Every few years, I have a brief stint with Linux as my primary operating system (dual booting with Windows for gaming etc.). Each time I try Linux, I hope “they” have finally fixed all the little annoying details that made me quit last time. And this time, I thought it was finally for real, and I lasted longer than ever before. But in the end, like every other time, I left disappointed.
Let me do it my way!
It all began well: Around a year ago, Microsoft was getting on my nerves again by forcing some uncalled-for changes and patronizing behavior down my throat in some Windows update or another, as they are wont to do. Being a power user, I enjoy the freedom to do things my way, and Linux is nothing if not catering to that need – if you want to change it, you can.1 And since I’m a bit of an idealist and really like the idea of free and open source software, I decided to try my luck with Linux again.
I had always used Ubuntu previously, but I didn’t like where they were going with the Unity desktop environment. I decided to briefly try a few alternative flavors of Ubuntu, but I couldn’t feel at home in any of them. Finally I settled on Linux Mint and its Cinnamon environment, which 1) felt familiar coming from Windows, 2) has a “your choices” philosophy wherein very little is forced on you, and 3) is based on Ubuntu and is thus compatible with the larger Ubuntu ecosystem.
Then came one of the parts about using Linux I enjoy the most: installing applications. Being able to install almost anything by executing a few simple commands in the terminal is simply wonderful. The terminal experience in general is vastly superior to that of Windows.
Broken here and there
Then, after using it for a few weeks, came the part about Linux I enjoy the least: A complete and devastating system failure which was nothing but my own fault for not RTFM (in my defense, the documentation wasn’t particularly clear on the “wreaking havoc on your system” part). It was not exactly
sudo rm -rf /, but the effects were similar. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
Thankfully I had my home folder on its own partition, and I had saved all the commands I used to install software to a text file in my home folder, so I basically just reinstalled Linux, executed the text file, and voilà, one hour later I was back to my pre-crash state. Can’t help but love Linux in those moments. Windows would have me spend the better part of several days getting everything back to normal.
Then followed months of normal use, wherein I tried to fix several annoying and obscure problems. Most of these were related to hardware and drivers, and thus not something I could easily fix. Video stuttering issues when connecting to my TV over HDMI was one of them, which I spent a few weeks researching until I discovered that it stopped entirely and immediately if I just switched off my PC monitor while watching TV. Significant tearing in YouTube videos in Firefox (my browser of choice) was another one which took significantly longer to find a solution to, but here, too, the fix was deceptively simple (Mozilla had disabled some parts of the hardware acceleration, which could be re-enabled in about:config).
Okay, that last one sounded a bit trivial, so let me rephrase: I had to spend hours upon hours of research over the course of a few months, giving up and picking up the thread again later, just to be able to view YouTube videos (in the browser that shipped with the OS) without errors so glaring even your grandma would have been annoyed at them.
Dual booting is a pain
All the while, however, other problems that I could not fix were nagging me. Shutting down was a five-minute process for reasons I could not get to the bottom of. Fonts in some programs looked awful. Some bugs in Darktable (a free Lightroom alternative to edit raw photos) were killing the mood in small ways. Et cetera. But most notably, it was the dual-booting that got on my nerves (looking back, it always was).
The thing is, my need of Windows more or less dooms my Linux use from the start. I enjoy playing video games, and Linux gaming is still far from optimal. Some AAA games are arriving on Linux nowadays, but they are few and far between. Poor driver support means the performance is suboptimal, and sometimes the graphic quality seems a bit worse, too. And don’t even get me started on audio – sure, my Creative card outputs sound if I plug my headphones into the rear panel (the front panel doesn’t work), but there is nothing of that headphone virtual surround goodness (which actually is a neat effect) or automatic switching to/from headphone settings.
I also need Windows for other reasons. Most notably at the moment is using remote desktop to my laptop at work when I’m working from home. I could get it working in Linux after some hassle, but the performance was abysmal. And while we’re at the subject of my job: Previously, a large part of why I liked Linux was that the developer experience was better. However, now I’m working with .NET, and it’s Windows all the way (which I was surprised to find was totally awesome after just a few weeks with Visual Studio and ReSharper).
I can hear you asking – since I will always need Windows anyway, why do I even bother? Is Windows really that annoying?
Perhaps the main, underlying reason for my using Linux from time to time is the latent idealism in me about free and open-source software. But how far am I willing to go for my ideals? You may have have noticed my careful phrasing up top that I like the idea of free and open source software. The actual software is, for obvious reasons, frequently subpar compared to commercial alternatives. Gimp and Inkscape are fair replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator, but I just can’t get used to them. And video editing in Linux? It’s utterly horrible, compared to the likes of Premiere Pro. Attempting to edit my Easter holiday video in Linux was actually the last drop that made me give it up altogether this time.
I was a bit sad to wave goodbye to Darktable, though a mere hour in Lightroom convinced me that it lets me get the look I want easier and faster, even after my Lightroom skills have deteriorated for a year. And during that time Lightroom has gotten a few new neat features, such as merging to raw HDR or raw panoramas (or both). Plus Lightroom is vastly superior in terms of organizing your photo library.
I mean, sure, you can’t beat the price of the free alternatives. Adobe software in particular isn’t exactly free. But in using most free software I’d easily pay the difference with my time due to less efficient user interfaces and a lack of features to get the job done quicker.2
After I had just started using Linux this time around, in the high of my “free/libre software is the best” mood, I was planning on writing a blog post titled something like Free software is worth using, wherein I would argue that it’s worth suffering through subpar software if it’s free and open source. You know, because ideals. I’m glad i didn’t write it and make a big fuss – all the more words I’d have to eat now.
Let’s just hope I remember all this the next time Microsoft force-feeds me some patronizing changes and my inner self starts screaming about ideals.
Top image: My dual boot screen with Midna by Ahrjey on deviantArt.