Eleven reasons to switch from Windows to Linux

Eleven reasons to switch from Windows to Linux

October 5, 2021 - by Andrew Oram

Today Microsoft releases its first major new version of Windows in more than six years, tagging this version of its flagship operating system with the number 11. The question is on the minds of millions: Windows 10? Or Windows 11?

Well, why not GNU/Linux instead!

The chance to move from Windows to Linux has intrigued computer users since Linux was launched in 1991. PCMag UK offers a nice introduction on how to switch. Here I present 11 reasons to switch to Linux now.

1. Avoid an Unnecessary, Expensive Hardware Upgrade

The hardware requirements for Windows have always strained desktop and laptop systems of their time, and Windows 11 lives up to this unsavory legacy. Many people are expected to need a new computer to run Windows 11—so much so that a mini-industry has grown up around gauging your system requirements.

Old graphic cards in particular may prove unfit for the new Windows. Another feature that may drive a lot of hardware upgrades is the required UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and Secure Boot capability.

One of the recent articles covering the features and timing of Windows 11 asked why Microsoft is pushing a major upgrade whose feature set represents only a modest improvement over Windows 10. The article suggests that computer vendors are seeking more profit and pushed Microsoft to promote the sale of new PCs. All these purchases may fatten CEO bonuses, but you don’t have to be a party to the deal. Constant upgrades are a pernicious example of planned obsolescence, which environmentalists and consumer advocates have been decrying since at least the 1950s.

Linux has always been relatively lean, although it too has increased its memory and disk requirements as developers judiciously add features. Many computer users have stuck steadfastly with their old hardware and adopted Linux over the years as an alternative to an “upgrade” of dubious value to a new version of Windows.

2. Fight Toxic Waste

Buying a new computer when your old one is still serviceable is more than a burden on your wallet—it’s unnecessary waste for the planet and the people living on it. Computers contain a lot of dangerous chemicals that get foisted as toxic waste on low-income workers and inhabitants of developing nations. You don’t want to contribute to this any more than necessary.

3. Keep Your Right to Run the Programs You Want

Hardware and operating system vendors have been recommending Trusted Platform Module (TPM) technology for some time. Windows 11 is the first version of that operating system to have TPM version 2.0 required and built in.

TPM requires applications to be signed with keys certifying their origin, and enlists the computer’s hardware, firmware, and operating system to check the keys. Because many users get spoofed into downloading malware that masquerades as legitimate applications, TPM can protect these users.

But TPM also gives the operating system vendor complete control over what’s installed. And what will happen when governments stick their noses into the process, forcing vendors to block applications the governments don’t like?

For many people, handing control of their applications over to large institutions may be a reasonable trade-off for avoiding destructive programs. For a balanced assessment of the trade-off, I recommend law professor Jonathan L. Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. 

Meanwhile, an alternative to TPM is to learn good computer hygiene, check certificates yourself, and stick to free software that is harder (although not impossible) to infect with malware.

4. Run Your Computer Without Surveillance

A particularly odd requirement for Windows 11 is a camera to record you. In addition to adding yet another expensive hardware feature to your shopping list, this requirement raises the question of what the operating system might be tracking.

In the pandemic-fueled age of videoconferencing, most of us appreciate being able to see our colleagues clearly. But what about people who don’t want every mole and face hair exposed? Many people who don’t enjoy high bandwidth turn off their cameras during teleconferences anyway. For these people, this requirement is unlikely to be a plus.

We don’t know whether Microsoft wants to track your facial expressions or behavior. Even if they don’t, camera information might be made available to applications and online services without your knowledge. We know that voice-driven devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Voice are collecting information from users. Facial information is equally valuable and can be interpreted by AI. Sure, it’s often wrong, but interpretations are certain to improve.

5. Avoid Conveniences That Lock You In

Computer vendors and services are constantly trying to sign you up for new services, and they often exploit compatibility and convenience to do so. Google integrates their suite of services, Apple makes it easy to link different Apple devices, and mobile phone vendors bundle apps you’re not allowed to delete. Microsoft knows the game at least as well as anyone.

Windows 11 is tightly integrated with Microsoft Teams, their collaboration suite. Teams is certainly rich with features: many people find it useful in the office. Other people find it overbearing and easy to get lost in. But the integration is the gentle snare that invites you to burrow deeper and deeper into the Microsoft universe and not to give competing services a try.

6. Run Your Computer Without a Microsoft Account

Another kind of gentle lock-in is requiring a Microsoft account to run Windows 11 Home. No, this isn’t a great burden, but why should you have to sign up for a service in order to run your computer?

7. Customize Your Desktop

Microsoft tends to lag as a desktop interface, and Windows 11 is reported to borrow a lot of features from the more highly regarded Apple Mac. But for sheer feature richness, you've got to experience the two desktops associated with Linux, KDE and GNOME.

These desktops can match any proprietary software for beauty and snazzy effects. They also provide docks, widgets, and all kinds of other convenient interface elements. They make everything customizable, so you can tune them to match your needs and increase your productivity.

8. Enjoy the Most Recent and Stable Versions of Free Software

It's time to get to know what the world of free and open source software has to offer. Not only can you download powerful replacements for expensive proprietary programs for free, you can become part of communities that determine the directions taken by upgrades. Most free and open source software is developed on Linux systems. Their most up-to-date and stable versions run on Linux. Why lag behind?

9. Increase Computing Diversity

As a corollary to the previous item, I have to admit that many useful applications and services run only on Windows or Macs, and not on Linux. But by running Linux you contribute to ecodiversity in computing. The more people who run Linux, the more likely it is for services and apps to support it—especially if you speak up to vendors and tell them not to exclude those who have devoted themselves to Linux.

10. Launch Your Skills as a Programmer

This is a software age, and even a little bit of programming skill can enhance your use of computers as well as your employability.  A few weeks spent learning some popular language helps you understand the challenges programmers face and what makes some programs better than others. A little more study, and you can start to contribute bug fixes and help projects in other ways.

Modern languages are not hard to learn, although it takes some study to reach a professional level. All these languages are easy to download and use on Linux. Thousands of libraries of powerful functions are waiting to be downloaded by a single command to your Linux computer.

11. Choose Computing Freedom

All the earlier reasons for installing Linux in this article lead up to this one. When you use Linux—or another free system, such as FreeBSD—computing is under your control. There are no barriers to your growth and exploration.

Running Linux, you are supporting freedom not only for yourself, but for millions around the world who need free and open source software because proprietary companies are not serving their needs. And in the age of software, free software promotes many other freedoms that we urgently need.

About Andrew Oram:

Andrew Oram

Andy is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects at O'Reilly Media ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Andy also writes often on health IT, on policy issues related to the Internet, and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM (Brussels), DebConf, and LibrePlanet. Andy participates in the Association for Computing Machinery's policy organization, USTPC.