Windows 7? Why not Linux, instead?

My logs show that only a paltry 3.6% of readers have reached Complete Enlightenment. The bad news is that 83.1% of you live a hellish existence and suffer regular torments and agony, much of it self-imposed. How I weep for you! (The remaining 13.3% are in Limbo, including the 2 jokers last month who logged on using a PlayStation 3.)

Yes. I remember when I, too, was forced to use Windows. Viruses, spyware, screens forever locking up, endless forced reboots. How gray the world was! But then, one calm morning, as dawn broke over the Eastern sky, I finally Saw the Light. I switched to Linux.

Windows 7

If you are a geek, you already know about Linux and chances are, unless your corporate IT says otherwise, you are already one of the Elect. So I am now speaking to the chained masses.

Linux is an operating system, like Windows or Mac OS1, which is as fully rich as the other two but is free. Want an office software suite (word processor, spreadsheet, “PowerPoint”-like thingee)? Try Open Office. Want image editing software? Try the Gimp. Totem will play DVDs and other video files. Rhythm Box will play all sound files and hook up to internet radio stations. Want a real command line where you literally control the world through an occult language? Terminal, baby. Best news is that all of these come built-in to Linux. They are also free.

There are many flavors of Linux, but I recommend Ubuntu—one of those trendy African words meaning “warm fuzzy”. Log on to the site to see pictures of multicultural people holding hands and grinning weirdly, just like the photos appearing on any corporate web site.

Before you blow $219.99 (plus tax & plus shipping if you want the discs) to upgrade to Windows 7—and that is before adding on niceties like Office and PhotoShop and on and on—why not try Linux, whose grand total costs are 0 dollars and 0 cents?

Best of all: you do not have to dispose of Windows! You can download a copy of Linux and install it right on your Windows machine by using Wubi.


Wubi is Free

Wubi and Ubuntu cost absolutely nothing (free as in beer), but yet provide a state of the art, fully functional, operating system that does not require any activation and does not impose any restriction on its use (free as in freedom).

It works by installing a 5GB file in your Windows “C:/” directory and an option in the “boot” menu. This is a regular Windows file and it does not interfere in any way with operations. Next time you reboot your machine, you’ll be presented with an option to start Windows or Ubuntu. Select the later, and don’t look back. If you’re on a laptop, navigate to the upper right of the screen to the little network icon; click it and choose your normal Wifi server, then you’re in business.

On the upper left of the screen, click “Applications” and see what’s what. The interface should be intuitive and familiar. There’s time-wasting and soul-sucking games, plenty of small-tool accessory programs, the Open Office suite, lots of internet tools like Firefox and Evolution email, and so on. Click “System” next and see where all the options are. You can add users—Linux is based on security: everybody needs a username and password and they need to use it every time they log on—add or subtract eye candy, set up printers, and so forth.

The only real pain in the keister is licensing. Ubuntu is fully free and open source and runs under a software license which requires all native packages meet this strict demand. Certain video and audio formats don’t, and so much be installed separately. Go to this page which explains the deal and has a button to complete the installation.

Linux is absolutely the only way to go if you have a netbook and your main goal in life is to browse Facebook etc. Many netbooks come pre-installed with Linux, particularly in Asia. This lowers the cost of computers by about 100 bucks because no money flows to Seattle.

Some of you will make The Shift, but it won’t stick. It’s true that there is a learning curve to any new operating system, and if you’re a lifelong Windows survivor, the curve might feel steep. However, don’t give up easily. Remember that any difficulty you’re having, somebody else had too. So Google/Yahoo/Bing and find how those people solved their problems. Enlightenment carries its own rewards!


1Mac OS is already Linuxy; it was “informed” by BSD, another *nix flavor. Open the Terminal command line and see.


  1. DAV

    Hammer? Why not a screwdriver? I use both selecting the one most appropriate. Beyond that it’s a religious thing.

  2. Eric

    The tool analogy is valid, but its not a hammer or screwdriver choice. Think of it as a garage full of tools, especially the high end power tools that use that fancy new air compressor.

    Linux says that once you buy the air compressor (new computer), then you should be able to get new tools (OS and Apps) for free and that you should never have to pay for air. Oh and the tools should just work.

    Windows says that you have to buy each of the new tools, you have to regularly modify them and air costs you money. And it causes the compressor to regularly leak oil into the air stream, ultimately wrecking the whole thing.

