Saturday, 13 September 2008

My First Linux Encounter or How to Switch to Linux

I was a Windows user for several years when I decided to switch to Linux, late 2005 or early 2006, I can't recall exactly. I remember that on Windows I was always looking for freeware alternatives to all the paid applications. At the time, I was not aware of the terms 'open-source' or 'free software', and I definitely had no idea about the concepts behind them. On Windows I considered myself a 'power user', I knew my way around and could complete almost any task in Windows XP easily. I kept searching until I bumped into Linux and decided to give it a try.

First it was Red Hat 9 for a couple of days, but I had problems with it at network recognition, and so I discovered Ubuntu. After about one month of dual booting with Windows XP I finally made up my mind and wiped it out, leaving the entire hard disk for a freshly, brand new Ubuntu 5.10. Breezy was practically my first Linux distribution.

I knew when I started that the transition will be tough for me; things are done differently on Linux compared to the way they are done in Windows. And it's pretty hard to get unused with a way of doing things which I used for over six years. But what made me stick to Linux and never return, what kept me getting used to all the new stuff and a new, different way of doing things, was the pure fact that I knew Linux will be different and I must put effort into learning it. I understood that I'll have to learn most of the things again and I was prepared to do it. From the beginning, Linux offered me flexibility and free choice, with no fear of using the software or sharing it using BitTorrent or Direct Connect, for example. And the result is now awesome: I'm a happily and passionate Linux user for three years now, and I'd never go back. I can't imagine going back and leave all this behind.

I think one of the main reasons most of the people try Linux and go back to Windows is that they aren't determined to make the switch, and they can't conceive that there are other ways of doing things than the Windows methods. If something is done differently on Linux, they quickly jump to a conclusion that goes like 'This is not right, on Windows it's done the other way around. Then it's no good.' Or the eternal and already 'legendary' syntax, which Linux users are tired and bored of hearing, 'On Windows everything is easier.' Well, I usually smile now whenever I hear it or read it. Once a person gets used to something, it's harder to do it the other way around afterwards, especially if he is not truly determined to do it or at least give it a good try. Unfortunately a big percentage of Windows users who try Linux reach the conclusion that 'it doesn't work', so they go back.

The 'easier' concept is so relative, and why do I think that? Well, to give a simple example: I got used to rip FLAC files using the flac and oggenc command line tools and I also have several small Bash scripts to ease my work. For me, this method is the easiest and fastest, although there are plenty graphical applications out there for doing this task. Or any other.

I agree, when I first started there were many things which I didn't understand and which I felt that were not right. Believe it or not, it didn't seem logical to me that Linux allows two files with the names, for example, Music and music in the same directory. Was that because it really wasn't logical? Or because I was used from Windows with not having two files with the same name, where the names actually aren't case-sensitive? So no, it was because I was used that way from Windows. Or, to give another example: the lack of Apply buttons in GNOME applications. I just felt like the options were not applied if I didn't have that Apply button there. But I knew it's different, and I embraced it. I kept reading forums and articles, and many tutorials; I started to love what I was learning, the whole development method and the community.

Most Windows users expect the change to be fast and smooth: they expect to find in Linux a similar OS with Windows in every aspect; it's a well-known issue. When they find out it's not like that, all is over.

Windows and mainly closed-source applications drive to a strange mentality. I remember a thread on the Battle for Wesnoth forums, a TBS game for Linux, Windows and Mac, licensed under the GPL, about some guy selling the game on CDs on eBay. Believe it or not, the guy was highly criticised by several users posting in that thread, saying that he should ask for permission or that it's illegal. But still, the game is under the GPL, which means he was allowed to sell it without any legal issues.

I remember I had this friend, pretty techy guy, who decided to switch to Linux. He was pretty determined, so I installed Kubuntu for him and tried to help him and explain the best way I could how to solve his problems on Linux. He was open-minded - I remember he tried to make Alpha Centauri work a whole night, with no intention on giving up. Whenever I could, I tried to help him; and he took my advices and sticked to Linux for a while. Well, eventually, he gave up in the end. Maybe I didn't try enough, or maybe he depended too much on Windows, I'm not sure. The thing is, if I would have tried harder, he would have probably ended up using Linux today.

As a conclusion, I think there's no big chance for a person to switch, unless he truly wants it. Windows users need either good determination for switching, or eventually help from someone who has already been there and knows how to make a convert for the wonderful world of Linux.

Note: This is a later, revised version of the article which I originally posted here.

Updated: Sep 15, 2008


WishItWasThatSimple said...

It's not just about different ways of doing things. Unfortunately its also because stuff doesn't work as easily and debugging is MUCH harder. Different should not mean harder. What puts people off, as is evident here:

is that Linux makes simple things really really time consuming and complicated. It wasn't like this years ago. I think it's gotten worse with bloat.

sk43999 said...

