It's been a while since the last time I used Windows


TL;DR: I stopped using Windows and now I use Linux. I tried switching to it many times in the past without success but in the past 2 years I made the switch. The transition was made possible because now I have the experience and the incentives to do it, Linux distros became much more user-friendly and there’s a lot of high quality software for it.

The first time I heard the word Linux was back in 1999. My uncle was starting his career as a Linux SysAdmin and in one of my visits to my grandma’s house I caught him reading a book about it. At the time I didn’t quite get what Linux was exactly (I was 9 and there wasn’t a computer in my house yet). It was only in 2008 that, out of curiosity, I did a “Professional Linux” course and really started taking Linux seriously.

From then on I tried MANY times to make Linux as my default OS but no matter how hard I tried Windows kept pulling me back in.

Why I kept coming back

I would categorize my failures to adopt Linux as my daily driver in the following categories:

  • Missing software (a.k.a. Games): back then I was in the hight of my “gamer” phase, and gaming on Linux was not an option, therefore every time I wanted to waste my youth I had to reach for Windows. The same happened to some other software that either didn’t have a decent equivalent for Linux or that had and equivalent which I didn’t know how to use (MS Office, MSN Messenger, Winamp etc);
  • Hardware incompatibility: I can still remember how common it was for me to install some Linux distro and have to cope with no sound, no Wi-fi, terrible video drivers etc (some of these problems still plague me to this date);
  • Inexperience: at that time I didn’t have a deep (or even a shallow) knowledge of how computers work, therefore some Linux concepts (mounting points, pipes, bootloader, hardlinks, …) were totally foreign to me, and even thought I attended the Linux course some of these concepts kept being somewhat foggy to me;
  • Misaligned incentives: I didn’t have a real reason for using Linux. I wasn’t a developer, SysAdmin or FOSS activist. Linux for me was kind of a hobby. So it really didn’t make sense to sacrifice my productivity and mental health in order to make it my default OS.

What changed

Last week I bought a new computer and the first thing I did was to wipe it’s drive clean and install the latest version of the Manjaro i3 distro (which most people, even Linux users, would find it somewhat hard to use). Installing Windows in it didn’t even cross my mind, and this got me thinking: why is that so?

After some introspection I reach the following conclusions

My necessities changed

As my life changed through the years also did my necessities. Firstly, when I was a hardware engineer, there was a lot of proprietary software that was compatible with Windows only, such as Altium, Multisim, some embedded development IDE’s and Toolchains (e.g. CodeWarrior) among others.

Now most of my professional and personal life consists of developing code to process, present and analyze data, activities for which all (decent) tools are available in full for Linux.

There’s also the fact that nowadays I hardly play (which is an irony since now Steam, via Proton, enables us to play almost any game in it’s library on Linux).

The Linux ecosystem changed

The current out-of-the-box experience with most Linux distros is almost perfect. The installers tend to be very self explanatory and you’ll hardly stumble on any hardware incompatibility.

Add to that the fact that for most people almost every computer interaction nowadays is done through a web browser and that all major browsers are available for Linux and you’ll have a huge increase in quality of life for the average Linux user. It’s also very easy to find help when something goes wrong or when you don’t know how to set something up.

There’s also the fact that, in my opinion, for most people like me (that deals with programming and data processing), using Linux makes your life easier and more productive (but that’s an argument that I plan to make in another post).

My experience changed

I’d say that I’ve been using Linux as my main OS for almost 5 years and as my only OS for 2. By fully immersing myself in it I was no longer able to run to mommy Windows crying for help every time I was faced with a problem and this ended up forcing and amplifying my growth as a Linux user.

This immersion also forced me to explore distros and flavors that suited my needs best, which led me to discover solutions to problems that I’d never realized existed. One example of this is the use of tilling window managers, that try to tackle the innate push towards desktop clutter of stacking window managers.

My incentives changed

It’s needless to say that now my incentives of becoming a Linux user are very aligned with both my personal and professional life.

My advice

As I said before, nowadays most of people’s interactions with computers are through browsers, so if that’s your case I wouldn’t recommend switching to Linux, since you’ll have little to gain and much to loose.

I’d say that I only recommend this switch if you want or have to deal with the following

  • Code
  • Data (lots of it)
  • Security
  • Privacy

Therefore developers, data scientists, STEM students and journalists (information security and privacy is a big deal for them) are among the people for which I would recommend the transition.