My transition from Windows to Ubuntu
Published : Friday 21 July 2023
As Windows increasingly invades peoples privacy, starts to push advertising and head for a subscription model, maybe Linux is ready for the primetime ...
In 2023, my laptop’s hinges gave way (which apparantly is a thing on the Inspiron …. thanks, Dell), so I decided to upgrade my hardware and also make the shift from Windows to Ubuntu. During this transitional period, my old laptop continued to run on Windows, serving as a bridge between the familiar environment and my lesser experience with Linux. I have used Linux before, mainly Debian and similar Linux-based server software for my home network, but never as my daily driver.
How I use my dail driver
It’s worth noting that I am not your “average” user and spend a lot of time tinkering with technology, especially with my home lab, programming, and maintaining my side hustle projects. Therefore, my technical skills, willingness and ability to pursue issues and resolve them are higher than what you might consider normal.
In my day-to-day activities, I have all the usual things I do like email, Microsoft Office, and internet browsing. However, the things I spend the majority of time doing on my laptop are coding. After that, I do photography and manage my library, and post-edit my photos in Lightroom.
That’s pretty much it.
The Motivation for the Switch
The escalating privacy issues associated with Windows 11 motivated me to seek an alternative operating system that offered greater control over my digital footprint. This decision was mainly prompted by Windows 11’s increasing privacy invasions, advertising push, cloud, and emerging subscription-based service models. On top of this, the impending legislative push for device surveillance and the war on open source further solidified my resolve to embrace Linux.
Another key influence was that I was moving away from Microsoft-dependent technologies more generally, particularly in development, and keen to embrace more open software and technologies with larger communities. Much of my home network was already running on Linux-based systems, albeit mostly headless, so I already had some exposure to Debian and similar Linux-based distributions. Transitioning to Linux for my daily driver seemed like a logical extension.
This isn’t intended to be a deep dive into the transition process, just the headlines along the way. All in all, it wasn’t too painful, but there was certainly some snagging, and there remain some unresolved issues.
I opted for Ubuntu as my distro as it seemed like the best Desktop OS for an “average” user.
- Brave and Firefox for browsing finally getting away from Google Chrome
- Libre Office for Word, Excel, etc. alternatives
- Visual Studio Code for most my development work.
- MongoDB Compass and SQL Workbench are available on linux so this isn’t an issue.
- Gimp is a relatively good alternative for Photoshop, at least given my limited use of it.
- Telegram and What’s app desktop clients also exist which is great.
- Bitwarden for my Password manager.
There are some things that I still can’t use. Adobe Lightroom for example doesn’t really have a good linux alternative and I do still sometimes need to dip in to Visual Studio and MS SQL Manager. For now I dip back in to my old laptop, but I think ultimately I will setup a Virtual machine for Windows 10 where I can run any other software packages should I really need to.
I tried Thunderbird for Email / Calendar but didn’t really like it so stuck to use the web based outlook client which is very mature these days and this has served its purposes. I may revisit Thunderbird when I have more time.
As for gaming I don’t really do much but I am partial to a bit of GTA 5. I tried getting this working on Linux but it was problematic. I think the simplest solution will be to use a Windows VM and pass through the NVIDIA Graphics card to this.
Assuming things went well, 90% of people could switch to using something like Ubuntu but would likely need a bit of help familiarizing themselves. Much of my snagging came from things that most people might not even encounter. I even managed to make my desktop look more or less like Windows, but making this happen wasn’t for your layperson, and even then there is an adoption curve/hurdle to get over.
As the journey unfolded, some persistent challenges emerged, some of these are likely to have solutions but at the time of writing I have not had time to investigate and resolve them.
tracker-miner-fs-3: This has been the main issue. I still to this day have not resolved the problem. It appears to be part of the file indexing system used for search. Over time it hogs more and more memory (5 to 15 minutes) then drags the system to a standstill, where the sysystem freezes as the process crashes, until it releases resources and the process begins again. Disabling this has solved the issue but this limits the search facility.
Software Availability Challenges: Notable omissions in my Linux experience included Lightroom, Photoshop, Visual Studio, and Windows Paint, which initially posed hurdles in my creative and development workflows.
Stability Issues: Occasionally there are pauses and freezes, which I think are down to Snap packages, the preferred Ubuntu package manager. It’s hard to say exactly, but I think some applications misbehave, and this then causes an issue more widely. Visual Studio Code and Brave Browser seem to randomly go slow and even crash altogether, and this is not something I’ve had an issue with outside of Snap packages.
Software isssues: AS mentioned already there are some software that are not campatible with Linux and it will take some investigation to find alternatives, or set up a Windows virtual machine. I suspect this is the sort of thing that puts people off, it’s not just about learning to adopt to a given Linux distrobution.
Audio Output: When switching between devices, docks, etc., it does not appear to remember my last settings, and it will default to something odd, like audio on an HDMI device that does not support audio. Not the end of the world, but it is frustrating having to set the correct device every time. Even if it just kept the default, that would be better than selecting the wrong device.
Network routing: When connected to my dock and, therefore, 1Gb networking, it appears that Ubuntu will keep using the WiFi connection as the primary connection. It picks up the Ethernet connection without a problem and will use it if I disable WiFi, so it seems odd it isn’t just figuring this out for itself.
Network Transfer Speed: Network transfer speeds on both NFS and SMB were not as efficient as on Windows over the same connection. Linux appears to go slower than it should be able to on 1Gb while Windows can copy between two network shares sometimes apparently faster than wire speeds. This made me wonder if Windows is doing something with networking/routing that Linux isn’t.
Navigating File System: Adapting to the UI and doing things I do frequently like creating a new folder or copying the address bar, pasting files, etc., have snagged me along the way and presented more of a learning curve than I had imagined. It’s hard to put my finger on, and it’s perhaps just years of Windows indoctrination, but it just doesn’t feel quite as intuitive.
While I have made the commitment to Linux at this point, I’ve not quite settled into it, and I feel there may be a better distro out there. I may switch to another, such as Debian or similar, but right now I just need a daily driver to get work done, and so Ubuntu is it.
One other migration left to do is the Windows VM in my rack, dedicated to running Blue Iris for my CCTV setup. I hope to transition this to Linux by finding an alternative for Blue Iris or getting it to run on Linux. But all in all, most of the work is done, and from here I feel it is about tuning.
Overall, my journey into Linux has been pretty smooth, and while there have been some snagging issues, some of which are frustrating, there is nothing stopping most people from making the switch.
One distinct advantage I had was having two computers, easing my transition and allowing me to continue to operate day-to-day while I made the switch. I would highly recommend this to anyone who can do it.
Hopefully, if more people make the switch, more time and money will go into software, improving user experience which will increase the number of people who can just step into Linux.
At present the community can be a bit divided and tribal when you aren’t a command line wizard or you pick “the wrong distribution”. Stop screaming at your monitors folks!
It’s not quite ready for “everyone” but it could serve most, it just feels like Windows still has the edge when it comes to user experience for the “average” person and there needs to be a more compelling reason to switch.