Hell froze over

Elementary OS !

Hell froze over…well maybe that is just a bit too dramatic. Anyway I’m not the first to do it, and I won’t be the last. But I’m glad I did.

At least in my private realm, I have said goodbye to Windows as my primary OS, and switched to Linux. There, I said it! It’s Elementary OS to be more precise. Linux has always been fun but also a struggle at times, but Elementary OS was truly love at first sight. It’s not perfect and I don’t want it to be. Every pretty lady has her small quirks, and that’s all part of the love.

I’m not anti-Microsoft, not a Windows-hater. Professionally I work with Windows every day, both clients and servers. There is not much wrong with Windows 7, and I even have (finally) gotten used to the tiled interface of Windows 8.x (as a start menu replacement with notifications, screw the “modern” apps). But lately two things pissed me off: one the one hand Microsoft’s poor decision making and commitment (where is the tiled interface / desktop / start menu going in Windows 9 and beyond, just when I got used to it?); on the other hand Microsoft decided to pull the plug out of the Technet subscriptions I had been enjoying for many years thanks to the goodwill of my employer (paying the yearly bill). So I got stuck without licenses suddenly, and an uncertainty if the road that Microsoft will take with Windows over the coming years is actually the kind of road I’m willing to take.

The Road to Something Elementary

Enter Linux, or I really should say re-enter Linux. I first got acquainted with the penguin more than a decade ago, trying to squeeze some extra life out of a 486DX computer by installing Red Hat Linux on it and using it as a file and web server. It was tough at times, but I managed and the brave little server worked happily for several years. But it got replaced in the end by a shiny new Windows server, and that was the end of Linux for me. Why? Because for the rest I did very little with Linux on a daily basis, and found I even had forgotten some basic commands by the time I needed to do an intervention on the Linux server. It was just all Windows at the time, and no room (or necessity) for anything else.

And then came the Raspberry Pi. Much credit for my revamped interest in Linux goes to this wonderful credit-card sized computer. Its default OS is Debian Linux based. When I first switched on a RPi and was presented with a black screen and login prompt, it felt like I had to start from scratch all over again with computing. Luckily, compared to the early zeroes, answers to most if not all questions and issues can easily be found online nowadays. It’s a steep learning curve at first, but an enjoyable one. My almost non-existing Linux skills turned to basic in a day, and have improved ever since. It’s been a year now, and without any hesitation I can say I now know my RPi, and Debian, and Linux.

Next came the desire to get a usable desktop environment on an older laptop. I could have gone for Windows 7, but decided I could do with another challenge and opted for Debian instead. I guess I could talk for hours about the whole process, trials, installs, uninstalls, image backups and recoveries…but I won’t. I first tried LXDE as the desktop environment, because I already sort of knew that one from my RPi experience. It’s indeed lightweight, but not very good looking. Then came Mate, a fork of the GNOME 2 desktop created by people who got pissed off by GNOME 3. Better looking, and still lightweight enough. For a while I settled with Mate as my desktop of choice…for Linux. But hardly as a replacement for Windows. And it could have very well stayed like that for a long time.

But then…I somehow stumbled on Elementary OS. One word: wow! Some more words: simplicity but functional, elegant, stable, fast, I’m in love.

Elementary OS Luna

Really…that good?!

Maybe you’ll agree, maybe you won’t. In Linux world there is no such thing as consensus. And that’s a good thing. Choices are endless (which Linux flavour, which distro, which desktop, and so on) so there is surely something good (or dare I say: perfect?) for anyone out there. It just takes a lot of trying, stumbling, and starting over. Or you could just believe me and jump the Elementary OS wagon.

Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu, which itself is based on Debian. So it’s not like Elementary is something very exotic. The very opposite is true, the support and user base is huge. If software works in Ubuntu, it will most likely work in Elementary. One thing though, not a show stopper but something to be aware of: the current release of Elementary OS, “Luna” or 0.2, is based on Ubuntu 12.04LTS. Which is, in the digital world, pretty old. But no reason to panic, because 12.04 will be supported until 2017. And anyway the next release of Elementary OS, “Freya” is round the corner and that one is based on Ubuntu 14.04LTS (supported until 2019). It is still in Beta1 at the moment though, and not ready for production. I was almost going to write that Freya is already around the corner, but the “already” part would be misplaced: contrary to most other distro’s Elementary OS has a slow release cycle, one every two years or so. No fixed schedule. Some people hate this, others see the benefits too.

I was soon convinced that this could be the Windows killer for me, so why not give it a try? Forget the old laptop and performance concerns, this time I took a brand new laptop, put 8 GB of memory in it and a 256 GB SSD disk. Now I am sure that Elementary will run just as well with less specs, but I had these lying around and wanted the best I could get. Specially the 8 GB of memory is normally overkill, but comes in handy when running virtual machines which I often do (more on that in my next post, I think). The Solid State hard disk will take care of the OS booting in literally a few second. It’s faster than my Surface 2 Pro tablet!

An OS that makes your mouth water is one thing, but an OS without usable software on it is useless. Luckily I found that Elementary comes with some good apps by default, although in the end I have replaced all but one or two of these with other software. That is something you really need to investigate: what functionality do I need (in other words which Windows software am I used to work with?) and which equivalent Linux software is there? It’s a process, full of amazing discoveries (and some disappointments). I think I will dedicate my next post on this subject: what options do you have, what if you really want to keep using some Windows software (I do…), and some of the other choices I made. Maybe it helps other Elementary converts like me.

After the crossroads

You could say that I’m now at the crossroads of the Elementary road. In a couple of months time, will I still be as happy as I am now with Elementary? Or will the love slowly fade away? Time will tell, but one thing is already crystal clear: for me the OS and desktop game has changed.

I still don’t believe that a Linux desktop, even not one as functional as Elementary, is suitable for everyone. We are talking here about replacing the one environment a noob knows with something that is, well, just different. Not so much the OS, but the applications they are used to working with. I don’t dare to take away my wife’s Windows 7 laptop and give her Elementary instead…but maybe one day I will do so anyway ;-)

Another experiment that lies somewhere in the future: replace Windows on my almost brand new Surface 2 Pro tablet with Elementary. I will be needing a stable release of Freya for that, but should work and promises to be (again) very exiting! I will keep you posted.

Cheers,
Marco


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