In this Guide


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: The Experiment
Page 3: The Results

The Linux Experiment


Author:

Last Modified: September 2019



Introduction


Windows vs. Linux. It's a rivalry that's been the source of endless debate among nerds for almost three decades. In one corner, we have Windows, a proprietary closed source operating system developed by Microsoft, the latest version of which is Windows 10, a.k.a Windows Beta Forever. In the other corner, we have Linux, a free open source operating system which comes in seemingly infinite versions, with randomly generated cutesy names.


The Linux Experiment

Which is the best OS, Linux or Windows? What is the best model for software development, closed or open source? No article has ever managed to conclusively answer these important questions - and this one is no different.


As the person who archived this article, I just wanted to add a few of my remarks. I've been working with various releases of Windows for nearly 2 decades and have accumulated a lot of experience with them. As for Linux, I first became aware of it around 2008. I have learned a lot about it since then and even attempted my own Linux Experiment back in late 2009 or so where I tried switching to it. It lasted a month and then switched back to Windows XP (then 7 shortly after) because of all the problems that I had with Linux. I can say that I have a great deal of confidence using Linux and can comfortably use it and do advanced tasks with it. However, I have zero interest at this point in using Linux for anything other than the handful of small use cases I currently have it set up for, and certainly not as a daily driver OS. Why is this you may ask? I would suggest that you keep reading because the conclusions Koroush arrives at document some of the reasons for my lack of interest.


My biggest problem with Linux, however, is the community that has built up around it, which Koroush alludes to on the 3rd page. It is a community of people that are fanatically devoted to the OS and FOSS in general. They look down their nose at you if you dare to disagree with them. They use poorly researched and outright fictitious data and claims to back their side and attack everything Microsoft. They mock anyone who dares to correct them. I have seen and been on the receiving end of this verbal abuse on many occasions. This comment section is my typical experience with these Linux users as well as a good demonstration of what happens if you dare to contradict them, no matter how informed you are. In one case, a Linux fanboi named Ricksflicks left a reply (which was subsequently either deleted or moderated) to the comment linked above accusing me of masturbating to pictures of my sister. For no reason other than because I corrected some anti-Windows misinformation that was being spread.


That said, I do also take issue with the snide remarks and emotional attitude that Koroush pushes especially on this first page. This is not to say that Microsoft is innocent or that Windows 10 is perfect or even great. However, I feel that he has let his emotions cloud his judgement. I have inserted my remarks on this throughout the article. As an exercise, I also decided to highlight all of his snide remarks in green text. It really gets silly how much his emotions infiltrate the article.



What is The Linux Experiment?


The Linux Experiment, aside from being a great name for a movie, is fairly straightforward. But before I reveal exactly what it entails, first let me set the scene.


Microsoft Windows is currently the most-used desktop operating system in the world, with an estimated 87% market share, according to the flawed but adequate Netmarketshare site. Windows 7 in particular is still one of the most popular versions of Windows with approximately 37% market share, despite being released over ten years ago, while the much newer and supposedly much better Windows 10 (Appeals to Majority are relevant for businesses selling a product but are a poor indication of Truth, or superiority in this case) has struggled to beat its older brother, only passing it at the start of this year, and still not much higher, at 43% in late 2019. (Note that this is heavily dependant on what data source you use. Statcounter currently has the market share for Windows 10 at 65% and Windows 7 at 27%, with the former surpassing the latter in Jan 2018. Furthermore, it took a long time for Windows 7 to dethrone XP as the most popular Windows version, despite it's objective superiority. Not to mention that Vista never managed to surpass XP, despite it's objective superiority as Koroush documented in his Vista Annoyances article. Thus, his snide remark here doesn't say much.)


