Why Linux?

I still remember the moment when my computing life changed.

It was at a ISTE Canference in San Diego years and years ago.  I don’t remember the year and it doesn’t really matter.  I was there to learn.  At the time, my friends called me a “Windows Snob” because I didn’t use a Macintosh computer.  It didn’t make sense at the time since the board was running entirely Windows computers anyway.  I needed to know all the ins and outs and nuances to be in a support position for colleagues.

I was wandering around the poster sessions and they were all jammed, for the most part, with people wanting to see the latest educational offerings and what it would look like in their classrooms.  You couldn’t get near most of the displays for the huge amounts of people.  But, there was one display that was completely empty.  It was manned by a guy who I remember looked a great deal like George Carlin.  Rather than elbow my way in to see the neatest thing happening with KidPix, I went over to see what he was doing.  If it was as bad as the lack of a crowd would indicate, I could always use the Law of Two Feet and walk away.

I did anything but.

He was a member of a Linux Users’ Group.  I can’t even remember if it was a San Diego chapter or where he was from.  He just wanted to talk about Linux and, in particular, Ubuntu.  Now, I’d heard of Ubuntu before and I knew that many of the major servers were using a variation of Linux so I listened.  And, I listened quite a bit; I was actually listening there for a double session.  I watched as he explored the menus, navigating and running applications.  I was a big fan of OpenOffice and saw that it was exactly the same thing here on Ubuntu as it was on Windows.  I was impressed.  As I left, he gave me a Live CD-ROM of Ubuntu.  I could just plop it into the drive of my laptop, boot from the CD-ROM, and run Ubuntu at home.

I did and was impressed.  This was back in the early 2000’s and the version of Ubuntu was 4.10.  As I poked around, I saw that you could do something called a “dual boot” and run both Windows and Ubuntu from the same hard drive.  I set it up on an old laptop that was on its way to the recycle centre and my jaw dropped.  The version of Windows coupled with the power of the machine, had made it useless for the schools.  With Ubuntu installed, it ran just like a brand new machine.  It became my pet project and then my main machine.  Learning was different.  Instead of a single hotline to call, I turned to a community for support.  That was a new experience for me.  Instead of one person with one answer, you run into many people sometimes with many different answers!  It really was a learning ground for me about the power of community – years before I started using what we would call modern social media.

Since that time, my home computer (this one) has always dual booted.  There are times when I’ll boot into Windows just to see what’s new.  It’s important now that it’s running Windows 10 to get the latest updates.  With Ubuntu, updates come along as well.  Major updates are twice a year and I’m now using version 15.10.

The inspiration for this walk through memory was reading this article this morning.  “Why Isn’t Linux Mainstream? 5 Flaws That Need Fixing“.

I didn’t agree with all of the points; it appears to have been written from a Windows perspective.  Many of the comparisons are to what Windows does.  Many are the same arguments that you hear when you discuss the situation with someone who hasn’t used Ubuntu seriously.  “Well, with Microsoft Office or Photoshop, I can do this and you can’t do that with LibreOffice or Gimp”.  It turns out to be some obscure function that they’ve found and are clinging to for dear life!  The reality is that you become literate and functional with what you use regularly.  Increasingly, that functionality is in the cloud.  Google Docs or Office 365, by design, runs well no matter what the system.  Most of my computing life involves being in a browser these days.  My goto is Firefox and, not only does it work the same way across platforms, but it syncs across those platforms!  Just for whatever reason, I keep Google Chrome, Opera Next, and Vivaldi installed for those times when I want to play with something different.

The comments to the article indicate most of what’s wrong with technology.  People focus on one particular point rather than looking at the big picture.  My win, in this case, was reading the comments and getting some leads to new resources or ideas.  No paying for support or listening to a “my way or the highway” tech support person here.

Updates are a breeze.  Ubuntu monitors everything and updates for anything are noted with an icon in my Launcher.  I’m a pretty responsible user and get all my software from the Ubuntu Software Centre or the plugin store for my browser.  I can’t say that for the other side of the hard drive or on my Macintosh.  So often, you only know of an update when you launch the application and get the notice.  Crashes are unheard of.  It delivers on the promise that all vendors make about “it just works”.  My only concern in moving to Ubuntu for my primary resource was the years of documents that I’d created in Windows.  It turns out that concern was just paranoia.  I just mount the Windows drive in the Launcher and it’s all there.  In fact, plugging anything into the computer mounts it as a device.  No hunting for that illusive driver and then keeping it up to date as well. 

This has saved my bacon with a couple of conferences I’ve helped organized over the past couple of years.  At the Bring IT Together conference a couple of years ago and last summer at the CSTA conference, we had keynote speakers who couldn’t connect to the projection system properly.  Fortunately, I had my laptop, plugged it in and we were good to go.  One had their presentation on the web and the other on a memory key.  We didn’t miss a step.

I recognize, and it’s backed up with the numbers in that original article, that I’m way in the minority here but I’m OK with that.  With all the passion that everyone exudes for their particular platform or product, it’s important to realize that we’re just talking about a tool that helps get the job done.

For years now, I’ve used this and it’s been the most reliable solution.

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