Linux – One Year On

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my long-awaited switch from Windows to Linux. Though it was not an overnight transition, it’s much easier to put a date on commencing the metamorphosism than completing it.

I always try to be very careful around the subject of Linux advocacy, because if you say too many positive things about it, then people will fall under the misconception that it’s a good substitute for Windows. And it’s not, but it is a good alternative, if you’re willing to face the learning curve.

Some things worked right out of the box (eg USB, all essential hardware at a basic level), some things required a little bit of effort (eg wireless networking, multimedia keys on the keyboard, optimal screen resolution), some things just never ended up working, but I got over it (eg lack of read-write support for NTFS, lack of support for Lexmark printer, burning audio CDs takes twice as long), and some things still bug me a little to this day. For example:

  1. Games – I’ve tried Cedega, and did actually manage to install Max Payne using it, but when I tried to play the game, it hung. The closest that I came to a satisfactory gaming experience under Linux is nethack. It would be nice if I didn’t have to reboot every time I wanted to play a game.
  2. Video – Nothing seems quite as slick as Windows Media Player, I’m ashamed to say. I find myself occasionally having to load certain WMV files in gxine because they won’t play in VLC. I’m sure that this is conquerable, if I just spend the time on it. Additionally, for some reason the menus in build 0.8.4 of VLC are borked, and I can’t access the playlist. I’m currently using 0.7.0, but apt keeps trying to upgrade me to 0.8.4 again.
  3. …while we’re talking about apt: it’s a fantastic tool, and it really simplifies installation and upgrading, but it has downsides. For example, Firefox 1.5 is not available in the repositories for the current version of Ubuntu – only 1.0.7. This means that if you want 1.5, you need to install it yourself. It’s not a terribly simple process, but it is well-documented here.

But conversely, some things happen so much more smoothly than before, it’s unreal. I’ve found myself writing shell scripts and python programs to automate tasks that I would previously have done manually, like correcting ID3 tags on MP3 files, and transferring photos from my camera to the computer.

I’ve heard people describe Linux as having a steep learning curve, but as your skills improve you realise that it doesn’t obstruct you from doing the things that you want to do. The only limits upon what you can do, and learn, are the limits of your willingness.

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