Nice post!

It would also be interesting to hear from someone who started as a Linux user and, after several years, switched to MS Windows. However, I have never encountered such a person.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, if you actually read that link (which I did), you can see that the author actually knows almost nothing about Linux. Debugging in Linux is actually quite easy (once you understand it), and fixing things is usually easy. Does every piece of hardware work? Nope, and they never will, but I can say that Linux natively supports far more hardware than Windows. It generally is truly the "difference" that puts people off -- which is really too bad. I've "converted" a few people who were truly motivated, and after some time the "differences" became the Linux "advantages", many times accompanied by statements like "I made it seem so much harder than it actually was...".

Anonymous said...

I switched to Linux when I had problems with WinXP. Yes it has been a learning experience, but so was Win98 when I switched from Commodore 64/Geos. But now I have found that my Linux will connect to my Wifi quicker and easier than WinXP did (I had lots of problems with WiFi and WinXP SP2 and had to remove SP2 to make it work), getting printers to work has been a piece of cake with Ubuntu, a lot easier than with Windoze. I have quite a collection of Win driver disks that come with all the hardware I get, and I have needed none with Linux, my hardware has worked just fine. I even had one manufacturer tell me that their device absolutely would not work with Linux, and I got it to work just fine. Once you change the paradigms then people will use Linux jsut fine.

Anonymous said...

this reminds me of when i was teaching my brother how to drive a manual transmission car..he wanted to learn but didn't want to take time to learn the gear shift and the clutch he gave up cause it wasn't what he was used to..

Anonymous said...

What I don't get with people coming from Windows is why so many of them expect Linux to be like Windows, but don't have the same expectation of Mac OS X. Some people actually think Linux is meant to be a free clone of Windows or something. Have none of them heard of Unix?

rocrocket said...

I come from china, and I have switched to linux successfully.
I love linux, I take it as my son. Although linux is really time-consuming and complicated, if you understand why linux does like that, you will enjoy it.

speedonl said...

I switched from Windows xp to Linux, and I have to say, it's not an easy task! In the end I tried like 10 distributions for my desktop at home, but none of them work out of the box, it is just like that. If you want to use it you really have to learn linux/unix basics at least, that will get you going, but it takes time definitely.. I ended up using it as a home server solution and for the desktop I switched to Mac OSX, a friendly solution for my kids, my wife and me..

Anonymous said...

I switched to Linux starting at the end of 2000. I tried Red Had, SuSE Lycoris and Mandrake (now Mandriva). I found Linux quite easy to switch to, maybe it was because of all the other operating systems I've used CP/M, RSTS-E, Wang, TRS80, Commodore, BBC, MS-DOS, Windows, maybe it was because I settled on Mandrake, maybe it was a combination of the two.

I find that the people who find it easiest to move to Linux are not the Windows Power users, or even those with a lot of Windows experience, but those who are usually described as the non technical, mum and dad types who barely know how to send an email, I find that they are very easy to teach Linux too, once I've set it up for them. They have no expectation of how things "should" work, and usually an hour or two of instruction is enough to get them going. That has certainly been the case with all of the people I've moved to Linux over the last 3 years.

In the final analysis what I end up teaching them is how to do email, how to use a browser, how to use a Word processor, How to use the Photo tools, like DigiKam, and how to edit images, how to use the media tool, and how to burn CDs and DVDs.

I end up teaching them applications, I don't have to teach them how to use Linux, it's transparent to them.


Steve said...

The reason your friend gave up on Kubuntu is because Kubuntu is shit, too many problems and not streamlined with Ubuntu at all. Ubuntu is the best "vanilla" Linux distro IMO, esp for converting Winblows users. Once you have mastered Ubuntu , it's a small hop-step and jump to Debian and complete choice & freedom. You did your friend a huge disservice by using Kubuntu as an "intro" OS.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly my story! Windows XP with freeware, discovery of Open Source, Linux distributions, and then Ubuntu. I have to say that I agree with you and I really enjoyed your unbiased thoughts. My experience was slightly different when it comes to the difficulties, though. I found Linux much easier to handle. Windows was often making me mad and upset, trying to do some things I wanted. I found Linux to be much more intuitive and straighforward, since nothing is hidden from the user.

Anonymous said...

I always love the old, "Linux is too difficult for Mom and Pop to use." argument.

I started using Microsoft with DOS 5.0 and continued through Windows XP. Sick of cryptic BSOD screens every couple of months on at least one out of four computers in my house, along with never-ending searches for better anti-virus and spyware applications, I decided to give Linux a shot....when I was 60 years old.

