Recently there was a story about Microsoft selling user data to the FBI, and I thought, “Who’s data do they have? Google & Facebook own all our data.” Then, I reminded myself that most of the world has to use Windows computers. In fact, Windows 8 encourages people to login with a Microsoft account. Like Android phones, Windows 8 wants you to use your Microsoft account so that it can automatically log you into services like Hotmail and Skydive. This is how Android and Windows collect data. Ease of use for you equals information they can sell.
As a video editor and motion graphic artist, I use a Mac as my daily driver. Apple makes money off of user data as well and I am not your typical Kool-Aid drinking Apple cultist. I use a Mac because my job demands it. On the occasion I need to use Windows for a client, I switch. It is a simple as that. Since Windows is more prevalent, Microsoft has a real hold on the digital world. If I want to read a document, I need MS Word. Basically, sharing most things between clients and friends requires Windows because most of the world is using a Windows machine.
At least, that was the world of 5 years ago. The iPhone has grown Apple’s presence slightly, but more importantly storage has really come down in price and we now have “the cloud.” A fancy word to the geriatric crowd, cloud simply means storage out on the web. Dropbox, Skydrive, OwnCloud and countless others are examples of online storage. Furthermore, website hosting companies are now offering services to host web apps for smartphones and tablets. In other words, think of the app you downloaded on the phone as the interface to the services hosted online, much like a website. For example, that Facebook app on your phone took seconds to download, yet it contains tons of your photos, videos and status posts. How’s it all fit on your phone? It doesn’t. All of those items are online and the app is just a gateway to the online content.
Still No Choice?
Other apps and services are now completely web-based. Google has a whole office suite, free to use with spreadsheets, presentations and word processing available. More and more companies are offering these web-based apps for a variety of reasons. I’m sure the corporate giants love collecting the personal data to sell to advertisers and they benefit from being able to protect their software from hackers if it is hosted on the web. Instead of free copies of Photoshop being passed around between friends, you now have to subscribe to Adobe’s cloud services to use the application.
Whether you like it or not, this is the future of computer use. The upside is that maybe you aren’t so stuck with Windows anymore. These web apps are made to work in browsers, typically they don’t depend on specific operating systems. The idea of trying something besides Windows has fewer consequences now. Many say Windows 8 is a pretty big jump from previous versions. Thus, you’ll have to relearn a new interface anyway. Why not find something you like?
“Thanks for the read, but no thanks.”
Hold on! One of the most excellent features of Linux is the ability to try it before you install it. If you still have a CD drive, or an old computer lying around with one, you can sample many flavors of Linux. Most of these distributions can run off the CD allowing you to road test them. No CD drive? Put Linux on a USB thumb drive and try it out. And don’t worry about that old machine, Linux is incredibly fast and efficient.
There are Linux distros crafted for the specific purpose of being light and fast for older machines. If you look at tablets and smartphones, their hardware is a few generations behind the speed and power of desktop computers because of their size. Therefore, an older laptop on Linux could once again become useful in a world where we use web apps.
My Chocolate box Sampler
As much as you fantasize about being Mathew Broderick in War Games, you are not a hacker. You don’t want to start Linux to find a command prompt waiting for you to issue cryptic commands. Therefore, I’d suggest sampling Ubuntu. The Ubuntu OS has grown into a real competitor in the last seven years. And, the focus of the OS is to provide ease of use and similarity to Windows and Mac OS X. Don’t let that statement scare you, Windows and OS X emulate each other in hopes to sway users over to their side. You’d be surprised how similar Windows 7 and OS X are.
Another distro shedding the command line image of Linux is Linux Mint. This friendly and smooth OS is what I chose to try on my old and blazing hot iMac. The transition from Mac to Linux Mint was effortless. Things work like I expect them to and I have never really felt lost. I dare say that it is probably more user-friendly than Windows 7. Actually, the only time I find myself frustrated in Linux Mint is when I expect it to work like the other version of Linux I am currently using, CrunchBang.
CrunchBang is a minimalist, Diehard villain(or a Live Free or Diehard hero) version of Linux. Also, it is slickly abbreviated using the symbols, “#!” on the web. This version of Linux is a decent home for the command line junkie. You don’t have to rely heavily on the commands in CrunchBang, but you feel more like a tween movie star if you do.
Linux Mint frustrates me because I have gotten used to the CrunchBang desktop environment. If you’ve read my Android Advice post on navigation and customization than you’ll be somewhat familiar with the concept of desktop environments. After all, Android is a version of Linux.
Think of Linux as a library. Years ago, when one went to the library and wanted to find a book s/he had to look in a card catalog to find the prize. Today, libraries have a computer to help you search for the book. The card catalog and the computer are an interface to access the library. In Linux, you can choose from different windows environment as your interface. For example, Linux Mint comes with several built-in desktops environments.
In other cases, you can install the desktop environment of your choosing on the version of Linux you are using. CrunchBang comes with OpenBox which seems to make sense to my brain. There’s no dock or start button in OpenBox. You simply right-click to access your file manager, applications and settings. It’s very fast and I am constantly right-clicking in Linux Mint now, looking for this feature. So, I need to install OpenBox on my Linux Mint iMac.
CrunchBang with OpenBox
Pitfalls:The Inevitable Disclaimer
Installing different desktop environments on the various versions of Linux is especially handy because you may run into issues specific to your machine. I wanted something lightweight for the iMac because it only has 2GB of RAM. The old Toshiba laptop I acquired has a WiFi card that was incompatible with the first Linux distro I tried, Arch Linux. This is a result of manufacturers who make the drivers for their hardware proprietary. Linux has a tremendous community full of developers crafting open source solutions, so I’d say my experience was rare. In fact, there were drivers for my issue. Now, that I have conquered the WiFi driver issue in CrunchBang and in Linux Mint on the iMac, I might be better prepared to try to install Arch Linux.
The issue of compatibility with your hardware can bet tested fairly simply by road testing the Linux distro on a CD or thumb drive. Plus, all the distros have large, supportive communities that are willing to help you dive in.
Still Not Interested
First, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. I appreciate it. Second, if you don’t want to experiment with Linux as a daily driver, think about using it to breath life into an old computer. There are tons of projects out there for old laptops and computers if you Google them. For example, you can use ownCloud to make your own Dropbox service for free. There’s software to simply make the old machine Network Attached Storage (NAS), a digital photo frame and so much more. Many involve custom installs of Linux or software that will run on Windows. Of course, I suggest you wipe the old machine and start fresh if you plan to continue with Windows. After all, I assume that machine is unused because it is slowed down by all the stuff installed that you will no longer be using in your new project.