Switching from Windows to Linux

At the age of twelve, I dabbled around in MS-DOS. Not at my home, since we didn’t own a computer. No, one of our neighbors had a computer. My friend’s dad used it to program elevators but we used it to play Prince of Persia, among other games that were available on floppy disk.

My IT class at school was using Windows 3.11 and later evolved to Windows 2000. At home, I think I was thirteen or fourteen, we got the first home computer equipped with Windows 95. That was the start of my Windows career. Later on I experimented with Redhat 4 or 5 but as it took me 3+ days to get the GUI working, I decided that Linux wasn’t for me. On a side note, can you imagine that I actually had to buy Linux on a CD-ROM set from a physical store? I guess people old enough can relate but younger generations can probably hardly believe I grew up in the dial up period, where I was only allowed to go online on Friday for a maximum of one hour. Otherwise our telephone bill would become (too) high.

Since then I think I used every version of Windows available. It seemed like a normal thing to do, you upgrade your Windows whenever the new version was around. So 98, Me, 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 10. Fair points for Windows, I never really had a dramatic experience with any of the Windows editions except for the Me (Millenium). Of course, as time passed by, I did some re-installs because the system became slow but besides that I never encountered an issue that made me question Windows as an OS.

Professional career

During my career, first at college and later at work, it was a mixture of Windows and Mac OS. During my graphic design college adventure, let’s call it like that, it was Mac OS 9. When I landed my first job, as a developer, we used Macs as well. Then it was back to Windows when I started working for an advertising agency. Fast forward a few jobs and years to the present day and I’m back on MacOS on my employer-issued MacBook Pro.

I still think, having experienced both major desktop OS’s, that MacOS still offers the best solution. It’s for me the best of both worlds. Most software vendors (that matter) have their software available for both Windows and Mac while MacOS, BSD-based, offers the same power as a Linux server would have.

Windows however has taken some steps to polish the experience with the inclusion of WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux). You can now have Ubuntu running within / available within Windows which allows you to install all the great command line tools you’re familiar with on Linux (or MacOS).

Personal computer

But my personal computer at home was still running Windows 10, until recently. The reason why I run Windows at home is:

  • Mac is too expensive - I think the hardware is worth the money, but not for pure leisure use. I hardly use my machine at home. If I do, it’s to play an occasional game, edit some photographs, or browse the internet. I can’t justify spending +2000 euros on an iMac to do just that, if you can build a cheaper system yourself with better hardware (better as in more recent)
  • Hackintosh is also an option but in all honesty, I’ve come to that age where I expect things to just work. I don’t want to do an update and then spend the whole weekend trying to figure out why something is broken.

But with the launch of Windows 11, I did the test and it seems that my self-built system is no longer compatible which makes sense, since I bought all the parts about eight years ago. It’s an AMD Fx-8350 with 8GB RAM and a modest Radeon R7 240/340 GPU. Nothing too fancy, even at the time I build it but it has been going strong ever since.

I read that there are some tricks / hacks to make the Windows 11 upgrade tool think that your system is compatible and lets you do the upgrade. I tried a few but none worked. Even if they’d work, there’s no guarantee that future updates will work as well.

Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 until 2025 with security updates, which is three years from now but the fact that it’s ending, made me wonder if I could choose something else and extend the life of this infrequently used machine.

Pop OS screenshot The wallpaper is part of my Gradient blur wallpaper pack

Switching to Linux

The first problem you’ll encounter to give Linux a try is: which distribution? It’s also quite a hot topic. Diversity is a good thing, but the Linux landscape is too fragmented if you ask me. Obviously you’ll come across the “top” distribution providers: Fedora (Redhat), SuSE, Debian, Ubuntu, etc.

A lot of people make the mistake, myself included, to choose a Linux distribution based on looks. But in a later phase you’ll learn that you can make any distribution look exactly like any other distribution. You have different desktop environments to choose from, and then you can install different fonts, themes and icon packs. So don’t let the fancy cover seduce you, as it means nothing! Only after my system was already setup and configured, I discovered https://distrochooser.de/.