    I’ve taken multiple computers that could no longer work with windows, and have no hope of working with Vista or Windows 7, and made them very useful and fully operational by using Ubuntu.

    Its not about “religion”, or personal preference, its about working smarter and making the best use of the equipment you have and thus the money you have spent and the money you will spend in the future.

  3. Speed

    William, your argument is based solely on cost (free vs. $219.99+) and is not persuasive.
    In Econ 101 we learned that surgeons should not change their own oil because saving a few tens of dollars while giving up income of hundreds of dollars by not removing someone’s gall bladder is financially irrational. As a hobby it’s fine but not as a money saver.
    Using Linux to save $219.99 doesn’t make financial sense if it means giving up billable hours (insert your rate here) learning to use the new operating system.
    Price is one of Linux’ (is that the proper possessive form?) advantages but it is not universally applicable.
    In my experience, “Viruses, spyware, screens forever locking up, endless forced reboots … ” are ancient Windows history.

  4. I’ve gotta agree with Speed on this. I have all three at home, and rarely, if ever, use my Ubuntu box. It basically serves my internal music and videos to other devices in the home.

    I have a heavy IT background, so I don’t have problems with the virus/spyware/etc issues above, for me it’s all about familiarity because everything I do depends on how fast and accurate I can do it. Under these criteria, I almost never use my wife’s iMac because frankly I want more buttons and more keys with more command buttons. I don’t want to have to hit five buttons and open three programs to email a print screen. As far as my Ubuntu box, I just don’t have the free time to spend countless hours becoming proficient in something that provides no actual benefits besides a few hundred dollars. I’d say it would take me roughly 500 hours of digging into Linux for me to approach my knowledge and experience with WinBoxes. So using Speed’s economic argument, my hourly worth would have to be $0.44 per hour. I’m cheap, but I’m not that cheap 🙂

    Now, if I can get you to convince my boss to switch from SAS to R, now there’s an argument I can stand behind.

  5. Imaginos

    For me, not using Linux is a more practical matter; it can’t use my hardware. Sure, it runs on my computer, but try and install the drivers for my expensive video card, which works right away in Windows? Several distros locked up and froze (double panic!), with a screeching noise coming out of the case. Only SuSE (one of the not free linux distros) could handle the drivers, allowing me to use hardware acceleration. Echoing Speed, I haven’t had a virus (or even a blue screen of death) since 2001, when I installed Windows XP. And while I could find comparable programs for both OSes, none of them ran particularly well unaccelerated in Linux.

  6. Steve Burrows

    Until someone makes a full featured CAD/CAM/CAE suite for linux, I’m stuck with Windows on most machines. The one Linux box we use for talking with old machine tools works OK, but is quirky to maintain.

    Linux is almost there, I don’t think the wait will be long.

  7. I have a netbook with Ubuntu Linux. It’s “OK”: not terrible but not better than Windows. I do like that it reboots quite rapidly- which is good because it crashes ALL THE TIME. The free software is pretty good, better than I expected. Installing new software is a tremendous pain the ass. It’s not a bad alternative to Windows but it’s nothing to get excited about.

  8. Kevin Jackson

    “Viruses, spyware, screens forever locking up, endless forced reboots”

    My time with Windows is orders of magnitude greater than my time with Linux. (I use Windows at home, while my comp sci courses at university use Linux.) I don’t have problems with viruses or spyware in either enviroment, but lock ups and forced reboots are far more common on Linux. Your mileage may vary, of course, but that’s been my experience, and it has done nothing to convince me that Linux is a more stable environment.

    Incidentally, remember that whenever you encourage people to try Open Office or Gimp, you’re also saying “you can’t use MS Office” and “you can’t use Photoshop”.

  9. Bernie

    I know people feel strongly about MS, but frankly I have had minimal problems plus my IT people would shoot me if I added Linux to my work machine.

    However, I am tempted to download it onto one of my home computers so that I can talk about Linux and UBANTU at cocktail parties after the other guests get upset with my talking about global warming, our loss of freedoms and the decline and fall of Western Civilization.

  10. Luis Dias

    Does it have Autocad? Does it have 3DStudio MAX? Does it have ArchiCAD? Then the hell with it.

