Windows regression?

Have I thought about moving back to Windows? Sure, but I'm sticking with Linux.

by Pete
Published: Updated: 13 minutes read

This is my three-month check-in with Linux as my daily driver, and this is what I’ve discovered thus far. If you’re a Windows user considering switching to Linux, hopefully this will give you enough information to know what to expect. I suppose if you’re a MAC user, or even if you’re curious about certain aspects of the Linux ecosystem, this article will hopefully be useful to you.

Gaming isn’t the same

As an avid gamer, I’ve had the luxury of playing games whenever I want. This means that I instal, click, and play with no problems. Windows has a plethora of gaming publishers and CDNs to choose from, such as EPIC Games, Valve / Steam, EA Origin, and others, as well as old “retro” gaming from CDs and DVDs. 

The experience of switching to Linux has been both tedious and surprisingly simple. For more information, see my I was wrong about gaming on Linux article. As I mentioned in my article, Valve has made the Windows to Linux transition incredibly simple by running the majority of games under a custom WINE (Proton) layer, and with more and more native Linux games being released, the experience has been excellent thus far.

It’s worth noting, however, that not all games work properly (or at all) under Proton, and my lack of free time simply prevents me from faffing around with custom Proton versions, config hacks, or 3rd party tools; when I only have 30 minutes to play, I just want the game to run. As a result, I know which games work perfectly under Linux for me and which require me to switch back to Windows. This is acceptable to me.

EPIC Games, Origin, and GoG do not support the Linux platform naively, and while there are open-source workarounds such as front-ends, etc., I found them to be inconvenient and prefer to play those games on those launchers under Windows.

In summary, if you’re willing to devote time to getting things to work under Linux, go ahead and do so; the overall experience is improving, but make no mistake: gaming on Windows is still a better overall experience. However, I did find that a lot of games, even those designed specifically for Windows, now run better under Linux.

The learning curve is steeper

Fortunately, I’ve been using Linux servers in the enterprise for many years and am familiar with the ecosystem (primarily Ubuntu and CentOS flavors), which are usually all headless. When it came to launching into the desktop, my only constraint was the availability of a stable and suitable desktop environment. I chose KDE Plasma because of the level of customization (not that I need to go to town on the way it looks, but getting KDE Plasma to look the way I want made a difference) and because the workflows are similar to my previous Windows world.

Granted, I knew how to edit certain system files to do things on boot that the GUI couldn’t, and I was already familiar with the folder structure and how to navigate under the hood. Can I give Linux to my mother? Not for productivity; only for tablet browsing with some tutelage such as for certain functions, including web browsing in a familiar browser, but not for word processing or printing without having her unlearn everything she knows about Microsoft Office and Windows printing and teach her LibreOffice and how to use the printing dialogue—not impossible, but not something I’m willing to do.

However, once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, or ecosystems, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can accomplish. I simply found myself using the command line more and more, not because of any shortcomings in the GUI but rather because the GUI and CLI environments complement each other.

Linux is simply faster

Let’s define by this statement: let’s define what’s “faster”. I see these categories:

  • Desktop Environment (loading, navigating, the number of clicks to get to a destination, etc)
  • Performing general tasks (opening, closing, ending applications)
  • Switching between applications, desktops and general workflow
  • Gaming (when comparing games that are “platinum” or “native”)
  • Installing software is rapid!
  • Updating software is fast!
  • Customisation is way more powerful and feature rich on Linux than Windows

I’m on the fence about Linux package management

This is a contentious issue. It also depends on the angle, or lens, through which you’re looking. Patch management for Windows in the enterprise is cumbersome, but the ecosystem has been nailed down with third-party applications to make administrators’ lives easier when deploying patches and applications. Manually updating Windows, games, or general software is a separate process for most users, requiring multiple trips to completely update a single Windows installation (Base OS, games, and applications as a bundle). Sure, there are free package management tools for this, such as Chocolatey or NuGet, but these products take a similar approach to what happens in the Linux world: a package management ecosystem managed by an interconnected set of internet-based repositories that is interfaced by a package management API.

But under Windows, you know what to expect: you open an installer, click next, and you get to choose where you want the application or game to be installed (if not via Steam, etc.). You can choose between a desktop or start menu icon and make some basic decisions; you have some control. Uninstalling an application in Windows is good because you can uninstall it from the Control Panel, but the installer may leave a bunch of registry entries or files and folders behind, necessitating the use of a 3rd-party tool like Bulk Crap Uninstaller to clean things up for you. So it’s not all strawberries and cream.

The Windows App Store is improving, but it’s still scattered. Microsoft should take a cue from Apple’s app store in terms of UX design.

