Breaking the Windows habit

Submitted by peter on Tue, 01/21/2020 - 21:08

Windows or Linux? Which do you choose for reliability, predictability, and privacy? My choice is Linux because Microsoft changed Windows from a time saver to a time waster. My notes might help you replace Windows with something useful.

Back in the early 2000s, you may have read one of my articles comparing Windows and Linux, or you might have read one of the many articles that appeared to be based on my articles. At the time, I had Windows almost removed. Over the years, various organisations asked me to use Windows based software for specific projects. I had to work use many versions of Windows on spare computers and as a dual boot option on my notebook computer.

Here are my reasons for converting and not converting from Windows to Linux. Most of the reasons are now obsolete for most people and organisations. They might help you convert, plan an easier conversion, or run a smoother mixed environment.

NT

Of all the Windows versions, the best version was an operating system that is not really Windows. NT 4.0 was a reliable, predictable operating system with a Windows Graphical User Interface on the front. The approach is similar to Apple using NetBDS, adding the Macintosh GUI on the front, and labelling the result OS X.

NT had almost everything I wanted. I installed NT without Internet Explorer as IE reduces NT to the level of Windows 95. With IE installed, NT crashed twice per day, which is exactly what Windows 95 used to do. Without IE installed, NT ran 6 months or more without a crash. In fact the only crashes in the last year of use were due to a failed disk drive and a failed CPU fan.

NT would have been a strong contender against Linux if Microsoft had not damaged NT by infecting NT with Windows.

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 was an obvious choice for many businesses. The upgrade licence cost from earlier versions of Windows was not important and the upgrade just worked. A change of operating system back then required somewhere from 20 hours of retraining up to a 100 or more hours, a cost far greater than the upgrade cost.

Unfortunately Internet Explorer made Windows 2000 crash twice a day. Many people gave up on Windows and switched to Linux or the Apple version of Unix.

XP

Windows XP worked but had USB support limited/removed as a way to force you to upgrade. Millions of people simply ignored USB because that was easier than an upgrade. If Microsoft wanted to keep people using Windows, they would have developed USB support in XP then made their next version of Windows better. People upgrade their operating system when there is a real benefit, not just an Apple style feature lockout.

I used XP for a while on some machines when USB was only USB 1 for keyboards and mice. USB 2 made USB useful for real work. I dumped XP for a mixture of Linux and some dual booting of more modern versions of Windows.

Windows 7

Windows went from XP to the disastrous Vista then to version 7. Windows 7 was actually usable. If a notebook had windows 7 installed, I often left 7 in place and installed OpenOffice to replace Microsoft Office, Thunderbird to replace Outlook, and open source to replace everything else except Publisher or Microsoft Project.

Windows 8.1

Microsoft did something stupid and called it Windows 8. They then woke up and released Windows 7 under the name Windows 8.1. Any time I found windows 8, I upgraded it to Linux or Windows 8.1 or Windows 7. Microsoft Publisher was made obsolete by ProjectLibre about this time. Many users required dual boot purely because they needed Publisher or a Windows based game.

Windows 10

Windows 10 is a painful disaster worse than Vista. There is only one reason to use Windows 10. You have a brand new computer and have not yet converted your Microsoft Publisher files to Scribus. Windows 10 can die when Scribus finally imports all Publisher files. While you are waiting for a Scribus update, you have to buy a specific version of Publisher to use Publisher in Windows 10.

Linux

I use Linux every day for Web servers, desktops, notebooks, and other tasks. For a long time, my network was managed and protected by a solid state device running Linux. The little box has no disk, no fan, keyboard, or screen, just a Web interface I accessed across the network.

Each new release of Linux goes on my test machine to see if Linux is ready to replace whatever version of Windows is running on the latest hardware. Occasionally a weird new hardware chip delays Linux use for a few months. The next decisions are how and when to upgrade from Windows to Linux.

Retraining staff from Windows to Linux is a problem directly related to the number and type of applications each person uses. If the retraining from Windows to Linux is counted as 10 units of time, the conversion from Microsoft Word to a Linux equivalent is another 10 units. Some applications will require fewer units of time. Count the applications you use then work out the time.

Some computers have over 60 applications. Retraining someone 60 times in one hit is too painful. The better approach is to replace the Windows applications one at a time with the free open source equivalents on Window. When the user is happy with all the new applications, simply replace Windows with Linux.