That was four years ago, and the transition wasn't without a few false starts. I made three attempts using different distributions and went back to Windows each time. Finally, on the fourth attempt SUSE worked for me. Since that time, I've become a Mandriva convert and haven't had a Windows system for over three years. Linux "just works." Likewise, I've switched several friends and family members to Linux, as well.

Linux works great, once you break the "Windows mindset." Once you finally realize that Linux isn't Windows and you can't apply Windows logic to Linux.

Today, I find it very difficult to help someone with a Windows system. In fact, I've given up for the most part, as I'm not interesting in "relearning" Windows, in an effort to help them.

OpenSUSE works for me, as does Fedora, while Mandriva is my favorite and standard distribution. And, by the way, I've never managed a satisfactory Ubuntu nor Kubuntu install.

Knut said...

I started with Linux and an early edition of Suse and used Linux and Windows in dualboot until 2003. From then I switched to only use Linux and now Ubuntu is installed on all machines both in work and privat.

As a consultant only working with open source programs against my customers, mainly Joomla! and vtiger, I always install PHP, MySQL and Apache on all machines. Even on an older Acer C-110 with 512 MB ram which I bring with me everywhere. Also Compiz work well with this configuration, and that was a bit of a surprise.

Hein said...

I´ve had a similar conversion to ubuntu linux from wxp.
But instead by being frightened by the bash-scripting I rather embraced it because that was what I missed in xp and earlier versions.
Although it helps being a developer (in oracle) and used to scripting and debugging.
I found solving matters in Windows OS's unsatisfying and more important unsustainable.
If you cannot make linux running, you're the one to blame.

Bob Robertson said...

Imagine for a moment trying to go to Windows from having used Linux.

No command line to speak of, and what there is has so few command-line _tools_ that it's not much good for anything except checking the old BSD TCP/IP stack that, as far as I can tell, Windows is still using.

Restricted to file names where case doesn't matter, and the system configuration is kept in one big file called the Registry? But I only want to change one little thing, and there's no way to know what it is...

Just reading the EULAs every time there is a system update from Microsoft takes longer than learning Linux did.

Marcus said...

Hahaha, "working all night" to make anything work is only done in Linux =)

A smart OS does not require you to work a whole night to get an application running.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to define "working".

I spent years fighting with every MS OS ever released. Sure, apps "install" simply. But they rarely "work" in my terminology. By work, I mean repeatable, expected behaviour, each and every time the machine is powered on, forever. Without fault, without re-installation, without "upgrade" pain and without OS degradation.

Windows does none of those things.

Sure, it may have taken a night "oh no!" to install, but that install will run forever without issues.

I'd much rather put the effort in up front than deal with continual ongoing problems that render my machine or the applications on it useless and in need of maintenance.

Windows people just don't "get it".

Anonymous said...

Any Windows converts noticed how quiet, "at peace", your hard disk has become since switching to Linux? M$'s crapware not being installed, thrashing your drive to death and data to pieces is an absolute bonus huh.

g/os said...

I used Mac OS 10.4 at home and Windows at work. Every now and then I would try linux. When the Mac switched to Intel and I could not afford to upgrade I bought a used machine off of ebay knowing that it would only run Linux. I used Mandriva and many others but kept going back to Mandriva. Now I am using Debian and love this OS. For me it does every thing that I want it to do and no problems so far.

Marcus said...

Hahahaha.. you´re really clinging on for life. Well, most of us don´t have time to work an entire night to install an app. I can´t see what problems you are talking about really. If something screws up in Win it takes 5 minutes to fix it again and voila. So, to compare that with 1(!) night is just too much. It would take me 10 years with Windows to reach the amount of time you spend trying to get 1(!) thing to work. But I salute you for your efforts, maybe sometime when the freetards realize they need a WORKING business model we can have something posing a REAL (read: in the real world!) threat to Microsoft. Until then I wish you many more enjoyable nights of struggling.

Anonymous said...

Actually I DID switch from Unix to Windows and if you try to take my Windows Desktop Maschine or Laptop from me, you can only do that after you have taken my HK91 from my cold dead hands.

I have used various brands of Unix, mostly Solaris and SCO for a decade and while they may be fine for some server duties (and a LOT better there than Linux) they make LOUSY desktop platforms compared to an NT-series Windows that is properly used.

Anonymous said...

I started out with Linux in about 1995. I remember vividly reading about the Halloween Documents, the FSF foundation GPL license. It all seemed to make sense. I remember downloading off the net Slackware files, splitting the files that were to big to fit on diskettes using "split" and "cat" to put the file sections back together. I remember the stacks of diskettes to install slackware. It is so easy today, using CD or 'net installs. I remember reading about Unix and decided to stick with it because of its power and multitasking features, although I had heard of its terseness and complexity. You are right. Things are easy when you get "there". I wish I had been born in a different environment, that would have favored learning Linux early in my life, but I haven't. Sometimes, I curse my ignorance of Linux/GPL software commands, but that doesn't put the blame on Linux, but on me. Of course, Linux could be easier to use, but it's getting there.