    Also, what does a right wing blogger doing with a communist virus like Linux? Don’t you know you are destroying the whole world by not giving any money for other people’s work?

    Joking aside, Linux is for the geeks, not normal people that don’t want to care about distros, drivers, compability issues, etc. So mr Briggs, here’s a compliment to you: You’re a full blown geek. May the force be with you.

  11. Briggs


    Power to the people! Open source means good science. And security. And happiness. And true sense of humor.

    “Right wing”? That’s orthogonal blogger, mon ami. May the Force also be with you, too, brother.

    Everybody else,

    Nobody wants to try Wubi? Runs side by side with that other OS. Piping? ps aux | grep whostheboss? Running jobs in the background? Easy-as-pie synching and backups? Latex instead of the execrable Word? Learning how the Illuminati control life itself? Oh, the vast secrets of the command line!

    I suppose we übergeeks are able to assimilate knowledge of new OSs in finite time, so our utility is maximized by learning new tools.

    Even my old pa—a real man—can run Linux.

  12. SteveBrooklineMA

    I see from the comments that people out there have wised up to the truth about Linux: it just ain’t worth it! I agree with all of the reason’s given. I use Windows, with Cygwin to get those geeky unix commands I prefer. It’s great.

    In addition, I would point out that OpenOffice may be fine if you are working by yourself, but these days more and more work is collaborative, and the standard is Microsoft. Yes, OpenOffice is supposed to be compatible, but it isn’t. You send your Word document to your colleague, he edits it in OpenOffice and sends it back, you open it and find numerous document failures. Again, it ain’t worth it.

  13. I dual-boot Linux and Windows. Adobe Creative Suite applications run only on Mac and Windows. So, I have to put up with a 3 to 4 minute boot time while Linux boots in about a minute.

    My wife does not do any online banking in Windows because of previous virus experiences. Linux, so far, does not have this problem, and according to recent articles, Mac OS-10 is starting to be targeted by some viruses.

    I also keep a version of Linux on a USB memory stick, and will occasionally use it for a rescue system to salvage files for friends’ when their Windows machines won’t boot.

    Being geeky is good.

  14. D Johnson

    As a non-geek, I’ll continue to use XP until my lap top expires, then go to Wincows 7,8 or 9 or whatever is current at the time. Operating systems are absolutely not on my interest agenda. There are many more important issues that really matter. And I expect that most people have a similar point of view (much to Microsoft’s benefit I presume).

  15. I have used Linux off and on for more than a decade. I first used it for servers to do things that were not possible under windows. I have been using a linux Desktop – first Debian and now Ubuntu for the last 5 years. I have been using it almost exclusively for the past 3.
    Completely switching was hard. It took a while to find an equivalent for every little tool I rely on – but look and they are all there. And once you do switch you will never be able to move back. When you have a sudden need for some widget, program or tool you never needed before, fire up a package manager, search for what you are looking for – you will find it, and probably have a choice between four or five different ones.
    I boot windows about once a month – because some of my work has to run under windows and I have to test it. It is really awkward, Windows is so slow and cumbersome. almost everything works worse.
    Linux is not perfect, but it is way better than windows. It does crash – when I block the air to my laptop fan and overheat the CPU – but windows crashes then too. I can make it get the slows – bring up 5 documents in open office, rip a DVD, run 300 inbox filter rules in thunderbird, briing up firefox with 30 tabs, and play music and you probably will run out of virtual memory – but you can put a little graph in your status bar and when it gets almost all green (or blue or red or whatever color you want) close some uneed applications before things start to get slow.

