I’ve been using Linux for a number of months now, and I thought I would write out some of my experiences so far. (I previously used Windows 7 and 8.1, so that’s what I’m comparing my experiences to.)
Linux is open source! You’re not passing money over to a big corporation, instead you’re supporting a community driven effort.
Linux is generally very customizable – it’s possible to tweak things so they’re just how you like it.
There’s a really good community. If you have a problem, chances are someone else has had that problem too, and there’s an answer out there for you.
When installing software is easy, it updates well. You also get operating system updates for free on a regular basis (for Ubuntu it’s twice a year).
If you don’t like your OS, there are many others which are slightly different to choose from. But the choice can also be a bit overwhelming (see below).
It mostly just works. Hardware support is pretty good, so you can be pretty sure that the parts in your computer will be supported and everything will run correctly.
Right from the first step, as a beginner to Linux, I found it very difficult to know which Linux distribution to choose. There are thousands of different versions of Linux for every conceivable purpose – choosing the one that’s right for you is hard. Pretty much everyone in the Linux world has an opinion on which distribution is best, and they don’t shy away from sharing their views. While choice can be good, it seems like there’s too much fragmentation at the moment.
In my experience it’s much harder to install software on Linux than on Windows. With Windows you can just double click an install file and it will guide you through the process. Whereas on Linux, there isn’t really a standard way of installing things – you might have to use a terminal, or you might have to unzip a file, or something else. The easiest way is if the software you want is available through a proper software centre (like the Ubuntu Software Centre). But even when you can find the software you want in the software centre it’s often a very old version. And then once you’ve installed the software, there’s often no easy way to remove it!
When you run into a problem, advice is not often aimed at beginners. Whenever a problem can’t be solved using proper settings, you often have to tweak settings with the terminal, which is horrible.
You have to use the terminal! Often when you get instructions about Linux it directs you to the terminal, a very user unfriendly text-based interface. While it may have its benefits, having to use the terminal seems pretty antiquated.
Choosing a distribution
My desktop computer is a few years old, and Windows 7 was starting to get quite slow, so I thought I’d try taking the plunge and try Linux. (It’s actually pretty easy to try out Linux – you just make a boot USB stick and then you can try it out without installing, install it alongside windows, or replace windows altogether).
I had a read around about Linux operating systems, and liked the sound of good support and easy installation (as well as easy upgrades when a new version of the OS is released), so I initially tried Ubuntu. However I found it still quite sluggish – Ubuntu’s unity interface isn’t well known for being super snappy. Also there were some annoying aspects – there were no easy settings to adjust my mouse’s sensitivity and the only way to fix it was to use the terminal. Coming from Windows, it was pretty jarring to have to search for ages to try and type in the exact right command into a terminal!
So after deciding Ubuntu wasn’t really for me, I had a look around and settled on Xubuntu, which is a official alternative community distribution of Ubuntu which uses a different desktop interface (XFCE) and is designed to have a low footprint. I immediately noticed that it was indeed really fast – it boots up and shuts down really quickly, and generally feels snappy and responsive. I also found that the settings were much more expansive compared to Ubuntu: you can change many aspects of the operating system without having to install any tweaks. That customizability is good, because I found the way the Xubuntu ships slightly clunky for someone used to Windows 7. The only time I ever need to boot to Windows 7 is when I need to send someone a Word document.
Overall, Xubuntu is a really nice, fast operating system to use – I heartily recommend it.
Linux is a fantastic alternative to Windows. There’s a distribution out there to suit pretty much everyone’s needs, so if you’re new to Linux there’s no need to be afraid. Give it a try!