On 14 January 2020, Windows 7 will reach its official End of Life. This means it will no longer receive technical support from MS, and most importantly, no more security updates (unless you're an Enterprise customer and pay a hefty fee). Thus after January 2020, no sensible person should be using Windows 7 on an Internet-connected system. This leaves Windows 7 users in a bit of a pickle as to what exactly to do. Normally, most Windows users would be willing to give in and upgrade to the latest version of Windows - if the latest version of Windows didn't happen to be Windows 10.


Note: For this paragraph, I initially tried adding my remarks as inline text as usual. In this case however, this made the original paragraph virtually unreadable. As a result, I did something different and added my remarks to floating text boxes instead. Whenever you see the superscripted purple word remark, just point at it and my remark will appear.

In my opinion, and it's an opinion many share, Microsoft totally lost the plot after Windows 7. Having failed to secure any real market share in the mobile device arena, Microsoft came up with the brilliant strategy of using Windows to turn your PC into a mobile device. My numerous gripes with Windows 8/8.1 are covered here. Hearing the complaints, Microsoft listened, thought long and worked hard. It came up with a new version of Windows that further reduces customization options, adds forced updatesremark and forced "telemetry" into the mix, and continues the clever software model that pretends your PC is a smartphoneremark by herding you into its Microsoft Store walled garden, where under the guise of enhanced security, you get to pay for the privilegeremark of buying one-size-fits-all app versions of previously free full-featured PC-orientated programsremark, just so MS can get a cutremark. Not content to rest on its laurels, Microsoft then sacked all of its professional beta testers, turning to a crowdsourcing model for testing their many software updates.


Below is a fairly objective summary of the key points for and against Windows 10 as they currently stand.


Pros:


  • Upgrading from 7 to 10 can still be done for free in many cases (e.g. see my experience earlier this year on this page of Hardware Confusion 2019).
  • You can do an in-place upgrade from 7 to 10, which makes transitioning even easier.
  • Windows 10 retains most of the interface, conventions and features Windows 7 users would be familiar with.
  • Under the hood, it is fundamentally an improved version of Windows 7 in almost every respect, from security to performance.
  • It has the greatest possible compatibility with commercial & non-commercial software, especially games.
  • It has the greatest possible compatibility with hardware, in the form of superior proprietary driver support. Particularly important is the fact that the latest CPUs and platforms are not officially supported on older versions of Windows.

Cons:


  • The default Windows 10 interface is arguably still mobile-centric, and built-in customization options have been reduced. Most noticeable for Windows 7 users: a lack of Aero Glass and a totally redesigned Start Menu. These can be rectified with third party utilities as covered here for example. (I happen to like the Win10 Start Menu. It has a number of objective pros. For example, every program shortcut is now only 1 or 2 clicks away, as opposed to Win7 where you have to dig through a hierarchy of folders to find those same shortcuts. Not to mention that the "shortcut" list in Win10 (i.e. the Live Tiles pane on the right side) can hold a lot more shortcuts than Win7's (i.e. the shortcuts on it's left side) as well as being closer to the "icons only" style that the taskbar in both already used. Also, Win7 doesn't let you use the mouse wheel to scroll through that list of folders whereas Win10 does.)
  • Windows 10 sends a constant stream of encrypted metadata to Microsoft, which MS refers to as Telemetry or Diagnostic Data, criticised by many such as Germany's Federal Office for Information Security for its opaque nature and the inability to completely disable it. (Note that the very nature of telemetry means that it needs to be opaque when it leaves your PC. It would be a massive privacy issue if anyone that intercepted this telemetry found unencrypted data. It is an issue that the PC user can't see this telemetry from the PC it is being collected on. Also, I've never seen these questions answered: What data does Win10's most restrictive telemetry options collect that is not collected in previous versions of Windows? Or Linux? )
  • As part of its Windows as a Service philosophy, Microsoft only allows Windows Updates to be temporarily delayed before inevitably being forcibly installed on all Windows 10 systems (As I said previously, permanently delaying security updates is not an advantage).
  • As part of the forced updates, Windows 10 frequently changes its features and interface, and some existing features are removed, with no ability to opt out of these changes.
  • Due to poor quality control, the frequent updates are typically accompanied by bugs which range in severity from annoying to potentially disastrous.

