Microsoft’s Windows 10 clearly has seen improvements compared to previous versions, though increasingly, there are more reasons to consider alternatives even for non tech-savvy users.
The good news is, that other options have become really good and in some aspects are even superior. In this article, we will explore alternative solutions for everyday computing on PC’s and potentially Mac’s.
First, let’s take a look at reasons that might prompt switching to another operating system.
Windows 10 is slow and resource heavy especially for PC’s without an SSD disk
Windows has a lot of tasks running in the background and forced updates, background telemetry data collection doesn’t make it faster either. With Windows, at some point, you can expect update downloads, maintenance and other processes that slow down your system without the user’s consent. These things are taking away your precious hardware resources.
My experience with Linux distributions is that nothing runs in the background that would slow something down unless you specifically do resource intensive tasks like updating your system.
Limited control of your own computer: Forced Updates
There is no way for Windows users to turn off updates, only delay them. While I understand that updates are important and I am a big fan of cutting edge things, I think that the user should have complete control over his workstation. This has lead to a lot of frustrated users, lost data and even lawsuits.
In Linux distributions, you have complete control over your computer. You can install updates in the time of your choosing. So, if Microsoft wants to force automatic updates on everyone, the experience has to be smooth and seamless. For example, Google Chrome does this very well. If you’re using Chrome right now, chances are, you have no idea what’s the version number right now and when the updates do occur.
Windows 10 Data collection
Microsoft has followed the example of other companies which are big players in the advertising industry like Google and Facebook. By shifting the cost from the software price, to the user itself. Since the introduction of Windows 10, it has started to collect large amounts of data on your computer from how many times you opened your photos, names of the files you view, to keystrokes. You can turn off a lot of tracking that Microsoft does in the settings app but not everything can be turned off completely.
New software has been introduced that blocks Windows 10 telemetry by blacklisting domains and modifying settings in the registry. These actions are effective until Microsoft introduces a new update to reset those changes or sends the collected data to a different domain. Microsoft uses hidden 3rd party protection domains that are not associated with it directly, so these tools can be bypassed.
Linux does not come with software that collects any sensitive data. You can be sure that a lot of things you do on your computer are kept private.
Viruses, Malware and now Exploits
Windows is vulnerable to a huge amount of threats and not installing anti-virus software is not an option. This year was a big highlight for Windows security problems. Governments and institutions around the world were victims of a deadly ransomware virus because of undisclosed vulnerabilities.
Linux is not immune to cyber threats but the architecture makes it much more difficult to infect the machine with malware. It also has a fast release cycle that usually brings security updates in a matter of days.
The Windows 10 price is 119$. Add an extra 80$ for the Pro version. Guess how much do most Linux distributions cost? Zero. Even for commercial use. That’s an extra 200$ to spend on a better computer or anything else.
Division in UX/UI and uncertain app and game development
Microsoft new design direction starting at Windows 8 has been a rocky journey and still is an uphill battle. The iteration of Modern UI, that has been used from Windows 8 to 10 will converge to Fluent Design but still isn’t adopted by the most used applications. There is a good reason for that. Microsoft wants to tighten their control over app distribution which developers are not so keen on.
Valve decided to move away from Windows and sees it as a threat to their business model. It introduced Steam on Linux and Steam OS along with it.
Microsoft is pressuring developers to use their centralised app store. If developers want to use the new cutting edge Universal Windows Platform features and API’s in Windows 10, then the new approach must be carried out.
Linux has the opposite dilemma. Every major distribution has its own policy of managing and acquiring applications but developers have complete control over how apps are distributed.
Operating systems based on the Linux kernel architecture
I want to mention additional interesting options that may be useful to some users with specific use cases like Android gaming on bigger screens, or those who only use cloud based services.
Option 1 — Chrome OS/Neverware’s CloudReady
In my experience, Chrome OS is the easiest one to use. It has a very simple user interface. There isn’t any additional overhead compared to Windows, just a Chrome browser with some additions. It is great for people, who are not tech savvy and need the computer only to browse the internet and to use online services. A Google account is required.
One of the biggest reasons people switch from Windows is user privacy, so this option is suited for those, who don’t mind the fact that Chromium, an open source variant of Chrome, will be the only browser you can use. You do have the option to can change the search engine.
Google and other companies sell Chromebooks with Chrome OS preinstalled, so you can’t install Chrome OS on your traditional computer. A company called Newerware has created a suitable version for traditional PCs. Their main focus is on education uses but a free home version is available.
Option 2 — Android on PCs
Android has similar benefits to Chrome OS in terms of usability but comes with the benefits of the app ecosystem. A good use case for living room entertainment, since android supports a lot of streaming services or perhaps if you want to play android games on a bigger screen.
Same as with Chrome OS, Google does not provide Android for PCs but because of its open source nature, other companies have created special versions for traditional computers. Currently, there are two options aimed at being a desktop oriented Android version: Remix OS or Phoneix OS.
As of writing this article, Jide has announced that it will discontinue development of Remix OS. This means that it will not receive updates but still can be used. I am sure that someone else will pick up the work of Jide and will continue with a fork for Remix OS. These two variants are based on the Android x86 project.
Option 3 — Linux distribution
There are a lot of pros and cons to consider if you choose Linux as your main OS but I think the best thing about it is that you have more control over your computer behaviour especially on privacy and the user interface.
There are tons of desktop environments to choose from. You can customise the look and feel of your machine with different themes, colours, icons, and even fonts.
The downside is that the app selection is smaller compared to Windows, so you should check if the programs you use are available in Linux.
Because of so many base system and desktop environment options, it is hard to choose which distribution would provide the best experience for a beginner. I personally would recommend Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop because it is geared towards novice users, comes with all the essential software, and resembles Windows the most, so it is easier to get started.
Linux has come a long way and isn’t just for technical users and nerds anymore. Still, a lot of work needs to be done to rival the Mac OS out of the box experience.
There are small quirks that sometimes portray Linux as nerd software but there are signs, that the community of developers is working hard to solve these inconveniences.
If you are interested in Linux and want to try it out, the easiest way would be to find an older computer that is not used for your daily tasks and install it as the primary operating system. Alternatively, you could install Linux on your existing PC alongside Windows. There are a lot of tutorials online. Linux Mint provides documentation for the installation steps and there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube.