Home At Last

Jan - 19 2014 | By

…Or, Why I Kicked Windows into the Bitbucket and Started Living.

cracked Windows
My computing life began with Windows; I “grew up” in it. Sometimes I dual-booted one or another Linux distro, but Windows, whatever version, was my main workspace since early 2001. From 95 to Vista (and 7 at work), I slogged through Microsoft’s increasingly baroque file systems. The inadequacies of Windows’ default apps — and the cost of popular “Big Box” software — drove me to become an expert at finding and acquiring whatever I needed in the realm of freeware. I became the Queen of Free, the Crocodile Dundee of the Internet, exploring the hostile jungle of third-party software unscathed.

When 8 reared its ghastly hybrid head, I knew the end had come. However, I was reluctant to abandon the relatively comfortable work environment I had struggled for years to build. When I get my next computer, I said, then I will leave Windows behind.

But Windows secretly plotted its own demise. On October 31, 2013, I rebooted to a nasty surprise: I could no longer log in to my normal user account. As far as Windows was concerned, it didn’t exist.

My first thought, of course, was to restore or re-create it. Then I came to my senses. Why waste the rest of the day beating a dead horse? After backing up some files, I re-partitioned the primary drive and installed Debian.

The honeymoon was fantastic.

I still have to deal with Windows at my day-job and on client computers. I also have to use it now and then at home — but it’s not my home any more (if it ever was). For the sake of the one video game I’ve let myself get addicted to, I keep Vista on a small partition, booting in a few times a week to play and socialize with my clan. A virtual Win7 machine takes care of odd take-home jobs that require windows-specific software (read MS Publisher, aghhh). These occasional exposures to Windows remind me how good I have it.

There are occasional bumps in the road. Not long ago I did something dumb, during a groggy morning, that resulted in complex damage to my beloved Debian. Unable to log in, and knowing that what I had done had left more mess than I wanted to clean up, I simply re-installed the OS. There was no loss of significant data and very little need to re-configure anything. Programs lost in the process were re-installed on demand with no fuss, and with their old configurations. Can you imagine a fresh install of Windows coming back with the same color scheme and wallpaper? Browser bookmarks still there, custom spell-check dictionary intact? With anything not reverted to default?

What makes this possible is the file system. Windows hoards every scrap of data, keeping its precious secrets in deeply nested hidden places, and doesn’t even want its users to understand where their own files are. Linux is open and logical. You do have the option to toss everything in one place when installing, but if you at least give Root and Home separate partitions, your personal files and preferences are kept apart from the nuts-and-bolts of the system. You can fix a broken engine without ripping the seats out of the car; your maps and your sunglasses are safe in the glove compartment. A full Windows re-install is always more like melting everything down for scrap and buying a new car.

Windows is selfish, inflexible, and unforgiving. It’s a control freak. It protects itself first, at the expense of its users. You pay for it, you jump through legalistic hoops every time you install it, and it rewards you with uncaring disdain. It makes a great show of security, temporarily blocking your every move, while all the time it leaves itself vulnerable to the simplest hacks from outside. Because of its awkward complexity, nearly every slow, aggravating update requires a reboot. Why do people put up with it all, when most of them don’t do anything but email, socializing, and other system-independent trivia? Mainly, I think, because it absolves them of responsibility for their own actions.

Linux does not assume that you are a moron. It will not insult your intelligence by hiding 99% of its file system behind a facade of symbolic links. Nor does it try to keep you confused about what is on your computer and what is on the Web. It provides you with more tools right out of the box than you’ll ever see in Windows, including easy means of installing thousands more free utilities without risk. With a few mouse-clicks, you can add software that will do almost anything you can imagine. No need to sift search results for safe downloads–or clean up a mess if you didn’t sift well enough. Linux is certainly not foolproof, but it doesn’t try to fool you or make a fool of you.

My move from Windows to Debian involved no trauma or hardship; I was simply coming home. At last I had an operating system that welcomed me, inviting me in rather than arbitrarily restricting me. There was nothing that I was accustomed to doing that I couldn’t do as well or better.

How can I not love it? Debian is the only operating system I’ve ever lived with day-to-day that returns my love.

P.S.
I was truly in love with Debian, and might still be using it now if the first major version upgrade hadn’t stripped away half of what I loved about it. “Jessie” was intensely disappointing. The beyotch didn’t last 24 hours on my computer. I downloaded the latest version of Mint and replaced the thing of horror! Again, my personal files were not affected [wink wink].

Since then, Mint has also had a major update, which I let it manage, with no problems and no uncomfortable or inconvenient changes. This is true love.