The year of Linux on the laptop?
December 22, 2021 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Windows user since forever but debating whether to go with some flavour of Linux on this new laptop instead of 11. If you have attempted this transition of your main OS in the past decade, tell me your story. Have you stuck with it? Did you give up and go crawling back to MS? What did you lose/give up on the way over? Which distro gave you the least headaches? so on

- Main as in the OS you interact with most and use for most daily tasks on your home machine. If you still keep windows around on a separate machine/partition, I'm interested to know more.

- I am happy to tinker - to a certain extent. Troubleshooting is fine but some days I do need things to just work (or start working very quickly). I can do the command line equivalent of changing brake pads and swapping the stereo for an aftermarket (assuming detailed instructions)

- Do not bring up Mac or iOS unless you are willing to contribute $$ to my Apple tax fund.
posted by Freelance Demiurge to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I went from Windows to Linux a few years ago, then came back.

I went for Linux Mint, which is very Ubuntu-like (user-friendly, good support forums, and similar enough to Ubuntu that advice for that will often work for Mint), but has "non-free" stuff like DVD and MP3 codecs built in from the start. At the time, Mint had an interface that was quite Windows XP-like, and Ubuntu was doing its own thing. Adding non-free stuff to Ubuntu is also very simple, if you want to go that way: there are clear guides floating around to let you do it with a few clicks or pasted commands.

For my old Dell laptop, Mint and Ubuntu both worked well out of the box. The exception being some old and slightly obscure hardware for using an SSD as a cache to accelerate the hard drive, which looked possible but needed some configuration that I didn't understand. Booting into Linux from a usb stick is a good way to test what hardware on your system Just Works without committing to anything.

For use as my only home computer, the usual suggested software equivalents like libreoffice and GIMP did everything I wanted without too much fussing around to find the appropriate buttons. Hobbyist programming stuff (arduino, etc) is if anything better on Linux than on Windows, as you might imagine.

Mint especially was lightweight enough that it ran noticeably faster on my laptop than Windows.

In the end I went back to Windows because I wanted to use Fusion 360 and play some games that weren't available on Linux. Possibly I could've done this with a virtual machine or WINE, but it looked like more fiddling around than I was interested in doing. I spent some time with the system as a dual-boot to do this, which worked well for quite a while. I forget the details of how I set it up, but it's safe to assume I followed the instructions in the top Google result for how to dual-boot for my distro. But without being able to use the SSD as a cache for the hard-drive Windows on the laptop was so achingly slow that I gave up and went back to a vanilla Windows install.
posted by metaBugs at 1:13 PM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

I converted a Dell XPS over to Ubuntu as a secondary / hobby / fun laptop. This was a former work machine that had previously run Windows.

Ubuntu worked out of the box with installation from a USB stick.

I suppose I'm not exactly answering your question because this is not my main OS. I like using the computer for terminal and coding tasks on a standing desk when I want to walk away from my main desk. On the other hand, it is a big laptop and I would prefer a smaller one if I were going to carry it around all the time. (i.e. XPS 15 -> XPS 13)

It's Ubuntu. It's cool. It does all the Ubuntu stuff you'd expect it to. I'm not really into tweaking and customizing as much as a lot of Linux folks do, but those rabbit holes are available just as they would be on a desktop machine.
posted by theorique at 1:43 PM on December 22, 2021

I went from Windows 7 to Ubuntu about 7 years ago I think? I bought a new laptop with Windows 8 preinstalled, didn't like Win8, and added Ubuntu in a dual-boot system. I kept Windows, but I think I only used it 5 times in those 7 years, and that was because I was using a proprietary photo book software that made printing photobooks of my kids much easier, and the software was Windows only. Everything worked out of the box. I had some issues at some point in the last year or two because I got stuck on an old Ubuntu version and something suddenly wasn't supported anymore, but I resolved it with copious googling and updating to a newer version.

Disclaimer: I use my home computer for browsing the internet, watching Netflix and downloaded movies, and not much else. (OK, sometimes programming.) I don't play games so I don't know what's the state of play there.
posted by gakiko at 1:44 PM on December 22, 2021

I switched over more than twenty years ago, so take my advice with a big grain of salt.

