why I use Ubuntu

April 20, 2013

I have conflicting feelings about proselytizing anyone regarding operating systems.  In fact, one of the best things about Linux is that it’s a relatively small community of people who are interested in and mostly knowledgeable about computers and are passionate about open source software.  Bringing new users to Linux introduces problems after a point, since one of the main reasons there are no wild viruses for Linux is that so few people use it (depending on your source and your country, roughly 1% of computer users).  On the other hand, I love Linux, and Ubuntu specifically.  Coming from 20+ years of Windows use, Ubuntu was still very intuitive to get to know and use (much more so than MacOS for me).  It looks good.  And it’s free!

The main reason I switched to Ubuntu is because it’s free and open source.  While ideologically the latter is important to me, in all honesty it was the former that made me switch.  I was tired of paying hundreds of dollars for an operating system I didn’t love.  When I installed Ubuntu, I had been running a pirated copy of Windows — even though I had 4 Windows licenses for home use.  But these had come pre-installed on purchased computers, and after years of moving, hard drive crashes, and OS problems, I just didn’t know where any of the licenses were, and since all my computers were out of warranty, Microsoft wouldn’t give me the time of day.  Since I didn’t think it was right to pirate an operating system, I decided I’d check out something I could use for free, rather than spending hundreds of dollars replacing something that technically I still owned.

Another reason I switched was the instability of Windows.  I rebooted my computer pretty much every day between programs crashing my system, getting a Blue Screen of Death because of a driver or Windows Update problem, or just having to install new batch of Windows Updates that were so poorly written that every one of them required a restart, even though you should never have to restart your computer for an update that isn’t to the OS kernel, a driver, or something similar.  I’ve had a couple crashes with Ubuntu, but they were all either hardware problems (a video card that’s probably damaged) or because I tried to run lesser-supported Windows programs through Wine, the Windows emulator for Linux.  However, probably even more than the stability, the speed of Ubuntu has won me over.  Ubuntu is a little more bulky than, say, Fedora, but it still outperforms Windows in basically every way.  On my desktop Ubuntu takes about 30 seconds to boot, compared to 5 minutes for Windows XP.  On my laptop Ubuntu takes 15-20 seconds, versus Windows 7’s 2-3 minutes.

My biggest fear with switching to Ubuntu was the old hand-wringing of “What if I can’t use my programs??”  I eased myself into it by switching (while still using Windows) to less proprietary programs that ran on both Windows and Linux.  I started using Pidgin instead of AIM (a huge improvement since Pidgin supports all sorts of chat protocols) and LaTeX instead of Microsoft Office for text documents.  When I switched to Ubuntu, lo and behold, I was still able to do everything I could do on Windows.  I could still use Pidgin and TeXWorks, I found the default Document Viewer much faster and more stable than Adobe Acrobat, and OpenOffice filled the gaps left by leaving MS Office behind (though I still use TeXWorks for pretty much any text document).  As a musician working in two online collaborative projects I do a lot of file sharing, so I was pleased to find that Nicotine+ uses the Soulseek server for file sharing.  My old friend Google Chrome was still available, and I found a new music player — Audacious, which I’ll talk about in more detail in another post.  In short, everything I was afraid of about switching permanently to Ubuntu turned out to be a non-issue.

Personally I think everybody should try out Linux, and Ubuntu tends to be the distribution people find most user-friendly.  Ubuntu isn’t for everyone; if you have to use proprietary software that only runs on Windows, it’s not a perfect solution to have to reboot a dual-boot system or open a virtual machine running Windows.  And it’s definitely true that you MUST be comfortable with the command line if you’re going to use Linux.  As far as many modern distributions have come, you still either must or should use the command line for some tasks.  But for people who aren’t afraid of a few text commands and are willing to try out the open source alternatives to proprietary software, I think Ubuntu is the best operating system currently in heavy use.