So are there any viable alternatives to Windows 10? This was the guiding question that made me decide to run this so-called "experiment". Don't let the name fool you, it's not some sort of exhaustively objective scientific experiment; rather, it's based on a simple premise:


The Linux Experiment: To see how well a long-time Windows user can cope with the transition to Linux, given a reasonable amount of effort.


More specifically, it's a look at a complete Linux noob and lifelong Windows user (i.e., me) installing a user-friendly distribution of Linux which is similar to Windows (i.e., Linux Mint Cinnamon 19.2), my first impressions of using it, the sorts of issues I might run into, any confusing or annoying quirks, and of course, the features and benefits it can provide. This is, first and foremost, a subjective experiment. It's not about benchmarking performance differences or measuring dollar gains or losses in productivity; it's about the experience and effort involved in changing an operating system, something that differs from person to person.



Linux 101


Linux is the general name given to a large number of operating systems based on the Linux Kernel, developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991, itself being based on the Unix operating system. Linux is now used across a wide range of devices, including routers, PCs and servers. It is open source software, meaning the source code used to create the operating system is provided to anyone for free, and with few limitations, so that they can easily modify it, thus increasing the potential for collaborative effort in improving the code. Windows, on the other hand, is a closed source, or proprietary, OS, which means the underlying source code is not available for public use.


The open source philosophy is discussed in greater detail on the last page of this article, but for now, of relevance is that fact that by virtue of its open source nature, unlike Windows which comes in only a few varieties, Linux comes in several hundred different versions, known as Distributions, or distros for short.


The key attractions of a Linux-based OS for many users include:


1. It's free.


2. It provides a wide range of choices in terms of its capabilities and interface.


3. As open source software, the code can be independently audited.


While this list is brief, it's also quite powerful, because these are features that are usually completely unavailable in a proprietary operating system like Windows.



Preparing for Linux


First thing's first, let's grab a copy of Linux. It's free, so all we have to do is download it. But which version of Linux? Welcome to the first major hurdle that many Windows users face when considering using Linux. If I were to ask someone what the latest version of Windows is, almost anyone could name Windows 10. It's true that there are a dozen different Editions of Windows 10, but for the most part, the average person would be able to work out that editions with the word Enterprise, or Workstation, or Education, are not aimed at them. If in doubt, Windows Home is a safe bet.


Not so with Linux. There are dozens and dozens of distributions, with names like Arch Linux, Mandriva, Mageia, Fedora and Debian. If you choose Ubuntu instead, would you prefer the KDE, Budgie, or Mint version? (Mint isn't an official Ubuntu distro; it's a spinoff by a third party.) Having chosen Mint, is that Mate, Xfce, or Cinnamon? For the purposes of the Linux Experiment I did some research, and also turned to my Linux-using readers to identify the most appropriate distro. The result was Linux Mint Cinnamon, the latest version of which, at the time of writing, is the just-released 19.2. So I downloaded the Linux Mint Cinnamon 19.2 64-bit ISO (1.9GB) and burned it to a DVD, because I'm old-school and I like the robust nature of optical media. But you can just as easily create a bootable USB stick. The Linux installation media, known more commonly as a LiveCD, serves an important role. It's a self-contained copy of the Mint Cinnamon 19.2 operating system which you can boot into at any time, whether try out Linux Mint, install it, or repair it.


If you're merely curious and just want to spend a bit of time messing around in the Mint Cinnamon interface, then the best choice is to boot up into Linux using the LiveCD we've created. In this environment, you can play around with Linux, and nothing is permanently added or changed on your drive, you don't risk any damage to your Windows installation or potential data loss, and you can simply reboot your PC and you're back to Windows. (Not completely true. If you perform file operations on your drives, those changes will be permanent and can cause damage.)


