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When Linux is easier than Windows

A few months ago I bought a Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H to learn computer forensics on, because at the time I thought that was the direction my career was going. I dropped it into a neglected Compaq case and installed Linux on it, since most of the free forensics tools run on Linux. The current version of Debian loaded effortlessly and ran nicely, as you would expect on a dual-core CPU with 16 gigs of RAM.

Then my career went another direction. Today I analyze Windows threats and vulnerabilities for a living. That’s a better match for my experience and the pay is the same, so I’m perfectly fine with that. But my mind turned to that hotrod computer in the basement. I suppose I could still use it to learn forensics, but I probably won’t, so why not see how Windows runs on it and bring it upstairs?Installing Linux took about 15 minutes, and it booted straight to a graphical desktop with lots of useful software ready to go. The only thing it didn’t do was find my network printer, which is probably a good thing. The hardest part was finding a USB stick to write the image to, and that’s not Debian’s fault.

Windows installed in about 30 minutes because my bootable Windows USB stick wouldn’t work and I had to use the DVD. I suspect that was due to me writing the media on a machine with a BIOS and trying to install it on a machine with UEFI. And 200 of you are about to write, “Duh, Dave. Even my dog knows that.”

Then, when it got up and running, it couldn’t see the network. No network driver. So I downloaded a driver and copied it over via a USB stick. At least USB worked once Windows was installed. But generally the machine didn’t behave well, throwing weird error messages any time I tried to do much of anything. Firing up Device Manager, I noticed it didn’t have drivers for much of the hardware. So I downloaded all of the drivers from Gigabyte’s web site and installed them, rebooting when asked.

Some of the drivers seemed to help. Some refused to install. And some of them made the machine not really feel like a dual-core machine with 16 gigs of RAM anymore. After a few hours of messing around, the system still doesn’t seem quite right. And I haven’t even started trying to install any third-party software on it.

Debian has a reputation for being a hard-core enthusiast operating system that isn’t easy to learn or use or install. But all I had to do to get it running was type in a username and a password when prompted. Everything else just worked.

Windows is supposed to be an operating system for everyone. On hardware of the right vintage, it’ll get up and go kind of like Debian did on this board. Other times it’s positively maddening. If I weren’t an IT pro, I have no idea what I would do with Windows on this thing. Actually, I think I do. I bought this board on clearance, at a pretty substantial discount. I suspect someone bought it, brought it home, couldn’t get Windows to run right, and brought the board back for an exchange or refund.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that a group of volunteers can get Debian running smoothly on almost all contemporary hardware with minimal effort on the part of the end user, but a $78 billion company like Microsoft can’t, or won’t?

Maybe Windows 8 would work effortlessly out of the box on this particular Gigabyte board, but I have a slightly older machine that Windows 7 installed effortlessly on while Windows 8 required an hour or two of tinkering to get it right. My dual monitor setup, which worked perfectly under Windows 7, failed under Windows 8 until I found the right combination of drivers. I hadn’t had that much trouble getting dual monitors working since Windows 2000.

So, again I ask, am I the only one who finds it odd that a group of volunteers can get Debian running smoothly on almost all contemporary hardware with minimal effort on the part of the end user, but a $78 billion company like Microsoft can’t, or won’t?

If word of this gets out, maybe 2014 will be the year of Linux on the desktop.

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4 thoughts on “When Linux is easier than Windows”

  1. Dave,
    Glad to see you’re trying debian. I’ve read, in various places on the net, that an IT guy with a linux background, has added job opportunities.
    Hope you pursue the linux bug. The bite is no longer that bad.

    1. Joseph, this site runs on Debian (it has since about 2001; prior to that it was running on Turbo Linux). And I spent most of last year administering a Red Hat-derived system for a Fortune 100 company. I know Windows better, but I’m not a stranger to Linux.

      I agree that knowing Linux can open more doors for you. It has for me. I got some advice to the contrary early in my career, but fortunately I didn’t follow it.

  2. For the printer: HPLIP. Included in some distros. Helpful sometimes to have the IP address of the printer.

    LinuxLite: so far so darned good it may be replacing Ubuntu on the wife’s laptop.

    Spotify now available. Decent photo software available.

    Currently a problem with the WoW64bit client in Wine.


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