Why I Switched to Linux
10 Apr 2005 by Justin
I'm sure that there is the occasional Windows user that strolls by here wondering "Why would anyone use Linux?". The answer to this question is obvious to most Linux users, but not obvious to Windows users. Most Windows users have never used Linux for a reasonable period of time to rule it out over Windows. I have used both of them and so far, Linux is proving to be better in more ways than one.

For some background information, I had been primarily a Windows user until a few months ago when I just got fed up with Windows and all it's problems. I found myself re-installing the system about every six months, and I just got fed up with it (I'm sure anyone would).

For a few minutes, let's go back to the last time I had to re-install my Windows system. The first thing I would do is back up my data, usually on my iPod. Once all my data was backed up, I would pop in the Windows XP CD and install the system, which takes 45+ minutes. Why it takes so long is a mystery to everyone, as Windows XP contains very few additional programs other than the system itself.

OK, so now the system is installed. The first thing I would do is get out the SP2 CD that I got at Staples and install it. This also takes mysteriously long. Once it reboots, the next thing to do is spend half an hour searching for the Linksys CD that contains the driver for my wireless card and install that. Once I had internet, my first stop (and hopefully only stop with IE) is mozilla.org to get FireFox, so I don't have to browse in fear. The next few programs I would get are Spybot S&D, Lavasoft Ad-Aware, and (more recently) Microsoft Anti-Spyware. My next task was to take another half hour searching for the Norton Antivirus CD so I can have protection against viruses. Once all that was done, I would download the driver for my sound card as well as the NVIDIA driver.

OK, now I have a clean system with some sort of security (which took about 4 hours), so now I can go about my daily tasks, right? Wrong. Windows XP offers very few applications, and most of the applications it does have do not do a very good job at what they're supposed to do.

Here's what I mean - let's say that you just got home from work and have to start typing a document. This can be a problem. The only program in Windows XP that allows you to type documents with slight formatting is word pad, and this program is absolutely horrendous. It hardly gives you any control over formatting, and it isn't even compatible with a word .doc file, which is a serious flaw considering that Microsoft is the one who came up with this file format in the first place. If it was me, I would end up going to the Library to type it up because I refuse to use word pad.

Here's another example. One day, you come home from work and just want to relax and watch a DVD movie. Once again, Microsoft is miles ahead in creating an incomplete operating system. Windows XP has the capability to play a DVD, but not out of the box. Playing a DVD requires you to spend at least $30 on a commercial DVD encoder first.

I could continue to ramble on about basic tasks that Windows XP does not allow you to do without additional (and sometimes expensive) software, but I think you get the idea now.

To recap, a few months ago, I got completely fed up with this whole process. The PC I have is a very good one, so I didn't want to go out and buy another one, nor did I want to buy a Mac. I had known about Linux for some time, but hadn't considered it as a serious alternative to Windows. After doing some more research into it, I decided that I could try a Live CD to see if Linux was any good. I had read good things about Mepis Linux, so I tried that. I downloaded and burned the ISO image (but before I could burn the image, I needed some more software!). I booted the CD up, and it was absolutely beautiful! The desktop is KDE based (version 3.3), and the distribution itself included so many useful applications, that I didn't even need additional software (to this day, I don't think I have added much else to it). The only thing that I didn't like about the desktop was that the Kicker (the KDE main panel) was somewhat cluttered, but that was easily fixable. I must say, what really amazed me was that it automatically detected and configured my wireless card and my sound card, which Windows was incapable of doing. I noticed right away that it had my favorite web browser FireFox pre-installed and ready to go.

After some playing around with it, I decided that I really liked it, and wanted to use it as my primary OS. After reading some more documents online, I quickly learned how to partition my hard drive to allow Mepis and Windows to dual-boot, just in case I had any problems with one of them so I could switch to the other. Once I partitioned my hard drive with Q parted, installation was really easy. I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't take 45+ minutes. If I remember, it took about 10 minutes to install and only a few more to add user accounts and configure the boot loader. I booted it up, and had no problems with it. The only problem I had was not even to do with Mepis itself. GRUB (the boot loader) had a problem booting Windows. Fixing this problem was a simple matter of changing the (hd0,-2) entry in the grub.lst file to (hd0,1). To this day, I have not had any big problems with it. Additional programs were installable easily via the Debian apt-get command.

As far as applications go, there are plenty useful applications that come standard in Mepis. One that I use frequently is OpenOffice.org, which directly can rival the Microsoft Office suite. In my experiences, I have found it to be somewhat better.

So for those of you who are running Windows and wondering "Why would anyone use Linux?", consider pondering this question: "Why would anyone use Windows?"