    Probably its biggest weakness – when you can not figure something out, you can not ask your husband, wife, or co-worker, you have to use google to get the answer – alright maybe 787,456 answers but usually you will find what you are after in the first couple. The second problem is there are just too many choices. I think Ubuntu has 3 different network managers. Media players out the whazoo, … you could spend years using the worst image viewer never realizing there were 5 better ones – because it was not hard to use and it did your job.
    For those hardware cranks above – your wrong! There is linux support for vastly more hardware than there is windows support. There are rare occasions where you have to wait a month or two before the latest and greatest video card or USB widget is supported. There are some vendors – particularly video card and wifi vendors who provide no technical information on their product or who supply their own proprietary buggy binary drivers for linux, but these are increasingly rare. Further my kids move fluidly back and forth between school supplied desktops running windows and my wifes and my old laptops running Linux. If I asked I hope they would prefer Linux, but mostly they just don’t notice. for them it is like picking which car we take to the store – they know they are not the same, but they do not see real meaningful differences. My wife is the sole remaining exclusively windows user. She hates Vista. I have managed to move her to Open Office – she complains about that all the time too. But she chose to move – actually she had to, it is the only word processor that can handle (and translate) all the documents she gets from different sources – myriads of versions of word perfect and numerous versions of word.
    The surgeon who spends hours going from circuit city to staples, to … looking for the windows app they need to perform some desired task has lost no matter how high their hourly rate, and no matter how expensive the windows app is, when they could have picked and picked and installed a linux app in minutes without leaving home.
    To the guy using cygwin – you really need to try real linux. Cygwin sucks unless the OS you use is windows. Then it is all you have.
    I am also very reluctant to recommend ubuntu wubi. it is a great way to experiment with real linux, but an ubuntu wubi install is just not nearly as robust as a real linux install. If you like a wubi install you will find a clean linux install faster and more reliable, but if you are unhappy with a wubi installs rebustness, remember it is a kludge to run linux on a windows system without the risk and pain of actually installing linux – resizing partitions …

  16. Briggs

    Ah, yes, I have seen this “Word” software. Its output look like designs from modernist shock artists. Even more probable is that Word is a plant by enemy—possibly even alien—agents to drive us mad. “Let them point & click! WYSIWYG! Let them be forced to sweat over fonts and margins. Let them delete random letters and watch entire paragraphs turn strange colors. Then let them graduate to PowerPoint. They will soon come to like it, even love Big Brother’s software as the bullets enter their brains. WaHahahahahahaha!”

  17. DAV

    Dave Lynch,
    You can learn a lot from kids and agnostics in general.

    Can you name any hardware that worked under Linux (in it’s many flavors) but not initially Windows? I can name quite a few things that the reverse was true. I have six Linux systems where some users can ssh between any pair using keys but some can’t at all and two can only do so between certain pairs (and only one-way at that). The problem is: fixing all of that is secondary to the task at hand. Who wants to spend hours or days researching then fixing silly secondary problems instead of just getting on with the job?

    You could write a book about everything I know of economics; stick that book in your eye; then discover you wouldn’t notice its presence. I still do know a couple of things however.

    One lesson from Econ 101: nothing’s free. Ultimately, there is a price to be paid and the “free” thing can be the highest priced item. The ‘free’ in the Linux world is only available because of some very remarkable generosity. What do YOU do for a living? Would you do it for FREE? Think about that. How do those “free” Linux apps get paid for? How long do you think it can go on? Doesn’t that “free” sound a lot like the free-ride 50% of the tax payers enjoy?

    Another Econ lesson: There’s a reason why standardization of things like screw diameter and pitch greatly facilitated the spurt of growth associated with the Machine Age. The Linux world is far from standardized — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. How many developers of serious apps want to spend megabucks trying to conform to every imaginable distro combo to ultimately receive NOTHING in return? Sure, you might get donations a la shareware but ultimately begging is a lousy business plan.

    And yet another (an exercise for extra credit): Why don’t businesses stop paying that outrageous fee for Windows and go suck up all of those free Linux apps?

    There is some hope for Linux. Eventually, someone will come up with a combo that’s a good compromise; that will get the job done; doesn’t require constant fiddling after every update; can be installed by a secretary or will come pre-installed; and will provide a standardized platform for those who wish to develop applications for my business. Oh, wait! Someone’s already done that; started a company; and became one of the richest persons in the world.

  18. Luis Dias

    Briggs shows off his teenager fanboy side. I like it 😉

  19. michel

    Well, agreed about Linux, but not about either Ubuntu or Wubi. Here are some better choices.

    Debian rather than Ubuntu. Why? Same system, but Ubuntu is taken off unstable, or is it experimental, every six months. You don’t want that, if you’re smart. What you want, if you want an apt system, is a release thoroughly tested as a whole, and there is nothing wrong with Debian Stable. The difference is, a Debian release moves from experimental through testing to stable as a unit, and releases as a new stable every couple of years. By the time a distribution gets to Stable, it is solid. If you find Stable not up to date enough, wait until Stable has been out about 18 months or so, and then move to Testing, which will have had enough miles on it to be stable enough.

