The politics of the Linux desktop

If you're working in open source, why would you use anything but Linux as your main desktop?
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At some point in 1997 or 1998—history does not record exactly when—I made the leap from Windows to the Linux desktop. I went through quite a few distributions, from Red Hat to SUSE to Slackware, then Debian, Debian Experimental, and (for a long time thereafter) Ubuntu. When I accepted a role at Red Hat, I moved to Fedora, and migrated both my kids (then 9 and 11) to Fedora as well.

For a few years, I kept Windows as a dual-boot option, and then realised that, if I was going to commit to Linux, then I ought to go for it properly. In losing Windows, I didn't miss much; there were a few games that I couldn't play, but it was around the time that the Civilization franchise was embracing Linux, so that kept me happy.

The move to Linux wasn't plain sailing, by any stretch of the imagination. If you wanted to use fairly new hardware in the early days, you had to first ensure that there were any drivers for Linux, then learn how to compile and install them. If they were not quite my friends, lsmod and modprobe became at least close companions. I taught myself to compile a kernel and tweak the options to make use of (sometimes disastrous) new, "EXPERIMENTAL" features as they came out. Early on, I learned the lesson that you should always keep at least one kernel in your LILO list that you were sure booted fully. I cursed NVidia and grew horrified by SCSI. I flirted with early journalling filesystem options and tried to work out whether the different preempt parameters made any noticeable difference to my user experience or not. I began to accept that printers would never print—and then they started to. I discovered that the Bluetooth stack suddenly started to connect to things.

Over the years, using Linux moved from being an uphill struggle to something that just worked. I moved my mother-in-law and then my father over to Linux so I could help administer their machines. And then I moved them off Linux so they could no longer ask me to help administer their machines.

Over the years, using Linux moved from being an uphill struggle to something that just worked.
It wasn't just at home, either: I decided that I would use Linux as my desktop for work, as well. I even made it a condition of employment for at least one role. Linux desktop support in the workplace caused different sets of problems. The first was the "well, you're on your own: we're not going to support you" email from IT support. VPNs were touch and go, but in the end, usually go.

The biggest hurdle was Microsoft Office, until I discovered CrossOver, which I bought with my own money, and which allowed me to run company-issued copies of Word, PowerPoint, and the rest on my Linux desktop. Fonts were sometimes a problem, and one company I worked for required Microsoft Lync. For this, and for a few other applications, I would sometimes have to run a Windows virtual machine (VM) on my Linux desktop.  Was this a cop out?  Well, a little bit: but I've always tried to restrict my usage of this approach to the bare minimum.

But why?

"Why?" colleagues would ask. "Why do you bother? Why not just run Windows?"

"Because I enjoy pain," was usually my initial answer, and then the more honest, "because of the principle of the thing."

So this is it: I believe in open source. We have a number of very, very good desktop-compatible distributions these days, and most of the time they just work. If you use well-known or supported hardware, they're likely to "just work" pretty much as well as the two obvious alternatives, Windows or Mac. And they just work because many people have put much time into using them, testing them, and improving them. So it's not a case of why wouldn't I use Windows or Mac, but why would I ever consider not using Linux? If, as I do, you believe in open source, and particularly if you work within the open source community or are employed by an open source organisation, I struggle to see why you would even consider not using Linux.

So it's not a case of why wouldn't I use Windows or Mac, but why would I ever consider not using Linux?
I've spoken to people about this (of course I have), and here are the most common reasons—or excuses—I've heard.
  1. I'm more productive on Windows/Mac.
  2. I can't use app X on Linux, and I need it for my job.
  3. I can't game on Linux.
  4. It's what our customers use, so why we would alienate them?
  5. "Open" means choice, and I prefer a proprietary desktop, so I use that.

Interestingly, I don't hear "Linux isn't good enough" much anymore, because it's manifestly untrue, and I can show that my own experience—and that of many colleagues—belies that.

Rebuttals

If you believe in open source, then I contest that you should take the time to learn how to use a Linux desktop and the associated applications.
Let's go through those answers and rebut them.
  1. I'm more productive on Windows/Mac. I'm sure you are. Anyone is more productive when they're using a platform or a system they're used to. If you believe in open source, then I contest that you should take the time to learn how to use a Linux desktop and the associated applications. If you're working for an open source organisation, they'll probably help you along, and you're unlikely to find you're much less productive in the long term. And, you know what? If you are less productive in the long term, then get in touch with the maintainers of the apps that are causing you to be less productive and help improve them. You don't have to be a coder. You could submit bug reports, suggest improvements, write documentation, or just test the most recent versions of the software. And then you're helping yourself and the rest of the community. Welcome to open source.
  1. I can't use app X on Linux, and I need it for my job. This may be true. But it's probably less true than you think. The people most often saying this with conviction are audio, video, or graphics experts. It was certainly the case for many years that Linux lagged behind in those areas, but have a look and see what the other options are. And try them, even if they're not perfect, and see how you can improve them. Alternatively, use a VM for that particular app.
  1. I can't game on Linux. Well, you probably can, but not all the games that you enjoy. This, to be clear, shouldn't really be an excuse not to use Linux for most of what you do. It might be a reason to keep a dual-boot system or to do what I did (after much soul-searching) and buy a games console (because Elite Dangerous really doesn't work on Linux, more's the pity). It should also be an excuse to lobby for your favourite games to be ported to Linux.
  1. It's what our customers use, so why would we alienate them? I don't get this one. Does Microsoft ban visitors with Macs from their buildings? Does Apple ban Windows users? Does Google allow non-Android phones through their doors? You don't kowtow to the majority when you're the little guy or gal; if you're working in open source, surely you should be proud of that. You're not going to alienate your customer—you're really not.
  1. "Open" means choice, and I prefer a proprietary desktop, so I use that. Being open certainly does mean you have a choice. You made that choice by working in open source. For many, including me, that's a moral and philosophical choice. Saying you embrace open source, but rejecting it in practice seems mealy mouthed, even insulting. Using openness to justify your choice is the wrong approach. Saying "I prefer a proprietary desktop, and company policy allows me to do so" is better. I don't agree with your decision, but at least you're not using the principle of openness to justify it.

