Why I Switched to Ubuntu (Linux) and then Returned to Windows

Background

I am a tech-enthusiast, and I love to try out new Operating Systems and see how they function. I had read a booklet on Linux and the Free Software movement, and was looking for a chance to explore Linux or Linux-based OS (called distros). I found that opportunity during the National Lockdown in India (making the most of adversity — kind of)

Ubuntu, which in my opinion is the simplest and easiest to use Linux Distro, has a clean User Interface, easily available standard software, an active community, which helps out, even in the smallest problems for beginners. Something, which I found lacking in other distros which claim to be ‘simple and easy for beginners’.

Installation

Just when I was thinking of trying out Linux, the new LTS release for Ubuntu i.e 20.04 was released (the last was 18.04, released in 2018).

I downloaded it, and with the help of a few experts from Team Hackergram and online portals like Its FOSS, Linuxize etc., I was able to install the OS in dual-boot mode on my PC.

I used the OS as a primary OS for my PC for almost a period of 4 months (May-August 2020). I enjoyed using it a lot. But, there were some issues which just were not being solved and there were a few trivial but basic complications. These make it difficult for the common PC users, who are the vast majority, to use Linux. I’ll discuss them, one by one.

Availability of Software

I used most of the alternatives to Basic Software, such as:

  1. LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office
  2. OkularPDF viewer instead of Adobe Reader
  3. Blender instead of Adobe Premier Pro

There were some software which were available both on Windows and Ubuntu. They were:

  1. Web Browsers — Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Yandex
  2. IDE — Eclipse, VSCode, Anaconda etc
  3. VLC Media Player
  4. Audacity
  5. qbitTorrent

But, some software wasn’t there for Ubuntu I couldn’t do without, such as:

Adobe Creative Cloud — Photoshop, Illustrator etc.

There are a slew of afternative softwares such as The GIMP, Inkscape, Krita, but the main issue was that I was well versed with using Photoshop and Illustrator. The alternatives might be good, but they are ‘not the best’ and above all require a Learning Curve and experience to use them for Graphic Design or manipulation.

So, I used to boot into Windows for this work, but as one can fathom, it was inconvenient. It might be even more inconvenient for a Graphic Professional who does it full time.

SPSS

I know how to work on SPSS on a very basic level, but I couldn’t practice on data, since SPSS is unavailable on Ubuntu. There used to be an alternative PSPP, but it was available only for earlier versions of Ubuntu.

There was another alternative, JASP but It didn’t have all the functions which were there in SPSS and my tutor wasn’t versed in JASP. So eventually, I ended up dual-booting into Windows for the same.

I faced another trivial issue, which was:

No single way of installation of files

I used to download software such as, Web Browser, IDEs, Media Players etc. in mainly three ways:

  1. Snap store
  2. Command-line commands
  3. Packaging and unpacking (dpkg)

I favoured the command-line method, since it was the easiest and direct.

But, I used to face confusion while installation sometimes and once, it so happened that, a software got installed in the wrong directory while I was unpacking it and as a consequence i had to reinstall it.

This is pretty complicated in context of a home user who just knows to click and drag and press a few buttons.

In Windows, its usually an executable file, and the Installation wizards. which are pretty simple to use, do all the work for you.

HDD not connected

I had two drives/disks in my Internal Memory:

  1. 240GB SSD — contained Windows C:/ Drive (NTFS) and Ubuntu /root /home /swap (ext4)
  2. 1024GB HDD-contained other drives sucha as D, E (NTFS)

I stored my personal data in D, E drives on the HDD such as Documents, Movies, Music, Files etc. But accessing it was an issue from time to time.

In Windows, accessing it in the This PC is possible easily.

Same thing, in Ubuntu would be something like this.

But, the problem was:

  1. I had to mount it and ‘add to the sidebar’ to view it and sometimes it used to unmount and not show up in the sidebar.

Copy Pasting of files in HDD not possible even after correcting it multiple times

I tried numerous techniques, tried changing file permissions using the terminal (chmod 777) or even unmounted it and mounted it again, but from time to time, it wouldn’t allow me to copy and paste files to and from the HDD.

I also tried formatting the HDD to ext4. I thought, maybe NTFS is causing some issues, so I backed up all my data, and then formatted it as ext4. It still didn’t work.

Wifi Problem

When I used to boot up my PC. Sometimes, The Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect. It kept loading and loading and it would NOT connect.
The only solution I found was to reboot the PC and it would start working.

Lack of Games and Entertainment software

This wasn’t of much importance from my perspective, since I don’t play PC games very often, but I like to try out a few games once in a while, if someone recommends or if it is interesting.

However, this is a big issue for most of the young crowd, who buy laptops for Gaming purposes or kids who like to play games on PC, from something as simple as Candy Crush to Call of Duty.

The important part to note here is that, most of the games are now online and cross-platform, and involve multiple players. For eg:

PUBG: It can be played both on smartphone (Android/iOS) as well as Windows and all the data is synced for the user across all platforms.

In such a scenario, even if we have a better Linux alternative, it simply won’t work. (Something, which Google had understood pretty early and came out with their tightly coupled GSuite services such as Docs, Drive, Mail, Photos and Chrome, but that’s another story)

Vernacular Typing Is Inconvenient

Windows offers Microsoft Indic Input Tools which have support for various languages, which has a robust support in form of updates from time to time.

It also offers various forms of keyboards:

  1. Transilteration (i.e you type in English and it encodes it into Hindi)
  2. Direct Keyboard — can be used for direct typing.