A more advanced, but still quite safe way to test Linux Mint relatively safely, is to use a virtual machine in Windows 10, such as by enabling the free built-in Hyper-V feature in Windows 10 Pro. The key drawback of this method is that while you can run Linux within Windows 10 in a completely isolated environment, it's a virtualised environment, which means you can't use your hardware to its full potential, so performance and functionality will not necessarily be reflective of how Linux will run natively on your system.


For the more dedicated adventurer, I recommend - and personally used for this experiment - a Linux/Windows dual boot. You can install Linux as part of a dual boot either on another partition on the same drive as Windows 10, or on another drive in your system. Once configured, this results in a text menu appearing each time you boot up or restart your system, as shown above, letting you select which OS you wish to boot into for the current session. The operating systems are isolated from each other in their own environments, however a major risk in this approach is that the Linux GRUB bootloader is now handling the bootup of both Linux and Windows. On UEFI systems, GRUB won't overwrite the Windows bootloader, so it's not as risky as before, but basically if the bootloader becomes damaged, or if the Linux installation is damaged or removed incorrectly, it can prevent you from booting into Windows too.


I'm installing Linux Mint Cinnamon on a PC that I built at the start of 2019, as chronicled in Hardware Confusion 2019. My full system specs are shown here, but of immediate relevance is the primary drive, which is a 500GB Samsung 970 Evo M2 NVMe SSD that already has my Windows 10 installation. Since my Windows 10 partition took up the entire drive, including the two additional partitions Windows 10 automatically creates during its installation (A 499MB Recovery and a 100MB EFI partition), I used the Disk Management utility in Windows to create free space on my drive for a new Linux partition. I did this as follows:


1. Open the Disk Management utility (WINDOWS+R>diskmgmt.msc)


2. Right-click on the Windows 10 partition, and select Shrink Volume.


3. Enter an amount in MB to remove from the Windows 10 partition, in effect creating free space that can be allocated to a new Linux partition. The Linux Mint Cinnamon 19.2 Minimum Requirements list 15GB free drive space, with 20GB recommended. I started off with 70GB, thinking this would be safe, but I actually needed to increase it later, which was possible, but tricky and risky. So I suggest allocating a fair bit, at least 50GB or more, to start with, just to be safe; even more if you plan on installing large games or programs.


4. Click Shrink when ready and the unallocated free space you specified should be created.


I left it at that and didn't do any further prep. I simply inserted my Linux Mint LiveCD, and rebooted my system, selecting the optical drive as my boot drive during bootup. From there, the LiveCD started to load Linux Mint Cinnamon instead of Windows 10, and after a fairly long load, the Linux desktop greeted me.



First Impressions


It's obvious from the moment you boot into Linux Mint Cinnamon that the desktop interface and basic conventions of usage have purposely been designed to be almost identical to Windows. There's the equivalent of the Start button on the bottom left corner, which opens a Start Menu clone, and yes, it has a Search box; a Taskbar, where pinned and running programs show up as icons; a Notification Area on the far right of the taskbar, with recognisable icons for Volume, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, even a small clock. The main desktop area holds icons, of which the default ones are Computer, which opens up a display of all of your connected drives; Home, which takes you to the Linux Mint equivalent of your Windows personal folders; and in this instance, an Install Linux Mint disc icon, which will commence Linux installation from the LiveCD currently residing in my optical drive.


A little bit of experimentation in this environment - remember, we're just running a Linux LiveCD right now, so any changes will be lost when we reboot - will quickly make long-time Windows users feel at home. Dragging and dropping is the same as in Windows; there are resizable windows with minimise, maximise and close buttons at the top right; there are context menus when you right-click on a variety of areas; and pressing CTRL+C will copy something, while CTRL+V will paste it. Of course there are also differences which soon become apparent, but basically, if you know your way around Windows, then you won't feel lost in Linux Mint.



The next step would be to take the plunge and install Linux.







Next button




Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict Valid CSS! Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.