Ubuntu almost always just works and is so popular that it's easy to look up solutions to problems online. I have many complaints about their choices, but I've used it on around 6 laptops in recent years. (Two personal ones, the rest at work.) The distros I really love are both challenging for random laptop hardware with proprietary drivers and have a significant learning curve. Any contemporary linux distro will do most of what most computer users need.

The only real drawbacks today are specific software requirements. If you depend on commercial CAD software, any Adobe product, any Apple software, or insuring that every Microsoft-branded document others send you will look the same when you return it to them, it'll take some effort. There are usually alternatives, but not everything works flawlessly.

I have a Windows Virtualbox machine for CAD software, and a dual-boot windows installation that I haven't used in two years.

posted by eotvos at 1:52 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ages ago (like a decade and a half), my now wife (then a massage therapist, so, you know, not super techie) said "I want to run Linux so that you stop swearing at my computer when I ask you to fix it." I gave her an Ubuntu USB stick, and the only thing I had to help her on was dual booting so she could have Windows co-exist until she was sure she didn't need it.

In the intervening years she's missed being able to run a few special-purpose Windows apps, but mostly she gets along fine with LibreOffice. We tend to be an Xubuntu household, because why run all the excess bling desktop BS if you don't need a slow computer.

Recently, because my work has taken me in the direction of Mac, and we both want to use the product I'm working on, she got a Macbook Air, and it's been a year or so (I have a long history of people I'm romantically involved with buying a Mac *just* before Mac switches architectures) and there are still times when she threatens to go back to Linux because MacOS has committed some sin in attempting to coerce her into paying for additional services (iCloud, music, what-have-you), and she finds various aspects of it annoying relative to the simpler "just works"-ness of Linux.

My own computing has been primarily Linux since the early '90s, even as I was coding professionally in Windows, and though the household has kind-of moved to Mac for the front-end I really miss my Linux laptop that died back in 2020, and once I start traveling and being social again, post-pandemic, will probably replace it even as I keep the Mac for personal use of the product I work on.
posted by straw at 1:55 PM on December 22, 2021

I went from XP to Ubuntu many years ago and never went back. Dual booting is pretty easy when Windows is already installed, so you should be able to try out Ubuntu or Mint (easiest distros in my opinion) and still have Windows as a fallback if needed.

I have a company provided macbook for work.
posted by COD at 1:57 PM on December 22, 2021

I asked a similiar question a little over three years ago and ended up putting Pop!OS on my then-new laptop, which is still my daily workhorse. Pop suited my needs best because it supported necessary professional software and had a reliable hybrid graphics mode; I can easily switch off the discrete GPU when not in use to maximize battery life, but game with Steam or Lutris once the work day is done. It does everything I need it to do well and with little fuss.

A paradigm shift would have to occur for me to go crawling back to Windows; their latest shenanigans with Edge are just the cherry on top of their bad faith sundae.

If you're looking for a simple, user friendly distro and don't have any specific restrictions/requirements then try Mint, Ubuntu, or Zorin. Mint has a supportive forum community, Ubuntu is so ubiquitous that there's documentation for almost everything, and Zorin is the closest thing to Windows 7 since Windows 7 (though it gets some bad press in the open source community for having a paid version).
posted by givennamesurname at 1:59 PM on December 22, 2021

PS. The main issue with moving to Linux is software support. What applications are you using regularly? Are they cross-platform? If not, can you find a cross-platform alternative?
posted by gakiko at 2:05 PM on December 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

I've gone back and forth between having Windows as my main OS and having Linux (Ubuntu or Mint or another Ubuntu variant) as my main OS. These days I'm mostly on Windows because Scrivener is not available on Linux (unless something's changed recently) and I write either in Scrivener or in MS Word - and when I need MS Word I really need MS Word rather than LibreOffice. But I really liked Ubuntu and Mint. I liked them so much that I'm thinking right now, "Why don't I use Linux more? I should go back..."

One thing to be aware of with Linux is that some PC manufacturers make it kind of difficult to dual-boot or install a new OS; I think they've put some safety rails in place against viruses and user error but they also make it harder to mess with the boot settings when you actually want to mess with the boot settings. It's nothing you can't get around if you try, but I was surprised by how much harder it was to install Ubuntu on my computer in ~2017 as compared to ~2010.

