The Move

Or Open Agora, should you happen to be a Classical Greek...

The Move

Postby PaulGazis » Sun May 19, 2013 4:28 am

It began innocently enough – an unexpected delay here, a slow response there, the occasional freeze and reboot learns to accept from Windows. Then my mailer stopped working. Attempts to run it made the system hang. Reinstalling it did not fix the problem. The symptoms spread to my copy of Firefox. This was very strange. While the Dark Lord of Redmond has gone on record as stating that open source software is ‘un-American’, this level of hostility seemed inappropriate.

At first I hoped the problem was a bad DLL somewhere in the bowels of the OS. I tried to do a system restore… only to discover that all my restore points had vanished! My recover disk accomplished precisely as little as one would expect, and my backup copy of Windows 7 was nowhere to be found. Even more disturbing, the problem seemed to be spreading. Now I could freeze the system by trying to copy from certain directories. This seemed more like a dying disk than a software problem. A bit of calculation, adding up the cost of a new drive and upgrades I’d deferred, suggested it was time for a new PC. “No problem,” thought I. “I’ve budgeted money for just such an emergency, and this will give me a chance to see if Windows 8… well... let's be diplomatic and say 'matches its reputation'.”

When I was at NASA, I used all three of the major OS’s – Windows, Linux, and MacOS - on some of the same projects. All three had strengths and weaknesses, and there seemed little to chose between them. A brief examination of Windows 8 made it clear that Things Had Changed. And since the only thing keeping me with Microsoft had been legacy software that no longer ran under Windows, the Boys In Redmund had cleverly eliminated any reason I might have had to stick with their products (the ‘Customer Is Always Wrong’ school of marketing). It seemed like time for that long-planned move to Linux. I slipped an Ubuntu DVD into the new machine, waited for the ‘Are you tired of supporting a monopoly (Y/N)’ window to appear, and pushed Y. Then I braced myself for the hassles of transforming a Linux installation into something suitable for use by human beings.

Once again, Things Had Changed. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS beat the heck out of my old Red Hat installations. It did what I wanted, the way I wanted, in response to commands that made sense. I like that in a computer! They're supposed to be our servants, not our masters. Even better, most of my legacy software turned out to have superior Linux alternatives, except for two packages I was able to run under Wine.

Is this move for everyone? Surely not. I may revile him as the Enemy of Mankind, but Mister Bill's OS does work, and for those who only intend to run office software or games, it may be the best choice. Artsy types will always prefer Apple – studies show you’re more likely to make a pickup if you’re using one of Steve Jobs’s products than you would with an ordinary laptop. And I must note that Linux has annoyances too. But for someone who does a fair bit of AI and machine learning development work, the move has been terrific. Using the computer is fun again!

Now I have to find a good LISP environment…
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