Desktop Linux For The Windows Power User


While Linux has been around for a very long time, it has been ignored for mainstream desktop use for most of its existence. However, two little words are being written more and more in the technology press: "and Linux." Two years ago, no one even bothered to check whether or not products would work with the free operating system, but now it's becoming compulsory to divulge Linux compatibility.

Critics and Windows fanboys say that switching to Linux will bring the same limitations as switching to Mac will, thus putting the user in a sandbox of limited options, while Windows works with a near limitless range of hardware and software. Linux is not like a Mac operating system. In fact, Linux will run on a wider range of hardware than even Windows.

As far as the software goes, free alternatives to most mission-critical applications for Ubuntu are just a download away. As an operating system, Linux is completely customizable, from the kernel to the GUI and beyond, which is not something that can be said about Windows.

The question is not “can Linux run it?” That has never been the question with regard to Linux. Instead, you can make it do just about anything that you want it to do. The more pointed question is: “just how much of a hassle is this going to be?” Being a do-it-yourselfer, I don't mind the challenge. Spending the hours needed to properly overclock a rig only to fill your system tray with CPU-draining security programs and a perpetually fragmenting file system is just plain absurd to me. Scouring reviews and feverishly price-checking the best components possible for the custom system of your dreams only to install a stock operating system seems self-defeating.

Competition drives innovation and there is no lack of competition in the Linux sphere. Today, I use Ubuntu because today Ubuntu is king. But tomorrow is a new day and Novell's OpenSUSE along with Red Hat's Fedora are looking to become usurpers to (or re-claimers of) the throne.

Then there are Dell and HP, which pre-install their own custom variants of Ubuntu in new systems. Intel developed the Moblin distribution and turned it over to the Linux Foundation earlier this month. Google's Linux-based Android operating system is making its way from mobile phones to netbooks. Is the desktop far behind? There are even more free options beyond Linux. BSD has been around for a long time, while Sun Microsystems offers the OpenSolaris operating system. The OpenOffice office suite and Virtual Box virtual machine are all free.

Today, we have more quality choices of operating systems than ever before, and choices are always a good thing. Choice inherently means that there are differences, and with computers, that usually leads to specialization. If you need to build a rig on the cheap or just like to do-it-yourself, then Linux is for you, and today the Ubuntu distribution is where to start. If you are a hardcore PC gamer, I'm afraid that due to DirectX 10, you're stuck with Vista (or waiting for Windows 7)  for the time being. If you need your hand held, then go buy a Mac.

  • jgv115
    An easier way of installing programs is in the terminal


    sudo apt-get install *app name here*

  • DjEaZy
    ... i'm a n00b in LINUX, but UBUNTU... it iz a nice start... the GUI iz easy to pick up... the rest iz reading forums... i got even crysis to work in Ubuntu... just the problem waz, that there waz no textures... with WINE and DX instaled the need for speed series runs pretty fine... all OpenGL games, that i played, run fine too... the interesting thing where you can consider using Ubuntu iz a old computer for internet browsing... if tha CPU iz approx 1Ghz, tha RAM 256Mb, and a 5 series GeForce or 9 Series Radeon to do the COMPIZ eyecandy... then YOU have a better-than-Vista visual and browsing experience...
  • wicko
    Meh, I've killed my XP install and I use Windows 7, which I actually like. Ubuntu doesn't cut it for me due to the lack of games.. otherwise I'd be all for alternatives.
  • arpikusz
    Great article. Really like that you outlined how to install all the "good little stuff" and not just the OS it self. Thumbs up!
  • thepinkpanther
    as soon as ubuntu can run .exe without a hitch, windows is out the...ugh...window.
  • Sir you are wrong. GoogleEarth and AdobeFlash is fully 64-bit compatible.

    One issue that you may encounter is GoogleGears that is 32bit only, but you can easily find Gears for 64 bit (without Google trade mark).
  • fordry06
    Ya, I have multiple games that will not work no matter what i do. I have tried configuring WINE manually and Play on Linux and Steam games will not function properly for me, neither does Trackmania. Im not sure if its becuse i have SLI or what but it simply doesn't work. I would love to use Linux as my primary OS, but when i install Windows 7 and ALL of my drivers are installed and working correctly automatically without any hassle, even nvidia video drivers, that is something that Linux is not capable of yet with alot of systems. Until the majority of programs and drivers work natively with Linux, it will just be a niche OS on desktop computers.
  • ahmshaegar
    Well, let's get this out of the way first: Linux is my primary OS. And I realize it's a kernel, so piss off you pedantic bastards.

    @thepinkpanther: Linux ain't Windows. Linux is Linux, so if your goal is to run Windows apps all day, I don't think choosing Linux as your primary OS makes the most sense.

    @fordry06: That certainly is a problem. Now, most hardware manufacturers don't disclose all the information about their hardware, so it's quite hard to write perfectly working drivers for OSes other than Windows. Although it's not Red Hat/SuSE/Ubuntu/(Insert Linux vendor here)'s fault, as a user, you don't really care about that, do you? Basically, for a lot of hardware out there, you have to fight to get it to work in Linux. For me, I got a bog standard laptop. In Ubuntu 9.04, pretty much everything I use worked out of the box. Now, certain things aren't working as well, such as my card reader only reading SD and MMC cards in Ubuntu... but I don't use anything other than SD cards. So for me, it's working just fine. For others... not so much. And regarding your games in Linux, see what I said above to thepinkpanther. Linux ain't Windows.

    Well, having gravitated away from games, and not being particularly loyal to any company or OS or anything, I really honestly don't care if I'm on *gasp* a Mac or Windows or Linux. So it all works out for me. Hey, if you really want me to get philosophical then let me just say that I think you can enjoy life best when you stop caring about all the trivial things. Why should I care what Microsoft has to say about Apple or vice versa? Why should I care when a Linux zealot declares the start of the nineteenth Crusade against Sata- er, Bill Gates?

    Flame on! or not.
  • Great article Adam! You are a man after my own heart! I rule over my computer with an iron fist and judiciously gut every MS OS I've own. I also drink no one's kool-aid (XP: 1.5GB Disk space, 19 running processes; Vista: 10GB Disk Space; 30 running processes). Ubuntu 9.04 is my primary OS and I absolutely love the amount of control I have. I now have no use for vista except for games. (Still working on that). :p
  • SpadeM
    If you need your hand held, then go buy a Mac.
    = Epic Win!
    Summed it up quite nicely