12 Years Of Linux
My personal evolution with an operating system.
In the summer of 2007, I had just started a life with my wife, Alice. I was enjoying my life then, much as I do now. My wife needed her own computer, so I let her have a Windows computer. Then I took a spare computer and blew away the operating system another one. This is the story of my evolution with Linux.
I decided at that point that I was going to go as long as I could without Windows at home, just to see how long I could manage. I wasn’t really into Mac and I loathed Windows. I wanted out. I had been toying around with Red Hat but didn’t think that it was going to suit me. Then along came word of another free operating system, Ubuntu.
I ordered a free Ubuntu CD. About a week later, I had it, and I installed it on my computer. I just followed the prompts and away I went. In about 2 hours, I had another operating system running on my computer, side by side with Windows. For a few weeks, I would work with Linux and look at the Windows system, and ask myself, “Do I want to go back? Do I need to go back?…Nah…I’m good.”
I started using Linux 12 years ago and I never looked back. I looked hard for use cases that required me to use Windows at home, and there are just none that I can think of. Ubuntu Linux is a windowing operating system. It provides a familiar user interface for managing files and folders with windows, icons, and settings. For most people who just create a few files and browse the internet, it’s good enough. My wife used it for a few years before moving on to Mac for her work as a voice artist.
It’s worth noting here that there are many, many versions of Linux, each one designed for a particular use case, a particular audience. From the humble desktop to supercomputers, we can find a version of Linux that fits. Linux has grown from a hobby operating system to a world-class utility for computation on any scale.
When you think of the biggest players in tech, they are all using Linux. Google, Facebook, and Amazon all use Linux. They could see that dependence on Microsoft would be lethal to their business models, and that is not even considering the licensing costs of using Windows to run their servers. Their business models would not work with Microsoft controlling the licensing and the application programming interfaces that programmers use to make things happen in an operating system. With Linux, everything is open, a programmer can find bugs and fix them. With Microsoft, the programmer must wait on the vendor.
So Linux could work for you. If you have a tablet, you’re running Linux. If you have a smartphone, you’re running Linux. If you have a PC, you’re running Windows most likely, but if you wanted to, you could change to Linux. It’s not very hard to do.
You start with a spare computer to be safe. If something goes wrong, you still have your Windows machine to work on. On the spare computer, insert an installation CD and reboot, booting to the CD. Or you can download an ISO image file for the operating system, copy that to a USB drive and boot to the USB drive. Or you can copy the ISO image file to a CD and boot to the CD. Then follow the prompts to install Ubuntu Linux. Then copy your documents from your Windows computer or from backup, to your Documents folder on the new operating system on the spare computer after the installation is complete.
Be prepared, too. Understood that installing Linux on a hard disk means destroying everything on it. That’s why I suggest you use a spare computer to preserve everything on your production computer that’s near and dear to you: music, photos, and documents.
Once I had Linux up and running, I restored everything to my documents folder. I began to explore what was available. I installed OpenOffice. I installed Firefox. Yes, even then, we had a working browser for Linux in 2007. That’s the portal to the world outside. Firefox kept me alive on Linux. That browser is what made it possible for me to keep going without Windows.
Eventually, a version of Google Chrome for Linux came out. I installed it on my computer and never looked back. I found that it would update just like everything else on Linux. With Windows, I had to manage updates individually for each program. With Linux, everything updates together. Developers can integrate their applications with the operating system to look for updates, too.
Do I need Microsoft Word on Linux? Not really. With LibreOffice, I have everything I need: Word processor, spreadsheets, presentation decks, and a ton of other stuff I will never use. And LibreOffice is a can opener. I’ve seen LibreOffice open WordPerfect documents that I had created in the 1990s just fine. If you have a document that Word won’t open, chances are good that LibreOffice will open it. Then you can save that document as an OpenDocument file, a document standard designed to last centuries rather than just until the next version comes out.
Stock Ubuntu has a music player, an image view, an image editor, a backup utility and many other useful programs. Anything else you need is easy to find and install with the Software Manager. Programs can be installed via the Software Manager or with the command line package manager, Apt.
