Wind of Change – a journey to Linux

1989 was a historic year not just for Germany, it was for the whole world, when the Berlin wall teared down. A few months before, many people had wished that this event happen. But no one imagined it will become true. And even no person had in mind that everything goes so fast. Even me. Grew up on the side were we wished to touch the “always more green grass” of our neighbors. The Scorpions captured the spirit of the time with a song “Wind of change”. The unofficial hymn for the reunion of Germany.

Similar to me it was with the strong dominance of Microsoft Windows as Operation System when I went into those computer things. Never I thought there is coming for me a time without Windows. Windows XP I had loved, after they fixed some heavy problems by Service Pack 1. Also Windows 7 an OS I really was liked to use and never I thought about a change. Really I always defended my Windows OS till this time. Because it was a really good system. But some years ago I changed my opinion – dramatically. Another wind of change. Let me give a brief history about decisions and experiences.

Before I continue I need to clarify that this post will not mention anything from the Apple universe. Till today I never owned or used any Apple device. Why? Because there is no reason for me.

Everything began as I bought my Microsoft Surface 3 Pro with Windows 8.1 OS. In the beginning I was happy with the compact system and the performance. Very portable. A very important fact for me, because I travel a lot. I toked it also to my pilgrimage to Spain on the Camino de Santiago, to write my blog posts whit it. Unfortunately in the last week in Portugal the screen got broken. I was only be able to use it with external mouse. So I was forced to send the device to the Microsoft support. For a very shameless amount, close to a new buy – I got a replacement device with Windows 10. In between I also installed on my ThinkPad 510p Windows 10. I had felt like back in the year 2000 with my old Fujitsu Siemens Desktop and Windows Millennium. Almost every 3 months a re-installation of the whole system was necessary, because the update had broke the system. The most of my time I had spend to sit in front of my machine and wait that my Win 10 system got done whit the updates. During the updates, Windows 10 performance goes dramatically down and the system was not usable. If the device have more than 6 months no internet connection, it also close to impossible to turn on and start work with it. But this is not the whole drama. Every mayor update is breaking the customized configuration. Apps of the MS store already was deleted appeared again, additional language settings get broken and deactivated unwanted features was activated again. Another point is when you haven’t enough disk space for the Windows 10 update. This costs a lot of pain and frustrations. Till today the situation is not really changed. By the way Ubuntu Mate can also be run on a Microsoft Surface 3 PRO device.

The best you are be able to do with a Surface 3 PRO and its Windows 10 installation.

After I decided to run away from the Windows OS, I was needed to chose my new operation system. Well Linux! But which distribution? Usually in my job I only got experience with server and not by desktop systems. I remind me to my first SUSE Linux experiences in the early 2000. I think it was the Version 7 or something. I bought it in a store, because it came with a printed documentation and the download of more tha a Gigabyte with my 56k modem was not an option. Some years later I was worked with Ubuntu and Fedora. In the beginning Ubuntu I was not wanted to use for my change, because of the Unity engine. The first installation of Fedora was needed a lot of hands on to establish services like Dropbox and Skype. I was in search for a system I can code with it. For this requirements many persons recommended Debian. But Debian is more for experienced user and for the most people get first time in touch with Linux not an good advice. After some investigations I found Ubuntu Mate. A Gnome Desktop based on Debian whit a huge software repository. This was sounding perfect for my necessities. ANd its still today the system of my choice.

After I installed Ubuntu Mate on my machine I really liked it from the first moment. Fast and simple installation, excellent documentation and all application I was needed was there. Because of my travels I bought some years ago an Asus ZenBook UX and I run also Ubuntu from the first unboxing on it. Always when people see my system they are surprised because everything looks like a iBook, but is much better.

The change to Linux Ubuntu Mate was much easier than I expected. With some small tricks a re-installation of the whole system takes me now less than 2 hours. The main concept is always clean and backuped the bash history file. Then I be able to rerun all needed commands for installation and configuration. Some of the applications like my favorite IDE Apache NetBeans, I backuped the configuration settings. The prefix of the filename is always the date when I perform the settings export. For example the NetBeans backup file is named as 2017-03-31_NetBeans. Those backups I do currently manually and not scripted. The time to develop a full automatism takes me in the moment too much time and the services I have to backup are not so much. For this reason is a manual action sufficient. Typical services are e-mail, SFTP, Browser favorites and so on as part of my manual backup procedure.

Since Firefox changed his API 2018 a very useful tool for export and import passwords is not available any more. To avoid the usage of a cloud service you should not trust to store all account passwords online, I decided to use the crypto tool KeePass. After I add all my web accounts to this tool the storage of the passwords is also more secure. With the browser plugin the accounts can be shared between all popular browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Opera. The KeePass file wiht my stored passwords is automatically included into my backup. The only important procedure of password storing is to keep the password database up to date.

One thing I was used heavily on Windows was the Portable Apps ecosystem. My strategy was to have a independent installation of many well configured services for work I just need to include to my current system. Something like this exist also in Linux. Just without the Portable App environment. My preference is always download the ZIP version of a software which not needs an installation. This I store on a second partition. In the case of a virgin OS setup the partition just need to linked back to the OS and its done. The strategy to deal whit an separate disk partition offers also a high flexibility, we can use for another step, virtualization.

I don’t want to remind myself how much time I spended in my life to configure development services like web server and database. For this problem is Docker now the solution of my choice. Each service is in an own image and the data got linked from a directory into the container. Also the configuration. Start and stop of the service is a simple command and the host system stays clean. Tryouts of service updates are very easily and complete conflict free. A rollback can performed every time by deleting the virtualization container.

The biggest change was from MS Office to Libre Office. Well with the functionality of Libre Office I already was fluent. The problem was all the Presentations and and Word documents I had. If you tried to open those files in both office applications the formatting getting crazy. To avoid this problem, I had find out it is often just a problem of the fonts. I decided to download from google a free and nice looking font. This I installed on the old Windows machine to convert all my office document away from MS Office.

My resume after some years of Linux usage, today I can say absolutely honest I do not miss anything. Of course I have to admit, I do not play games. After some hours every day working on a computer I prefer to move back into reality to meet friends and family. Its nice to explore places during my travels or simply read a book. With Linux I have a great performance of my hardware and as of now I did got any issue with drivers. All my Hardware is still working under Ubuntu Mate Linux well as I expect. With Linux instead of WIndows I save a lot of lifetime and frustrations.