I used a phonetic keyboard, but it just wasn’t as good as this one. I had to rely on Google Indic Input using Chrome for the same purpose.

NTFS versus Ext4

Ext4 files cant be opened in a dual boot scenario in Windows, at least not directly. Windows can’t read Ext3/4, which is primary formatted in Linux.

This was a problem, as previously highlighted, I was unable to store my basic documents on HDD, and my files were in the home directory which I could not access when I used to boot into Windows.

The solution was to have an External Hard Drive connected at all times to my PC. After some research and help from peers, I came to know about LinuxExt Reader software for Windows, which can enable us to view and manipulate files when we are in Windows. But then, it feels unnatural to use, since file access should be smooth and direct, and shouldn't involve any third party.

Photo Credits: Verge Article linked below at ‘Microsoft Loves Linux’

This is something which Microsoft should look into, instead of just advertising ‘Microsoft Loves Linux’ in worldwide tech conferences. This will help, a lot.

Lack of shortcuts

Shortcuts are important.

We are used to having Shortcuts on the Desktop for various files and software we use frequently.We have tons of software installed, but we use only a few of them, often.

It is not too intuitive to change the sidebar in file manager. As a consequence, most files get stored in /home directory. In Windows, we have the option to pin folders into the File Manager sidebar.

Once, I had to run a few commands just to pin a shortcut to the Taskbar for Eclipse IDE, because I had installed it, but it wasn’t showing up in the Apps.

Non availability of specialised cross-platform apps

There are various apps which are usually cross platform i.e. sync to cloud and can be used on smartphones as well as PC in real-time, like:

  1. MS To-Do — useful for making to-do lists on the go
  2. MS OneNote-useful for writing notes
  3. Your Phone Companion-useful for viewing smartphone SMS, Notifications directly on PC
  4. Evernote, MS WhiteBoard.
  5. There are some software like MS Office 2019, which sync with the Office Android App, something which just can’t be done on Ubuntu.

Office

I liked LibreOffice (LO) a lot. It has a lot of customization options and is almost equivalent to using MS Office 2007, which I like to use, even today. I liked the LO Impress, it has better functionality and templates than MS PowerPoint. I liked LO Draw, which provided the ability to edit PDFs and manipulate documents for publishing purposes easily.

But there are a few issues:

  1. LO Writer is not versatile enough as compared to MS Word. It feels a bit off to use and when we add pictures in between text, there is a tendency for them to tag along with the text, which irritates me. The only solution to this was to press space after adding a photo and continue adding text.
  2. LO Calc is very poor in comparison to MS Excel. No explanation needed here, I guess.

Home User’s Perspective

As an experiment I decided to install Ubuntu for a simple home user, my friend who was facing issues with operating his laptop. Since it had only 4GB of RAM, Windows used to hang from time to time.

He had these basic requirements:

  1. Web Browser
  2. Media Player
  3. Viewing PDFs
  4. Office Software
  5. Managing Files

He was pretty happy with Ubuntu, especially since his PC wouldn't hang anymore. It was smooth.

But, one day, he wanted to edit a video. The only suggestions I had were, either to use Blender (which is pretty complex for a first time user and is a heavy-duty software) or give it to me for editing.

Eventually, none seemed feasible, and he had to boot into Windows for using the Windows Graphical Video Editor which is pretty simple to use and has basic functions of Cutting, Copying, Pasting and adding text.

I eventually told him to abandon Ubuntu, and switch back to Windows, since a problem like this might occur in the future, and the non-availability of software or availability of a complex alternative would create unnecessary problems for a home user like him. However, he liked using Ubuntu a lot and had a fairly positive feedback for the OS.

Conclusions

The share of Linux in the Desktop/Laptop (PC) market is just about 1.6%. One might think, that with all the benefits Linux offers such as Security, Customization, Robust Performance and most importantly,that it is FREE, Linux should be ruling the OS World. But, it is not even near.

We need to understand, why this is so. The majority of PC users are not techies or developers who have just development needs, there are home-users, like the one in the use-case above that I highlighted. These users have pretty basic requirements such as -

  1. It should be simple, easy and intuitive to use.
  2. It should be convenient to use.
  3. Standard Software should be available easily and should be ready-to-use. (even if it is paid, everything can’t be free, it is just not feasible and practical)
  4. Trouble-shooting should be easy. (not everyone can search for commands online and run them in the terminal, for even the most trivial problems)

The Free Software community should realize that currently, with the OS itself so complicated to use, and with the other issues that I mentioned, the goal of the community i.e “Freedom in use of Technology” is not getting fulfilled. Most of the PC users are bound by the rules and regulations of restrictive OS such as Windows and Mac.

I see owning a computer as similar to owning a car. Not everyone buys the same model, the same color, the same variant or even the same fuel type.

We all have different tastes and different needs and requirements and Our PC should fulfill those, instead of all of us being offered various ‘useless’ apps and bundled software which take up space and are rarely used (Did someone mention Internet Explorer ) and that’s why I like the concept of ‘flavors’ i.e different distributions offered in Linux. But, as things are currently, there is a long way to go for both the developers as well as the users in the case of Linux.

I wish that most of these issues are addressed in the future, so that I can return to a Laptop, that is styled by me, and loved by all. Cheers !

P.S We need Linux on Phone asap. Small is Powerful :)

Have any suggestions/comments, feel free to reach out to me via mail:

ishaan.kalorano@gmail.com

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