KDE Discovery Windows Store

The message is clear: I know what to expect from Windows because I’ve been using it for more than 20 years.

Under Linux, there used to be single package managers for each distro, such as APT or YUM. I’m still learning how to do things more efficiently with apt, and I have to say, it’s been a fantastic experience. Dependencies were always an annoyance, but they’ve vastly improved over time. Until I started using a DE on a daily basis, I mostly installed Linux packages using the CLI. However, KDE Plasma’s app store confuses me in that its terrible to use (sorry – but compared to GNOME distros, it’s pretty plain), so I still end up using the CLI to install, remove, purge, and update my system. It’s quick, efficient, and only takes a few minutes. This is a contract with Windows, and system updates can take hours, depending on the update.

I believe that Linux provides faster system releases, which keeps my system more current, and I don’t have to go and update individual applications, which all adds time. Linux is far more efficient for that.

What I dislike about Linux is the number of package managers available and the fact that they all do different things: there’s APT (for Debian and Ubuntu platforms), DNF (YUM) (for Fedora, openSUSE, and RedHat platforms), Flatpak, SNAP (for Ubuntu systems), Appimages, and so on. I need to spend more time with Flatpak because it’s becoming more popular, but there’s also SNAP, which seems to work fine on my Kubuntu system, and a few AppImages that don’t seem to integrate as well as natively installed applications. As a newcomer, where do you begin? This is a challenge for the Linux community in terms of new user adoption; it must be made easier.

apt-get choco upgrade all

I see where the community is going—they’re trying to find a better package manager—but let’s settle on a standard solution and stick with it because it’s somewhat isolating for non-technical Windows users to be there only for the technically minded.

My workplace is a Windows only shop

My company is a large enterprise. We’re not a tech startup or a programming firm; we’re a traditional organisation with a 35-person IT department. As a result, we’re a Microsoft shop with a Windows back office. There is an ecosystem built around Microsoft: software, support, and hardware. As a result, the transition away from Microsoft Windows and its productivity tools has been missed at work. But because I’ve been using Linux on my personal desktop, I can use my work laptop for Windows and Microsoft productivity tools. I was able to get around using RClone for OneDrive integration as there isn’t a native client for Linux yet.

I’ve been able to use Microsoft Edge for the most part, and with Webex being native to Linux (as we use Webex at work), I can happily use Microsoft O365 via a web-browser – that is, until I need to be more productive, at which point I RDP to my Windows laptop. I talk about the differences between Office Desktop and Office Web versions as the web version is maturing but still not on par with the Desktop version, yet.

I was surprised that my workflows improved with Linux

To be honest, I had never used or cared about virtual desktops—but what a difference they have made in my life! I have two virtual desktops: one for personal use and one for work, so I can do most of my work on the “Work” VD and switch to my personal VD when I want to get away from work. I can even play games in my personal VD and then switch to the work VD, as if I never left work.

Under Linux, my command line usage has skyrocketed because I can do things faster than Windows, such as installing an application, updating the system and its software, or moving folders from SMB shares. I can do so much more, faster!

To be honest, I had never used or cared about virtual desktops—but what a difference they have made in my life! I have two virtual desktops: one for personal use and one for work, so I can do most of my work on the “Work” Virtual Desktop and switch to my personal Virtual Desktop when I want to get away from work. I can even play games in my personal Virtual Desktop and then switch to the work VD, as if I never left work.

Pretty KDE Plasma Desktop
Pretty KDE Plasma Desktop

Under Linux, my command line usage has skyrocketed because I can do things faster than Windows, such as installing an application, updating the system and its software, or moving folders from SMB shares. I can do so much more, faster!

Note: I’m sure there are GNOME fanbois calling out workspaces but I can’t get my head around them – they don’t make sense to me coming from a Windows world. So for now, I’m happy with my Virtual Desktops that clearly (I’m my mind anyway), separate my personal workflows.

Conclusion

I have not regressed to Windows, and this surprised me. As previously stated, gaming is a minor issue for me, but I have some workarounds: I have all the software I need to continue my personal experience, though I still miss having the Office Desktop experience (which I do pay for as part of my O365 subscription), and I can perform day-to-day tasks faster, once I learned how to do them under Linux. It is not for everyone, and users must be prepared to learn the differences between the Windows and Linux Desktop Environment and operating system ecosystems. But, honestly, if it hadn’t been for KDE Plasma 5.24+, I wouldn’t have made it, as I’ve tried and failed to switch many times over the last few years due to stability, application maturity, and driver support.

Kudos KDE community, and massive kudos to the Linux world: I haven’t regressed to Windows :)