Switching to Linux

In which I extol the virtues of a free operating system.

I was on a roll with venting about technology earlier this week, and thought I’d keep the tech theme going as I move to dump Window$ in favor of another operating system.

When educators think of computers, we tend to default to the Windows vs. Mac dichotomy. Folks tend to prefer one operating system over the other, and that’s totally fine. But what if there were a better option, or hundreds out there? Enter Linux. Linux is a family of open-source operating systems that are all built around something called the Linux kernel. Linux distributions (flavors of the operating system) have a few things going for them, namely that they’re completely free with no catches, well-maintained, and incredibly powerful.

I recently installed Linux Mint, and I’m pretty excited to explore what it can do. Sure it does all of the normal things like access the web browser, print documents, etc., but there’s so much more power in a Linux machine compared to Windows or Mac. I appreciate that this particular flavor of Linux is pretty user-friendly, affording me the flexibility and power of Linux without getting bogged down in constant tinkering that may be necessary on more advanced systems. Mint is derived from a distribution called Ubuntu, which is further derived from Debian. This Debian-based branch of Linux distros is pretty well documented, with plenty of helpful wikis, tidbits, etc. scattered across the internet.

Some of the first programs I set up once I installed the OS were:

  • Emacs: A pretty amazing program that deserves it’s own post (or a dozen, to be realistic). Emacs is an infinitely extendable and customizable text editor and it can be molded to fit the needs of individual users. There’s quite a learning curve, but it very well just might be one of the most powerful pieces of software that I know of.
  • Visual Studio Code: My current Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of choice. It’s basically Microsoft Word for writing computer code.
  • LaTeX/AucTex: A text processor built around a markup language. Very well-known in academic circles for typesetting various mathematical problems, notes, diagrams, etc. (imagine how a math textbook page might look).

I decided to dual boot Linux along my pre-existing Windows setup. This means that every time I start my laptop I have the option of booting into Linux Mint or into Windows. For all intents and purposes they’re two completely different computers that happen to share the same hardware. I thought about completely banishing Windows from my laptop, but I figured it was worth keeping at the very least since I’ve already paid the ‘Windows tax’. There’s also the peace of mind in knowing that if something ever were to go wrong with my Mint setup, I can easily boot into and work from the Windows partition while I figure out how to clean up my digital mess.

No operating system is perfect, but the beauty of Linux is that I’ll be able to customize just about any part of my system. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling compared to the technological shackles placed onto computer users by the likes of Window$ and Apple. There’s still so much for me to learn, but I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to do with Linux.

A screenshot of the Linux Mint desktop. Looks pretty similar to Windows.