If you're happy doing a little bit of tinkering, then you should definitely try Linux out. The amount of tinkering that I had to do with Linux was almost always less than I feared and usually more at the "change your oil" level than the "change your brake pads" level. (VERY OCCASIONALLY something completely bananas will happen and you'll spend three hours on user forums searching for people who got the same error message you did.)
posted by Jeanne at 2:50 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I moved from Windows to Ubuntu about a decade ago, switched to Xubuntu (Ubuntu using the Xfce desktop environment) after a couple of years, and I liked Xfce so much that I ended up moving to Arch Linux with Xfce after a couple more years. I have dual booting set up and use Windows from time to time for things like Teams/Zoom meetings, but otherwise miss nothing about it. I use a ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
posted by RGD at 3:10 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I used Ubuntu as my main OS for years, especially at work, where I'm a software developer. Then my hard drive crashed and I swapped to the smaller factory-installed hard drive that came with my laptop and started using the Windows 10 installation that came with it. It's been so nice using Windows, I'm never going back. Ubuntu was okay but there was always little niggling things like wifi and sound cutting out (rarely, but it never happens on Windows), having to compromise on available software some of which I need for work.

On windows if you use VSCode and WSL you can have an Ubuntu kernel running from inside windows. It's been totally seamless, they've really invested a lot in the process.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:27 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here's a perspective from another decade-plus user of Linux on the desktop. To give some context, I originally switched to Linux from Windows as a Matter Of Principle way back in the day, so I've always been motivated to see Linux work in practice. That said I'm trying to be as objective as possible here.

First I will say that nearly everything you do online will work just fine. To the extent your computer experience is mainly an online experience, it's great. Ever since Flash has been phased out, Youtube and everything else on HTML5 just works. Also the most essential file formats are handled very well, such as PDFs and MP3s. So for example, it's very easy to manage my financial life on Linux, because it essentially involves bank websites, password managers, PDFs, and rudimentary spreadsheets. Easy peasey.

Where desktop Linux breaks down is interoperability with friends / colleagues who use Windows, and in particular, MS office. Frankly I find Libre Office to be a totally unacceptable substitute for MS Office, again specifically as to interoperability. I do in fact maintain a separate work laptop with the latest Windows OS, because in my work I need to use very meticulously formatted MS Word documents, and Libre Office is in my experience totally unable to deal with them. Or, like, you might be able to get the formatting correct in Libre Office as long as you never have to hand off the file to a Windows-using colleague, but as soon as you try to share a document between OSes, good luck.

To be fair the incompatibilities between MS Office and Libre Office seem kind of similar to the incompatibilities between MS Office and the various Google apps, so if you're already navigating that divide, then you might be fine. And again, to reiterate, I've had great experiences with online services such as Google Docs.

Oh, also, I did originally try to maintain a Windows 10 virtual machine on my Linux desktop. However, I used it very infrequently, and so it has ALWAYS needed to download several hundred MB of updates every time I've started the virtual machine. Since my work pays for a computer, I just keep windows installed there and use it as necessary. I'm really not sure how well it would work to maintain a modern Windows installation on a VM.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:04 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm going to try to keep this relatively short since I'm not sure how much it will help OP.

About 8 years ago I set-up a separate machine to just run Linux because I'd seen guidance that (for me, an IT person) it would be a "good idea" to learn. They were right. But as a side effect I have watched my "two towers" evolve over time. Now they are Win 10 and Ubuntu 20.04 LTS. As for my "main system" unfortunately I am only partially retired, so my Work from Home laptop is Win 10 Enterprise though I do some work on employer's Linux servers via PuTTY.

Although WSL is a thing, I (personally) do not see the advantage of mixing Windows and Linux, since it's easy enough to have an actual Linux machine (in my experience Microsoft puts a much larger burden on whatever machine you're using than Linux puts on an older or more modest machine). Also, Microsoft has already had security exploits specifically in their WSL (rolls eyes). As others have mentioned dual boot can be problematic, and I have had problems with a dual boot laptop that seems to use battery faster when it's under Linux (perhaps software related).

