Why I’ve replaced Vista with Linux

This decision was a long time coming but I think it is the right thing to do right now: I have reformatted the hard drive on my laptop and replaced Vista with the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, as the main operating system. I did this for a number of reasons: it’s probably worth going through them one by one.

Building a picture of Open Source today. “Desktop Linux is ready for the mainstream” we are told – but is it? And how to know without trying it for real? I had Linux running in a virtual machine on Vista, and it looked fine, but I tended only to play with it and not really put it through its paces. To give it a proper once-over there really is no substitute for putting it in as the “main” operating system. I should say up-front that this shouldn’t be construed as a comment on Vista, which I am actually getting to like (see below). The same caveat should be applied for other applications, proprietary or open source (for the record, however: I’m not in any hurry to move over to OpenOffice just yet!)

Testing virtualisation. There’s a variety of combinations of virtual environments that can exist today – one of the strengths and weaknesses of virtualisation (I am quickly discovering) is that anything goes. Linux on Windows, Windows on Linux, either or both on a hypervisor from either side; add to that the potential for running individual apps (e.g. with Wine or Softricity) or remote desktops and it all becomes very complicated indeed. I decided to start with Linux as, to be fair, Vista is already big, and I decided I could do without the base overhead. I’m now running virtual instances of Ubuntu server, Ubuntu desktop and Windows XP – see below.

Getting my hands dirty. Here’s the thing – I’m an old UNIX hacker at heart, and I kind of miss playing around with this stuff, which I haven’t really done since the 0.94 SLS days. It’s certainly been an interesting experience so far pushing a few of the boundaries of today’s desktop Linux and seeing what gives… or doesn’t. I’m also planning on doing a bit of programming again, most likely in Ruby on Rails, for which direct use of the LAMP stack seems more appropriate than developing in Windows and running emulators or indeed, virtual machines. Of course this will also help me build more of a picture of open source in general, or at least trigger a few conversations: see next.

Engaging with the community. There’s just so much happening in the blogosphere, and some of the most animated discussions come from developers and open source advocates. For me, this decision partially comes down to succumbing to the temptation and joining in – heaven knows I won’t be able to keep up but at least if I’m sharing some of the experiences I’ll participate more than just watching from the sidelines.

Avoidance of bias. It’s important in this job to be able to see all aspects, and I have felt uncomfortable in the past commenting on certain subjects without a full appreciation of how it feels to experience the other side of the coin. Meanwhile, Linux adoption is rife in Eastern Europe and Asia, making it even more important to understand what life is like for non-Windows users. Its worth doing this to get the balance right – not least because certain behaviours and expectations are very different. In Linux, for example, the attitude is very much “there will be a package out there” (the package manager lists twenty-three thousand packages, of which I have a paltry fifteen hundred installed) but the “out there” experience also extends to tweaks and fixes, so be prepared to muck in. The Windows “attitude” seems to be more, “I’ve paid for it, so it better work!”

Response to accusations of bias. I want to be able to talk about the good stuff that comes out of Seattle without being accused of bias, or being considered some kind of shill. At the risk (see, here we go) of facing the wrath of all those who feel Microsoft is the nemesis of the IT industry, I actually do, really believe they come out with some pretty good stuff. I also think Sun, IBM and everybody else comes out with good stuff. There’s plenty of good stuff out there, and I really don’t see why Microsoft should be excluded from the good stuff debate just because they had some sharp business practices in the past, or present. After all, who didn’t – and who doesn’t.

Finally, I secretly wish I had a Mac. No I don’t… well, yes I do but I’m not sure it would be the answer to my prayers, and I would be concerned about lock-in. Oh, the irony.

So, there we have it. It’s already been quite a ride, as I’ve tested out a number of Linux distributions, tools and configurations before settling on my preferred setup. Which is, Ubuntu Linux 7.10 running KDE, and hosting a virtual instance of Windows XP via QEMU/KVM for my Outlook Exchange client. For virtualisation, I did try out Xen, both from within OpenSuse and as XenSource Express, but neither supported laptop suspend/resume (and XenSource setup on a single laptop was becoming a pig. I’ve needed to do various tweaks and resolve a number of issues, as I started doing this I wondered whether this was a comment on Linux – but it could equally be due to my lack of current experience. I have set up a dual-boot configuration with Vista, but this does not boot by default so (for the time being) it is there as a security blanket.