    PCLinuxOS or Mandriva for the non technical user. If using Mandriva, pick the Gnome One release. There’s enough control panels that they will be able to manage almost everything themselves. PCL default is KDE4, which is beautiful, very user oriented, but different. So give this to people who will not be phased by new things. The Gnome environment on Mandriva is fine for just about everyone. The issue with Mandriva is it comes out with new releases every six months, and upgrading is not simple, its a new install. Whereas with Debian, its rolling updates. Much easier, at least in principle. As I get older though, think there is a lot to be said for just waiting a couple of years and doing a clean install, and that the rolling update is overrated.

    Never, ever, let a non-technical user install Linux for themselves. Always plan on spending several hours showing them the way around. Always teach and demonstrate virtual desktops. Show them how to download software. Always find out what they are doing with their machines before doing the installation. Some people should not try to move. Its not all that important to do the actual install with them, but it is absolutely critical to have them do the setup, get their printers and cameras working, email and calendars set up, under instruction. Think hard if you find they are using Canon printers or scanners, they will not work.

    With Gnome, knock out the top task bar, make the background a plain color, and put their apps in the bottom bar for them. Put a terminal launcher in the task bar, just in case. Its nice to know they can get it easily if you need it during a phone call.

    Do this right, and you’ll find you have a few hours setting up and explaining with them. Then you’ll get quite a few calls in the first few weeks, maybe have to go around or have them bring in the machine. Then it will taper off, and you’ll discover they are happy and finding their way around nicely. Older people are easier than the young, funnily enough. Their usage patterns are more stable.

  20. It is possible pc operating systems may become irrelevant if cloud computing becomes the dominant computing paradigm. This could be a good thing for consumers.

    The problem I see is that we might trade one behemoth, Microsoft, for another, Google, if the market plays out as some analysts are projecting. Google’s entries in the operating system arena are Android(smart phones) and Chrome (netbooks?) which are basically Linux.

  21. Why don’t I use Linux, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Gnome One, cygwin, ubuntu wubi, Debian etc., etc., ad infinitum?

    Because I use MAC OS X; The Perfect OS.

    [ I know everybody was waiting for this and they knew with 100% certainty that it would appear. ]

    It’s like someone said of emacs decades ago. Why do I want to spend 6 months customizing a program, and getting sick and tired of it, when I could be actually producing useful text files. Who can remember 6-months worth of customizing key combination ‘short cuts’ anyway?

  22. Briggs


    vim rules!

  23. michel

    Now that you can install OSX on just about any recent Intel based system using Chameleon, boot132, its easy and pretty cheap to give it a go. The upgrade Snow Leopard version will do a clean install, so if you don’t like it, you’re only out $30 or so. The upgrade version was a present from Cupertino to hackers everywhere. They must have taken pity on their recession-hit budgets!

    The caveat about not installing it on your own, if you are not quite technical, applies to this even more than to Linux. Naive users can manage a dual boot Mandriva or PCLinux install starting from Windows, its just safest to do it with them. Not so OSX, the naive user will never get it done. Though once done, it will work just fine. It will also be best and safest to start out with a blank hard drive.

    Personally, I can’t stand it, and I can stand the cult that surrounds it even less than the OS itself. But hey, to each his own.

  24. Harold Vance

    I’ve been eating Microsoft dog chow for two and a half decades. The experience, if anything, has gotten worse over the years.

    The people who claim to be heavy IT may work in IT but they clearly haven’t spent any time supporting the average user who will click on any and every link ever sent to them in an email — even from people they’ve never heard of. Infection takes a micro-second or two, and then it’s game over for that PC. Rebuild, reinstall, reconfig, re-infect. It’s an endless cycle of reincarnation for our industry standard software running on industry standard hardware.

    I’m still searching for an anti-virus product that protects Windows. The one that begins with the letter K gives us BSODs. We’ve tried the majors. Yeah, we have a firewall with filters and a spam firewall with filters and the viruses keep on coming. Yes, our computers are programmed to patch themselves automatically on a frequent basis, and yes, I understand that security is ultimately a process, but humans are human. They keep on repeating the same mistakes, and with Windows, the mistakes are typically fatal to the installation, rendering it completely unusable. It’s a winner take all type of OS built on security through obscurity. It’s win/lose, 1/0. All it takes is one click to hose the entire OS.

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