Why I Ditched Ubuntu and Switched to Windows 7

While this is a car site, I'm also a nerd. So, in this blog section I decided to post up this little computer related article. Hopefully it'll be useful to someone.

Ubuntu has been my main operating system for the last year. It took over from my PowerBook G4 15" which died after 4 good years of service. At the time it died I couldn't afford to buy a replacement. So I went for a cheap laptop, and installed Ubuntu. I've spent countless hours of pain trying to get Ubuntu to work properly, and finally, I've given up and resorted to drastic measures, and here I am writing this on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition.

Let's just say that I'd invested enough time and energy into Linux in the last year, and have very little to show for it. Countless installs, experimenting, trying various distributions, and finding the same problems with them all.

There were short periods of time when I was reasonably happy with Ubuntu. Times when I didn't actually need to get anything done! There were even times when I was encouraging friends and family to try it as an alternative to the expense of a Windows or Mac OS X upgrade. Short periods of time!

I was stubborn. I gritted my teeth, and kept telling myself that I would never use Windows again. I was a MS hater back in college. I grew up on Amigas and Amiga users spent all there time bashing PC users. In college I selected projects that allowed me to avoid using MS technologies as mush as was possible. I used MySQL and PHP rather than ASP and SQL Server. I even used Red Hat Linux as my development system. After college I worked for the man, installing MS operating systems, setting them up, and even training folks how to use them. I developed for them, and my hatred grew. By now I was using BeOS R4 and loving it. It was fast, and cool, and it was great for all the messing about with technology I enjoyed back then.

But here is the point to all of this - here is the big idea: There are many things which are nice! There are many things which are cool. There are many things which are not nice, and not cool, and yet sometimes they are more useful than the cool and nice things. And sometimes being useful is nice, and cool!

Windows 7 has been running on my Lenovo y530 for over a month now. Probably early days to start bragging about successes, but none the less here I am. It's a good OS. In my opinion.

Coming from a background of doing everything that I could to avoid using Windows in the past, here I am, having to admit that it's actually decent. And that doesn't come easily, believe me!

So here are the top 5 reasons why I'm using Windows 7, and these are to be taken in context of the fact that I have a lot of experience with most of the other main stream operating systems out there, and I would much rather be using one of them:

1. Hardware Support

I have a laptop. I bought it and I own it and I don’t want to have to buy another one. It is a Lenovo y530. Lenovo drivers are available for Windows 7 and everything is supported and works. This was never the case with Ubuntu. There were always little issues that niggled. Folks in the forums would never be very helpful. One example: suspend and hibernation don't work with this laptop and Ubuntu. About 7 or 8 months back, I was running Ubuntu 8.04 and the problem was there then. I found a thread on the Ubuntu forms about it, and there was even a bug listed about it. One of the guys asked me to reinstall with the new version of Ubuntu (8.10) to see if that would fix it. I installed, and it didn't fix it. Then I was asked to try all manner of things that were so nerdy, and fiddly, and weird, that I just couldn't have been bothered. Others tried them, and they didn't work for them anyway. Installing something called "tuxonice" was supposed to work wonders. I tried that, and it worked, but I kept getting Memory corruption errors on resuming from hibernation. Long story short: Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10 still have the same problem.

This laptop is quite popular. Lenovo is not an obscure manufacturer. And power management is just one of the many problems that I faced. In Windows 7, after installing the drivers, everything works as you would expect. This is a big deal.

And that’s just dealing with the machine itself. My iPhone was unusable in Ubuntu apart from copying the photos off it. And while I could get my external display to work, I had to manually configure it every single time I booted up. Of course like everything in Ubuntu, there are probably solutions, but finding them and implementing them is another matter.

2. Value for Money

This one was close to being first on the list. But I figured that if Windows 7 wasn't well supported on my hardware, then it wouldn't really be good value either. Oh I can just hear the Linux fans screaming at me down the world wide web. "LINUX IS FREE, YOU FOOL!" Well, be that as it may, time is precious to me. Believe me, the "but it's free" mentality helped me to stick with Ubuntu as long as I did. I kept telling myself that eventually it would come good, and in the meantime I shouldn't really complain. After all I didn't pay a cent for it.