Is using open source easy? Not always. But it's getting easier. I think that we should stand up for what we believe in, and if you're reading Opensource.com, then you probably believe in open source. And that, I believe, means that you should run Linux as your main desktop.

Note: I welcome comments, and would love to hear different points of view. I would ask that comments don't just list application X or application Y as not working on Linux. I concede that not all apps do. I'm more interested in justifications that I haven't covered above, or (perceived) flaws in my argument. Oh, and support for it, of course.

Tags
I've been in and around Open Source since around 1997, and have been running (GNU) Linux as my main desktop at home and work since then: not always easy...  I'm a security bod and architect, co-founder of the Enarx project, and am currently CEO of a start-up in the Confi

61 Comments

At home, I've only ever used Linux. I didn't own a PC until 2001, but having been an Unix sysadmin for 15 years (AIX, HP/UX and SCO) it was the obvious choice. I've never had a problem.

Where I work now, it has always been Windows; 7 and now 10. It never fails to amaze me just how primitive the Windows interface is. Where are the multiple desktops? Where is the ability to login more than once and retain access to the open session? What is this ctrl/c ctrl/v nonsense? (On Linux I highlight text, move mouse, click and it is pasted in.) There are many other annoyances too.

Anyway, my employer has supplied me with a Window box and that's what I have to use. It doesn't mean I have to use M$ software though. I run OpenOffice rather than M$ Office and I have few problems. I run Cygwin, because the W10 find is unreliable (Cygwin gives you grep). I run Chrome & Firefox rather than IE and Edge.

IE/Edge causes us real problems. I work in a sixth form college and the MIS system only works correctly in IE, so when a user logs on, they are presented with IE displaying our Intranet. The problem is many websites the teachers use don't work in IE. Our own Moodle (which is used extensively) doesn't work either. The teachers have accepted that we break 50% of the internet just so the MIS system works for them. They regularly phone to say "Moodle is having problems". I ask "Are you using IE?" and then say "I know, use Chrome" and carry on.

I don't work in open source so it might not be applicable, but the major hurdle I have encountered through several employers is that you get a standardized, company issued pc preloaded with Windows and all applications. The argument being security issues, better collaboration and more cost efficient with a standard platform for all. I do not agree with those arguments, but that's the common objection I get when wanting to run Linux on my work computer.

I use Linux all the time and have for years. My job is writing code that runs on Linux.
So here let me show you where you are wrong.
"I'm more productive on Windows/Mac. I'm sure you are. Anyone is more productive when they're using a platform or a system they're used to. If you believe in open source, then I contest that you should take the time to learn how to use a Linux desktop and the associated applications. "
Why? What benefit do I get? At one company I worked at we had customers using the DOS version of our software for 10 years after we released the windows version. Why you might ask. It did everything they need to do their work. When software is a tool you use to do work you do not just learn a new system to learn a new system it has to be better.

2. "I can't use app X on Linux, and I need it for my job. This may be true. But it's probably less true than you think. The people most often saying this with conviction are audio, video, or graphics experts."

No you are wrong. My wife loves GIMP but uses Photoshop because it is better. You will also not find a CAD program for Linux as good as Solidworks. Then you have all those vertical market programs the everyone from mechanics to court reporters, to Storage Building owners use everyday that are just not available on Linux. Then you have all those must have utilities that every big company has written in VB or goodness only knows that only run on Windows. At work I have a Linux box and a Windows Laptop. I have to use the laptop for Skype for Business and Office. Your final reply to this is
"Alternatively, use a VM for that particular app." So why run Linux?

3. "I can't game on Linux. Well, you probably can, but not all the games that you enjoy. This, to be clear, shouldn't really be an excuse not to use Linux for most of what you do."
What if most of what you do is game? Really why deal with two OSs if you do not have to?

4."It's what our customers use, so why would we alienate them? I don't get this one. "
Here let me explain it. I worked for a company that produced vertical market court reporting software. Our customers used DOS and latter windows. It would be dumb to tell them "You need to install and use Linux to use our product." We used Linux for our servers in the office but writing our software to be a Linux only product? Are you nuts?
5. ""Open" means choice, and I prefer a proprietary desktop, so I use that. Being open certainly does mean you have a choice. You made that choice by working in open source. For many, including me, that's a moral and philosophical choice. "
NO! It is not a moral choice. You using FOSS or not using FOSS does not effect anyone but you. Philosophical choice? Sure but do not mix up morality with your choice of software.
Here are some examples of moral choices: Spending days off helping with recovery from the hurricanes, spending days off packing food for children in PR, helping clean up at a food kitchen, donating school supplies to children in need. compare those acts to "I installed Mint as a dual boot".

As I said I use Linux, Windows, Android, and OSX everyday. Linux is good enough for a lot of people to use as a daily driver but the question becomes why? I use it because the project I am on uses it and I use it at home because I like it. I also use OSX because I really like my macbook and the OS is really nice. I use Linux at home because I have for years and I like it.You are coming at this in a very odd and twisted point of view. You seem to think that that people should us Linux because it is some moral imperative and that they should overcome the obstetrical to using it.
It is a tool and for many applications a great one. It is not a moral imperative.
Let's restart this discussion from a realistic point of view.
I have a working Windows computer that I use for Facebook, watching digital media, and keeping my pictures and videos organized. Why should I use Linux instead?

Many of your points come down to what seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion: that the choice to use Linux is a moral one. If you believe this, then using Linux and open source, even when there are (currently) better alternatives is a path towards _improving_ the existing O/S and apps so that they're on par with the proprietary versions.

And I affirm that it _is_ a moral choice. When you use and contribute to open source software (whether FOSS or not), you're benefitting not just yourself, but the community, and the world at large, who get more choice, more openness, and can (maybe) pay less to vendors who lock them in.

"I installed Mint as a dual boot", is a step, but not a big one. "I installed Mint, used it, submitted bug reports for the O/S and applications, provided documentation, translations and a couple of patches": _that's_ an act that benefits the community and the commonwealth (https://opensource.com/article/17/11/commonwealth-open-source). And there's nothing to stop you volunteering at the same time - and using a Linux desktop while you do. :-)

(Just an explanation - on the "alienating customers" point, what I meant what was not that we should force people to use an O/S that doesn't work for them, but that we shouldn't use what _they_ use just to keep them happy.)

