A Year Without (MS) Windows: Completing the Conversion of a Windows User

Posted by tadelste on Jan 12, 2006 4:35 PM EDT
LXer; By DC Parris
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  Many people aspire to run a pure GNU/Linux environment, but often complain that some device or program is stopping them. LXer's Don Parris shares his transition from a pure Windows environment to a pure GNU/Linux environment, and how he has fared over the past year. Does he see a need to go back to dual-booting?

I realize the title might mislead you to believe that I've been trapped in a dank, dark underground dungeon for a year. In reality, though, I have been without Microsoft Windows for over a year. On November 1 of last year I blew away my old Windows 98/SUSE Linux 8.0 Professional dual-boot installation, and loaded SUSE Linux 9.2 Professional, by itself, on my box. While I know others have been Windows-free for much longer than a year, others simply cannot imagine doing without it. Here's my experience.

My Windows Experience

I started in 1995 with a DOS 6.22/Windows 3.11 box. I quickly learned to manage my memory and other system features by editing the *.ini files, along with config.sys and autoexec.bat. I could fix things that went wrong by going to those files and making minor changes. I would occasionally revamp my system completely, and became something of a shade tree computer tech. I would later discover the advantages of separating the GUI from the underlying operating system, but at the time, that was all I really knew. I honestly am grateful to have experienced Microsoft's operating systems - it's how I got into computing.

I also dabbled in dial-up bulletin board systems - anyone remember Synchronet? - and even made a valiant (yeah, right!) effort at getting an early version of Slackware going, thanks to The Web Server Book. That effort failed, but it would lead me to eventually try out Red Hat Linux 5.1. As I progressed in my knowledge, I launched The Parris Group, a general computer services business. I made enough money to buy one of those fancy HP 970Cse USB deskjets with the duplexer module. Eventually I even managed to get a CD Burner, also from HP. These two devices would combine to lead me on a foray into the world of libre software.

I upgraded my DOS/Windows box to Windows 98 via an upgrade CD. In the process of revamping my system several months later, I installed my HP printer according to the instructions (for the second time around), and something failed. I went through the suggested process of un-installing the driver, and then going back through the installation process again. This time, the installation routine told me the driver was already installed. But according to the un-install routine, it had been properly un-installed. Calls to HP and Microsoft, the latter costing me somewhere around $45, failed to resolve the issue.

Copies of Reg Cleaner and other sys admin tools failed to un-install the printer driver. The Windows Registry is essentially a Pandora's box from which all users and even administrators are warned to avoid. I had to reinstall Windows 98 from scratch. Of course, that meant going back to the Windows 3.11 disks. What a nightmare! Under the old Windows 3.11 system, I would have resolved this on my own, without ever having called anyone for technical support. But the Windows Registry is not only not user friendly, it's not system administrator friendly, either. I realize I should have backed up my system files beforehand. That still doesn't excuse my vendors for developing software that is difficult to manage. I did make a backup this time, using my CD burner - and that would temporarily be my saving grace later.

When I buy a device of any kind - printer, CD burner, audio player, it doesn't matter - I expect any accompanying software to function until either the device dies, or I choose to get something else. My HP CD Burner came with some CD burning Lite software package. I did not realized it at the time, but this software included a time bomb on the installation program. After a certain period of time, the software would no longer install. If that was stated in the EULA, I missed it. So, when I upgraded to Windows XP, I took a lesson from the Windows 98 upgrade, and bought a full version of XP.

Windows XP was supposed to be stable. It crashed for no apparent reason the first week I had it installed. Worse, that was when I discovered that the software bundled with the CD burner had the time bomb. I was being forced to upgrade when I was unable to do so. Apparently, I wasn't supposed to buy a burner bundled with that software because I didn't seem to fit into the vendor's demographic mold. I now had a CD burner that was utterly useless. Then I remembered my Windows 98 backup and rolled back to that in order to continue using my CD burner.


Throughout my trials and tribulations with Windows, I had been tinkering with GNU/Linux. I played with Red Hat Linux 5.1/5.2, and Mandrake Linux 8.0 Professional. Then someone turned me onto SUSE Linux. I got the 8.0 Professional Edition and dual-booted. I got hooked quickly. I had recognized the benefits of libre software with both Red Hat and Mandrake, but now I was beginning to use GNU/Linux more and Windows less. By 2004 I had decided that the one or two things I occasionally used Windows for no longer deserved my attention.