Now, with my system working well, and no more time wasted trying to finally get that screen issue sorted, or trying to get to the bottom of the sound problem, or trying to find a way to get my computer to suspend properly, I have time to write this article. I have time! Even if you consider time to be worth hardly anything. Let's say you think time is worth 1 Euro an hour. I have easily spent 129 hours of unproductive time trying to get things to work in Ubuntu or other distributions of Linux over the last year. Personally I think time is worth a great deal more. Working a minimum wage job for even just one 7-hour day would easily cover the cost!

Now, the big argument here could be: Hold on, Windows is just an OS, but Ubuntu is so much more. It comes with all the applications you need. OpenOffice, the Gimp...

Fair enough, but read on.

3. Software

Many Linux fans will cite the availability of high quality applications as a big plus to the platform. And it’s true that Ubuntu comes with far more installed out of the box, so to speak. OpenOffice and the Gimp are good examples. And it's also true that buying commercial equivalents like MS Office, or Photoshop, would be very costly. NEWSFLASH! OpenOffice and the Gimp are available for Windows too! Took me less than 10 minutes to download and install both of them, and they work great. In fact, a large majority of the high quality and worthwhile open source applications are available on Windows, some exclusively, Paint.NET for example. Just because you own Windows doesn't mean you are now somehow limited to using only commercial software.

So, with Windows you have native versions of the good open source stuff, and you can also avail of the high quality commercial apps available on Windows. But you also have access to some great free (cost free) apps that Ubuntu simply doesn't have! One example is iTunes. Don't laugh! I have an iPhone, and iTunes is a must have app in order to properly make use of this phone. It's also the best I know for managing podcasts. Linux fans will say you can run this and other such apps in WINE on Linux. And while that is true, and I've done that, so far the results have left something to be desired. For example, it doesn't see my phone, or the sound doesn't work properly, or it can't go online. iTunes just works on Windows. Given the years I spent on OS X, you'll hopefully be able to understand if I'm happy with this.

But it doesn't end there. People will complain that IE8 isn’t as good as Browser XYZ. And I agree. So what. Simply install Browser XYZ and make it your default. Done. The same choices are all here: Firefox, Opera, Safari (oh, and that’s not on Linux yet), Chrome etc.

Now, I’m not saying Windows is the best platform for software, but I am saying that it is better that Linux, for me. Mac OS X still stands alone in this area, just because of iLife. Nothing else comes close in terms of a tightly-integrated personal "stuff" management and enjoyment system. But that's not to say you can't find adequate replacements elsewhere. And Windows 7, with it's Windows Live apps is no exception. For the most part, these are nice and light little apps, that seem to do the job well. Okay, you have to download them, but they are free.

4. Superior User Experience

This is a complex point, and perhaps not as clear cut as the other factors, but that's why it's not the #1 reason. However, in my experience with Linux in general, one thing that has always disappointed me is the general feeling that I get from using the system. I feel like nobody cares how the user feels. I've seen the open source movement make great strides in the right direction. Ubuntu 9.10, for example, is really excellent in terms of consistency in the interface design. It's very clear, very well worked out, and the implementation is virtually flawless in every detail. The fonts are nice and clear, the icons are beautiful and easily recognisable, and getting things done is usually straight forward.

But... within minutes of using Windows 7 I could feel the difference. Windows 7 feels light and snappy. And everything feels just that bit faster than Ubuntu. Visual effects are nice and add some style to the UI, without getting in the way or being showy. I guess with tweaking it would be possible to strike a similar balance with Ubuntu, and I admit that these things are subjective in any case, but for me, the difference is obvious, and it is in favour of Windows 7.

Even if the speed difference is only a perceived one, does that make it any less real? For me the result is a less frustrating experience.

5. Can't afford a Mac

This is actually the main reason that I am using Windows 7 right now!