The Penguin Plunge Part 3: The Conclusion

It’s been a long, grueling Summer semester for me, but at long last it’s finally come to an end. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t have excessive time or energy to round out this Penguin Plunge series as I had intended. However, I did stay true to my goals and completed the experiment as planned, and all that remains is to blog about it. And thus, this entry marks the much-awaited, gripping conclusion to my Penguin Plunge series!


It’s been a while since the last post, so I thought I would give a quick recap, both for the reader, and to help oil my own gears as well. This series began as the vessel to convey my long held desire to start using Linux to reality, and then see if it would stick. The timing was right, since Ubuntu 11.4 had just released and I had some extra cash on hand to rebuild my aging desktop computer. I spent a couple of days tearing down and rebuilding the machine and installing Windows 7 alongside Ubuntu 11.4 64-bit to create a dual-boot, gaming & programming powerhouse! (OK, it’s not really a powerhouse, but it was a long overdue update, so it felt like a powerhouse to me).

I posted a bit about the minor growing pains associated with switching to an unfamiliar OS, the most noticeable hurdle being the lack of an ideal solution for shared space between differing filesystems. Windows likes NTFS, Linux likes journaling filesystems, and while there are utilities that let either OS interact with the other’s filesystem, it’s not a true and complete solution. It does work, however, and I found that in practice, it worked well enough for me, as I’m sure it would work well enough for most any other casual user.

The Outcome

As per my rules, I stuck to Linux exclusively for my college coursework, though there was one snafu that required me to use Windows briefly. The problem occurred when I took a timed exam online through the university’s course management system. The instructor uploaded a Word document containing a graphic element, which, when opened in Ubuntu’s LibreOffice did not properly display. I didn’t have time to troubleshoot the issue (I’m not sure there really would’ve been a solution anyway), so my only alternative was to rush downstairs, rip the Windows 7 laptop out of my wife’s surprised hands, and quickly log in to display the file in MS Office so I could complete the timed exam. It actually kinda hurt me on the grade, as I had to rush through the discussion questions at the end that might have been more well formed had I not spent those precious minutes early on trying to view the file.

I’m not sure that I view this as a shortcoming of Linux, or even of LibreOffice, but perhaps just collateral damage from a proprietary software world. Should my professor have ensured the file was viewable under any OS/software combination? Ideally, yes, but realistically, you’re pretty much required to have an office suite of some sort for college — and given that Windows is the ubiquitous OS, most universities are going to be using Word instead of OpenOffice or some other solution. It sucked, though, and it made me a little wary of going forward through life as a Linux-only user: there’s likely always going to be situations popping up where proprietary software comes between people. On the other hand, as more apps move to the cloud and more things are done in the browser, rather than the desktop, I feel this divide may narrow over time.

Other than that one isolated situation, Linux worked just fine for me. In fact, as a Computer Science student and development enthusiast, I really have come to prefer it over Windows. The university offers a VPN utility for Linux, which allowed me to develop Java software driven by the school’s own Oracle database. My growing knowledge of the command line helped me immensely to SSH into the school’s servers, move SQL scripts around, fire up SQLPlus and interact directly with the database, and even use the scp command to transfer files back and forth between my machines and the server. Not only that, there’s a plethora of free development tools that are only an apt-get install away. It’s really something every CS student should experience, even if Linux doesn’t become their OS of choice.

My Conclusions

This experiment has made me a believer. It’s made me a better programmer and more well-rounded computer user. I’ve learned so much from using Linux for a few short months, and while I’m still stumped occasionally, I’m growing more and more comfortable all the time.

I think Linux isn’t for everyone, however, and I’ve been frustrated by it more than a few times. There’s so many distributions and so many different ways of doing things, it can be a real roadblock at times. Sometimes things just don’t work, and the only way to fix them is to dig into configuration files or put your faith into the hands of an unknown discussion board post found through a Google search, typing command after command into a terminal window, hoping that the next one doesn’t utterly destroy your system.

You simply must have some modicum of skill, faith, fearlessness, or blatant disregard (or perhaps a little of each) to be a full-time Linux user. It’s the only real negative for me — sometimes things just don’t work, or don’t work easily, and you inevitably lose time tweaking things around instead of getting things done. However, once that’s out the way, I feel like the time lost is usually regained in increased productivity (again from a CS perspective) as compared to Windows. The underlying concept just makes more sense, and for that, I’m hooked on Linux.

The Aftermath

I spend a great deal of time reading about software development and what’s trending in the industry. It seems like a large number of developers, especially web developers, are Mac users. This caused me to acquire a similar longing to give a OSX a try. I looked into a acquiring a new Macbook Air, which is one seemingly sexy piece of machinery, but ultimately I couldn’t justify the price. As such, now hooked on the concept of an ultraportable development machine, I purchased a comparatively cheap MSI X370 laptop and have since loaded it up with Linux Mint 11.4 64bit.

I have to say, I’m pretty much in geek heaven now. I’ve got this lightweight, ultraportable, and pretty sexy laptop powered by super sleek and also sexy Linux distro. The Mac still holds a bit of intrigue for me (I even installed Macbuntu on one of my Linux virtual machines), and perhaps some day there may be a similar OSX-periment series here on my blog — if I happen into a nice bit of disposable income. Until then, though, I couldn’t be happer with my new Mint machine, splashing around in Linux.

Thanks for reading.

blog comments powered by Disqus