How I ditched my old OS and jumped into Linux

Tech writer Jason Evangelho shares his favorite distros and thoughts on gaming on Linux (pssst: Proton).
206 readers like this.
Linux Desktop

About a year ago, I came across an article on Twitter, Ditching Windows: 2 Weeks With Ubuntu Linux On The Dell XPS 13, by Jason Evangelho, a long-time Forbes tech writer. Here was a person who was clearly fired up from his recent experience using Linux. He had recently been sent a laptop running Windows 10 for evaluation and, in the middle of a large file transfer, the machine restarted without warning. Not only did he lose time on the file transfer, but the machine displayed the "blue screen of death" most Windows users are familiar with.

That was the tipping point for Jason and the beginning of his journey to adopt Linux, which I have been following with interest this past year through his Twitter feed and columns on Forbes. In July, he started Linux for Everyone, a weekly podcast that is chock-full of great content and interviews about Linux. I contacted him recently to learn more about his work.

Don Watkins: What is your background?

Jason Evangelho: That's a tough question to answer! But let me lead with this: Before I landed my position writing at Forbes in 2012, I was cleaning Amtrak trains on the graveyard shift for minimum wage and living with three roommates to make ends meet. Before that, I had various dead-end jobs at grocery stores, fast-food chains, and [earned] some pocket change writing the occasional game review or news article for various websites. I mention this because you should never count yourself out. You should never abandon your dreams, regardless of age or experience or education.

Digging further back into my history, I did have the opportunity to carry out one of my dreams beginning in 2004 when I became one of the first 30 podcasters in the world. (Fun fact: We hand-coded our RSS feeds back then, and some people were still downloading the show on dialup!)

The show was Insomnia Radio, a weekly music podcast highlighting undiscovered indie rock bands from around the world. By 2006, podcasting was finally being noticed by mainstream media, and the show [was] covered in Wired, The Fresno Bee, US Weekly, and The New York Times! The show blossomed into a network of regional Insomnia Radio shows hosted by fellow music lovers highlighting the best bands in their own backyard. We even had Insomnia Radio: Portugal and Insomnia Radio: Turkey—hosted in both native languages and English. It grew into a full-time job for a time.

But to answer your question in general terms, I've always had a passion for writing, and I've always been obsessed with various forms of PC and gaming technology. What I really enjoy is distilling a complicated topic into language that everybody can easily understand—making it conversational and not complex.

Oh, one more important thing: When I started that podcast way back in the day, I met a fellow music podcaster named Ewan Spence. Eight years later, after being out of touch for several of them, he called me out of the blue and said Forbes was looking for technology writers. He was instrumental in me landing this gig.

The moral of the story is that you never know who's paying attention. You never know how someone you meet can affect your future. So if at all possible, don't burn bridges, and never turn down a networking opportunity!

DW: How did you become interested in Linux?

JE: You know, I'd have to first credit Valve for that! I was working at Forbes when Valve announced Steam Machines—in fact, I was at the small press conference that Gabe Newell hosted in 2014 where the initial Steam Machines were unveiled.

As a technology enthusiast, I was fascinated by the possibilities it offered (and I always love an underdog), especially at a time when the (atrocious) Windows 8 was becoming the world's most popular desktop OS. But as a gamer, I was disappointed. Windows was still the only viable option for that. Still, Valve's messaging about the closed nature of the Windows ecosystem left some lasting impressions on me.

Fast-forward to July 2018. Dell sent me an XPS 13 9370 to review. It arrived at a time when my frustration with Windows was reaching a boiling point. I remember that within the span of a month, I had lost progress on multiple articles because of unexpected reboots. And the proverbial "last straw" was a large, time-sensitive file transfer that was interrupted during one of those unwelcome Windows Update reboots.

At the same time, my future brother-in-law was visiting from Geneva, rocking an ancient ThinkPad with Debian installed on it. I'd watch over his shoulder occasionally and just marvel at how responsive and lightning-fast his OS was on relatively meager hardware.

Meanwhile, little things about the XPS 13 (with Windows 10) were irritating me, like its refusal to maintain a WiFi connection. And Microsoft was starting to generate more and more headlines about privacy settings "accidentally" reverting after a Windows Update.

To sum it up, my frustration with Windows and my curiosity about Linux converged. I decided to nuke the Windows installation and install Ubuntu on the XPS 13 and give it a shot for two weeks. I wrote about that at Forbes, and it became one of my most-viewed articles of all time.