In reply to by lwatcdr (not verified)

You say it's the moral choice, Mike, but the implication is that people who choose differently are immoral in your opinion. And there are people who think you and Red Hat are not making the moral choice by referring to "Open Source" and not "Free Software". How do you counter their argument other than with the pragmatism you criticize from your own standpoint?

In reply to by Mike Bursell

I'd argue that morality isn't binary. As someone else pointed out in the comments, they've made an ideological choice. I have too, but I see that as moving into a moral dimension.

Also, don't forget my starting point: I work in open source. I think that colours my view of what appropriate moral choices I can make.

[NB: I'm speaking from my own view point here, and my views may not represent those of Red Hat as a company.] As to the point about FOSS vs Open Source, yes I get it. However: everything that Red Hat produces we push upstream. That means that you can have it for free if you wish. The vast majority of Red Hat customers, I believe, pay because they want a supported, enterprise offering. I have no problem with that.

In reply to by Justin Flude (not verified)

"Why? What benefit do I get? At one company I worked at we had customers using the DOS version of our software for 10 years after we released the windows version. Why you might ask. It did everything they need to do their work. When software is a tool you use to do work you do not just learn a new system to learn a new system it has to be better."

First, the author meant simply that people are used to what they're used to, and that GNU/Linux has this too.

But also, about what you said, there is a "why?" besides politics. Windows 10 has major issues like the forced update model. Forced updates chain me to a proprietary company in that case, and considering the rolling nature of W10, is a bane to my existence on Windows. I like control.

And for typical users, they have more convenience. Linux problems are a bit more likely to require a terminal (despite the addition of various GUI interfaces for lots of elements), but they have a sense of simplicity, and tech support is easier via SSH. Windows has infamously arcane GUIs that make the Terminal look easier, like trying to look for logs and having to create a log view file to read a log, instead of reading a log file. And Windows has maintenance stuff like defragging, "Windows rot," drivers, and other little stuff. Virus protection is also more required, than being a simple OCD thing in GNU/Linux, though Windows in general isn't as bad in this regard.

And there's Unix-like only programs too, like the dead simple Transmission Torrent tool.

So GNU/Linux can be more convenient in many cases.

"No you are wrong. My wife loves GIMP but uses Photoshop because it is better. You will also not find a CAD program for Linux as good as Solidworks. Then you have all those vertical market programs the everyone from mechanics to court reporters, to Storage Building owners use everyday that are just not available on Linux. Then you have all those must have utilities that every big company has written in VB or goodness only knows that only run on Windows. At work I have a Linux box and a Windows Laptop. I have to use the laptop for Skype for Business and Office."

Blame companies, and the fact they often have a monopoly. But it isn't always that, which was the author's point. Some open source programs are excellent, like Krita. This is a bit of a problem in general though until the formats are reverse engineered, and GNU/Linux guys become more interested in such tools than "yet another i3-like WM."

"What if most of what you do is game? Really why deal with two OSs if you do not have to?"

I often only game, watch YouTube, use Reddit, and so on. And I got loads of games on GNU/Linux. Some older titles like Half-Life 2, Empire: Total War, and KOTOR II, and more recent stuff like Hyper Light Drifter, Rocket League, and The Long Dark. I even have a JRPG, Disgaea 2, and that's a genre typically rare on PC, let alone GNU/Linux. Even some open source games are fun, like Lugaru, 0 AD, and Jedi Academy. I'd think it's better than consoles if you love variety, experimentation, and PC-focused genres. GNU/Linux is a viable gaming platform. The only major justification for Windows/console is big budget titles, and be honest with you, they have been crap in recent years. EA BFII lootboxes anyone?

"NO! It is not a moral choice. You using FOSS or not using FOSS does not effect anyone but you. Philosophical choice? Sure but do not mix up morality with your choice of software.
Here are some examples of moral choices: Spending days off helping with recovery from the hurricanes, spending days off packing food for children in PR, helping clean up at a food kitchen, donating school supplies to children in need. compare those acts to "I installed Mint as a dual boot"."

The typical "computer stuff doesn't matter" argument. Computers are likely the biggest thing since the printing press. Allowing the people to control it would be a huge boon in society. People now are enslaved by proprietary computers, where Android is swallowed by Google, and Windows is a near-monopoly. And when you got various industries dependent on Windows, it's terrifying for our future.

In fact, it might be more moral. Giving food to children only feeds them a day. You might give them hope one day, and the next day they got nothing, and starve. The most beneficial stuff lasts, like teaching adults to fish, rather than give them fish. Computers is another example.

In reply to by lwatcdr (not verified)

I do understand your comments in the context of developed economies like Europe/North Americal. However, please have a look at this article:
http://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/2018/01/15/barcelona-moving-linux-n…
In developing countries like Bangladesh, where essential services like government schools and hospitals are massively underfunded, avoiding unnecessary expenditure on MS software licenses is indeed a moral issue. Every penny saved by migrating to Linux can be put to better use eliminating illiteracy, providing life-saving vaccinations, etc.

In reply to by lwatcdr (not verified)

Great post. Twelve years Linux convert from the Mac at home (still stuck on Windows at work), and much of this resonates.

I'm still stuck at #2 though. For me this hurts the most in the area of audio production. Things have gotten much better in recent years, thanks in large part to the KXStudio project and the maturation of Ardour and some other key applications. Still, there are lots of tools that are MIA or sub-par compared to what is available on commercial platforms (and I hate to say that because I know there are people working quite hard on these things).

Basically, I can make it work because I am committed, but the drawback is that I am working like I did in 1999 on my Mac while the audio ecosystems of the commercial OS's have developed at a rapid pace.

This is true for other areas as well. We have lots of "alternatives" but few "equivalents". For example, Inkscape is a viable alternative to Illustrator for the layperson, but no professional designer would call it a true equivalent.

