My Linux day out
I've discovered that there was this thing called 'Linux' and it would force you to improve yourself.- Faith Arslan How I Vim
It has come to my attention that it is not immediately obvious what I am about to talk about. To clear this up, here is a brief explanation of what Linux is in comparison to what you may already know. The question, ‘what kind of computer do you use?’, can be answered in a few different ways. I have a Laptop for example. A common follow up question could be ‘is it Windows or a Mac?’ There is a secret third option however, that option is Linux. A free alternative to these proprietary software packages which is popular among tinkers and those with an enthusiasm for the technical.
I have used Macintosh computers for the whole of my life. I used a PC at my dads office once when I was younger to play Commander Keen. Other than that we have had a Mac (or two) in the house to work on. Fast forward twenty plus years and my brother buys me a Raspberry Pi for my birthday and I am introduced to Linux. It didn’t happen all at once but gradually there has been a thought which has niggled me. It was planted with the Raspberry Pi and has grown over the years. The thought was, can I switch to Linux?
Why would you switch to Linux?
A significant factor in the switch would be a financial one. Mac computers are expensive in comparison to the same sort of hardware minus the logo. Not only do you save on the initial payment but also in upgrades and repair. It is almost impossible to fix or upgrade a Mac bought in the last year or two.
On a similar thread, Linux is famous for being able to run on pretty much anything. Older computers have an easier time running a Linux operating system which can use far less memory than a Mac or Windows set up.
It is the foundations on which Linux is built which appeals to me. Community built software that is open and free (as in speech) makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This post on Open Source is a good one.
What is it about MacOS which makes it hard to make the switch?
What makes the switch hard is quite simple to explain. Mac is a pretty environment, it works and it works really well. Aside from the ascetically pleasing hardware, the actual software has been well put together with all the design decisions made for you. Everything you could want is baked into the operating system with few surprises when you want to do something, like write a document or check your email. It is all fantastically intuitive.
Why would you work in the terminal
I should come clean at this point, I spend as much of my time in the terminal as possible. The terminal is essentially a window behind the scenes of your computer, it is all text and typed commands. It means that what I am looking for in an operating system could be different from what most people are looking for. A fair amount of the applications I use look like they belong in the 90s for sure. Limited to 256 colours and no mouse. I can honestly say that I flipping love it. Personally I am intersted in speed over a fancy set of graphics. I want minimalism more than I want options. It is for these reasons that the terminal environment suits me well
The reasoning here is that if I am going to be working under these conditions, I really don’t get much back from an expensive box which provides a fantastic Graphical User Interface when all I need is a terminal and a web browser.
A little while ago I wrote a list of things which I really needed from my digital environment and only a few of them were Mac specific . Most of them you can run on any platform you like. Great. Actually much of that is a bit theoretical. When it comes down to it, many of these applications have required a LOT of configuration before being even mildly useful.
Buying a house analogy
In our house we watch a LOT of Location Location Location. It is actually great television. The basic premise is, there are two groups of house hunters (usually couples) who have struggled to buy a house. They then get the help of Kirstie and Phil who help them get the house they want. Easy. It is pretty formulaic and there is generally two sorts of house hunter, those who are happy to do work on the house and those who are not. I can definitely see the comparison here. The MacOS is like buying a house which is completely done up, all you need to do is bring in your own furniture and arrange some paintings on the wall. The Linux choice is more like buying a fixer-upper, sometimes you will have to put in a bit of extra work before you can move in and even then it is a bit of a building site. If you are happy with this you will end up with a house which completely suits your needs.
From my experiments with Linux I have an operating system which will allow me to move in and get the job done. It is far from finished and there is a whole bunch of things which could be done to make it amazing to work in. What I have discovered is that I am actually quite happy to do the work, given the time. I don’t really mind knocking around a half finished environment making changes as I go along. This does not suit everyone though and perhaps moving straight into a finished operating system that wont need regular attention is the better choice.
Favourite things about my experience.
What has prompted this blog post is a recent opportunity I was given. I was finally given the time to dive deep into getting Linux set up how I wanted to. I was able to start with a cheap (free from my dad) laptop, wipe it and build something from a fresh start. I was able to select which apps I wanted to install. I was able to decide how EVERYTHING looked. There was a fair amount of configuration and a few tears. In all likeliness I will be starting from the beginning again some day soon, and probably never stop twaeking, fixing and improving my environment. The point is that I have learned masses from doing it, rolling up my sleeves and figuring it out.
Essentially this is my favourite thing from my experience, it is that Linux will always make you improve yourself.
Here is a condensed list of applications which I think are neat.
- iTerm2 / urxvt ~ Terminal Emulator
- tmux ~ Terminal Multiplexer (managing windows in the terminal)
- ranger ~ Terminal based file explorer
- Mutt ~ Terminal based email client
- Cmus ~ Terminal based music player
- Nylas N1 ~ Graphical email client
- Firefox ~ Web browser
- FZF ~ Terminal based fuzzy finder