Return of the Tux

  • 01 August 2016 | 

  • linux.

Ah, Linux. Like many Linux users, I both love and hate it. I’ve been using DOS and Windows pretty much my whole life, and first encountered Linux as a student writing C projects. We were required to use it both to get used to the system and for GCC. So I ran it for a while on an old laptop in a dual boot with Windows. I loved that it was free, open and flexible - but this was always a double-edged sword.

The main problem I had with Linux, is that it asks a great deal from the user, and I just didn’t have the patience to sit there learning a new system. (And besides, Windows ran all my games!) Fast forward to 2016 and I decided I needed to dip my toes back into the GNU/Linux world for several reasons. Firstly, it’s really something I should know: the ‘net basically runs on Linux, so it’s high-time I started to plug that little knowledge gap. Secondly, I’ve recently started down the Ruby path and their support for Windows is not good (in fact it’s complete crap). Thirdly, I’ve been considering leaving Windows for a while now and I find I have far fewer reasons to stay than I used to. I don’t play a lot of games any more, and Valve looks to be pushing towards Linux anyway. If they go, they’ll take a chunk of game development with them, so Linux’ problems as a gaming platform may well evaporate in the coming years.

Microsoft’s attitude to its customer base has become, if anything, more despicable than it used to be in the ’90s. I don’t like being spied on and I think Windows 10 is a pile of cat vomit where that’s concerned - and don’t get me started on the chicken entrails of a UI. I also don’t run any specific software that only runs on Windows anymore. Back when I was doing science, I had a number of applications that were Windows-only (yes I know about WINE, no they didn’t work), but now that that’s no longer the case, I find the umbilical holding me to Windows is really nothing more than inertia.

All this added up to a feeling of eventually running Linux exclusively when my main PC needed to be replaced, taking its Windows 7 licence with it. So I downloaded a few distros and had a play around with them to see what I liked. I have to say that since Knoppix launched the Linux Live CD idea, it’s made this so much easier. All the major distros now have a live mode so you can ‘try before you buy’ so to speak. I played around with a bunch of them and eventually decided to install Linux Mint on both my laptop and main PC in dual boot with the existing Windows installs. When I upgrade my main PC, it’ll run Linux exclusively.

So how does it fare? Well, things have changed a lot in the Linux world, and I find the user experience has improved considerably. There are still quite a few things you need to do with command line voodoo, but I used to use DOS, so CLIs don’t scare me. My issue was always that getting Linux to work, pretty much at all, required knowing all these seemingly random commands to throw at the shell. Or having to compile your own drivers to get vaguely esoteric hardware to work. Nowadays, it works extremely well out of the box, and I only find myself going to the CLI for specific nerdy things that most users wouldn’t care about. That’s a huge improvement over previous generation software. It’s so good now that I’ll probably even move my parents over when I have to rebuild their machine.

Setting up a dual boot system is a case in point. Years ago, manual faffing around with the MBR was a necessary evil to get that up and running. Now, you just boot from the USB and tell it to install side-by-side with Windows and off it goes. Of course my main PC was a little more complicated than that, as it has dedicated drives for swap and various other niggly things, but it was quite painless compared with just ten years ago.

There have been episodes of pain. It did take me two days to get Ruby installed and configured, but I found I learned some valuable lessons there. It still annoys me that I needed to know these things, but I am in it, at least partly, for the learning, aren’t I? ;)