The Penguin Plunge: Making the Switch to Linux

I’ve had penguins on the brain of late. Namely a specific penguin, goes by the name of Tux — the mascot for the GNU/Linux operating system. But, why? you may ask…

Here’s My Reasoning

Linux is more prominent than ever, and partaking of one of its many distributions has always been recognized as a sort of rite of passage to prove one’s mettle as a computer geek (especially as a developer). This isn’t a fly-by-night fantasy I’ve recently stumbled upon… it’s more of a longing I’ve had for many years to satisfy some deep, nerd-ish craving, but never quite dared to commit to in any substantial form.

The Experiment

My plan is to undertake a semester-long experiment, using a Linux distribution as my operating system of choice. This little trial run may create a religious, super-using, free-software zealot!!! Or it may simply peter out, quashing that aforementioned geek urging and turn to it immediately to dust… But come hell or high water, I’m going to take the penguin plunge.

Rather than dive right into Linux, however, I’ve decided to hold off until the current semester (Spring 2011) is completed, so I don’t have the headache of juggling the end-of-semester crunch and trying to backup and migrate all of my data, lean a new environment, etc all at the same time. It’s a recipe for stress and disaster. Between semesters, with my brief respite from college coursework (about 5 days), I plan to upgrade or rebuild my aging desktop PC (~7 years old now) and install Linux as the primary operating system.

Linux, in theory, should easily satisfy any modern computing need. While Windows executables will not natively run on the system (it is possible to emulate Windows with Wine or a similar virtualization program), there are many programs which have Linux versions or there is typically an equivalent (and usually free) alternative to popular Windows-only titles: e.g. OpenOffice or LibreOffice are to Linux as Microsoft Office is to Windows.

So for the most part, not only will I be learning a whole new operating system, I will, in many cases, have to learn new software to complete the same tasks I am used to performing in Windows, while simultaneously not failing my college courses. Luckily, many of the free Linux programs are extremely high quality software, written by people who develop software for love, rather than for money. This also comes with the beneficial side-effect of having great software development tools at my fingertips.

The Rules

I will use Linux exclusively for my college course work and daily computing needs for the entire Summer 2011 semester. I will, however, allow myself the caveat that, should a professor require I use specific non-Linux tool, I will do so (this does happen from time to time).

My Asus M50Vm laptop has a fresh install of Windows 7 on it and I may install Windows 7 to the new desktop in dual boot with Linux so my wife and I don’t have to fight over said laptop if the caveat activates. This also gives me the opportunity to explore some newer Windows-only games I’ve been itching to try (Rift), but I will not use Windows for any college coursework or regular day-to-day computing.

As part of this experiment, I will share my experiences in making the switch to Linux here on this blog. I haven’t planned out any specific postings, but topics may cover the build and specs of the new/upgraded PC, the Linux installation process, and especially the challenges faced (and hopefully conquered) in settling into the Linux lifestyle.

The Rules In Summary:

  1. Linux Only for ~3 months, except to game or unless ordered by a professor.
  2. Gotta blog about it.

Sounds interesting, eh?

Which Distro?

This is the only question left unanswered. The Linux distribution you hack on can say a lot about you, and the installation and usage difficulty run the entire gamut from super-easy (Ubuntu) to super-hard (Gentoo — or so it’s said).

I think I will probably follow my own advice and start out small for quick, easy success, and then work my way up to more difficult challenges further down the road (if Linux sticks). Ubuntu (and its derivatives, such as Mint) are lauded for their ease of installation and user-friendliness, so I will probably begin there. openSUSE, Debian, and Fedora (supposedly the distro used by Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel) are up there with Ubuntu as “easy” options as well. I’m not sure if I would ever have the gumption to attempt one of the distributions like Gentoo, which have a scary reputation following them around, but I may eventually take the step up towards the middle of the food chain with a more advance distribution like Arch.

Really, there’s dozens of distributions (120+) to choose from, but the ones mentioned here are some of the more popular, prominent ones, and likely candidates for me. Right now, I think the likeliest candidate is Ubuntu. The release of its “Natty Narwhal” 11.4 update (released today) coincides quite nicely with the end of the semester. Perhaps it was just meant to be…


So, will I become a free-software zealot? Will I ease into Linux like an old man into a warm bath? Will I spend more time tweaking my OS than I do eating, sleeping, working, or breathing? These are the questions that will soon be answered!

Stay tuned, peeps.

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