It’s Time to Stop Being So Afraid of Linux

I have had several computers come in to be worked on lately where recovery disks are no longer available and the customer did not make (or have someone else make) the recovery disks when they purchased the machine. With one of these machines I was able to create the recovery CDs despite an on-slot of spyware, and then use them to restore the computer and get it going again. However, in other instances there was no chance to make the CDs and they were no longer available for the particular model of computer.

In the cases where recovery CDs are not an option the customer is left with only three choices. Pay for a new copy of Windows (often almost as much or more expensive than the computer is worth), buy a new computer, or switch over to Linux. Every single time this situation has come up the customer has opted to replace the machine because “It’s getting old anyways.” I have 3 functional computers sitting on my shelf right now collecting dust because people opt to replace and throw away their old machines, rather than utilize them.

I’m running an almost 9 year old computer on my television right now for my media center. Something someone was just getting rid of. I have used cookie-cutter machines in the past as file servers and places to back files up to until they were over 12 years old and then parted them out still working. If your problem is simply malware, and your computer needs to be formatted, it still has life in it! If you’re doing simple things with your pc, there really isn’t any reason to replace it just because you can’t justify the expense of putting windows back on it.

Linux is scary because it’s new. Trust me, it was a hard transition for me when I made it, but that had more to do with being a PC power user than anything. My life and work revolves around computers, I don’t just work on a few spreadsheets or surf the web. I’m into graphics work, video editing once in a while, programming, gaming, etc. Linux is good for all of these things, but it takes a while to learn new software and when a person is learning it all at once it feels daunting. I understand, but it’s worth it.

Linux Isn’t Always The Answer

I am not naive enough to think that Linux is “always” the answer. It’s a wonderful platform, and it’s inexpensive to use, but there are times when it’s not the place to go. For example, if you’re married to Microsoft Office and unwilling or unable to change to a different office suit, this might be a situation where you stay away from Linux. Be aware though, that LibreOffice, and OpenOffice are both solutions that effectively replace Microsoft Office and simply being comfortable with MS Office doesn’t mean you can’t change office suites. Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice will open, edit, and even save MS Office files to some degree, so if your situation isn’t “requiring” you to use MS products, change is very possible. That being said, open source office suites do things a little different and as such require some learning.

If you’re deeply addicted to your “i” devices, like your iPod or iPad Linux might not work out for you. Linux, as an open source solution, lives in stark contrast to Apples control-everything mentality. While once in a while you can find a couple tricks to make an old Apple device and Linux play nice together, it’s not often. Apple seems to have no interest in giving drivers to the Linux community. It is for this reason that I have been moving away from my much liked i-products in trade for Android devices. Apple makes great hardware, but I’m no more interested in them deciding what I can and can’t do with my hardware than I am in letting the government decide what I can do and can’t do with my house.

If you’re a major gamer, then Linux isn’t ready for you yet, but then you’re likely not running a Malware laden five year old computer either. Despite Linux not being ready for the average gamer yet, games are fast coming to Linux. I don’t think it will be long before Linux will be a viable solution for even this area of computer use. Steam is chugging ahead (pun intended) when it comes to getting game developers to support operating systems built on the Linux Kernel. Personally the two games I play the most I started playing on a Windows machine, but have since transitioned to the Linux version of them.

If you’re completely dependent on certain Windows software that can’t be replaced, like certain CAD products, or specific high-end video editing software (which would likely have you on a MAC anyways) Then Linux isn’t an answer. There are solutions for these things on the Linux platform, but in my experience those solutions are not all that ready for prime time.

Many people talk about how you can use WINE in order to use Windows applications on Linux but I’m not a fan. Can you do this? Yes you can. In some cases you can actually do it pretty well. However, in my experience more often than not it takes an outrageous amount of tinkering to get it to work right and then, in the case of games, when a patch rolls out you can find yourself tinkering for hours to get the game going again. WINE is simply, in my opinion, not a valid option for the average user.

When Linux Can Be The Answer

Linux is outstanding on new and old machines alike. If your systems is old enough that the latest and greatest stuff won’t run on it, but you’re just looking to use it for surfing the web, checking email, balancing the checkbook, and word processing, Linux is just as good, and in most cases better than Windows. Linux can literally add years to what would otherwise be a useless piece of equipment.