Basically, Linux itself has matured to a point of near-perfection (an area that seems to consume the most interest from developers, since we have a dozen solid DEs and 100s of distros) but we are not there yet with the rest of ecosystem.

I am stubborn enough to use Linux for many of the same reasons you are, but for the average computer user who wants to create something that's not code, what is the appeal of running the best OS if they are hobbled by a lack of competitive tools once they've logged in? For me, I care about open source, and that's why I use Linux. But there is a price to pay.

Imagine if there was an open source DAW or a video editor or an office suite that was actually superior to a commercial offering! Superior in a way besides license and cost. Something easier to use instead of harder. Something that generated a higher quality output than the commercial equivalent. Then we'd make some new friends.

It's kind of like we've built the most amazing hotel lobby in the history of the world but forgot to add any rooms or amenities to attract the guests.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I mentioned audio because I know it's one of the areas where there are still problems. One thing that's not clear from your comment is whether you participate in any open source projects around audio to help make them better? That would seem to be an obvious next step to improve your (and others!) experience.

In reply to by Flo Naise (not verified)

I would beg to differ on the Illustrator v. Inkscape point, as a professional designer. Yes, the CMYK/Pantone workflow is wacky, but the basics of node editing in Inkscape v. Illustrator are *so* much more intuitive. Another common deficiency I've been pointed to is gradient mesh - while Inkscape has had in experimental mode foe some years it's now stable and no longer experimental. Illustrator involves holding down a ctrl key and iterating through what I call mystery meat node tool selection. Inkscape's node controls are explicit and laid out on the toolbar and easier to learn. This is rather fundamental.

Inkscape has innovations like Spiro (https://forums.adobe.com/thread/1018958), an intuitive and in some contexts superior vector drawing method to Bezier, innovated in open source FontForge and adopted by Inkscape. Another cool one - power stroke - at least the last I used it, Illustrator didnt have the feature.

I wont talk about creative cloud. :-)

In reply to by Flo Naise (not verified)

I share almost your history. Linux help' me to become a better IT. Now I rarely use Windows for testing, at work and at home. As you, I do all I need with Linux, both professional and personal

I've been using Linux almost exclusively as long as you have, starting with Corel Linux and always running Debian-based distros except for a brief (horrendous) foray into CentOS. But that machine is still happily running CentOS 5, because I never could figure out how to upgrade it...

I've been through everything you mention, but take exception to "You don't have to be a coder. You could submit bug reports, suggest improvements, write documentation, or just test the most recent versions of the software."

Right... You _do_ have to be a coder, because in my experience if you're not prepared to submit patches, the devs are _not_ interested in your opinion. I must still have at least a half-dozen open bug reports against kde-pim--and I stopped using that about 10 years ago! I still get the occasional update from the bug-tracker, though.

But last month, my wife was having trouble with her media centre. We work thousands of miles apart, so we don't see a lot of each other. I'd installed OpenElec on an old machine to let her play her music and DVDs. She decided she wanted YouTube, and couldn't manage to install the Kodi plugin via my emailed instructions. So she asked a guy at work. He gave her an Ubuntu install disc, and she replace OpenElec with a full OS.

Now, what the hell does she need me for? At least she was never able to install Windows on her own...

Derek - I get your point about being a coder, but I think it depends on the project. In most projects, you're certainly more _likely_ to be able to contribute if you code, but for many, there should still be ways to be involved if you're not.

In reply to by Derek Broughton (not verified)

I work in the Windows team of a big German university's IT department, responsible for the university administration. I use Linux on my desktop computers and FreeBSD for most servers (except from some license servers for proprietary software used by the university administration, which require Windows Server, and some Windows infrastructure like WSUS). I test Windows programs in VMs and generally try to keep my contact to any kind of Windows UI at a minimum. It works better than you would expect from somebody who's administrating a medium sized (~1000 computers) Windows network. The use of Linux and FreeBSD has allowed me to automate a huge part of my work. Every time I have to fix some weird Windows Update Error 0xDEADBEEF I'm glad 15 minutes later I'll be back to my carefully customized Plasma desktop and set of cronjobs and shell scripts. Linux and FreeBSD just work.

Used linux on my main pc for over a decade. First moved to ubuntu after trying a few for the simple reason that i was sick of waiting; waiting for apps to load, popup menus, file explorer. I mean every single action meant waiting. Whereas linux has always been really snappy, even on cheap laptops.

Hello Mike,

I really enjoyed reading your article, maybe I can provide some useful applications for your desktop:

* Thunderbird + Lightning + Exchange EWS Provider available at https://github.com/Ericsson/exchangecalendar/wiki/Exchange-EWS-Provider
or the Evolution app for Exchange groupware communication

* Pidgin - OpenSource
or "Sky for Linux" available at https://tel.red/linux.php (not OpenSource, there's a yearly fee, but it works great) as an alternative for Lync/Skype4Business Windows clients.

Best regards,
Kurt

"I'm more productive on Windows/Mac"
For the most part windows just works, plain and simple. Linux is better than it was but still not good enough in comparison.

"I can't use app X on Linux"
Sometimes there is a immitation of "app X" on linux but almost always it PALES in comparison.... I have yet to try and use Inkscape for example and NOT get infuriated at something. For end-user quality you NEED proprietary here and there because it encourages the devs to actually focus on good GUI's... by far the MOST end users only goto cmd as last resort and no amount of pseudo-relegious evangalism will ever change that.

"I can't game on Linux" The Civilization linux ports are terrible and generally incompatible with mods, the same is true for the majority of ports. Consoles are the devil and FPS or RTS with a controller is heresy. Buying a console is worse than using windows because it gives you LESS choices in the long run. Most of the tools for modding games only work on windows as well with a extreme minority having hamfisted linux versions.... and then there is GoG's insanely backwards inability to seperately distribute asset bundles from executables making for having to download the whole thing seperately for linux and windows.

....and VM's are a TERRIBLE answer for using anything but the lightest apps/games and makes you HAVE to have a virtual instal of windows anyway.

My response to your first two comments is - well, get involved in projects, and make them better.

The third one - well, I'm happy with Civ5 on Steam, but maybe that's me. But gaming _is_ one of those difficult ones. Dual-booting is an option...