I figured out how to use XCDRoast to burn CDs, but still had difficulty getting my Handspring Visor Deluxe to work well under GNU/Linux. Although I would start off with no ability to connect my PDA, there would soon come a work-around. The ability to burn CDs was solved by using GNU/Linux. With my PDA being my last excuse, I finally made the effort to switch last Fall, when Novell released SUSE Linux Professional 9.2. Aside from my experiences with Windows and hardware, I had discovered the material on the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative websites, which helped put my experiences with proprietary software in perspective.

Year of the Penguin

It may not have been *the* year for GNU/Linux on the desktop in corporate America, but it was certainly the year of GNU/Linux on my desktop. When I installed SUSE Linux 9.2 Professional the system automatically detected and configured my printer. All I did was print the test page. I have heard many a horror story about getting printers to work under the old regime. I continued to experience problems using my PDA, but installing Ubuntu on a second box solved that temporarily. With SUSE 10.0, the problems I faced with my Handspring Visor under SUSE 9.2 simply disappeared. My camera was automatically detected as well.

In January 2005 I expanded a 55-page PDF booklet I had written to a 240 page book with screenshots of libre software applications and desktops, and an index. I used OpenOffice.org at home and Microsoft Office on my breaks at work initially. OpenOffice.org's paragraph styles saved me countless hours in formatting my book for hard-copy publication. The ability to export directly to PDF format meant that I could skip all the third-party applications necessary to convert Word documents to PDF. In fact, I have converted quite a few coworkers to OpenOffice.org over the last year.

During this past year, I have had only one document sent to me that I could not open - a Microsoft Publisher file. I have been able to produce fliers, church bulletins, and even connect to a MySQL server to access data in CHADDB (the CHurch ADministration DataBase), which I wrote to keep track of our ministry's data. Perhaps the most awesome aspect of OpenOffice.org lies in knowing that I will be able to open my documents 50 years from now, and that I can share documents with anyone, regardless of the operating system platform or the office suite (except one) they use.

I can track my personal, as well as our ministry's finances via GnuCash. I have experienced phenomenal stability, had very little to do in terms of managing the system, and been able to lead a relatively productive life over the course of the last year. I've noticed, too, that I revamp my system far less frequently. It used to be something like every six months. Now, I only do so when I upgrade. What's more, I can edit those text files in the /etc folder if and when I need to make adjustments - no mysterious Pandora's Registry to deal with. Ironically, I rarely need to make adjustments.

Closing Your Windows

I am not the only one. I also converted a former Windows user to Ubuntu Linux 4.10. She uses her computer mainly for job searches and for helping run her husband's catering business. Since last May, she has only called for technical support four times. Her daughters thoroughly enjoy the games included, and they can complete their homework assignments. This is not a technically savvy family, although the lady of the house is experienced with office productivity applications. I've had no complaints at all about the shortcomings of Ubuntu.

I am not a gamer, and don't depend on special hardware or application software. If you don't like Pengus or Risk or some of the other games that accompany most GNU/Linux systems, I understand if you feel you'd be bored to tears. However, if you're an office user - dare I say, knowledge worker? - like myself, mainly using the productivity and educational applications and you don't have any Windows-specific devices, you can close your Windows for good. Having realized that I can do without Windows, I got rid of my media. So go ahead, make this the year of the penguin on your desktop!

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features, Tutorial; Groups: Community, SUSE, Ubuntu

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Linux Evangelism number6x 3 4,080 Nov 13, 2005 3:04 AM
Good job Don! tminton 1 2,260 Nov 11, 2005 8:36 AM
Right On! globalliteracy 9 2,767 Nov 11, 2005 12:37 AM
Great Review! netmanrob 1 2,559 Nov 9, 2005 10:34 AM
Bravo! electroglas 0 2,440 Nov 8, 2005 6:23 PM
Excellent writing tadelste 3 2,790 Nov 8, 2005 12:09 PM
To Hades with EULAs tuxchick 1 2,850 Nov 8, 2005 9:36 AM

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