Normally LibreOffice is recommended as an MS Office replacement, but I would suggest you give "WPS Office 2019 For Linux" a spin, I find it to be more compatible/capable. Of course VLC for video or audio, Web browsers run on Ubuntu, Handbrake for video editing. In the command line you have wget to retrieve Web page contents, ffmpeg to do just about any kind of standard video editing, but OpenShot may help for non-linear editing. I am not a gamer though I hear (???) that the situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

And of course you can "try it before you buy it" (if you download a "Live" version of a Linux distribution you can run it from the CD or thumb drive to get a general feel for its compatibility to your hardware and whether you find the software too "lame"). But if you have some old junk machine lying around that (in my opinion) is the better/safer way to gain familiarity with Ubuntu vs. Windows. BUT, there are of course potential hardware problems since not all hardware manufacturers support (or support worth a damn) all their hardware with good/recent Linux drivers.
posted by forthright at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2021

OP, I work in software and have been using Linux as my desktop and laptop OS for a long time, mostly using Ubuntu, and I like being that way. My last two laptops have been chosen on the basis of Linux compatibility.

I do keep a Windows install around on my laptop because Windows is the best Steam launcher in the world (tho Valve has done a ton of work to make Windows games runnable on Linux) and because I did a large project in Indesign 5 years ago and found the Linux equivalents at the time to be not great.

gakiko has the correct answer IMO: your experience with Linux will vary greatly depending on the software you run. Doing online stuff will be no problem -- even Netflix runs in a browser on Linux now. Interoperability with the dominant offline programs will be your bugbear. If you have to exchange MS Office docs or Photoshop images or ProTools songs with other people, you will be in for some extra complexity.
posted by Sauce Trough at 5:41 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have an inverse experience, which I'll try to keep brief. I switched to Linux from Windows 98, for stability and networking.

I tried to build a Windows gaming machine when Windows 8 came out. They had been selling licenses for a greatly reduced $35 or so. I didn't like it at all for general computing, even though browsers were OK in Windows. I separated out a lot of my real computing to a Linux server as part of the plan.

The privacy aspects of Windows 10 chased me away briefly after upgrading to that. I now just run Manjaro as my gaming/desktop machine. I have no Windows at all outside of that brief flirtation.

I use Ubuntu on the server, because it has stability and an update service that doesn't require a reboot. I use PopOS on my laptop, because I like the interface best (it's also Ubuntu underneath). I run PopOS's interface on my Manjaro machine for the same reason, but with the bleeding edge gaming drivers/tools Manjaro can provide.

So I'm recommending PopOS. Manjaro is a good third distro once you already know what you want from Linux software.
posted by Snijglau at 6:19 PM on December 22, 2021

Lightning rod here. Here's my recommendation: Keep Windows as the primary O/S and install Ubuntu LTS in Virtualbox for your daily work. It's what I do.

Some things I like about this setup:

- Corporate IT and their Active Directory nonsense don't know I work in Linux land and think I happily plug along in Win10 all day. They leave me alone.

- WSL is garbage and WSL2 isn't much better. Native Linux works best for what I do (ARM development with Yocto and cross-compilers)

- I can back up an entire machine, clone it, and/or save snapshots in the VM while working.

- Very very few people want to buy a used laptop with Ubuntu on it. They want Windows installed and get very confused by any other O/S, even the Chromebook ones. Removing the preinstalled Windows instance decreases the value of the machine.

- Dual booting, in my opinion, gets you two nice operating systems but with half the available disk space you paid for.

- Like others have said there are apps like CAD/CAM, audio/video editors, graphics tools, etc that just run better on Windows. Running these in a Win10 VM on a Linux host would be much more painful.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used Linux on a netbook around 2010 for a couple years in university (gave it to my dad, running Ubuntu to this day with no tech support calls to me after setup). Then back to Windows for grad school. Tried running Linux in 2018, but I liked having a cloud service show up as a folder in my system, which wasn’t well-supported. Have since found 3rd party services that can do this and also care less now, will eventually switch my personal machine to Ubuntu when Microsoft gets too annoying about upgrading to Win 11 or I get sick of how slow win 10 runs. Basically, it’s become painful enough to run Windows with the frequent updates and nagging to use Cortana / Edge / OneDrive / whatever that switching feels worth the effort.

