In Between Operating Systems
After I became interested in Linux distros, I began entertaining the idea of moving to a Linux-only system. With the 'smalls steps' approach in mind that I introduced in my post about trying different Linux distros, I want to describe a period when I was literally bouncing between several operating systems.
I used a MacBook as my main computer for years prior to becoming interested in Linux. My work used MacBooks and I'd found it a reliable system for audio processing. Before that, I had used a tower desktop Windows PC. As an experiment, I'd already purchased a cheap Thinkpad X220 and ran Ubuntu on that, but it was in no way my main computer.
An important in-between step towards using Linux as my main distro was the purchase of a second-hand Thinkpad E540. The guy I bought it from was generous and had left a 1 TB HDD drive in alongside the main SSD Windows ran on. I noticed it also had a small m.2 SSD drive.
This extra little drive, about 120 GB, gave me the idea of trying a dual boot system. I installed Ubuntu on it and began using the laptop as my main computer. I spent most of my time on the Windows drive, because I was doing a lot of audio editing at the time, but I found it was easy to switch to Ubuntu, and this my came my first introduction to trying regular computer activities in Linux: surfing the web, word processing, even gaming on Steam. In particular, I found I began to actually prefer some of the Linux applications, like LibreOffice Writer, and I generally liked how snappy the laptop felt in Linux. I think it was these cumulative small positive experiences that slowly convinced me I needed to switch over to Linux entirely, which I did later.
I kept the old Thinkpad X220 because I really liked the hardware, and began using that as an experimentation computer, installing different Linux distros and trying them out. I eventually landed on Manjaro XFCE, a system with a different approach to updates, different commands and a different package manager.
As I was at this point jumping between four different operating systems I needed a way to access my files and data from all places easily.
This is where my investigation into privacy-focused cloud services began. I set up several trial accounts and ended up A/B-ing between pCloud and Tresorit. I chose pCloud, which I describe here.
I could now work and access my files on all systems: the dual-boot Windows/Ubuntu laptop, my MacBook and the X220 for distro trials.
I learned that you don't need to have all files accessible on pCloud on all systems - mainly text files. I found pCloud's uploads a bit slow and this made me think more carefully about what files I really needed on each system. My large audio project folders were continuously backed up by BackBlaze at the time, from the Windows computer only.
Needless to say, this setup gave me a bit of a headache. I've decided to write this post despite the fact the specifics are only really relevant to my personal setup, in order to point out that moving from a mainstream proprietary system like Windows or MacOS to a Linux system doesn't need to happen in one dramatic, crazy moment. Experimenting with different systems over time, and being between operating systems is actually a very good way to learn what you like and dislike. You can slowly adjust and fine-tune your setup accordingly without danger of over-committing to a setup that's not right for you.
Some of the discussions in the privacy spaces make it seem like switching to Linux is an obvious decision, a no-brainer. But for someone who has no experience with Linux, I'd argue it's quite a steep learning curve, despite distros like Ubuntu and Pop!_OS being user-friendly and easy to install. If your not used to Linux, you will run into all kinds of little, annoying problems when you make the switch. You may have trouble hooking up your printer, or you can't figure out why you can't just create a desktop shortcut. I worry that a user who tries to jump systems in one heroic leap might hit a wall of numerous little annoyances and problems like this, and decide to give up, returning to the corporate fold. In fact, I have done that myself at least once. That's why I think the small-steps approach, while not ideal long-term, is not a bad temporary solution, and one more likely to lead to a successful, lasting transition away from proprietary software.
This year, I did finally commit fully to using a Linux device. I write this on a Pop!_OS laptop, which is my main workhorse, and have a separate mini computer for audio with Windows. At the very low cost of refurbished hardware, it has been affordable to experiment with different systems in this way, provided you don't need high-end processing.
Another benefit of using several operating systems at once, is that you eventually become confident in handling systems that look and feel different but essentially do the same things. You find what you need in any given new setup quicker. This is something I've also been trying to teach my kids from a young age by giving them older Linux laptops. While it's fine to work on your Chromebook for schoolwork, or a Windows laptop so you can access your Minecraft server, you should know that there are options and see through the sales pitch that Microsoft and Apple are the only gateways to personal computer use. I think that's quite an important lesson going forward for anyone.
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