Sunday, May 19, 2024

What a Linux User Misses From Windows

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Recently I found myself thinking back to when I first started using Linux, roughly thirteen years ago. Back then, I was dual-booting with Windows because Linux was merely a curiosity for me and something interesting to explore. Today, I use Linux exclusively.

It’s not only my go-to platform, I simply couldn’t imagine using anything else. In this article, I’ll explore some things I miss about using Windows. This isn’t to say I miss Windows, because I honestly don’t. But there are elements of the Windows experience, that I’ve found myself missing lately.

Software variety

For the most part I’ve found that today’s Linux desktop offers ample software to meet my needs. Still, there are those annoying occasions when you purchase a specialized peripheral and it doesn’t work quite right. For example: a business card scanner or specific buttons not detected on your gaming mouse.

Now, this isn’t to say it’s impossible to configure these things. It’s technically possible to configure almost any input or scanning device. Regardless, sometimes these specialty devices can be more difficult to set up on Linux compared to using the manufacturer provided Windows software.

Another issue I’ve had to overcome is the sheer volume of dedicated applications for a set task. Take webcam/IP cam monitoring as an example. In the Linux world, I’ve found MOTION and ZoneMinder. There are also other sporadic (rarely functional) options on Github/SourceForge. With Windows, you’ll find over twenty alternatives without even looking very hard. All of them work as described. Again, I realize this is only one software category. But as even the most die-hard Linux enthusiast will admit, Windows generally has greater numbers of software choices to choose from.

Some other examples I’ve found recent Windows converts asking about include Microsoft Office, Adobe software (Photoshop, etc), and accounting applications such as Quickbooks. There are also other specialty applications commonly used by small businesses that tend to be very Windows specific. It’s annoying, although thankfully my experience with these things has lessened due to my limited needs.

Things that would make my Linux experience better

A decent PIM: I’d love to see a decent Personal Information Manager (PIM) for Linux. Kontact and Evolution feel dated, and it takes a ton of add-ons to truly make Thunderbird/Lightning usable in my opinion. Windows has multiple non-Microsoft specific options in this space.

Audio management: For daily tasks, ALSA is fine. And I can use conf file to match my sound devices as needed. The PulseAudio sound server modernized this a bit, sadly though it leaves a lot to be desired for audio recording. Now JACKprovides a decent connection kit. But unless you’re familiar with its inner workings, you’re in for a number of teaching moments.

It’s unfortunate we can’t bundle JACK’s latency options and PulseAudio’s controls for user flow into something easier. I still think Linux audio is ready for 2016. Take another look at this article from 2010. Even today, this article still stands for the most part explaining how unnecessarily convoluted Linux audio has become.

This isn’t to say it’s unusable. I can think of one Linux gaming podcast that demonstrates that it’s perfectly doable to offer high quality audio in Linux. Their show sounds great! But to for casual folks, accomplishing the same might feel more intimidating when compared to doing the same with Windows. Just my opinion, your experiences may vary.

Power management: in recent years, Linux power management has improved substantially. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really kept pace with Windows in this area. Apparently, it helps when you’re pouring money into the pockets of hardware vendors.

Linux tools like TLP, PowerTOP, laptopmodetools and other solutions help, but they’re simply not going to provide the depth of battery longevity found on Windows.

Video cards: Over the past five years or so, I’ve personally never had a deal breaking experience with my graphics cards under Linux. However, on client machine’s I’ve found that AMD is a crap shoot, while NVIDIA is usually quite good in terms of proprietary driver support. Still, they never really match performance found on Windows in terms of power consumption and timely availability.

Based on my experience, you’re often wanting to wait a few months after a new video card comes out for the best driver experience. It always feels like Windows users are given preferential driver availability. Again, NVIDIA has gotten better about this. But not too long back Linus Torvalds himself gave NVIDIA a single gesture showing how he felt about their participation in the Linux space.

Then there is Intel video drivers. While there are ways to install the latest drivers using your package manger or the Intel GUI tool, there isn’t really a GUI tool for handling multiple monitors, external displays and so on. Like most things Linux, it can be fixed with some know-how…but c’mon, it’s 2016. New Linux converts demand better. Both AMD and NVIDIA offer tools for this. I think Intel should do the same.

Understand that I’m not talking about KDE/GNOME based display managers or front-end(s) to xrandr. I’m talking about a GUI specific to the driver used. While one could absolutely use xrandr to push the signal to an external projector, I’d like to be able to demonstrate an Intel card specific solution to newbies. For newbie distros like Mint and Ubuntu, this is badly needed as xrandr GUIs rarely work correctly.

I’ve found getting xrandr to work properly means understanding how to use it from a terminal. Fine for me, but painful to demonstrate to others. Intel video drivers on Windows tend to come with a GUI designed specifically for that driver. It’s something I miss as it’s a secondary option and nice when I’m offering phone support to someone.

Of course I still love Linux

Despite the concerns named above, there are some things I need to make clear. First off, I live in a Linux world. Everything I do on any computer is done with one Linux distro or another. Second, anything listed above in terms of getting something to work has been done successfully in Linux. My gripe about it is that so much of it feels unnecessarily convoluted.

The last issue I have is that, yes, it still frustrates me when a new software title is released and it supports Windows, OS X and Web. It’s the principle of the thing that makes me want to scream. It’s especially frustrating if the software looks like it might be useful or allow me to streamline a task.

Despite those frustrations, anytime I’m asked to help someone with their Windows problem I have to politely refuse. When they ask why, I simply point out that I long ago decided to use an operating system that allows me complete freedom.

I enjoy the freedom to fix anything that might break without permission from any one company, the ability to update my software with one or two commands, plus the option to switch to a completely different desktop experience for free at any time. These are things Windows doesn’t provide me with.

What say you? Do you have anything from Windows you miss? Perhaps I missed something and there are no issues? Hit the Comments, share your thoughts and let’s talk about it.

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