I will continue to have Windows at work, which is where I use specialty software and Word editing features anyhow.
posted by momus_window at 7:05 PM on December 22, 2021

I'm a veteran operating system and Linux distro hopper -- Over the past 10-12 years I've used various flavors of Linux as well as Mac OS X / macOS as my daily driver, with a side of dabbling heavily in Windows 10.

Right now I'm on my gaming computer typing this from Windows 10, which also has System 76's Pop!_OS on a second drive so I can dual boot. Pop!_OS is Linux distribution that uses Ubuntu as a base set of packages with a lot of customization by System 76 for desktop users / gamers.

Pop!_OS and Fedora are my main OSes. I like Pop!_OS because it has the best out-of-the-box experience for installing NVIDIA drivers and keeping those up to date, and has the option of an LTS (long term support) release that means I don't have to upgrade the OS to a new version very often.

I've had good luck with Steam on Pop!_OS to run some games, but ultimately decided I'd stick with Windows for gaming.

My primary activities for work are 70-90% browser-based with a bit of work at the command line.

Really - it's going to come down to a combination of your comfort with change and the apps you need / want to use on the regular.

For instance, if you really just have to have Microsoft Word, you're not going to be happy with LibreOffice or Google Docs. You're just not. If you just need a basic set of office apps without much need for interoperability with people in the MSFT ecosystem, LibreOffice and/or Google Docs will do you just fine.

But I have apps / utilities that only work or work best with Windows. I use "iMazing" to sync music to my iPhone without iTunes / Apple Music. Runs on Windows or macOS but not Linux. My ScanSnap has a Windows utility that isn't available on Linux, so if I need to scan in stuff for taxes, or whatnot - Window it is.

Lots of other apps now are browser based or cross-platform. I can run Spotify on Linux, and Steam and Discord. Dropbox is multi-platform. My NAS management (Synology) is all browser based. Signal's desktop app, and Slack, are also available on Linux.

I feel like the install + maintenance of Linux is a far better experience than Windows. Keeping Windows updated feels like a chore to me.

Note that I've installed Pop!_OS on two recent MSI machines (one laptop, one gaming PC) -- both Core i9 systems with NVIDIA, one with a very recent 3080Ti card. Wireless, Bluetooth, video and so forth have all worked out of the box. Both systems are dual boot so I can run Windows or Linux. Most of my time is spent in Linux but it's easy to flip to Windows.
posted by jzb at 8:20 PM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been running a Linux Mint and Windows dual-boot for years now, with Linux as my everyday OS, and it's great. Linux is so much faster and less clunky that I couldn't go back to Windows. Overall, Mint has everything I need for everyday usage, most of which is browser-based nowadays anyway. Anything browser-based works in Firefox on Linux, in my experience, and there's good Spotify support (a hobby project by their Linux-using developers, apparently), Dropbox, VLC, and Steam. Gaming on Linux has gotten a lot better over the past few years, and I think it's still getting better. As a general rule, I find that big-budget graphics-heavy games will only support Windows, whereas more indie/nerdy/simpler-graphics type games will have Linux support.

I would recommend dual-boot, since you'll inevitably need Windows for some specific thing. The only downsides are a loss of disk space (assign partitions carefully, including a shared one), and a bit more installation hassle (but there are good step-by-step walkthroughs online). Things I switch to Windows for are Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and some games. LibreOffice is pretty crappy, it's like using MS Office from 20 years ago. It's fine for viewing and minor editing, but any interchange between MS Office and LibreOffice will inevitably lead to completely messed-up layouts. Gimp is the main Photoshop alternative, and it's okay for very minor things, but for anything serious you'll want Photoshop.

I found Linux Mint really easy to get into, and since you mention you're not scared of the command line per se, you should be fine. Generally you won't need to go into the command line, except sometimes for adjusting a specific setting or installing a finicky application. In those cases, there's plenty of support online, especially since Ubuntu advice usually works for Mint, and your command line usage will be copy-pasting mostly.

So yeah, definitely try it! As mentioned above, the main factors are the programs you're using. If you have to use Word, Powerpoint and Photoshop everyday, then there's not much point.
posted by snusmumrik at 2:47 AM on December 23, 2021

I have dual booting set up and use Windows from time to time for things like Teams/Zoom meetings

Just to note that I use Zoom frequently on Linux without trouble. There are some features missing (like the ability to define your own keyboard shortcuts, alas) but, as far as I can tell, none of the important ones?

