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Using Linux

Recently I decided to start using Linux again as a primary OS on my laptop. I'm doing this because I believe Linux is the best OS to solve my problems and I'm committed on sticking with it this time. If you're deciding to do this I'll walk you through my choice to hopefully help eliminate some of your confusion and avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Some History

This isn't my first time making this decision. For the past 20 years I've been back and forth between Windows and Linux as my primary OS. Through the years I've installed Mandrake Linux, RedHat, Fedora Core, Ubuntu, Backtrack and most recently Arch Linux. Here's some of the lessons I've learned.

Use good hardware for a good experience

I used to install Linux on laptops and desktops that were my "retired" devices. It didn't help that the computers I used to buy were already budget models when they were new. While it's true Linux can be lightweight and can run on nearly all hardware the experience will be hampered.

Be prepared to do some hardware configuration

When buying a Windows laptop the OEM configures everything to make it "just work" hiding stuff like driver installation and configuration from you. If you install a fresh copy of Windows you'll quickly see what I mean, things like your display, sound, and wireless likely will require driver installations and multiple reboots. And this is with an OEM that has a nice website with all drivers easily available and dedicated support

Linux is no different, you'll need to spend some time working through peripherial installation. Expect this going in.

Just pick a distribution and go with it when first starting

With OSX and Windows you usually just use the latest version. For those being nitpicky sure you could use an older version, and sure there's Windows Server and variants like that, but for an end user there really is just one obvious choice.

This isn't the case with Linux, there's numerous variations. If you're first starting just quickly pick the one that suits you the best to get familiar. Virtual Machines are helpful here as well so you can test many flavors without needing to go through the installation hassle. But don't spend too much time worrying about it, just get started.

Don't feel like you can't look under the hood

Windows and OSX are closed source, and it's impossible and sometimes actively discouraged to figure out what the OS is doing. Linux is the complete opposite, as it's actively encouraged to learn the ins and outs. There's a lot to learn but there's a helpful community to guide you through it.

Dual booting is doable but adds complexity

A tempting option is to dual boot your computer, so you can always switch back to Windows with a quick reboot. This is certainly possible, and not difficult to setup, but if you're new to working with computers at this level it becomes all too easy to break things and subsequently difficult to repair. It's my opinion that your life will be much easier initially if you just dedicate machine to Linux. If you don't have two computers then go with a dual boot but if you can spare the money and are dedicated to learning Linux a dedicated machine will smooth the process.

Some applications just require Windows which makes switching costs higher

If you were wondering why I kept switching back and forth it was this. Previously I needed programs like Solidworks to do my job. Even with Wine things just didn't work well. Unfortunately this also meant that I would end up just spending more time with Windows and neglect Linux. The dual boot option works here, but it does mean Linux will likely remain your secondary computer if you need Windows programs in your daily tasks.

Get started

Hopefully this provides answers for some basic questions. I'll be writing followup posts on why I picked Linux this time and an abbreviated tutorial for installing Arch Linux.