VMs are terrible for anything but the lightest apps: yes. They're a last resort.

In reply to by rambo919 (not verified)

Great article Mike. What about developers focus more on common OS for their apps as an excuse?
Like now, I have been interested in trading but almost all the desktop software are made either for Windows or Mac and it seen
Ma hard to find one that work well. Any idea or suggestion from anyone?

I have Windows on a VM, and it works fine -- you have to give it enough space I guess. I gave up dual-booting long ago. About the only essential thing I do with it is my taxes. I used to copy things onto disks to transfer files but then realized I could use ssh/sftp, which works without problems.

"I'm more productive on Windows/Mac."
I have experience of one case where Linux forced an increase in productivity. A decade ago I worked in a school as IT support, and the science department were using a simulated physics experiment package on Windows 98 machines. The software was very old, but still useful. The machines were very slow, but good enough for this.

There was one experiment which caused the box to BSOD and the students would run it so they could spend 10 minutes chatting to their friend while the box rebooted. For reasons that I can't remember we installed Fedora 9 on the boxes and ran the physics software with Wine. When the students tried to run the BSOD experiment, the program continued to run. That particular experiment didn't display anything but the students could access the menu and run the experiment that the teacher wanted. We in the IT dept were not that popular among students!

Those who work for a F/OSS company are generally expected to use a F/OSS system of some sort. I had heard that at Red Hat, if you *didn't* use GNU/Linux, you would not remain employed for long unless you had a very strong business justification for something proprietary (e. g. a Cygwin developer or tester). Even Microsoft has always said, "we've gotta eat our own dog food."

I have been "Microsoft Free Since 2003" at home. At work (a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft shop), I switched to Kubuntu "Dapper Drake" with the Ximian Evolution plug-in for MS Exchange Server. For office productivity, I used OpenOffice.org. Nobody else knew I was using anything different from Microsoft Windows.

Over the years, the hardware situation has indeed gotten much better. It helps that I avoid nVidious--and to a lesser extent, Broad-con--like the plague and instead use hardware vendors that respect my Free Software platform, and there are many.

Unfortunately, the Microsoft folks are now pushing things like Lync and Skype for Business, which use proprietary protocols. They're still trying that ol' vendor lock-in. To my knowledge, none of the Skype protocols are openly published yet.

Why do I use GNU/Linux? It's based on principle. Not only does it work very well for me, but I have something I'll never have with either Microsoft or Apple: liberty. Apple and Microsoft want to force me to do what *they* want me to do. GNU/Linux does not; it respects my freedom.

People are free to use whatever they want. If you prefer something other than GNU/Linux, fine; go for it. I, having the same freedom, *do* choose to use, and actively advocate for the use of, GNU/Linux.

--SYG

Some of the very few reason I have to use windows are firmware/bios updates to systems I use. For my personal use I try to find hardware that I can update the firmware/bios either without an OS or I can do it with Linux (Centos or Ubuntu). However I have ran into some hardware that I had no other choice. In those cases I have to even though I don't want to. At work I have to use Windows because of firm policy, but I hardly ever use it for work most of my work is performed on a Linux box then I find a way to share that info to my Windows box.

I don't like the lack of Privacy and Control on Windows system. Even when you buy Windows you never really feel like you are in control of your system. I hate that feeling. If I have to put up with that on my Android phone or iPhone, I should and won't put up with it from my System Desktop OS. For me using Linux is freedom (Libre) to do what I want to do. Just like in Life freedom is messy, sometimes there are no clean cut answers, sometimes you are all alone, sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeve and figure it out (Though over the years I had to do less and less of it because it just works). I have the freedom to run my own DNS/DHCP server, my own NTP server, my own firewalls, File storage system, I have the freedom to log an analyze my own data, monitor my own network, run my own web-server, and run my own VMs without spending a fortune on server software that only allows me to do very few of the above, or restricts me to certain limits. I rather be Free than be force to use something that restricts me or spies on me.

I use Linux because of principle and I have Learned to be vastly more productive on it than Windows or Mac. I have my Wife, and my Children working on Linux on a day today basis, the only windows box I have is a VM that is hardly ever touched.

These days, the choice of endpoint is becoming irrelevant. With SaaS apps like Google Apps, Office365, Slack, LinkedIn, etc, people use their phone, tablets, laptops and desktops to access these cloud-hosted apps through their browsers. For other apps that require offline or intense graphics processing, dedicated apps become the choice. Thus, the dominance of certain apps like office productivity (MS Office), creative (Adobe) or CAD/CAM (Autodesk).

I do use Ubuntu/LinuxMint on may laptops/desktops due to the preference for Freedom (in choice) and the availability of powerful apps like LibreOffice, Gimp, Keepass, etc. For other apps, the SaaS apps make up for lack of the desktop app counterparts.

I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments. It's really interesting to see different points of view, and even if we don't all agree, engaging in friendly discussion is a Good Thing[tm].

One thing to potentially keep in mind in terms of software is that Wine is pretty good these days. And most applications are less demanding than the games Wine tends to focus on, so I suspect a lot of more "productivity" type apps are likely to run pretty well in Wine.
In fact these days, really old Windows programs may run better in Wine than in modern Windows, which has been gradually losing compatibility with earlier versions.

>It's what our customers use, so why would we alienate them? I don't get this one. Does Microsoft ban visitors with Macs from their buildings?

At least some companies used to be a lot more doctrinaire about this sort of thing. Maybe not customers so much--after all, they're the ones with the checkbooks. But suppliers and so forth. (I've heard Michael Dell stories for example.) When I was an analyst we used Fujitsu laptops in large part because it was was less of a competitor-in-their-face brand for our system clients than using Thinkpads (while they were IBM) would have been.

Today, anecdotally, things are a lot looser. Macs may be a major reason. There are certainly plenty of them around many open source companies and developers. I even know people at Microsoft who use Macs even though they have no particular need to do so.

I would argue that, along with general maturity, Linux is a lot better today for many people because many of us just don't need a desktop computer very much. I probably spend 95% of my day in a browser and most of the rest is in programs like audio and text editors for which Linux works just fine.

