Linux on the Desktop is well past the stage of being a plaything for computer hobbyists but it still isn’t at the stage where it could be considered completely mainstream. There’s still some way to go but Linux is fast gaining ground at an accelerating pace and lots of folks are looking at it as a serious alternative to Windows and Mac. People tend to bring some misconceptions about hardware and software to the table when they seek advice and support as they contemplate making the switch. In this article, I will address a few of the most common complaints I get from folks who come to me for help getting started with Linux. I try to be up-front and honest about what Linux can and can’t do for them but I also am quick to point out that the surest way to have a bad experience with Linux is to approach it too quickly.
I hear this all the time: “Linux doesn’t support my ‘USB Left Nostril Repeater!’” or “I’d use Linux but I can’t run something silly like ‘PhotoSquash 2000‘ on it ’cause Linux doesn’t support it.” While the software/hardware names above may be made up, the point stands – Linux can and will do anything you ask it to. Linux doesn’t discriminate. It is up to the hardware designers and software developers to provide support for the Linux platform. So, if your favorite program isn’t available for Linux yet, don’t blame Linux. Better yet, make your voice heard and tell the developers of said program that you want it for Linux. While you wait for “PhotoSquash”, you can check out programs that do run on Linux that accomplish the same tasks. You may just find that you like the alternatives much more. Buying hardware that has good Linux support tells the manufacturer that there is a demand for Linux and it guarantees you a smoother experience using it. A win/win for sure…. Look in the forums and find out what all the hip kids are using before you buy.
Some people say, “I’d use Linux but it doesn’t work with my printer.” Most of the time, the printer they are referring to is five or ten years old. That line of thinking is sort of like saying you won’t buy a new car because the tires from your 1988 Buick won’t fit on the new car. Buy a new printer that works with Linux if you want to use Linux. I always point folks to HP because most of their stuff works right out of the box and on many distros it will auto-configure without any need for the user to do a thing. It’s worth the money for a new printer just to avoid the hassles of trying to find and install drivers for some marginally-supported, old, broken-down printer that might quit working tomorrow.
The folks who develop the Linux kernel have taken it upon themselves to include drivers for a wide variety of hardware. Most stuff either works or it doesn’t. There’s really no in-between. It is sometimes possible to find a hack that will make something work that wasn’t specifically designed to run with Linux but only rarely. It’s up to you to know whether something you buy has Linux support, either already in the kernel or provided by the manufacturer. Going down to the big box store and grabbing the cheapest peripherals off the shelf and hoping they will work with Linux will bring you heartache and pain. It’s way better to do some research before you buy something.
A story I’m hearing more and more is where folks go out and buy some cheap laptop at the big box store and then get miffed ’cause they can’t install Linux on it. Well, Duh! Those machines weren’t made to run Linux! Up to about five years ago, Linux would install on such low-end Windows machines rather easily but nowadays we got UEFI and Secure Boot to deal with and no two hardware manufacturers handle those things the same. You’re just being penny-wise and pound foolish trying this these days.
The best road to take in 2017 is to seek out and buy a machine designed to run Linux. Buying a new machine that comes loaded with Linux does some really nifty things. First, you send a message to the manufacturer that you care about Linux and that you appreciate their efforts to provide hardware for Linux. You’re voting with your wallet and you are NOT supporting Microsoft. Part of the price you pay for a computer that comes with Windows is the licensing fee that goes to MS. You’re just wasting hardened money if you don’t plan on using Windows! Also, it adds another tick to the all-important market statistics for machines sold with Windows. It doesn’t matter if you never boot into Windows or not. You bought a machine loaded with Windows and that counts as another Windows machine in the wild.
The two American companies that are offering the widest selection of Linux-loaded machines are System76 and Dell. System76 sells high-end hardware that is specifically built to run Ubuntu. Dell has recently expanded its line of Ubuntu loaded hardware. So, what if you don’t want to run Ubuntu? Both companies make it clear that their machines will run just about ANY modern Linux distro. Feel free to reload your shiny new machine with anything you like and the technical support folks will be glad to tell you how. System76 machines will happily run Windows too. I know of one tech who has decided that all of the new machines he recommends to clients will come from System 76, even if the client doesn’t want Linux! Why? It’s because they are very well made machines and he knows that even non-Linux-loving clients will be happy with their purchase for years to come.
I was going through a box of computer junk the other day, searching for a hard drive, and I came up with my old Ubuntu 10.10 installer CD. Just for fun, I ripped the CD into an ISO file and booted it up in VirtualBox. It all seemed rather quaint all these years down the road. It sort of boggles the mind when you consider just how far Ubuntu and Linux, in general, has come since 2010. Compared to Linux, Mac and Windows seem rather complacent. Linux is ever evolving and changing and the next couple of years promise to bring even more change than we’ve seen since 2010. The days of sticking Linux on a Windows PC are fast coming to a close. The future will require users to think in terms of hardware for Linux and not Linux for hardware. The software is going to change too. The days of companies being able to snub Linux are fast coming to an end as well. Cloud-based applications and the push toward cross-platform development will make what OS you are running more and more of an afterthought. Those who cling to the old way of doing things will eventually be pushed aside as Linux software gets better and better. Maybe not this year or the next but it is inevitable. Make sure you’re ready for those changes with the right hardware as you embark on your Linux Journey and be ready to be amazed.
Are YOU ready for Linux?