Individual applications offer varying levels of complexity. I used to write applications using Excel macros and Word scripts. Converting from Word or Excel to something else in 10 units of time does not cover Word scripts or Excel macros. The conversion could cost 100 units when people use the most advanced features of the more complex applications. I used those features frequently and would have faced a 1,000 unit cost of conversion if I had not planned the conversion in advance.

In the case of Excel macros, many of them were replaced by other applications or new functions in later releases of Excel then LibreOffice Calc.

Application Conversion

Replace individual applications with open source platform independent applications as fast as the users can adjust. That lets your users switch one application at a time or in a group, such as Office. LibreOffice works as well on Windows as it does on Linux. I have easily replaced about 18 of the 20 most common applications with open source software.

License Solution

On one occasion, I replaced a 40 GB system disk with 120 GB disk because the new disk was faster. During the system rebuild, I could not be bothered looking for all the proprietary software licence keys. I decided it was easier to first replace some propriety applications with their free open source equivalents than to find the licence key for every application.

Some proprietary products make system replacements easy, you just copy one configuration file from the old system to the new system. Many applications are far harder to transfer and do some really stupid things to stop you making a legitimate move to e new disk. I upgrade at least once per year so I have plenty of practice with upgrades. If a product creates the slightest upgrade problem, I dump the product.

You can reduce license management headaches by either replacing proprietary products with open source products or by using the threat to switch to open source products as a way to negotiate easier licence conditions from your current supplier.

Linux Distributions

By now you are ready to experiment with Linux. Linux is available in many distributions. A long time ago, the Suse distribution of Linux was popular because you could buy a CD configured for workstations or a different CD for servers. Now all distributions of Linux are ready to download, to be placed on a USB memory stick, ready for you to test before you decide. Try as many as you like.

There are dozens of Linux distributions. Choose the one that best suits your needs. If there is not a current distribution that is an exact fit, choose the one with the easiest interface and a good support forum. You can then install the missing bits. I recommend you start with Linux Mint, linuxmint.com, and their Cinnamon edition.

Dual boot

I do not recommend dual boot systems because rebooting between applications is a waste of time. Dual booting is useful mainly for a transition period when you need to run applications from both operating systems. If you do decide to use dual boot, Linux Mint can install along side Windows. Windows refuses to install along side Linux. Install Windows first then add Linux.

Virtual machines

Virtual machine software is another approach. Virtual machine software does not care which version of Linux you use, so long as you can configure disk partitions the right way. You load up one or more versions of Windows and distributions of Linux at the same time. Clearly you will need a lot more memory to run two of everything at once. You might choose this option when developing an application for several operating systems.

Free open source cross platform software

Converting to operating system independent applications is a better approach than dual boot or virtual machine systems. You load only one copy of an application and you change just one application at a time.

Potential problems with the conversion

The Linux and Unix worlds are full of claims made on misleading information. Unix users talk about Unix servers running for years without a single reboot. They do not tell you that the machine is running one application unchanged throughout the years and that the same thing happened with other operating systems before Unix. The life of a single boot was limited only by hardware reliability. If you work in a static environment, under utilise an overpowered machine, and totally enclose the machine in a protected environment, you get the same results with most operating systems, including Windows.

In the real world, it is often applications that chew up all the memory and create the disasters. Rotating disks break faster than SSDs but SSDs are expensive, which makes some people use disks that are too small, leading to crashes. You want a machine that can run the applications without choking.

The main problem with Linux is the new hardware chip. Chip manufacturers create drivers for Windows before releasing a chip. Linux support might lag behind Windows for three to six months. As an example, you might buy a brand new computer and not be able to use the wireless connection for a few months.

Plan Ahead

Planning is one service I provide. If I am not available then keep a step ahead of software releases by subscribing to announcement notices for all the products of interest to you. Set up a test system and test each release. Send feedback to the software developers. Tell them what works, what does not work, and the things you need that are not yet implemented.

You can test all the major distributions of Linux by booting the distribution from a USB memory stick. Read their instructions for creating a "live boot". You can then test almost everything without changing the operating system on your computer.

Visit the support forums for each distribution of Linux and the open source applications you are about to use. Ask questions on the forums when in doubt. See if you understand the response.

Conclusion

The easiest way to convert from Windows to Linux is to start by converting one application at a time on Windows. Replace each Windows specific product with an open source cross platform product. After one or two years, you can switch the underlying operating system without having to change applications.