I’m an evangelist. Whenever I discover something new and great that’s improved my life, I try to spread the message. Occasionally I’ll get someone to try out Linux. They’re always impressed at first, but inevitably the question always comes in some form or other: “Why can’t it do this like it does it in Windows?”
There are many answers to that question depending on the task at hand, in some cases Linux does it differently and better, in others Linux just doesn’t do it (just like Windows doesn’t support ext3).
But this post is not going to be one of those posts, this post is going to be about what I can do in Linux that I find myself asking in Windows “Why can’t it do this?”
I’m purposely leaving out the obvious bullet points – including modify it any way I like because it’s open source – I want to focus on a user perspective, especially for those thinking of making the switch.
1. Always On Top
This is such a simple and useful feature, to select a window and tell it to stay on top of the others. I mainly find it useful for Tomboy notes or when I’m using a combination of the terminal and file manager.
This would be incredibly useful when I’m using Windows based work computers, where as many as 15 application windows could be open at once.
2. Virtual Desktop
Of course what do you do when you have several application windows crowding your taskbar and only one screen. Shift to the next workspace of course!
Before Linux, when I was just a Windows guy I used to look at these default 4 workspaces and wonder why you would need more than one. I guess I got incredibly more busy since then and since moving to Linux. Now I wonder how those with just one desktop cope!
3. Change the Background
Yeah this is just another dig at Windows 7
Starter Trial edition. Sorry it’s just an easy target!
4. Boot Live CD/USB
There’s times when it would be so convenient to say, boot up a virtual environment in order to analyse or recover your hard disk without actually loading the OS.
Other times you want to try out a new flavour of the OS, or have a portable working environment to switch from PC to PC. Being able to install a USB live distro with minimal fuss and no licensing restrictions is bliss.
5. Install Applications Effortlessly
A lot of people make a big deal out of installing from source on a command line in the terminal, but I think this ceased being an issue a long time ago. It’s mostly used as FUD now. – unless you’re making the switch to Gentoo.
I think there may have been a couple of rare occasions in the last 3 years where I had to install something from source – usually a fairly new alpha or beta application.
Most of the time, I just go to Applications menu and click on the package manager, search for what I need and find multiple choices to try. No DVDs, no drivers, no license codes to enter, no crashing another application and all upgrades managed semi-automatically. Clean install and clean removal if necessary.
6. Partition Management
Want to install a second OS, need to extend your home directory? Just fire up a live disk/usb and run your free partition editor of choice.
This was a major seller of Linux for me. Before Linux I didn’t even realise that partition editors were so ubiquitous and free! That’s right partition your hard drive easily and for free!
Oh… and remember that thing about rebooting into a command line that you need to do in Windows in order to repartion? No need for that here, repartion on the fly in your live desktop environment. It’s so easy!
7. Command Line Fu
OK so this may be slightly technical for the average Windows user but since embracing Linux I’ve learned to embrace and love the command line.. sometimes it’s just easier and faster to fire up an terminal and type
egrep -i "Date: \d+/03/2010" | cut -f1 -d: | sort | uniq | while read line; do mv $line /home/user/March_2010/ ; done
Rather than sift through numerous files looking for those containing dates from March 2010 and endless click and drag.
8. Mimic An Apple Mac
There are specific themes created by the community and tutorials on how to do it, however you don’t even have to go that far. There are several app docks in the repository, as well as widgets (but I can’t stand widgets personally). Currently I use Cairo-dock on my desktop Ubuntu setup.
9. Bulk Rename
This can be done from the command line itself but I have to give credit to this utility from the Thunar file manager. It really is one of the most practical and easiest applications I use.
10. Recover from Crashes
Yes the Linux desktop does crash occasionally, a lot less than Windows. But there are a number of ways out beyond Ctrl-Alt-Del or the power button. Crtl-Alt-F1 will switch you to a command line login that allows you to identify problem processes and kill them, whilst raising a skinny elephant (Alt-Sys Rq- RSEIUB) will secure your system before rebooting, minimising data loss and hard drive borking.
Of course there are things that Windows will do that Linux won’t. For example Linux won’t reboot after every update like Windows does. It won’t run malware and spyware downloaded passively from fraudulent websites. It won’t bug you to purchase a license after 30 days, or check whether your copy of your OS is genuine. It won’t slow down after a certain amount of time. It won’t require a defrag or disk error scanning.
I guess one thing I really miss about windows is all that time I spent searching for performance tweaks, registry hacks and beefing up security. Unfortunately I spend less time messing about with the OS and more getting things done.