Goodbye, Microsoft Windows; Hello, Xubuntu Linux!


At 5 a.m. this morning, I removed Microsoft Windows from my hard disk, for good.

Part of me admires Bill Gates for what he accomplished. His truly is a remarkable story of creativity and capitalism. Even so, I’ve always been bothered by two things:

  1. Perhaps because Gates dropped out of Harvard before completing his degree, Microsoft Word defaults to a totally bogus outline structure. I expect my students to follow the standard sequence of subordinated outline points: I., A., 1., c., i. Instead, Windows defaults to some other arrangement, which I’ve never seen used in any professional document in my entire career. I tell my students to follow my lead, not Gates’s, since he dropped out of college and since I teach college. This means they can’t use the automated outline format supplied by Word, but rather they must enter a manual override. (I assure them that the process will make them smarter in the long run.)
  2. Now for the real reason I’ve been frustrated with Windows: It seems that every time I buy a newer, faster machine, the machine gets slower and slower with age. I’m not entirely sure of the cause, but those Microsoft service pack updates always seemed to make things slower rather than faster. Hypothesis? Microsoft makes its software “improvements” with newer rather than older hardware in mind. The business model is predicated on people craving new hardware since hardware sales are tied to software sales, with Microsoft products being pre-installed on most new hardware. That’s fine if you want new hardware. I just want something that works consistently. Whenever possible, I want my “something” to be already on hand and already paid in full.

For years I had set my gaze upon Linux, thinking at some point I would switch to that operating system over Windows. When the Windows 10 promotional pop-ups kept demanding a download, and when I realized that my existing hardware was insufficient to run Windows 10, I recognized that my Windows days were numbered.

So, last fall I took the Linux plunge. I installed a Linux package called Xubuntu along side Windows in a “dual boot” arrangement. In case I needed to, I could still run Windows. It turns out, I never really needed to. So, today, I decided to get rid of Windows. I wanted to put that disk space to more productive use. (It’s ridiculous that my Windows partition claimed over twice the space it really needed, just because Microsoft likes to park its paging file in an awkward place to claim more digital turf.)

What Is Linux?

Linux is an open-source operating system. As an operating system, it basically can do whatever Windows or Mac OS does. As an open-source product, it is free in more than one sense of the word: no price tag to acquire a copy, plus full disclosure of the source code. Anyone is free to modify the code if they’d like to. I’m not up to speed with that myself, but I am thankful that a group of programmers developed Xubuntu, which is one of dozens of popular Linux distributions out there. Anyone who wants to start a new one is welcome to do so.

Why Choose Xubuntu?

I compared several Linux “distros” (as the techies call “distributions,” or versions, of Linux). The Ubuntu family has a strong reputation with a lot of friendly support from bloggers, so I wanted to stay close to that in case I would ever want to search the web for assistance. The Xubuntu “flavor” of Ubuntu is lean and efficient. Older hardware can run it well. In simple, practical terms: take a 10-year-old laptop that slows to a halt and crashes on Windows XP or 7, and you can run Xubuntu as if the computer were brand new. I’ve installed Linux distros on five different computers now, ranging from an old laptop with (would you believe me?) only 256 MB of RAM  to newish laptop with a 2.3 GHz Intel i5 processor and 8 GB RAM. In each case, Linux (whether the very lean Puppy Linux, the moderately lean but very powerful Xubuntu, or the impressively feature-rich Kubuntu) outperformed the prior installation of Windows.

For those desiring “the specs,” Xubuntu (my favorite distro), which includes a full suite of office applications (LibreOffice, similar to Microsoft Office) takes up less than 8 GB of disk space and usually stays under 4 GB for RAM usage, even when I work with graphics. That’s right, folks, you can run the whole thing from a USB flash drive if you want. (The published minimums are 6 GB of drive space and 512 MB of RAM). The only limitation is that a hard disk tends to be faster than a flash drive, but if you run Puppy Linux, which is one of the most streamlined Linux distros, the whole operating system gets loaded into RAM anyway (my kids run it on a vintage 2002 Dell laptop), so even when coming from the flashdrive Puppy Linux keeps pace with my work quite well. (Can anyone even imagine running Windows from a flash drive?)