I always detested the Windows Command Prompt. I always had to reset things with it. It didn’t remember previous commands. It had no memory. But with Linux came the Bash Shell, and with Bash, there was a command history, a memory that persisted through reboots. I could even search my command history to see how I did something before. It was easy to recall commands, modify them and use them again. That is one thing about Linux that keeps me coming back.
Over the years, I watched the Linux desktop evolve. They evolved the desktop interface from a menu-driven, mouse-centric interface to one that can be almost entirely run by the keyboard. I have to admit that Microsoft did a fantastic job with their keyboard shortcuts in Windows. Those keyboard shortcuts were a blessing to me, for I can move far more quickly and accurately with keyboard shortcuts than I ever could with a mouse. I can open any application in a few keystrokes. I can manage most of my work with the keyboard in both Windows and Ubuntu.
Some years ago, I saw that Red Hat adopted the Gnome user interface. I tried it out and passed on it at first. Then I tried Linux Mint with the menus and submenus again. Meh. I just kept coming back to that simplified keyboard-driven interface provided by Gnome and I never went back. I installed it with an extra effort at first. Then they released a special distribution of Ubuntu with Gnome. Then Gnome became the standard desktop for Ubuntu. It just kept getting better.
A few years ago, I bought my first Chromebook. Chromebooks run Linux. With a Chromebook, I became familiar with Google Docs, Google Drive and of course, Chrome. Everything is done through a browser. The browser became the interface to the operating system. On a Chromebook, Linux was still running, but the browser provided the interface to all the apps and settings.
I write this article on a computer running Linux. Chrome has made it easy for me to work anywhere on any computer. I can write an article on my phone in a pinch. On a tablet. On a laptop. And here, on my trusty desktop. It all just works and I don’t have to think about the operating system much.
Updates come often on Linux. As soon as I see that notification for an update, I install it. I keep this machine up to date for bugs, security fixes, and new features. I had read a few days ago that the latest version of Ubuntu is very fast. I didn’t really know for sure. Linux doesn’t slow down like Windows does over time. The speed of Linux has been relatively constant over the life of my computer.
The last time I did a complete installation of my operating system was when I fitted this computer with a solid-state drive, and that was a few years ago. I reinstalled the operating system for new hardware, not to clean Windows out.
So I opened LibreOffice Writer for a speed test this morning, and it opened in a fraction of a second. I’ve never seen Word open that fast. I even opened my forgotten Solitaire game and that opened in less than a second. I’m running Ubuntu 19.10 now and everything loads fast. Very, very fast. I doubt that Windows can match this kind of speed.
But there was something that had been sort of a pain for me. Bluetooth. For years, I had not been able to get that to work to my satisfaction. I tried all kinds of hacks to get Bluetooth to work with my Block Rocker Max speaker, to no avail. So I had to use an audio cable, and there was always this buzz with the speaker. I’m sure that’s a grounding issue and I could fix that. But Bluetooth was a little bear for me.
As I installed the upgrade to Ubuntu 19.04 last night and 19.10 this morning, nearly 4 gigs of data to download, I was thinking about whether or not I could get Bluetooth to work. I have a fast connection, so 2 gigs were downloaded in 3 minutes. The upgrade took longer than the download. How times have changed.
On a whim, I had to try it out. I opened the Bluetooth settings, deleted the old and failed connections to my speaker and tried again. Happily, Bluetooth has come of age on Ubuntu. It just works. I can lose the cable. I can listen to music without the buzz.
All this time, I have not made a donation to Ubuntu for a free operating system that has served me so well. I think I will change that. I will make an annual donation of $20 to support their fine work. It’s worth $20 a year for me to have an operating system that is so useful, so easy to use and so stable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ubuntu crash. It just keeps running. That’s worth it to me.
In 2007, I set out to use Linux for as long as I could, and I never went back. I never looked back. I don’t miss Windows. I don’t need Windows. I still use Windows at work, but that’s not my business. I use Ubuntu Linux for the ease of use, for its utility, and for the peace of mind, knowing that I can upgrade when I want to. Ubuntu Linux isn’t just good enough. Ubuntu does exactly what I need it to do, and that’s enough for me.