Does it work? So far, so good. I’m having to use the command line more than a little, but to be fair this is largely due to using the virtualisation capabilities, which are outside normal (i.e. non-geek) behaviour I think. There are a few bugs and things I might suggest were done differently, if I were in a position to comment – which is exactly what I’m getting myself into here, so expect some further case notes on my own blog under the tag “geeking out” (these won’t appear on IT-Analysis or IT-Director if you’re reading this post on one of these sites.) I still need to get myself organised from a data standpoint – I’m configuring Samba as I don’t just yet want to trust my data to sit inside a virtual machine, for example! – and I also need to set up my external monitor for ease of switching screens.

Whether or not I can work like this is one thing. I am missing certain things, not least LiveWriter and the Vista Sidebar – as general remarks things are not quite as slick as Windows, but perhaps I haven’t got my configuration right yet. I’ll give myself a month or so like this, so I can establish whether or not I actually want to work like this. For now, the jury is out but I shall keep everyone posted.

Why I’ve replaced Vista with Linux

22 thoughts on “Why I’ve replaced Vista with Linux

  1. Darren M says:

    No no no. Don’t run Kubuntu. Use Ubuntu with Evolution as your exchange client. It works better than Outlook. Its better as a corporate desktop this way.

  2. Don says:

    Great article, will be waiting to see how you get on with Linux in the long run.
    I’ve been lucky enough to be in a position to use Kubuntu as my primary desktop in work. One of the main issues I’ve had is my need for Microsoft Office for work, as Openoffice and Evolution (in my opinion) can’t replace MS Office yet. You mentioned that you are using a virtual machine to access your outlook, I’ve found Crossover office ( http://www.codeweavers.com/products/cxoffice/ ) does a good job of running Office2003 without the need for a virtual machine. It does cost £26 for a full license, but compared to the cost of a Windows XP license for the virtual machine, its much cheaper 🙂

    Also regarding Vista Sidebar, since your using KDE have a look at superkaramba (its available through apt-get) as a replacement to Vista Sidebar. It has lots of widgets to choose from (everything from system performance to weather).

    ything to do with CodeWeavers

  3. Chuck says:

    I have pretty much the same setup as you running on my Dell D600. The only difference is I used innotek’s VirtualBox (Open Source Edition) instead of QEMU. It seems to work a little faster.

  4. As someone who got used to OS/360, I can say that one can get used to anything, including Vista. Our entire company ran from its inception in 2002 through its sale to a bigger power on various flavours of Linux. Ubuntu 7.10 does everything for the office quite well, and I use it at home as well. The only reason I can see to use Microsoft is for games and things like iTunes, stuff that my kids are interested in. Compared to XP, Vista is a complete nightmare, its UI confusing, and its performance horrible. Instead of downgrading, keep your old box, or switch to Linux.

  5. Jono says:

    John P Andrews:
    I’d like to point out that any new mac you buy these days has an Intel processor – NOT a PPC… and has been so for quite a while.

  6. Kevin McDonald says:

    I’m glad that the article mentioned avoiding bias. I have found that this is a problem for many people writing comparisons of operating systems. I’ve been using Linux, XP, and Vista for everything. I have to since I support these platforms. I understand the shortcomings of the Linux experience on the corporate desktop. I understand that some people really need one specific environment due to their individual characteristics. Heck, I recently advised a client to get a Macintosh because he was having so much trouble with Windows. He took my advice and is now very happy. I’ve helped clients experiment with using Open Desktop dot org and/or Abiword as a replacement in a mixed Microsoft Office environment. The open source products were not exactly a drop in replacement and clients don’t want to edit all of their old documents to iron out the differences in formatting. Still I look for the right solution for each client while trying to help them reduce their costs. Bias toward any particular solution would not serve my clients as well as an unbiased assessment.

  7. I mostly left the Windows OS about 2 years ago. I would say the highlight of Linux is the ability to freely download the TONS of applications out there quite easily and Linux just works (when it does work for a particular system). For many in Jr. High school through College, this is a great resource for games, academic stuff, and network communications.

    The downside is viewing files that basically reside in the MS world. For example, many radio streaming sites (i.e. http://www.kfi640.com and then click, ‘Listen Live’) fail with Linux. It would be nice to play any media that’s video or sound on the Linux platform but it just doesn’t seem possible at this time.

    When people ask me which flavor of Linux should I get? My general response is, try all of them and go with the one(s) that will install on your computer with little or no tweaking to get your system working. I generally have difficulty with PCI cards, audio, and CD writers on my laptops.

    For those who have children, let them use Linux over Microsoft — assuming that only the parents have the root password. Malware and Spyware and all these other nasties can be controlled better and is much less of an issue with Linux. With Windows, many users have Adinistrator privileges throughout the system and a virus or spyware can easily make it’s way into the system when the kiddies are playing.

