Why I won’t be moving to Linux — maybe

I can hear the fanboys now: he’s too wedded to Windows, doesn’t understand the true value of Linux, he’s a M$ fanboy.

None of the above is true. What I do think is that an OS is — or at least ought to be — irrelevant: what matters is the applications. And that’s why, despite the last week of living inside Ubuntu, the easiest of distros, I shan’t be sticking with it. Maybe — when I wrote the first draft of this blog, about a three days ago, that word was ‘probably’.

Despite all that, as a fairly advanced user — I got my hands on my first computer in 1982 and was writing simple assembler within a few weeks — I do like Linux. I’m comfortable with a command line interface (which is how I drove my computers for over ten years), I like the way it’s highly configurable, the fact that there’s loads of free software for it, and that it’s developed by the community, for the community. Open is the way forward.

But although it’s very close, here’s why I believe Linux isn’t quite ready for my desktop — yet.

I run Windows XP: it’s not perfect but, broadly speaking, it does what I want. Once you turn off the more annoying features and themes, and disable the myriad services and other superfluous bits of resource-gobbling software, it’s reasonably quick and very stable.

But it’s also extremely annoying: it’s expensive to run, with constant nags for updates, ever-growing demands on hardware, and it’s always under attack, so you have to run lots of power-sapping security software. It just seems to keep getting slower, often with seconds of frantic disk activity before anything happens. And this is on a dual-core powered PC with 750GB of disk space and 2GB of RAM.

So it’s time to move on, especially since Microsoft doesn’t look like it’ll be producing anything that improves on XP any time soon. I’ve made this resolution twice before and always returned to Windows — but this time it’s more serious. No, really.

What applications? I run all the standard stuff for work purposes such as email, browser, and IM, and the usual productivity applications, and I have a smartphone that needs to be synchronised.

But here’s the real kicker: I’m a very keen photographer. I’ve bought copies of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom because they allow me to manage and manipulate my thousands of photos in RAW format. There’s nothing else like them for Linux. Yes, I’ve tried GIMP but it’s not as rich, as fluid, nor does it have Photoshop’s broad support in terms of online help and plug-ins. And the situation is similar for Lightroom, which is a great product with plenty of community support. I have looked.

I’ll admit too to a certain reluctance to abandon tools that I use regularly for editing audio and video, for ripping DVDs and so on, simply because I’m so familiar with them. I guess Linux replacements will become familiar over time….

Some applications there are no Linux equivalents for. I’ve been making a list as I’ve needed to do stuff: Ameol (offline access to Cix conferencing); TMPGEnc DVD Author (DVD editing and authoring); QuickBooks (a killer this; there really is no alternative); and a couple of god games I still play, such as Civilization IV.

One application, Cool Edit 2000 which is a great program, could be replaced by Audacity, which is available on Linux. I’m just so totally familiar with the ex-Syntrillium product (now an over-bloated, over-priced Adobe product since Adobe bought the company) that it’ll be hard to make the break. There are others in this category.

Many of these applications will run either under WINE — a form of non-Microsoft Windows running under Linux — or in virtual machine under Sun’s Virtual Box. So I just had to give it all a try.

I partitioned a disk and threw 64-bit Ubuntu onto it last week. Easy to install, it just flew. All the standard applications seemed be twice as quick; it was a revelation. And it instantly mounted my Windows data disks, allowing me to bind the NTFS partitions into my Home folder for easy access.

I then installed Virtual Box and set up a virtual machine running Windows XP to see how possible it would be to run Lightroom and PS inside a virtual machine.

And that’s as far as I’m going this week. You may (or may not) hear more over the next few days…