I used to dual boot but the last few years have been Linux-only, partly because I don't feel like losing disk space, partly because Windows has been getting so phone-homey and service-advertise-y that I don't really feel like dealing with it, and partly because the main reason to boot into it was to use Word for work on shared files. I don't have to do that as much anymore, and though Office Live is incredibly slow and buggy and frustrating to use - seriously, MS should be embarrassed - it's good enough that I can get away with using it on those occasions when I need Word and not LibreOffice.

There are two windows programs I miss - irfanview and foobar2000. They run okay, though not great, through wine (especially foobar), and it feels like a small tradeoff for the things I love on Linux.

Personally I like Debian stable, but I don't really care about having the latest version of anything.
posted by trig at 3:22 AM on December 23, 2021

I switched from W7 to Linux Mint in 2015. I started out dual-booting, but then in a few months I noticed I never actually booted into W7 anymore, not did I want to. A year in, I fully deleted my W7 partition. Now I run Mint on both my laptop and my desktop. (Yes, Zoom works fine.)

Once I was settled in, my mother (78) asked me: should I switch to W10, or should I try that thing that you are using? I said, I've never touched W10, so if you want me to help you, let's try that thing that I am using.
She is now a full time user of Mint at 83 and likes it just fine.

Mint is easy to get into as a Windows user, and support is decent. It's the OS you should be looking at. And by all means, look at some others too... there are several good options here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:50 AM on December 23, 2021

I should add some more detail to my Teams/Zoom comment... I know both can work in Linux, but in my personal context I've been trying to limit using the AUR (the Arch User Repository, maintained by the community). The AUR is great, I just wanted to see if I could rely on official repositories a bit more.
posted by RGD at 8:20 AM on December 23, 2021

I have a Pinebook Pro Linux laptop that runs Manjaro. It is okay, but definitely doesn't replace my Windows desktop.

For the last 25 years or so, every time there is a new Windows I grumble about having to upgrade my computer and try switching to Linux, and every time I come crawling back to Windows. Linux works good enough for me for just web browsing or light and simple tasks on the laptop, but there always seems to be something irritating about it, or some incompatibility, or annoying frustration with getting a printer to just work dammit, or whatever, for me to use it as my main operating system.

I have had a lot of frustration getting Zoom and Skype to work with Linux, so I end up using the browser version.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:47 AM on December 23, 2021

I left Windows behind over a decade ago.

I'm always careful about the hardware I buy to be confident it's compatible and most things have in-built drivers. AMD's vulkan drivers get faster frame rates than their Windows counterparts and have got a solid amount of Just Works to them, Valve Software's Steam platform having helped a lot with WINE support for Windows games. One reason I don't use nVidia is you have to download stuff outside the package manager ecosystem (at least for the Linux system I use) so their drivers are reliable but not for me.

Printers have been solid, but networked printers via HPLIP and JetDirect have been a longer-standing thing for me than desktop Linux. Samba is nice but needs you to manage users and passwords specific to those shares -- you are granting remote access, so secure it!

Use the package manager. Always use the package manager.

Check your setup is right before trusting suspend-to-ram type sleep or suspend-to-disk type hibernation.

Don't let btrfs+snapshots run out of disk space, and try to avoid letting btrfs run out of space when you aren't using snapshots. (Btrfs is neat for recording deltas to data since high-water mark of a snapshot, but it's friends-don't-let-friends-use territory for losing your data.)

deploy etckeeper for a history of your system configuration you can export, backup and restore. You can roll back changes and get differential deltas to old configuration when things go wrong.

Always use the package manager.
posted by k3ninho at 9:01 AM on December 23, 2021

When I was a Windows user, I went back and forth between various Linux flavors and Windows. My primary reason for returning to Windows was hardware-related: I never owned a laptop that had decent Linux trackpad support. I user laptops almost exclusively as laptops, not portable desktops, and almost never have a mouse attached. Palm detection and tap sensitivity have never been as good as in Windows on a given machine (most recently a Dell Latitude 13).

I ended up getting a MacBook Air about this time last year, and even it has (rare) trackpad difficulties.
posted by lhauser at 9:19 AM on December 23, 2021

I find that big-budget graphics-heavy games will only support Windows, whereas more indie/nerdy/simpler-graphics type games will have Linux support.