What Can I Do with Xubuntu?

I can do everything I’ve ever done on Windows or Mac OS, only faster and easier. I can also do things I never was able to accomplish on Windows. Here are some typical tasks from any given week:

  • word processing (LibreOffice Writer, like Word)
  • spreadsheet (LibreOffice Calc, like Excel)
  • presentations (LibreOffice Impress, like PowerPoint)
  • double-entry bookkeeping and accounting (GnuCash)
  • email (Thunderbird is my favorite among numerous desktop clients)
  • web browsing (I have choen Chromium)
  • website development and maintenance (combining bash, ssh, nano, and web-based development platforms)
  • graphic design, including CMYK .TIFF for publishing books (GIMP)
  • home-school astronomy lessons at a level that can continue into college (Stellarium)
  • share and synchronize files across the cloud (Dropbox)
  • encrypt data (VeraCrypt and AES Crypt)
  • recover lost data from my father’s cell phone (USB connection plus some basic bash commands)
  • find and delete sensitive data from a client’s Samsung Galaxy cell phone that the client had attempted to delete via the “wipe all data” command, but in fact Samsung preserved it anyway (easy: type “sudo ls -a” to see it and “sudo rm” to remove it—done!)
  • backup the entire system as well as make daily auto-backups of recently changed files (rsync and crontab)
  • etc.

To be sure, many of these open-source applications (or their near-equivalents) are available for Windows and Mac OS as well as for Linux. In fact, I began using most of them while still running Windows. However, the applications are both more efficient and more stable in the Linux environment, as I have found over this past year of experimenting. Plus, Linux runs circles around Windows in some areas.

For example, Windows uses the ntfs file system, whereas Linux can read that, but also can use more sophisticated file systems, such as ext4, that keep better track of which user created the file, who should or shouldn’t have access to the file, and when the file last was modified. If you’ve ever plugged in your digital camera a Windows computer only to discover that suddenly all of the JPEG files have their date changed to today’s date rather than the date the photo was taken, well, that’s a time when you’d appreciate Linux. True, Windows and Linux both can keep the dates straight, but in my experience Linux requires a lot less coaxing than does Windows, whether for this task or for any number of other features that I, but apparently not Gates, consider an obvious need. And, if you really need to poke around in the belly of the beast, Linux doesn’t require you to use an ominous registry editor like Windows does; simply edit a few plain-text files to say what a nearly-ordinary-English tutorial advises. (Before doing so, make a quick backup copy of the plain-text configuration file in case you need to revert back to the prior versions.)

Finally, Linux is far less susceptible to a virus attack than Windows. Many users would go so far as to say there is no such thing as a Linux virus. I’m sympathetic to those who say, “If you have to vaccinate your children, maybe it’s because you aren’t feeding them the right kinds of wholesome, all-natural foods to boost their natural immunity.” Similarly, if you have to invest in a virus scanner for your computer, maybe its because you fed it Windows when you could have been feeding it Linux. Still feeling nervous? Install the open-source ClamAV, which I find to be far more efficient than the sluggish proprietary anti-virus programs I used to purchase for my Windows environment.

What Next?

For you, check out Ubuntu and Xubuntu. Consider a dual-boot experiment, which keeps Windows on your machine just in case you decide you don’t like Linux. If you still prefer Mac OS or Microsoft Windows, I promise that we can remain friends. If, however, your new machine is running your proprietary operating system more sluggishly than my old machine runs my open-source operating system, you might become envious … until you give Linux another try.

For me, I’ve already “gone native” with the Linux community. They are nice people, and highly creative. I’ll aim to keep you posted with some of the handy Linux shortcuts that I’ve been collecting. If you value efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, I think you’ll want to join me on this journey. If you prefer to watch from the sidelines, I fully understand. After all, I had my eyes on Linux for several years before Gates’s Windows 7 push came to be a Windows 10 shove and I decided that it was time to go open source.

 

Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.

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TAGS: Organizational Management, Linux, Xubuntu

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