Feb 11 2013
After a long period of experimenting, fiddling, trying, installing and uninstalling, we have now settled on Xubuntu LTS 12.04.2 x64 as our workhorse environment at home. I’m past the age where I want to be a constant beta-tester, so it had to be a platform with long term support. It also had to be something fast and stable. Xubuntu is all that, and with Cairo Dock – which I found to be MUCH more stable and comfortable than Docky – Xubuntu even has a nice Mac-feel to it — just without all the commerce, brainwashing and annoying hype.
Xubuntu runs very well on the Dell XPS M1330 notebook that I could grab from my company for a small donation to our BBQ piggy bank. It also runs great on the little Zbox that my wife uses most of the time. All systems that I have come across run faster and feel more responsive under Xubuntu than they do under Windows or OS X respectively. If you want to breathe new life into a seemingly old machine, do yourself a favor and boot it from a Xubuntu LIVE USB stick just to get an impression of what this machine could still do for you if it ran a system that was not designed with planned obsolescence in mind. Linux doesn’t force you to buy a new computer every few years just to keep on doing the same things.
But as Steve Jobs once said, people don’t use operating systems, they use applications. That quote actually came from a time before the Internet was open to the public and let’s face it, nowadays we spend more than 90% of our computing time in the web browser. Firefox and Chrome don’t care whether you run them on Windows, OS X or Linux. The behave they same everywhere and that makes their user independent from a specific underlying platform.
The rest of the time we might use media players (like VLC, which is also multi-platform) and smartphone/tablet synchronization tools (if those are even still needed; my Samsung doesn’t need such software). Most people don’t even use eMail clients anymore to write and read eMails – they usually go to their provider’s web interface for that.
In the life of the average home user, games are probably the last remaining bastion of locally installed software. And thanks to Valve’s efforts for porting Steam to Linux and even planning to bring an own Linux-based “Steambox” to the market, Microsoft’s last stronghold is now also crumbling into dust.
Yes, there is Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, that fancy video and audio editing software and all that business software that doesn’t run on the penguin (or even on the lately very successful Mac for that matter). But since I was talking about home use, those are no real arguments. NOBODY needs such software on a home computer. And no home user can tell me with a straight face that they BOUGHT all those expensive things to use them at home for sending a postcard to their grandma. And they certainly don’t need Photoshop Extended CS6 to edit the photos that they took with their smartphones. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. There are FREE alternatives available that are probably not as powerful or comfortable to use as the “big guys”, but they usually get the job done even for semi-professional to professional use. The stuff is just different and doesn’t come with the hyped name, that’s all.
Me, I spent most of my work time in command shells and browser windows anyway. At home, VLC and smplayer2 are the most important desktop applications for me. Scrivener exists for all three major platforms and for everything else I have by now found the one or the other open source substitute. I think that in the future, games will be the only software that I will still be spending money for.
Am I missing something? Yes, the comfort and power of Aperture for managing my photo library. Aperture, despite all its shortcomings, still is undefeated in that specific area. But I can survive without Aperture, and the feeling of having escaped the consumer treadmill easily outweighs the bought comfort.
Other than that, I enjoy the complete control over my digital life that Linux gives me. But I also know that this only works so well for me because I’m a professional system and network administrator — I make my living with this stuff, so naturally I judge these things from a completely different perspective than John and Jane Doe would.
But to be fair and honest, setting up and installing either a Mac or Windows machine from scratch is also beyond the abilities of an average home user. When an admin sets up the machine for them, the end user won’t feel much of a difference between Linux, OS X or Windows anymore. All three systems have individual strengths and weaknesses, and all have become very user friendly once they are up and running.
In the end, the only difference between them is the attached price tag. Not just for the base system, but for the whole ecosystem around them. Yes, I know that you don’t have to always update to the latest and greatest version of some commercial software. But that doesn’t change the reality that in a networked world, you have to stay up-to-date in order to be compatible and to protect yourself from malicious software and cyber attacks.
In the Microsoft and Apple ecosystems, staying up-to-date constantly costs money. In the Open Source world, things work differently. I don’t know about you, but I rather feed my dogs than constantly pumping money into computer software updates.