>The good, the bad, and the ugly

4:44 PM

>Ok, there is enough Linux hype on the internet to get on anyone's nerves, and no real balanced perspective. People are either seriously anti-Linux or seriously pro-Linux and it is hard to figure out the pros and the cons because of this.

So here you go - from the perspective of a Linux user - the things I love, the things I hate, and the things that are very close to being deal breakers.

Installation & Configuration

Yes, I can install and configure my distro of choice very quickly compared to Windows. Before I switched to Kubuntu as of like 2 days ago, Mepis took me a max installation + configuration time of 20 minutes. Windows, on the other hand, could take me a week. Why? First of all, the default configuration of Windows just seriously, seriously blows. I'm sorry, but it does. That week would mostly be spent on my part dealing with getting rid of everything I didn't need/want and adding on everything I did need/want to the registry, system files, and services. Mind you, I was a rather demanding user on Windows. 10 years on that operating system will do that to you, and I'm not entirely confident I won't grow to be the same way about Linux in 10 years. In that case... I'll probably become a Gentooer.

Now let's discuss that 20 minutes installation and configuration on Linux.

With Windows, a user can just install all the programs/drivers they want and happily go off on their merry way. You don't HAVE to tweak your system out to. But unfortunately, the time spent on Linux with configuration is often neccessary. One major example is Flash. If you don't want websites blocking you from using their Flash content because you don't have the latest version or you actually want sound, you're going to have to deal with changing some configuration files. ATI alone has you jumping through hoops to get their driver installed.

My advice in this area? If you're a power Windows user and cannot live without tweaking Windows out, go the Linux route. If you're an average Windows user that just installs some programs and that's it, stick to Windows, at least for now. If the installation and configuration time for Windows just drives you absolutely batty and you don't care if you have to edit some configuration files or not as long as the time is cut down significantly, go the Linux route. And learn apt or some other form of command line package management. It will greatly cut down on the time you spend if you can simply prep a text file you can cut and paste from to get everything the way you need/want it, plus you won't have to deal with forgetting to do little things.

As for hardware support - Linux is definitely a kingpin with out of the box hardware support. However, since there are almost no 3rd party drivers available for Linux and sometimes hardware manufacturers don't like to release their specifications so drivers can be written for alternative operating systems, there are issues sometimes with box hardware support. Sometimes just trying out different distros will help in these issues. Sometimes not. I can't really complain about this though as I have had no problems with hardware support except for a camera that couldn't be recognized via USB connection. My solution to that was putting the SD card in a different camera I had laying around that no longer worked (getting a card reader will work in this case as well). Anyways, the best way to avoid hardware problems would be of course to try out live cds and make sure everything works before committing to an install.

Usage

This is another mixed bag - day to day usage. Hands down, you can get things done quicker and more easily with Linux compared to Windows, and with A LOT more/better eye candy. It also tends to have MUCH better resource management and runs quicker. Plus, you get a lot more power over how your system acts/feels/etc. But as far as applications go, there are some quirks along the way.


  • Video. OSS drivers suck. Proprietary offerings suck. Get used to getting less out of your video card on Linux compared to Windows, especially if you happen to have an ATI card. A special note here is there is genuine and special effort going into improving this area on the behalf of ATI and Nvidia, but for right now, it still sucks. Period. And you will have issues installing ATI's driver. That is almost a guarantee. The reason I don't mention Nvidia is because I don't have an Nvidia card so I can't tell you. ;)



  • Gaming. Ok, I will admit there are some great games offered to Linux, and if you're the type of gamer that cares more about clever gameplay than having the latest and greatest game off the shelf and/or advanced/pretty graphics, you will probably love gaming on Linux. But if you're the latter... better stick to Windows or dual boot.



  • Flash! Flash 9.0 for Linux is coming... supposedly. Right now though you're going to be stuck with Flash 7.0 and your only real options for getting around it are lying to websites that require Flash 8.0 and higher *sometimes this doesn't work because the content uses features that are only in Flash 8.0 and higher* or using Wine to run IE with the Flash 9.0 plugin for Windows installed.