It was such a surprisingly refreshing and smooth experience that I started throwing Ubuntu on everything I had. I guess my curiosity turned into a love affair, and within a couple of months, I made the decision to make the permanent switch, both personally and professionally. I've been covering Linux and open source software almost exclusively at Forbes since then.

DW: What is there about Linux that really excites you?

JE: It's so many things! It's the constant stream of discoveries you make. It's the speed, the stability, the way Linux distributions update without being a show-stopping annoyance.

It's the freedom to customize my PC. It's the overwhelming passion on display with both developers and users.

More than anything else, I think it's the fact that Linux brings you a true sense of ownership over your hardware. It makes my personal computer feel truly personal again.

DW: Do you have a favorite Linux distro?

JE: Ubuntu was my gateway into the Linux world, but eventually Pop!_OS from System76 became my daily driver for a few reasons:

  1. There's a charming personality to this distro that's difficult to describe, but it's present throughout the installer and [the OS's] whimsical wallpapers.
  2. System76 is a nimble and responsive team. That matters to me as a gamer and early adopter. This is a company who sells machines to gamers and early adopters. A company with a vested interest in its distribution working on bleeding-edge hardware. As just one example, they were the first to solve the issue of AMD's Zen 2 CPUs not booting. In less than a week they'd updated their ISOs to address this, before even the motherboard manufacturers.
  3. System76 was also (if I'm not mistaken) one of the first to offer a separate ISO with Nvidia's proprietary driver. This advantage first manifested when I reviewed a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, and the Fedora 29 installer wouldn't boot to a graphical interface (because it uses hybrid graphics, meaning an Intel CPU and dedicated Nvidia graphics). Pop!_OS worked on the first try. When things "just work" out of the box, that's meaningful to me.

That all being said, I want to give a very honorable mention to Elementary OS. I'm constantly tempted to switch to Elementary OS because of what they're doing with things like their new greeter, the AppCenter, and the overall transparency in their day-to-day marketing and operations. They have a brilliant, forward-looking team and a beautiful product.

DW: What do you see as the future of gaming on Linux?

JE: Proton, Proton, Proton.

I was always aware of Wine peripherally, but last year, Valve made gaming so much easier for the average user (and I consider myself among that group). The fact that they invested in the development of DXVK means they've invested in the future of gaming on this platform.

I've done exhaustive game benchmarking across both Windows and Linux, and in a matter of months, I've seen certain non-native games (meaning games running through Steam Play/Proton) on Linux outperforming their native Windows counterparts. Through the work and optimizations they're doing (which head upstream and benefit the entire Linux ecosystem), they are finally not just saying that Linux is a superior operating system for gaming but proving it.

Just consider that from mid-2018 to now, we've gone from zero Windows-native playable games on Steam to about 6,000 playable games. It's staggering to imagine where we'll be a year from now.

There are also two other factors I hope will contribute to the increased mindshare and success of gaming on Linux: Stadia and Lutris.

I'm hoping that Google's Stadia platform will encourage more developers to use Vulkan. And as far as Lutris goes, it's absolutely the easiest way to play all those non-Steam games on Linux that are Windows exclusives. Games like Battlefield, Magic: Arena, Overwatch. Those guys deserve a lot more exposure and more financial backing.

DW: What inspired you to start the Linux for Everyone podcast?

JE: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Choose Linux at Jupiter Broadcasting, but that was Joe Ressington's baby, so to speak. I couldn't resist the urge to create something like Insomnia Radio again, from the ground up, that would allow for more creative control and ownership of the content. But more importantly, I wanted a stronger focus on the community. That's why you'll hear listeners from around the world introducing the show in their native language or audio feedback directly from them in the Community Voice segment. They're a direct part of this show on a daily basis and not merely a group of listeners.

Put simply: I believe the community is the best thing about Linux. I've covered tech in various verticals and formats for years, and this is the friendliest, most supportive community in the world. Period. They're also the reason I've found such success covering Linux at Forbes, and this show would be impossible without them. They teach me something new every day.

DW: How can we subscribe?

JE: Just search "Linux For Everyone" in your favorite podcast player like gPodder or PocketCasts. Or you can grab it through the RSS feed or visit the subscribe page for other options.

Michael Tunnell from Destination Linux is assisting me in creating a video version of the show, so watch for it on YouTube in the near future!

DW: How can we support you?

JE: For people willing and able to show support with their wallets, I have both Patreon and LiberaPay accounts set up for the podcast.

But in my mind, there are more important ways of showing support. Words of encouragement are vastly underrated. Even a simple "thank you for what you're doing" can be like mental fuel to content creators of all kinds (including developers, so go say thanks to the people behind your favorite open source project).

