Today, with the receipt of an Asus Eee PC 900A netbook, I took a step away from the MS Windows-dominated world, away from Apple’s boutique couture, down the saner path of Linux. Here are the factors that finally made that choice inevitable:
- My home laptop runs Win XP, and I don’t want to upgrade to Vista, let alone to Win 7. Not because they’re broken—both are fine systems—but because I’m tired of throwing money down the upgrade rat hole. I don’t want to have to buy a new laptop just to run a more memory-intensive OS.
- I don’t want to upgrade my MS Office just to suit a new OS. Especially if that means having to buy an Outlook upgrade to sync with my PDA. (My Office 2000 is already straining to keep up with Outlook 2003, and that still won’t sync my email correctly with Activesync 4.5.)
- I’m sick of Internet Explorer telling me how to surf. It’s like a killjoy older brother sitting in the passenger seat. (And Silverlight, ptooey! Seriously, MS, you had to invent your own animation app in a webscape already suffering from Flash bloat?)
- I’ve been using Mac desktops at the office for 25 years now, so I know Apple isn’t any less guilty than Microsoft when it comes to being pricey and proprietary. While the switch from OS 9 to OS X was brave, every .1 upgrade since has gouged and gouged.
- Safari is nothing to brag about. Why anyone other than a Mac addict would choose it over Firefox is a mystery. And every damned time my Mac or PC updates iTunes, Mac tries to cram Safari and MobileMe down my throat again.
That’s a decent set of reasons to dump M&M (MS and Mac), but why take up Linux, and why now? Well, for one thing, open source has finally come into its own. Let’s consider a few examples.
- Firefox is a Web designer’s dream tool. Add the Firebug, ColorZilla, and FireFTP plugins, and the only reason to ever leave the window is for a graphics editing program. And Firefox comes prebuilt with typical Linux installations.
- OpenOffice.org does everything Windows Office does, for free. In fact, the slide-show part of OpenOffice.org is actually better than PowerPoint. And OpenOffice.org comes prebuilt with typical Linux installations.
- Typical Linux installations such as Ubuntu and GNU now have user interfaces that are every bit as intuitive as Windows or Mac. I’m loving the Eeebuntu package developed for the Eee PC, for example.
- Wine makes it possible to run much Windows software on Linux, if you can’t find an open-source replacement.
- More and more applications are moving to the Web anyway, meaning all you really need is something that will run a browser.
- Thunderbird (Firefox’s sibling email program) has plugins available for calendar and contacts, and can even sync those with Gmail. (Goodbye Outlook.)
- I’ve found a Linux-based program to sync my PDA with Thunderbird and those plugins.
There’s one more reason to begin dumping Windows, and that’s the fact that electronic games are steadily moving away from desktop computers to Playstation, Wii, and (ironically) X-Box. Mac, of course, has never been much of a game system.
Linux is, of course, what the bulk of the Web’s servers run, and I’ve had some experience with it in that capacity, using command-line applications to transfer large files, or setting permissions to run PHP documents, just as I used DOS in the days before Apple introduced the concept of windowed computing and Microsoft made it their registered trademark. But until now, I haven’t wanted to make Linux my day-to-day OS.
Now, however, the balance between expense and ease of use has dramatically shifted. Let Microsoft and Mac fight things out along with the other corporate dinosaurs. I’ll be traveling light, browsing wi-fi hot spots with my Linux netbook, saving my cash for better things than another costly OS upgrade.