After three years, I decided to end my home Linux experiment. Here I explain my original drivers, as well as the factors that led to my decision to shelve Linux indefinitely.
After recently upgrading my Ubuntu install to 22.04 LTS with a host of post-upgrade problems, I reflected and decided it was time to streamline my complex home computer ecosystem. I went into Linux distros with the hope of eventually replacing Windows altogether, but the challenges, three years in, are still significant.
Back in 2019…
About a year after I had built my latest home PC, using Windows 10, I got the idea to convert the machine to a “dual boot” to run a distribution of Linux. The end goal, I thought, would be to eventually convert my home desktop environment exclusively to Linux.
At the time, it felt like my Windows usage was waning. I had had my iPhone for almost a year, and was slowly using more of the Apple ecosystem. Several years before, I had set up my Synology NAS to act as my central file hub (i.e. so my desktop was no longer the “computer of record” for my documents, pictures, music, etc.). Smart devices popping up around the house were platform-neutral in terms of their management, albeit with a deference to the central control of Apple’s HomeKit.
Outside of the Microsoft-specific games I play (e.g. Halo), which I assumed would always need a Windows environment, or at least my Xbox, the possibilities seemed unlimited for converting my other computer usages to Linux.
Settling on Ubuntu
Briefly, I tried several Debian-based distros before I chose Ubuntu 18.04 as my Linux operating system. I liked all the ones I tried, in their own ways: PopOS, CentOS, even SteamOS. Each of these, however, always had functional or graphics performance hurdles I could not overcome. Specifically, graphics performance with my NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti never felt up to the level of quality I wanted, in games. I had this amazing graphics card, so why should I settle for sub-standard performance?
Ubuntu ended up being the most hassle-free installation and initial usage. Of the games I tried, like Rocket League, there was nearly no loss in visual performance over the Windows equivalent.
Though it look some work, I was able to get Linux working with my NAS via SMB, and other features like automated backups and virus scans. Even printing. Gaming was fairly straightforward using both Steam and Lutris. And when it eventually came time to upgrade to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, the process and experience was incredibly easy.
The hardest early challenge was NVIDIA settings, specifically how to use dual-monitors in Ubuntu, but I eventually got my settings right in the NVIDIA control panel and by directly editing its configuration file.
Reasons to Abandon Windows
Aside from the coolness factor of trying to be different, several aspects of Windows 10 were still bugging me. A hot topic at the time was forced Windows updates (mostly mitigated today by owning the Pro version, which allows you to defer updates). More worrisome was Microsoft’s obsessive compulsion to collect data on users. There was an impression, at the time, that Windows was nothing more than a data collection tool to sell personal information to marketers.
I am not going to claim Apple is any better, as their mantra on the topic appears to be “trust us,” but optics on these matters can be everything. I will give Microsoft credit in that they do provide the option to clear your personal data from their systems, by logging into your Microsoft Account, under Privacy. It is disturbing, though, how much data Microsoft collects on you when using Windows.
So getting back to 2019, I was thinking that if I could neuter Windows to be merely a gaming platform, doing my critical activities in Linux, the Microsoft threat to my privacy would be mostly averted. If Microsoft wants to drill into how much I play Halo or Age of Empires, so be it.
Making the Linux Conversion Happen
When I was planning how to move my critical PC functions to Linux, here were the main ones I considered.
This would likely be near the top of everyone’s list – how to use the functionality of MS Excel and MS Word, and other Office apps, within Linux?
There were two main choices: convert to Office 365 to use office on the web, or use one of several free open-source/alternative office-like app suites. I did NOT want to pay for another subscription to Microsoft, so I considered the 365 option a non-starter. So I looked into Office alternatives, and eventually chose LibreOffice. Its suite provides all equivalent applications to the Office counterparts. And it works pretty well.
However, I never got into LibreOffice. Every time I launched it, I felt like I had time traveled back to 1998. It works well but has a bit of an antiquated look. This might seem trivial, and if it was the only issue affecting my conversion from Windows, I could have made it work. The bottom line is that when I needed a word processor or spreadsheet program, I always gravitated back to Word and Excel.
I have used Quicken forever to manage my personal finances. There is an open-source alternative in GnuCash. It took an extremely long time to convert my Quicken data to GnuCash. To this day, I still use both Quicken and GnuCash, validating balances between them. In my new Windows-only world, I will need to decide on my personal finance approach going forward. My copy of Quicken is ancient but still functions. GnuCash’s main drawback is that there is no password protection on its files, requiring extraordinary encryption setups on my NAS in an attempt to secure beyond my normal files, which are already encrypted, but I still want even greater protection to my money data.
Astrophotography and Photo Editing
In Windows I use MS Paint, Corel PaintShop Pro, and Corel AfterShot Pro for all of my astrophotography, photography, and related image editing that appears on my blog. These are no Linux equivalents except for GIMP, which I simply have not had the opportunity to learn. GIMP is, unfortunately, not intuitive, and that has been a barrier moving any of my photography functions to Linux.
In addition, all of my photo file management is still done within Widows, e.g. uploads from my iPhone and camera. I have a file structure dating back to the 1990s that I do not want to alter, if I can avoid it, because it all works for me.
I also had a high hope of using Windows applications like Quicken and PaintShop in Linux via Wine. I made a concerted effort to get both of these applications working in Ubuntu, but they both fell short. In hindsight, this was the beginning of the end; I felt the need to put in such effort was simply not worth the task and outcome.
The Computer Ecosystem Challenge
Back here in late 2022, I realize I have far too many computer systems to manage within my home:
- Windows desktop
- Windows laptop
- Ubuntu desktop
- All thing Apple (iPhone, iPads, HomeKit, MacBook)
- Asus Mesh WiFi
- Synology NAS
- Smart devices, including security cameras
Most of these perform high-value functions for me that do ultimately make my life easier. However, the Ubuntu install did stick out as it did not do anything that could not be accomplished by Windows, MacOS, or my mobile devices. There is also little synergy with my other computer systems, with the little exception of when I need to go into the Synology NAS command line, but that also aligns with the server management I need to do for the website that runs my blog.
Ultimately, simplifying my computer ecosystem felt best for me at this point in my life.
The Straw that Broke the Penguin’s Back
The upgrade from Ubuntu 20.04 to 22.04 was what finally got me to abandon Linux. The 22.04 upgrade was horrific and buggy. Upon the first reboot I got a message along the lines of “Oops, something went wrong.” I could not even log in. This set off a flurry of Internet digging to triage my Ubuntu install. Though I eventually got it back up, apps continued crashing randomly, and frequently.
At about the same time, I upgraded my Windows 10 install to Windows 11. This, unlike Ubuntu, was amazingly easy with no problems. I actually like the Windows 11, seeing it obvious that much has been learned and fixed from the Windows 10 experience. It feels better. There a few things I do not like, particularly the Widgets news spam (Widgets would be amazing if not for this), but the problems are trivial compared to my Ubuntu 22.04 upgrade experience.
So I made the choice to abandon Ubuntu, and reclaimed the disk space for Windows. Days later, it already feels like the best decision for me, as I can now focus on learning how to best use Windows 11.
Will I Ever Return?
I did fully back up my Ubuntu install, so I could always resurrect my Linux environment. Though I like Windows 11, Microsoft is still on notice. If they ever pull something egregious, like no longer allowing wiping of your personal activity data, I may get pushed back to trying Ubuntu again. It’s still a bit sad, though, because I really do like Linux. Time will tell.