I also want to take this opportunity to say something about Imposter Syndrome. It's something a lot of creative people deal with on a daily basis. They question the quality of their output; they feel like they don't deserve the success they have. When you show your appreciation in any form, this really helps combat those feelings.

What to read next
User profile image.
Educator, entrepreneur, open source advocate, life long learner, Python teacher. M.A. in Educational Psychology, M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator.


Thanks Don for this great article!

Glad you liked it. Jason was fun to interview and I've learned a lot from reading his work and listening to his podcasts.

In reply to by alanfd_oss

My use of computer systems dates back to the early 1970s. During my time in high school, the local school district had a small HP computer system that was shared with other districts in our county, and it was accessible through acoustic coupler (dial-up) modems, the ancient kind where you'd dial a number, hear a high pitched sound, then place the telephone headpiece into a coupler, where the audio signal was translated from audio modulation into digital information understood by a remote computer system. This was slow, and access was through a teletype device, but it was fun and interesting at the time.

Just over twenty years later, I was working at my second full-time professional job as a software engineer, and I had recently joined the UNIX operating system group, where I worked as a localization engineer, ensuring that our system could be used by people from many countries and dialects.

I had been reading about Linux software for 3-4 years by the time I had this job opportunity. Being a UNIX operating system, many of my peers also had heard of, and were looking into, the use of Linux at home themselves. So after a couple of months, where I'd been researching various Linux distributions and various computers I could use myself at home, I bought my first personal home computer and bought a book on Linux, which contained a CD from which to build my system. Broadband internet did not arrive in my vicinity for a few more years, so at first I simply used my system as a terminal server and for editing files on a local system. That first distribution ran Slackware and Windows 95.

Thanks for the article! It was a pleasure to read it. Now I'm thinking about getting Linux. (Sorry if I have typos, English isn't my native language, but I'm on my way of improving it).

Thanks for the article, very informative.

I left Silicon Valley North (Ottawa, Canada) on a 2 week business trip to East Africa in Winter 2005 when I was doing Tech Support for HP's 1-800 telephone line (iPAQs, Windows Mobile, laptops, desktops, Outlook syncing issues, etc.). I really enjoyed that job because I was on the front line dealing with customers in the US & Canada...made a lot of good acquaintances during that time, no Asian offshoring call center nonsense back then - yet.

The fabulous weather, amazing scenery, wildlife & GMO-free foods grew on me over here in East Africa, so I haven't been back - yet.

I was a happy Windows XP SP3 user until Windows 7 came out which was really good. It just ran great - no problems at all. But then, Microsoft started to poison Windows 7 updates after SP1 in order to force users over to Windows 8/10, so it started to get bloated and a little unpredictable (some times; you had to know which updates to avoid, etc.).

Well, I wasn't have any of it. So one day around 2017, I had had enough of Windows 7 on my EliteBook and without any hesitation, jumped ship over to Netrunner which is a wonderful & beautiful KDE spin of Debian Testing by Blue Systems who is a major KDE sponsor. I used that for about a year or so, and then shifted to MX-Linux (based on Mepis & AntiX communities) which has now usurped Linux Mint, Manjaro, and Ubuntu as the #1 distro on DistroWatch. There's a reason for that I believe: It's solid, efficient, super reliable & MX Tools makes managing everything about your OS a simple task. Oh, no SystemD either so maybe that's why it's super-reliable while all of the other top distros continue to have a cycle of good/bad releases.

I've played around with desktop Linux way before 2017 though. I loved Mandrake Linux around 1998. Corel Linux & Xandros were also superb. But I wasn't a daily user like I am now. Back then, I was doing my CompSci internship in Toronto, so I experimented a lot when I built my first desktop with an ABIT BX6 motherboard running Windows 2000.

Around 2009, a British expat friend of mine in Nairobi, Kenya moved back to the UK and left me her iBook G4 which had a PowerPC processor. There were no more updates from Apple. So I first installed Ubuntu on it, which was terrific. But then Linux Mint was just coming up & it had more "desktop" polish than Ubuntu, so I ran that until the iBook stopped powering on.

Let me just say that both Ubuntu and Linux Mint were solid back then - light, reliable, no complaints. Today, you get some good releases followed by buggy releases and this, I believe, has affected the entire Ubuntu ecosystem. Hence a major reason why I like to stick with distros that use pure Debian. Looking forward to taking Linux Mint Debian Edition for a spin soon.

Interesting! Gamification on Linux has good scope in the future.

Very Good Info! Thanks for the article.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.