I am not a gamer though I hear (???) that the situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

There's a mish-mash of info here on the state of Linux gaming that should be clarified. Valve has done heroic work with Linux compatibility while developing their Steam deck (which is Arch based). Many singler-player AAA and graphic heavy titles from the past few years work with minimal fiddling if you use Steam and enable Proton; Horizon Zero Dawn, Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, are beautiful and mostly trouble free. Sometimes patches mess things up, but Valve is usually prompt with updates.

If you use GOG, Lutris offers scripted tweaks and fixes for many major titles and streamlines their install as well as consolidates your tweaks/fixes in a library. Support for updates on Lutris is slower than Steam, but quick for a community open-source project. There are also a multitude of native Linux titles in the GOG store, but they do tend to be older/indie games.

If you use EPIC, my sympathies: EPIC is a wreck on Linux and takes a geological epoch to update support.

Where the cracks show is with multi-player and on-line gaming; anti-cheat software on some official game servers scuttles compatibility. If you play on a private server without those restrictions, there are more options available to you. If you have a specific make-or-break game, you can always check if it's supported with Proton or Lutris.
posted by givennamesurname at 11:22 AM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Another data point for you: I use Ubuntu exclusively on both my laptop and desktop, have done for probably 5 years or so. Main things I do online are steam games, YNAB, zoom calls, spotify, Krita for art stuff and Libre office for documents. Love it because I never have to think about it, it just does what it's supposed to.
posted by unlapsing at 6:49 PM on December 23, 2021

I’ve used Ubuntu as a daily-driver for over 15 years now. There are indeed sometimes little quirks that can be annoying and require some tinkering (most recently my wireless card didn’t work on the LTS release and I had to reinstall the latest version). Mostly though, you’re fine with a little Googling, so your level of skill should be totally fine. I ultimately really prefer the customizability of Linux, and how much better everything seems to hold up as your hardware ages. I also do a lot of informatics and coding for work, and it is a fantastic environment for that. I do play some (older/indie) games and have also had mostly great experiences with Steam, even on some Windows games that aren’t officially marked as compatible; that said, I don’t play super demanding AAA titles.

I did have a Windows VM at work to run Word and, for occasional files that Inkscape used to choke on (fixed recently!), Illustrator. LibreOffice is great in its own right, but trying to collaborate with someone using Word or PowerPoint is still not really tractable, especially with things like formulas. As the online Google/Microsoft apps have gotten more sophisticated, I’ve thankfully started to need Word less.

My last reason to dual-boot at home was to run Ableton for music production, but now that Linux has a comparable native app (Bitwig) that’s not really an issue anymore.

(Teams and Zoom both work fine, FWIW. Except that Teams seems to unpause Spotify after I hang up on a call. Quirks! But ultimately, pretty minor.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2021

There's a lot of good info in this thread, but here's my suggestion as to what you should do: put a pen and pad of paper next to your current computer. For the next week or two, write down every piece of software you use. Everything. Not just the obvious ones like Chrome and MS Office, but every little utility, every time-waster game, every printer configuration utility. If you use any hardware connected to the machine, or over the network, write that down too.

Then after a week or so, go through the list with a colored pen and ensure they're Linux-compatible, or have an equivalent that you find acceptable. If there's a must-have piece of software that doesn't have a Linux equivalent, well, stop there: you have your answer.

There's no point in installing Linux only to run into some sort of deal-breaker incompatibility in the first week you're using it as your daily driver. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised at the amount of software that has honest-to-god Linux versions these days, or at least close Linux equivalents that you may find acceptable. However, there are still unfortunately products that only work on Windows (especially if you need to use any slightly-weird or uncommon hardware, or have old versions of expensive special-purpose or enterprise-y apps).

FWIW, I am in the midst of this process right now, trying to decide what I'll do for my big home-office Mac desktop once it's no longer able to run a modern browser. Apple's new mini-towers are so absurdly expensive that I'm probably going to have to switch to either Linux or Windows, and I've got quite the spreadsheet of pros/cons going. I'd spend some time test driving software and reading up on compatibility before pulling the trigger.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:57 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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