Your path is in a lot of ways similar to mine. Back in the mid 90's, I was doing large scale computations on networks of (mostly) Sun workstations, and managing the (Duke Physics Department) TCP/IP network and servers. I worked primarily from Windows 3.x at home, using a modem and some fairly mediocre terminal tools to telnet into the department where my files and actual work was.

Then 486's came out that could -- barely -- run Linux, with IIRC 4 MB of RAM. SLS would install in that much space from 3.5" floppy. I had Sun desktops at work and was already used to working in terminals and with editors and tools like Tex/Latex to write text and Gnu tools to build code, and there was actually a lot of stuff I could do with an X server locally that I couldn't do with a crappy X terminal or straight telnet session from Windows, so I went through the ritual and got it to work, barely. Shortly afterwards, the pentium came out and its support of larger memories enabled me to install Slackware. Slackware had more "stuff" and eventually worked better than SLS had, although when one started building and rebuilding source packages to spruce it up one did enter dependency hell. Red Hat, however, at the time, wasn't much better and was arguably worse.

Over the next decade, I got heavily involved with the Beowulf movement (my research basically involved large scale embarrassingly parallel simulations plus other computational tasks), transitioned the entire department's client-server base to Linux from Sun, and worked successively through ever better iterations of 586 and then 686 Intel architectures. The department grew to where we hired full time systems folk, notably Seth Vidal and Constantine Rabyetsev (sp?) aka "Icon", who took the Yellowdog Updater (yup) for Apple/Linux installs and turned it into Yellowdog Updater Modified (yum) for RPM based systems, more or less ending dependency hell for all time in the process, and suddenly, RPM Linuces scaled as well as Debian/Apt Linux.

In the meantime, window managers and desktops and the spread of apps had fairly systematically improved in Linux. One could, with a bit of care in choosing your hardware (FIRST make sure it is supported, THEN buy it rather than just buying it and assuming it would work) and sadly, with a bit of expertise to back you up when things went wrong, easily build a very functional Linux desktop that scaled at departmental levels and covered nearly all of the bases for functional software that one might desire.

At this point I've been using Linux exclusively as my desktop for just about twenty years, at first on dual boot systems so I could get to DOS/Windows and play games when I wasn't working, then relegating WinXP licenses I had accumulated to VMware, then as VMware went uncool and closed and costly, on Virtualbox. I still have XP VMs for VB, but I haven't booted them for a year or more at this point EVEN to play Diablo because at this point there are lots of ways to play games on Linux native or with Winey stuff in between.

It is difficult, at this point, for me to even login to Windows. After Windows 7, the interface has become ever more clunky. Management has become every more difficult. Laptops now have to be run as if they are tablets or phones, which makes no sense (and this goes for Gnome too, sadly, but in Linux one always has choices and mine currently is XFCE). I wouldn't use it as a primary interface for love or money. Linux, on the other hand, has slowly, steadily, improved. There is a staggering amount of software available to Fedora for a "dnf install whatever" command (annoying as I find it to have had yum renamed dnf for no good reason that I can imagine other than to stroke the egos of those who did the renaming). One can't quite ignore hardware in a linux install, but at this point it is actually comparatively rare to need to build a custom driver. Bluetooth still drives me nuts (trying to get headphones to work, for example), and I'm still not thrilled with the sound stack and architecture, but overall I can work amazingly efficiently and play WoW or steam games native or nearly so.

Sadly, by the time Linux does win the desktop, there may not be much "desktop" left to win. Desktop workstations are comparatively rare -- everybody has either laptops or tablets or phones. Laptops themselves are perhaps getting rarer, as a whole generation is rising that types with their thumbs (only, or nearly so). Of course ON the tab/phone generation, Linux has already prevailed in the form of Android, but from this we also recall the real lesson of the last 20 years:

Windows NEVER has held the desktop by virtue of being the better OS. It has held it by means of agreements with manufacturers and retailers that require them to sell nearly all of their desktops and laptops with Windows preinstalled in order to get the price break that lets them compete at all in the preinstalled marketplace. It is pure anti-competitive arm-twisting. IMO it should be hit with anti-trust suits, but as long as government pensions are tied up in M$ stock, as long as M$ donates massive amounts to political candidates, this will never happen.

Totally agree. The only reason why Windows is everywhere is because people find it on their computers when they buy them and stick to it. That's funny (well, it's not....) most of the people also completely miss the difference between the device itself and the Os running in it...

In reply to by Robert G. Brown (not verified)

I think you're right. There's just more heterogeneity out there, and that's a good thing.

I use Linux as my main for Desktop and All servers I interact with. The one exception is that I have a windows Tablet and Laptop so I can play a few games, use any Windows tools (interestingly I own Office because there are bugs in that product that are not in LibreOffice. As soon as the 4 main bugs die, so will my Office 365 license).

It's a real pity more games don't have Linux (robust) support without WINE. Civilization IV non-stop crashes on a vanilla Linux install on every machine I've tried it on, but the more graphically intensive Trine series works flawlessly as does all my retro-gaming.

Great Article. Any tips for getting employers and clients to agree to Linux only?

For Civilization variants, you might consider Steam, which has several ports for Linux, though you'd need to rebuy them.

When you use Office, do you do so on Windows, or via something like Crossover?

I'm retired. I use Linux because I'm lazy.. Until recently, my wife was a teacher in a small school system that didn't have an IT department. The director's nephew would come in once in a while...

When my wife's classroom computer running XP had problems--this was 2015--she got permission to bring it home to me to make it go again. When it was home the second time at Christmas, she asked, "Why doesn't my computer here at home ever have these problems? Is it because it's Linux?"

She would bring home a template for a report to some administrator--along with her school computer. The instructions would insist it had to be done in Word, in Windows, and in a particular fashion. If not, the world would end. It would always have a table and the rows and columns would be aligned using the space bar, tab, and enter key. All her report had to do was "look" like the pattern. Each report, and they were never the same format, I got to be a hero for almost half as long as it took me to make a table in LibreOffice Writer. Print it out, turn it in, and be done with it. If they don't ask you any questions, don't give them any answers.