Anonymous said...

I've used Debian exclusively at home since 2001 and never regretted it. Before that, I dual-booted BeOS and Win98, because there were lots of things I couldn't do in BeOS. I hadn't tried any Linux distro because I heard it was unfriendly, difficult, and full of kludges.

When Be, Inc. died, I decided to give Debian a try, and I was blown away by how comprehensive and ultimately logical it was, and by how advanced KDE was. With Debian, you are in total control, and you really learn what is actually going on with your system. Plus, you are completely empowered with everything needed to become a programmer yourself.

When I hear "Linux is too hard", it reminds me that Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Beethoven, and Mahler are also "too hard" for many.
Computers are not toasters - don't get sucked into the MS mindset that you are just an "end user" who needs everything to be as dumbed-down as possible.

Warmotor said...

I've been using Windows since 3.11, DOS before that. Probably got close to 20 years of MS OS experience. I had my first working install of Linux (Red Hat) set up and figured out over the course of about a week of after-work sessions. Since then I've settled on Debian based distros and I can work the command line just fine.

It's kind of a moot point nowadays though, Ubuntu 8.04 will go and get those codecs it doesn't come with. Synaptic makes installing software a no-brainer. With the other distros following closely behind, modern Linux is easier to use then Windows.

Not that I would try and convert anyone though. We've got such an awesome community of developers and users that clouding the pool with your everyday windows users would probably be detrimental to my computing experience.

And by the way, I've never spent all night trying to get an app to run on any platform - but I have spent all night trying to get rid of virii, malware and hijackers on many a Windows box.

Anonymous said...

Granted, Microsoft opened many doors by widening the appeal of a GUI, but while it has opened the doors that are now behind you, it has closed the doors in front of you, limiting your options. From a liberator, it has changed into a gatekeeper.

Anonymous said...

I was in a quandary: I needed to install a proprietary Broadcom nic driver so I could get on the net using the integrated wifi card. I solved my problem by getting a Linux-supported Edimax USB nic from . Using the out-of-the-box Linux-supported USB nic, I got on the net to download the proprietary drivers for the integrated nic. I can now unplug the USB nic, or use it to forward traffic between interfaces. Possibilities...

Anonymous said...

Yes, Windows users do need a reason to switch. For me, it was Vista, along with the stark fact that I could no longer afford to purchase software. Pirating was not an option for me.

I made the switch last year, but I also have some recommendation for users making the switch, among them: patience.

Ten Tips for Windows users making the switch to Linux

tannim said...

I know nobody will read this, so I'll write it anyway.

Linux is fine, if you don't have a lot of desire for graphical work. The Gimp is functional in some ways, but a pain to use for me. If you have a tablet other than a wacom, you're basicly screwed. My tablet sort of works, but not even remotely close to functional for everyday use. Java cannot accept pressure. Those two problems are being worked on, but it's been years without major progress. Lack of a good graphical task manager(Such as Process Explorer for windows) is a pain. I've tried the current ones, nothing of value there and don't say "use console". This isn't the 80s. Linux lacks a uniform system for installing software. Having to compile everything non-mainstream is a royal pain.

I'm working with Linux on two computers, and for basic web browsing and writing, it's fine. I find DVD video very scanlined for the few shows I've used it with. Video editing seems to lack a lot compared to windows as well.

Dan Craciun said...

tannim, I don't work much with image editors such as GIMP (except for basic image manipulation like cut/paste, resize, few effects, borders etc - nothing fancy) but it provides a very good help system and tutorials, which if you follow will make you more familiar with it.

For video editing, you can try acidrip, dvdrip or k9copy. They seem very powerful for editing DVDs, though probably different from their Windows equivalents.

Chris said...

Initially, I enjoyed the idea of NO ACTIVATION NECESSARY. From there, I also found several more likable aspects. For instance, it doesn't almost /require/ to be installed every few months to maintain its freshness. It has a programming language built in (BASH), which proved to be a huge plus for me since I've enjoyed programming, but I found Visual Basic to be such a complicated environment for my needs, creating whole directory structures for such basic programs. With BASH, I've been able to create scripts from simple to complex, usually with just one file each. I also like the convenience of LiveCDs, which can also be used as rescue discs for any of the major OSs. In addition, I like how flexible the GUI can be (depending on the desktop manager), which allows me to pretty much arrange things exactly how I want, when I want. Of course, I've been migrating toward using more CLI applications, but still.

And I do have to say that I was confused by the lack of "Apply" buttons as well, yet I've found that instances such as this are just artifacts of my experience in Windows.