    When I go to an auto-parts store, I see parts for many different types of cars. When I go to a software store, basically all the software and hardware works for Windows. There is an incredible value to simply go to the store, buy some hardware or software, and voila, it works with MS Operating System. This doesn’t hold true for Linux. You must be selective buying your parts and don’t ever think the person at the store has a CLUE on which hardware will work with Linux out of the box. Also, I have never seen “Linux supported” on any piece of hardware sold at a computer store.

    The bottom line for me is that I don’t buy Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Anti-Whatever using Linux and I don’t feel the degradation of my system because these softwares tend to be pigs on the system. For my needs (I’m a computer software developer), Linux does a great job for software development and with the exception of proprietary video and audio formats, does a great job for my general computing needs. I won’t go as far as saying Linux is better than Windows as a Desktop environment because of the video and audio problems but it really is good enough for me and my kids.

  8. Paul says:

    VirtualBox will make your Virtualization need much easier.

    Give it a try. Much faster. Try no the none OSE version. I know it’s got closed source components but it is free for personal use and has some very nice features like Remote USB over RDP and RDP as a console to the VM.

    Hopefully Sun won’t completely screw up a very nice product….

  9. John C. Campbell III says:

    Interesting that nowhere in the discussion does anyone mention opensolaris …
    far fewer (in my opinion) kernel hacks by application writers to blow up other people’s applications
    I’m working with the Current Nevada build (Open Solaris) with Virtual Box and Windoze XP …

  10. Melkor says:

    Well, you’ve already taken the first step: giving it a try. Long ago I was an insanely windows defender, because of its ease of use… and my practically non-existence experience with Linux ¬¬.. but I decided to give it a try, an article on MaxPC cheered me, since many things I ‘needed’ in Linux weren’t out-of-the-box (at the time) were explained in the article, such as Samba configuration, network printing, usb storage deviced mounting, etc.. the author recommended Debian, because of its not-so-easy-to-use features, compared to other distros like Suse, Mandrake at the time, and this not-ease-to-use will undoubtfully drive you to know how Linux really works, and of course, the deeper you know anything, the easier it is to use it and modify it. And the more I explored, the more I learned, the more I felt the freedom to do everything I wanted with no restrictions, the more I realized that many things are very efficient in Linux compared to Windows, the more I liked Linux. So now, as lain said, I only use Windows for stuff like gaming, I’m happy with Linux :)…
    Oh, and by the way, anyone missing the Vista’s eye-candy, you won’t once you try Compiz con Linux, not even a bit. You’ll realize there’s nothing special about Aero, since Compiz existed long before it and looks much better. Of course, you can tune it as much as you want, not like Aero.

  11. Video and audio problems?
    Not on my Ubuntu box there isn’t. Before you give up go to terminal and type:
    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

    Should give you all the codecs you need. Unless of course there’s DRM involved…

  12. BHILA PORTIA says:


  13. Terrence says:

    I’ve successfully replaced Vista with XP Pro OEM (bought from newegg) on my brand new Toshiba laptop (L355-S7817). I had to have XP due to the consulting work I do with proprietary software, but honestly I’d have done it anyway. I’ve worked in IT, consider myself somewhat of a power user, and simply detest the needless hide-and-seek with MS moving and renaming things, but not really changing much of the functionality. I mean what is the point? Never mind that XP simply works better. Some say that’s because it’s more mature. I say, they’re right: Vista is NOT ready and I have always objected to the MS tendency to have customers pay to be beta users on product prematurely released … Vista is just the latest in a long, long line.

    I also got suckered into buying Windows Home Server, yet another albatross released way before ready and that was quite the waste of money. That’s now been replaced with an Ubuntu samba server that is both simple and ultra-reliable.

    Furthermore, the older laptop that I just replaced has been wiped of XP Home and replaced with Ubuntu Studio. I like the concept of Open Source and I appreciate more of what it means because of Microsoft’s big-stick approach to both marketing and piracy. Adobe, for instance has always been smart enough to at least treat paying customers with respect while they attempt to reign in piracy. Not so Micrososft … too big for their britches and so I root for Open Source both from a practical and an emotional perspective. Microsoft has taught me in so many ways that they aren’t the good guys.

    I’ve grown to like Ubuntu so much that I’ve set up the new laptop for dual-boot. As yet I require XP for Microstation and Photoshop. I think Adobe will bring Creative Suite online for Linux in the next few years (they’re rock solid on Mac’s OS X). Bentley will eventually port Microstation back to the Mac (OpenBSD) and Linux should follow. One can only hope!

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