Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

Summary: I loaded Ubuntu Linux on my test laptop a couple of weeks ago more or less on a lark, thinking I would just see for myself what the current state of the Linux world is today. When I saw how easily it loaded (and how quickly!


I loaded Ubuntu Linux on my test laptop a couple of weeks ago more or less on a lark, thinking I would just see for myself what the current state of the Linux world is today. When I saw how easily it loaded (and how quickly!), and how well it worked, I decided to try loading it on my main laptop to see how that would go. When I saw how well that worked, I started to wonder if it might be possible to replace Windows with Linux for an ordinary PC user, such as the ones I am often asked to help with Windows problems. After two weeks of loading a variety of different Linux distributions (but nowhere near all or even most of them!), and configuring, and experimenting, and learning, and talking with my partner and my brother, I would say the answer to that question is a qualified "Yes".

I think it is a good commentary on the state of Linux software for me to say that one of the biggest criteria in deciding if you can switch to Linux is what peripheral hardware you want to use. If you user your PC for email, web browsing, storing and minor editing of pictures from your digital camera, and other such "everyday" tasks, then you are likely to be very happy with Linux. In fact as I said to my brother yesterday evening, a typical Windows XP user could probably switch to Ubuntu or Mandriva Linux more easily today than they can switch to Vista. In a lot of critical ways the differences are not as large, and since Linux is a lot less likely to hang, crash or otherwise misbehave there would be less irritation and distraction in the switch.

Because Linux developers are not getting the support, cooperation and effort from peripheral manufacturers that Windows, and even MacOS X, are getting, the range of supported peripherals is not as wide. Some common types of peripheral devices which need to be checked when you try Linux:

- Printers: This is probably the best-supported group, part because there are a few "standards" which together cover a large part of the market. I have two; my Canon BJC-55 was recognized and configured without problem, while my Lexmark E240 laser was not reognized, but since I know it is PCL and PostScript compatible, I could manually choose either of those generic drivers, and it worked just fine.

- Scanners: These can be considerably more problematic, as there are a lot of different kinds, and the manufacturers are often tight-lipped and uncooperative with Linux driver writers. There are a fair number which are supported and work well, but mine are not among them (a Canon LIDE 600F and an HP 4670).

- Network adapters: This seems to break out several ways. Wired ethernet adapters are generally handled easily, WiFi adapters are mostly good, with a few exceptions, and other kinds of cellular adapters seem to be mostly not supported yet. I will not be able to completely replace Windows yet because I need to be able to use my laptop via cellular link during my daily commute.

- USB storage devices: USB disks just work, they are recognized automatically and most versions of Linux simply open a window on the new file hierarchy, which certainly makes a lot more sense than Windows spending potentially large amounts of time examining every file on the device, and then trying to guess what you might want to do with them. If you have a laptop with slots for digital camera flash cards, Ubuntu will recognize the card when it is inserted,put a nice self-explanatory icon for it on the desktop, and open something like the Gthumb picture viewer or the F-spot digital photography application.

I could go on, of course. But the bottom line is this. Linux has come a long way, and in a lot of cases, it is a very realistic alternative to Windows or MacOS X. I think it is also important to remember that, as was indicated by a comment to one of my previous blog posts, a large number of new Linux users these days are going to be people who are considering buying a new computer, such as an Eee PC or an OLPC, with Linux preloaded. In that case a lot of the questions about hardware are not relevant, and it really comes down to a question of the "user experience", and then I think the answer is an unqualified "Yes", Linux can not only be considered as an alternative to Windows, it is in many ways superior to Windows!

jw 18/7/2008

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

    You are quite right, Linux desktop distributions, especially Ubuntu, provide a superior user experience for all but the most Luddite of users.

    To avoid worry about hardware difficulties, just buy a system from Dell that comes with Ubuntu installed. Even if you change your mind, your new machine will run Windows just fine. In fact, it will probably run Windows better than a system that is not supported by the manufacturer to run Linux, because all the hardware components will be publicly documented.

    Even if you're a Windows user, avoid buying systems that include components from manufacturers who are hostile to Linux. These include Nvidia video, as well as Broadcom and Atheros networking components. This will insure that your new system uses parts with well-documented interfaces.

    For printers, buy HP. For scanners, buy Epson. Both companies support open standards and publish well-documented interface specifications. Once again, this is not only important for Linux users, but should insure that your Windows system works flawlessly, too.
  • Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

    Good point. I did have Windows XP computers and after buying a new Minolta printer I found out that the drivers where designed for Windows 98. Download a patch and they were supposed to work with Windows XP. Not really.

    Install any new software and then re-install Minolta. No! After un-installing Minolta. No that didn't work either. Reinstall Windows XP then reinstall Minolta. Yeah! But what a headache. Eventually I dedicated a computer to act as a network server just for that printer. Couldn't update or patch Windows XP. Had to reinstall patch or update and then re-install Minolta.

    That printer was eventually set aside. To much pain. If the drivers and software had been open, drivers could/would have probably been updated.

    But Microsoft and Minolta both benefit from new equipment sales. The moral is don't buy equipment that has been designed for Microsoft. The manufacture benefits most from new Microsoft OS sales and bad patches. Microsoft benefits most from manufactures that have failing equipment and who don't update drivers.
  • Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

    Yes, it's a dirty game that a lot of the peripheral manufacturers play. I had a similar experience with Vista. I bought a new Linksys SRX400 router and several network cards (PCMCIA, USB and PCI) a few months before Vista came out. Once Vista was finally released, I was surprised to find that there were no Vista drivers ready for them. A few months later I was flabbergasted when Linksys finally admitted that they had no intention of making Vista drivers for any of the SRX400 cards.

    I'm not (yet) as determined, or insistent, about buying only peripherals which are Linux compatible or fully publicly documented, but I certainly do agree, it is one of the better forms of protecting your investment.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw 18/7/2008
  • Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

    This is some of the reason I started So people could get a preconfigured linux computer from all of us around the world that know how to get everything working correctly. One of the things that turns people away the most is they try to install it themselves and can't get something working and poof linux sucks.

    Can you imagine what would have happened to windows if it wasn't preinstalled for people in 1995 till today. But since it is and for the most part (before vista anyway) just about everything just worked.

    Sad I know but thats what people want. So I started the site to help overcome people fears about trying it but wanting everything to just work if they do.
  • Can Linux Replace Windows - Maybe!

    Hi, thanks for reading and commenting. I just had a brief look at your web site, and it seems quite interesting. I like the idea behind it, and I wish you well and hope you are successful with it.

    I agree with you that the majority of consumers just want a PC that is preloaded, preconfigured and just works. I personally don't think that is sad, because I think that people should think of their computers the same way that they think of any of the other appliances around the house. That is one reason why, when people come to me for help because their Windows PC has hung, crashed, corrupted its disk or whatever, one of the things that I ask them is "would you accept this kind of performance from any other appliance in your house?"

    jw 21/7/2008