It’s not magic. Linux has so many options available that you can get a very mature setup that sets KDE, or GNOME desktop on top of Linux, which requires 1-2 gigs of ram to run, or you can get a stripped down distribution of Linux like Ubuntu minimal and slip a light desktop like LXDE on top of it and put a little life into a machine that has as little as 512 megs of ram (now we’re talking relatively old gear!). 512 meg machines with Linux minimum installs on them would turn into outstanding personal file servers or backup storage by simply adding a couple hard drives.

When talking about tiny installs, we’re talking about some tinker time to get things set up, and it’s not as easy and simple as I may be making it sound, but someone with a little Linux experience can get something like this setup for the average user to use as an internet or homework box for the price of some time.

KDE, and GNOME are both full blown desktops that rival Windows in terms of feature fullness. But they are heavy like Windows, and as a result run close to Windows in system requirements. XFCE tends to be a nice blend between full feature, and light weight. It’s easy enough for the average user to use, and light enough to be useful on older equipment. My wife, who is what I would consider the “average” user, is currently running Xubuntu. Xubuntu is the Ubuntu distribution with the XFCE desktop on top of it.

Xubuntu is the distribution I’d put anyone on that was making a switch from Windows 7 or earlier, to Linux. Ubuntu has a monster support community for answering questions, and the XFCE desktop is perfect for making a Windows user feel relatively at home. If a user is switching from Windows 8, a look at Gnome is in order, but on older equipment I’d still lean toward XFCE.

Adapting To Linux

As I mentioned you don’t just run Windows software on Linux, and you have to find replacements for your current application arsenal. So here are a few common applications that can replace some of the applications commonly used by Windows users.

Internet Explorer

There are many web browsers available for Linux but the first two that I’d push people toward are Firefox (available for Windows and Linux), and Chromium (Chromium is open source Chrome. Chrome is also available for both Windows and Linux.)

Price: Free

Adobe Photoshop

Annoyingly difficult to find for download purchase because they press you into buying the “cloud” subscription which costs the user $10.00 per month ($120.00/yr). This application can be replaced with GIMP. GIMP, unfortunately, does come with a monster learning curve if you’re already an experienced Photoshop user, but the number of tutorials and video how-tos on the web for GIMP is just amazing.

GIMP Price: Free

Adobe Lightroom

A great piece of software for editing pictures. Online currently it lists for $149.99. This one is quickly and easily traded out for Darktable. I have only used Lightroom a very little, and from what I gathered from a 20-30 minute use of it, is that Darktable is almost a straight drop-in replacement. Features are in different places, and things work a little differently, but they seem to stand side by side in most of their features. The major difference between them? About 150 bucks because Darktable is free.

Darktable Price: Free

MS Outlook

The last version I could find available to buy/download with a quick search was 2013 and it sells for $109.99. Again, for personal use, not integrating with your companies forced silliness, you can easily replace this with a number of applications but my top pick is Mozilla Thunderbird. Another solution is simply using web based email which I’m finding more and more people opting toward anyways.

Thunderbird Price: Free

Quicken/MS Money/Etc

Finance management packages seem to start at $30-$50 and climb quick from there. When I used to use them I found that they were loaded with “Get this ability for $$$” rather than being a complete package. They sell the concept as some sort of “only buy what you need” but what it turns out to be for me a lot of times is that I just paid money for a shell of an application that doesn’t do what I want it to do. There are once again a few different options for this area. One is that most banks offer to allow you to take care of your finances online now. Not something I’m personally a fan of, but a lot of people do it. Another is a software solution. My top pick, and believe me I’ve tried a lot of them, is KMyMoney. KMyMoney is actually part of the KDE desktop, but as always Linux is flexible and you can install this on any desktop. In addition to Linux KmyMoney is also available for Windows and Mac.

KMyMoney Price: Free

These are a few of the common computer uses and software for them. For a more extensive list you can visit this article here. This author lists 100 different applications for Linux, and the Windows applications they replace.

The bottom line is this: In the last four cases that I’ve had to restore/format a customers operating system, three of those cases did not have access to the restore disks even online. In each case the customer could have let me install Linux, and been up and running for roughly $70, but fear of the unknown resulted in them telling me to either leave it, or keep the machine, and they purchased a new computer instead. Typically a computer that is way more than what they need, but will put them in the same exact situation in 3-5 years since most of the time when a customer does this, they never make, or get made, the restore disks, and rely too heavily on anti-virus software to keep them safe.

Got more good suggestions for Linux software to replace Windows software? Leave a comment below!

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