Zac Anger's Blog

Switch To Linux (Part One)

27 September, 2015

So, I enjoyed this post from Steven Ovadia, the fellow who maintains My Linux Rig (which, by the way, is a really great blog, and you should definitely follow it--it's kind of like The Setup, but without all the... ah.. fruit.

I have a couple of things I'd like to add (Steven touched on these, but some specifics here might help win you over, if you're currently a user of a non-free OS).

You’re technically-inclined, but might not have a technical job. You like to tweak your interfaces, though.


THIS. Is this not a great way to sum up most Windows power users? The sort of folk who maybe don't hate Windows 8 (I know 10's the big thing these days, but I haven't even looked at a screenshot yet...) but definitely preferred 7 and have fond memories of XP. People who have, at some point, thought about using LiteStep, or monitored with Samurize or Rainmeter, or ever spent some time on Microsoft-related tags on Customize.org, or follow blogs full of tech tips mostly related to your operating system. This is about you, and Linux is where you belong. You know how much trouble it was to get Visual Styles figured out when they changed that, and then to disable some Aero bits but retain some theme options, and to get a regular old start menu back in 8? Isn't it frustrating that you have to actually install other software just to be able to delete, modify or even see some files on your computer? Chances are you've spent a good bit of time doing things to improve how Windows works for you, and that's great. You're definitely not alone; DeviantArt is FULL of like-minded people who do some really fantastic stuff with Windows--and that's just graphical stuff! Getting into heavy system modification is a really scary thing for a lot of Windows users.

The thing is, there's no 'I REALLY shouldn't do this because Microsoft won't like it' kind of feeling with Linux. No one's going to automatically install broken hotfixes if you don't want them. No one's going snooping through your computer to see if the most basic level of software came with a license code--and no one's going to lock it down or power it off from a remote location if you didn't pay them $40 for the OS (note: last time I bought Windows, it was $40 for Windows 8 64-bit Pro; I have no idea what they charge these days). If you want to change how things look, it's not just okay, it's easy. I mean, seriously. sudo su and browse to /usr/share/icons; put some icons in. Boom. Icons. If you're using a DE (desktop environment), it's picked them up and you'll see it in your settings. If you're using a WM (window manager), it may depend on your WM or file browser (but this is getting a bit complicated--we'll assume you're using a DE for the moment). But either way, once icons are there, you don't have to manually select them per item every time you want to change something--or every time you make a visual change to something else. That sounds like an absurdly simplified example, but it serves as a good illustration of just how difficult basic things can be on some systems.

One other quick thing, which Windows users may find a bit shocking: we configure things with plain text. Yeah. Plain. Text. No funky weird files you can't open in any editor known to man and have to install software from shady people you met in an alley somewhere (shady internet people in a shady internet alley, anyway) just to be able to read. What's even better is that plain text can be simpler, faster, and better than Notepad. If you're a Notepad++ user, props. That's just about the most useful bit of software I ever installed on Windows 8 (or 7). Take a gander at all the crazy stuff you can do with arguably the most popular editor for Linux, Vim. Heck, you could just install Vim right now. We won't even get into Emacs... that's like having an entire extra operating system in your text editor. But back to configuration: text files. I have, for example, some nifty configs of my own that I keep synced between all my devices--nothing too fancy, not nearly on the level of some very impressive collections. Our text files can be edited with just about anything, including fancy IDEs with plugins and databases and such, and also including simple commands issued in a terminal (or console); we store them in uniform, sane places like /home/yourUserName/.configurationFileForProgram and, for system files (all users) /etc/program.conf (sometimes that'll be split into multiple files per program--we just put all those inside a folder and tack a '.d' onto the end of the name, like /etc/apt/sources.list.d/). There's no rule saying you must configure things with text, and my preferred DE has quite a snazzy tool to make things more user-friendly. If you give the plain-text option a try, though, you may find yourself loving it!

Okay, Mac friends. Don't think I've forgotten you. We'll call this post part one of two; I've been wanting to get myself set up with a decent (and self-hosted) static site/blog tool, and I think maybe writing actual decent-length posts is a good enough reason to just sit down and find one I like. To be continued.

OH, before I forget, you should maybe check out the book that Steve's writing; it's also linked in the original post that sparked this bit of blogging.

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