Because what matters more than looks, as always, is what’s under the hood: do you want bleeding edge technology or stability? Do you prefer to use free software (free as in freedom of speech, not gratis)? How about security, do you want to run all programs in virtual containers in the background or not? Do you prefer a suite of additional software that’s installed from the get go, or prefer to have more control? Are you fine with installing proprietary device drivers, or should they be open as well? It’s questions like these that should steer you towards a certain distribution.

My final choice, even before using distrochooser, is Pop!_OS and luckily for me, it was also one of the highest ranking suggestions. My train of thoughts was:

  • I had some experience with Debian, but Debian lacks on the bleeding edge of new technology. It’s super stable, rock solid and would prefer it for a server for instance but not for my desktop environment.
  • Ubuntu was an option, but they had some heat recently for privacy-related stuff - but since it’s Debian based, it’s also a solid choice and I really like apt
  • Arch I found difficult to configure and setup, totally my mistakes I assume but I had a hard time when I experimented with Arch in the past
  • SuSE or Fedora, for some reason I never gravitated towards them as a distro. Don’t ask my why, I can’t put it into words but for some reason they never appealed to me.

I came across a video from Novaspirit Tech, about Pop!_OS and decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. It worked like a charm on my configuration, it looked great and I really like what System76, the company behind the distribution, is doing or trying to achieve. I was even so stoked with this refreshing experience, I posted about it on Reddit.

Return to Windows

That Reddit post is about two years old, but it didn’t last. Old habits die hard they say and I returned to Windows. The reason why I returned to Windows has nothing to do with PopOS but everything with Adobe. Since high school, just for fun, and college (studying graphic design) I’ve been a Photoshop and Illustrator user. Later on I added Lightroom into the mix and had a go with After Effects and Premiere for video editing.

It’s these tools, among a few others, that kept me going to Windows (or MacOS on my work laptop). So that’s it, that could’ve been the end of this article but it isn’t. You see I’m a paid subscriber to the photography plan from Adobe. I think it’s a fantastic deal to have Photoshop and Lightroom together in one bundle for an affordable price, if you’re a professional. I’m not.. at least I don’t need these tools on a regular basis personally. Long gone are the years where I shoot +5000 photographs every single year. My 2020 contains 863 items, but often I keep the in camera JPG and RAW formats side by side, so you could easily half that number for actually taken photographs. 2021 comes in at 470 items. Of course, the Coronavirus outbreak has something to do with it but even before I was taking less photographs as each year passed.

So were my reasons to switch back to Windows still valid?

Return to Pop OS

So I reformatted my SSD and installed Pop OS again. I don’t use Photoshop (often) to justify keeping it and if I do need it, I can always use it on my work system (licensed by my employer). The same goes for Lightroom. However I found RawTherapee to be an excellent (so far) replacement for Lightroom. In some ways I think it’s even better since it isn’t catalog based, you won’t risk of having a corrupted catalog (happened once). In fact, for Lightroom I had to use a different RAW processor (Iridient X-Transformer) since I didn’t really like how Lightroom rendered the sensor data. I didn’t notice these sharpening artifacts in RawTherapee.

What do I miss? Nothing! I think the experience has been great, wonderful even over the course of a few months. Some things you just need to get used to but overall it’s a good OS. There are a few things I still need to figure out:

  1. I used LR/Enfuse to fuse together multiple exposures. I believe they use ImageMagick / Mogrify in the background to merge images together. So I need to check if I can do it manually without that plugin
  2. For my negatives, I used to scan these with my Fujifilm mirrorless system, and used NegativeLab Pro to convert them to a positive image. Of course, this is a Lightroom plugin and won’t work on my Linux system.
  3. I haven’t tried printing yet - so I can’t judge RawTherapee or compare it to Lightroom. Working with color spaces in Lightroom and making sure your print comes out as expected, is still something I have to look at under Linux.

I’ll update this article, or create a new post if applicable, should anything change the situation.