  • Just_forget_about_any_Microsoft_affiliated_website_content. Some of their content they make available to other operating systems/browsers, but there's so little of that you will probably give up on them completely. And you can really forget about playing any video on any Microsoft affiliated website. They all require WMP10. And no, Wine cannot work its way around this one.



  • Wireless networking with WMA encryption. I don't do wireless, but from what I understand this is a pain in the butt to get working.



  • Firewalls. Software firewalls in Linux tend to go more from intermediate to advanced. There aren't really any beginner firewalls to speak of. Firestarter comes about as close as you can get to a beginner firewall. And if you've ever paid any attention to any of my rants in the past about security, I'm of the "you should always run a software firewall!" opinion. A little extra security doesn't hurt.



  • Anti-viruses. Forget about auto-scanning. It is probably not going to happen because it is a pain in the butt to set up. The most you can do is scheduled scanning.



  • Viruses and malware. You can pretty much forget about these too, as these are probably not going to happen. Linux is rather secure by nature in comparison to Windows *we'll see about Vista*. The only real reason to run an anti-virus is to prevent yourself from unknowingly passing on a virus to a friend that is using Windows (the test of true friendship ;)).



  • Windows-only applications i.e. *.exe files. In case it hasn't dawned upon you, the majority of these are going to be thrown out the window (no pun intended). Don't listen to the hooligans that cry, "but Wine can run most Windows programs!" No, it cannot (at least at a usable level), unless those programs are either rather old or rather simplistic. And if it can you will have a rough time configuring it to do so. It isn't like there aren't any solutions that do work (Vmware, Cedega, Crossover, dual booting, etc.), but the point is Wine is not simple and honestly neither are the other solutions. They do require some amount of technical knowledge to get them up and working.


When Something Is Broken

When something is broken in Windows and you don't know what to do to fix it, most people reinstall. The same is true in Linux, only at least then you get to keep all your personal configuration and settings (wallpaper, double clicking or single clicking on files, your personal files kept in your home folder, etc.) just because the normal default for most Linux distros is to install your personal configuration and files on a seperate partition from your system files. So that, in a way, is a blessing unto itself, because you will probably be doing just as many reinstalls of Linux starting out as you did of Windows starting out. That is not even the beginning of the the fun part, though.

The fun part is fixing it.

Windows gives you a very little window (no pun intented) for actually fixing whatever is wrong. In most cases if the problem is bad enough to interfere with the system going through its normal start up process, it's to safe mode you go and then the Windows cd to try to figure out what's wrong if you can and hope it's something that you can fix from the recovery console.

Meanwhile, in Linux, you have the option of using the command prompt that almost always comes up if something goes wrong with the start up process and even gives you the curtousy of telling you what went wrong (people who remember the days of Windows just being layered over DOS will appreciate this), or you can switch to a live cd and work with it there (a live cd is basically a complete operating system that runs entirely off the cd). And if last comes to last, you can reinstall the system without losing any of your important files or personal configuration/settings.l
I just can't say anything bad about fixing Linux because I have no complaints about it. It's perfect in that department.

Feautures

Do we even need to discuss features? Honestly, every OS out there kicks WinXP's butt on features, because WinXP is a 5 year old operating system. I will say that I have yet to see anything in Vista that isn't already offered via Linux *or OS X even, for that matter*. Vista just seems to be one giant "catch up" OS. Once it comes out, it seems that there will be no reason to switch to another OS just because of its "features". The differences between one OS and another will be more technical.

So is it worth it to switch?

That's up to you to decide. No one can make that decision for you, and the whole point of this article was to attempt an unbiased opinion of the good and the bad about Linux vs. Windows. I must admit I focused more on the bad abotu Linux in parts because quite honestly, I rarely, if ever, hear these things brought up to potential users and they're what I consider to be important things for them to be prepared for.

That being said, I don't think I've yet seen someone that got used to Linux ever return to Windows except for specific things they couldn't do in or get out of Linux. I would love to see the perspective of someone trying to go from Linux to Windows but unfortunately I have yet to see that. The only reasons I've seen people go back to Windows have been discussed here, and they're very obviously things that one would notice within hours to weeks of switching over to Linux.

So there you have it. :)

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