. This would allow running Linux within windows, relieving the need to completely switch over to an alien system.

It sounded like the perfect way to test it out. Shame it was a terrible experience and it put me off using Linux for years to come. Firstly, it was slow. I had to first boot to windows, then run Linux as an application on top of it. The boot time must have been at least 15 minutes. And then after that using the linux system was incredibly slow. I got to a bash prompt (it didnt go to a graphics interface first like newer versions) and navigated the folders on the system. I finally managed to work out how to get to the graphics system to load but there was no reward. It had no applications to run beyond a simple text editor and calculator, and it was un-usably slow. Slower than windows! On top of that, I had to give 800mb to this test, nearly half of my 1.7gb hard drive. So even working in windows afterwards was an even more painful experience, having removed all my games and having to be careful of every megabyte of usage. Within days I had uninstalled and went firmly back to windows. A failed experiment.

Attempt 2 – 2009

A decade later and a whole different world. Laptops are everywhere and everyone’s on-line but Windows is still going strong. My laptop is 3 years old and Windows has been re-installed 3 times, at least. A fresh clean installation is tidy and fast but over time the whole system slows down. Starting up the computer used to be a pleasure, but now it takes a coffee break to wait for it to start up. Opening explorer windows is now a painful experience and don’t you dare click that start button unless it is an absolute necessity. No amount of defragging and anti-virus checking can save you, its time for another format.

At the start of this year I was preparing myself for the yearly format; out with the old and in with the new. Downloading all the basic programs I’d need simply to get online to get my old set-up back again safely. Anti-virus, Windows XP Service pack 3, Firefox, firewall software..

And I thought about that horrible experience with Linux all those years ago. I had heard about how Ubuntu linux was easy to use and very popular so I thought I’d give it a try. I had nothing to lose after all, as I would be formatting anyway.

So I downloaded the CD image from the site. The 700mb~ size download took a matter of minutes to download, I remember when downloading my Linux on 56k modem; the 300mb file took me days and days, spread out each evening after I got home from school.. how far we have come!

The installation process was relatively painless. I put the burned CD in the laptop and turned it on. I had to create a new linux partition to install it to, so it did require a fresh install of windows beforehand to get enough space on the hard drive. After installing I found it got all the drivers for my laptop just fine and it also picked the correct resolution for my 15.4 inch widescreen display.

Using Ubuntu Linux does require learning to use a different User Interface from windows, but I found it no more difficult than learning how to use a mac after using a Windows PC beforehand. If you can get to the control panel in windows and install a driver, then you can learn how to use Linux.

The problem that many say is that because Windows is far more popular, you wont get your software to run under Linux. To a certain extent this is true. I have not found Internet Explorer on Linux (and there are still some websites that only work with IE, such as banking sites and official TV on-demand sites) but for the absolute majority of cases there is alternate software which does the job just as well, if not better. Firefox and Open Office replace Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office. I have found these replacements to not only work in the majority of cases with anything I use it for, including Microsoft’s own file formats, but its quicker and crashes much less than the windows equivalents. These are also available for free download which runs on Windows.

Once I got used to the change in user interface / window layouts, etc I found Linux to be a far more efficient system to use. Startup / Shutdown times are faster, crashes less and doing things like window switching, browsing for files on the hard drive and clicking through the menus just worked a lot quicker. It is even faster than my clean install of windows.

However there will be times when you just need to use Windows. If you want iTunes, a website only Internet explorer can run or a Video Game, then Linux can’t help you. But with a dual boot installation (Very easy to set up) you can restart the computer into Windows and do what you need to do. Just be prepared for the pain of the slowdown when going back..

Consumer choice

Windows certainly has the stronghold on OS of choice. Its practically impossible to not see Windows installed on a computer that isn’t a netbook. And this probably wouldn’t matter for a casual computer user who just wants to surf the net, do email and use office to create documents and spreadsheets. So does it matter that alternatives exist that allow you to do the same thing as can would do anyway with your pre-installed Windows?…

Something I’m very glad to see in recent times is the rise in popularity of price comparison websites. You now have a choice in suppliers for gas, electricity and car insurance. Its changing the vision of a nation to show they have the power to shift to the competition and get a better deal. All it requires is effort to find the alternatives.

Its surprising to know that Windows operating systems are one of the few who actually charge, when there are so many others which are completely free. Its especially surprising when the gap between usability is so small and the performance is actually worse than the free alternatives.

I have been using Ubutu Linux for a few months now and I am very happy to use this as an alternative to Windows. I am certainly no geek when it comes to Linux; I don’t know how to change the screen resolution or change the theme colours, but I have figured out how to use open office and use firefox and the performance difference is enough for me to stick with it. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future when google’s Chrome OS is released.

So the next time you are sitting in front of a 30 second splash screen waiting for your email or Word to load up, why not consider looking at some of the alternatives? It wont cost you anything and you might just be surprised at how much more efficient you could be..

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