The choice of operating system is not an important part of my life. I don't use Linux because I'm moral, religious, unconventional, or weird. I just want to get stuff done and go on to something else..

Great article.

At work I got the "your on your own for support" but thankfully the system administrator at the time was a BSD & Mac guy so he did try to lean towards the things (VPN, etc.) that would work or possibly work with Linux.

Handy side benefit, though, is now I am managing the BSD & Linux web servers and sites I think largely because of my Linux experience at home. I am constantly finding that working with these servers would be easier if I were on a Linux machine as well.

We have moved our Windows development systems to separate VMs that we RDP into, so the requirement for my local machine being any specific OS is limited more by the "powers to be" and their use of AD to control things than technological.

At home the biggest (only?) reason to use Windows is for games. While there are only a couple and they seem to work in Linux under WINE, they also seem to not have the same performance (or quality of view) when running on Linux.

Understand these are all older machines that I've gotten 2nd (or 3rd) hand so they don't have a lot of extra "oomph" so this dip in user experience is noticeable. Maybe if I got something younger than the Core 2 Duo stage (any i3/i5/i7 would be newer) then my mileage may vary favorably.

My wife did her best to understand and use Linux. For the most part she was accepting of it. She is a professional artist, and computers are a necessary evil.

When she had a project, however, and we were not [a] finding a tool to do what we needed and [b] finding a tool that was understandable and intuitive enough for her to use.

I sat her down in front of my work laptop and opened a file we were working on. Previously it was her telling me what to change and me doing it at work and printing results.

She finish the project quickly, finding the tools pretty easily and enjoying the little things of the program. What happened next, though, was that she started exploring the program and getting into trying out different features. She was playing with the program.

That told me that pushing the open source versions on her would have been a disservice. She needed to use what she will be comfortable with.

One thing that has changed, over the past 10-20 years that I've been paying attention to it, that helps the migration is how just about everything is available online. So long as you have a browser, you can be productive. That helps me whenever I try a different distro ("have browser, will work") or OS.

Thanks for he opportunity to add my two cents worth...I have used Windows at home and work since 1992. I have dabbled with Linux on and off for a number of years. My first efforts were of Linux on floppy disk with command line only interface. I still have a boxed set of RedHat Linix 6.1 on CD-ROM whoo-hoo! I tried SuSE and most recently Ubuntu 10.04, 14.04 and finally 16.04. I walked away from Windows 10 in August of this year (still have it available as dual boot) for all my day to day computer needs. I have my wife using it (16.04) as well and I really want to get my Dad onto it to. He is a special case as he is approaching 90 and it might be easier for him to just stick with Windows 8.1 and live with its drawbacks than throw a new OS at him.
I have found Ubuntu 16.04 is able to match anything I could do in Windows and is much more reliable. It acts the way I expect an OS to. It does not move menus up and down requiring one to chase the desired target (Windows File Explorer is ridiculous for that). You find the target, it remains on screen, you do what you need to do. Easy, peasy. I have 16.04 Server running on an old Dell Desktop and 16.04 runing on a Dell XPS laptop. I am retired so I can dabble away and not be driven by time constraints and deadlines. I can just have fun with it. Windows lost all joy for me with Windows 7 and beyond.
I likely don't tax any of the Linux apps too badly but they all work as desired. No muss, no fuss. I am enjoying tinkering again. Windows has its place in corporate environments (ease of maintenance and upgrades etc) and for some gaming issues but for a great number of people, email and web surfing are the biggest things they require of their PC's, Linux can fill that gap equally on par with Windows or Mac.
Take care.
Gord K.

I started with an Amiga 1200 in 1996. My friends used Win 3.1 at that time and I always asked myself: "how come to be that stupid to use Win 3.1". I met many so called "DOS" programmers and I asked myself: "How stupid you have to be to be a DOS Programmer". Even the usage of WIN showed me a lack of knowledge. I have to admit that I thought MAC at that time the only comparable OS. Then there was OS/2. I thought: Ok, that seems to be a reasonable OS to compare too. But people kept on buying these [shi...y] fine M$ PCs like hell and I thought: OMG. But Mr Gates knew that money needs to be spent rather in Ads and only little money in the OS. And he was right. (and people loved it)

Today I think: The hell has arrived and most people are like heroin addictive M$ junkies. And it will go on spreading like a virus.

I still have one PC for gaming. (M$ XP - but this PC never was online and will never be) The OS is borrowed from my former company I worked for which was a M$ Gold partner :D. And since that time I realized that it was right to hate this M$ company. (customers paying money for fixing bugs :))))

Since all games nowadays need internet/steam I only do play older games. My privacy is my kingdom. Others dont give a sh.... But I do.

You said there is no professional CAD soft? I think BricsCAD seems to be quite nice. Maja is there for Linux. And Blender. Which I love so much.

I think governments should be forced to use Linux/OpenSource. Schools/Universities too. And then there would be much more useful software out there.

So far I was able to convince some of my friends to use Linux instead of M$ crap. And they are happy. Sometimes they still pop up with: My colleague told me there is a nice windows program ... and then I tell them that they do not need it. (and there often is smth. comparable in Linux)

I really enjoyed reading the article and comments. It is like stepping into another dimension after reading comments to articles on other sites. Especially about FOSS lately.

For me open-source is ideological not only moral. It is a principle and a life style if you wish. Would like to contribute more but due to family and children am unable to. Still it feels good to be a part of this movement in some way. It is exciting. And in does bring back fun into computing. Fun is important as well. Not to mention learning ... The road I took into the Linux world is very similar to the author's and I stuck with it.

I am a journalist by profession and using Linux (currently Fedora and Ubuntu) gives me so many ways to customize my experience I am unable to write in Windows anymore. Even if using distraction free editors it feels so limiting. These days I go for i3 and emacs if I want to write and do stuff. And Gnome when doing other things.

It is also amazing how versatile Linux is. I can use it on a laptop, desktop and "multimedia machine" connected to TV. It works great everywhere. Did not use to be like that at all. Kids are six years old and they are getting into the world of technology. I feel safer giving them Linux to use. I am also hoping it will make them better at computing if they continue using Fedora or any other distro.

There is one thing that I find a bit frustrating though. I try to donate as much as possible and when I can. As a thank you to all the people involved. But I am never sure I am donating to the ones that need it the most, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, great article and the rest. Really good food for thought.

If you're donating time to the projects that you have the most knowledge of, I'd argue that you're donating to the right ones. Nothing to stop you asking around to find out what else you might help with, though.

On the ideological point, I'd say that ideology can often lead to a moral choice. I like the distinction, though.

In reply to by Damjan (not verified)

I have been using Windows at work and home since 1992. I have dabbled with Linux on and off since the late 90's. The first versions came on floppy dick only. I do have RedHat Linux 6.1 in the original packaging yet...on CD!
I tried Ubuntu 10.04, 14.04 and 16.04 whic I have running on a desktop, laptop and as a server on an old Dell Desktop pc. I have pretty much washed my hands of Windows since August of this year. I ffinally lost all patience with Windows repeated chasing of menu targets up and down (File Explorer).
Ubuntu 16.04 is stable and predictable. For my needs it works. No muss, no fuss.
I am retired so I have lots of time to tinker. I am enjoying my little pc network again. Thanks for that.
For a great number of people today, Linux is great for email and web browsing. LibreOfffice has all the tools a home pc user needs. I am sure a gamer might find some deficiencies but a lot of people would never know they were not running Windows for the tasks I mention.
Thanks for the article and Thanks for letting me express my two cents worth.
Take care.
Gord K.

Mike, I saw myself with your article. I have the same thoughts 'bout open source software and 'bout work. I bought a copy of Crossover with my money, I have to use MS Lync in a Virtual Machine.. Same battle since 1999.. And I ask my enquirers. I do because I want, because I can and because I enjoy work with Linux.
Regards,

I have worked with Linux for years. I think my first official distribution was Redhat 5.2. In fact, I had telnetted into a local oursc server for years to IRC with buddies or play treksims, or things of the like. When I got into college, or right before (the memory is a little fuzzy) I got Redhat 5.2 Ordered it and everything. :p

I remember the days of trying to force an install and heaven help you if you tried to change any hardware after your custom kernel. That was sometimes a nightmare.

I have two odd issues. I agree with most of what you say. Though I would never admit to "because I like pain," I always said, "Because it's a better and more cost effective choice, duh!" I have Libre office for a lot of things. I tutor kids, and when I say kids I mean college students. There are many times I have to be careful about revisions to papers or notes. (Especially if they are on the other side of the country from me) on formatting from my Open or Libre Office. Both don't quite stack up, especially where inserting pictures in a particular place in a document go. But I don't want to pay some stupid subscription to Microsoft for a program I should be able to purchase once and..... well enough of the rhetoric. Still not a reason to keep windows but to be careful.

My one reason to keep Windows is gaming. I often buy games, or game bundles specifically if they have Linux support to try and encourage individuals to keep that support going. Even if sometimes it's defaulting to side scrollers. I enjoy some of the high def, high end games to play around with: Like Elite Dangerous and World of Warcraft, competitive StarCraft2, etc.

However, much like you in almost all other aspect I have Linux or a BSD up on one machine or another. My stepfather uses Linux for everything he does now. My mother, if she was more tech savvy (and she's not) would have about the same difficulties in windows as linux. I've sat many people down at one of the computers in my house and they were able to do just about anything they wanted to on it.

I have multiple computers in the house. I have two machines with Windows on them. Two. One guest gaming machine. My main box. The only reason I can give, because the majority of the applications I use on a daily basis are open source in one variety or another, is gaming. I take several mini breaks in my small office at the house where I have to perform seemingly hundreds of things at once at any given minute. Those mini breaks might be taking a couple minutes to check out something in a game. (Finding that place in the universe I haven't found yet, or Checking on my dailies to see what's up, or playing a Co-op in SC2)

The VM's generally don't run as fast. Though I have VM's on my main box, and several other Linux machines of various distrobutions around me. Hell I have a huge Thor v.2 that's got a nice AM4 in it, and even a Nvidia HD (though that's always going to take some tweaking). It's just going to take me getting some time out of the three jobs I work to be able to bring it online.

Still I find myself regularly connecting via SSH and X-windows to redirect a display window across my internal network (and sometimes at work) to use the Linux program I want, or access the data I've been working on, on my secure home system.

So, I think some of it drops down to time. Time to work out the kinks. And games. Though I've heard that you might be able to do a seperate steambox and broadcast some of the games that way as an intermediary and have it play on your main linux desktop as a stream option of some sort, I've not gotten the time to play with it or know it's specifics. Though gaming (and specific gaming) is some of the main reasons my main machine is not Linux. Though every machine in my house but my main gaming rig, and the guest gaming rig are Linux. I don't even bother explaining to people anymore why none of the others have windows on it. Nor why I always have a textbox (terminal) with strange letters and a black screen running in the corner of one of my machines.

I don't work in open source but I am regularly an advocate. Whether it's introducing new people in the family to old games. Kids to old console's running in an emulator, or letting them do research for their school stuff on one of my box's it's usually with linux. Several distrobutions and DE's to choose from. Fedora Server with GNOME on one machine (Reliant) Linux Mint with KDE on another (Intrepid) or the older slower laptop with Linux Mint on it (an older version: Runabout.) All still fully functional. When the AM4 comes up it will also be a Fedora machine (Qonos2).

All your other points I find very valid. The gaming thing is a big one for me, and some of the games I've been lobbying for years. Interestingly enough, everytime I try to get one of my other geek/semi-geek friends to swap over to Linux the first question I hear is "Will it run ?" Or will its implementation slow my reaction time.

I always feel it's a bit of a chicken and the egg thing. We need many more super high intensity and popular games ported well to be able to get gaming and video card manufacturer's attention and cooperation.But we can't get those without their full co-operation....etc. Have to have games to get the support to get the games.

For everyday office use, and for work in almost every other aspect of my life it's a linux box I use.

I get the gaming thing, I really do. I'm an Elite Dangerous addict, and that doesn't run on Linux: hence the console.

Thanks for a long and really thoughtful reply.

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