Digital Migration: After 20 years with Windows, I am moving to Ubuntu

After over 20 years of using Windows, I have decided to ditch Windows 8 and try out Ubuntu as my main OS.

On 30th September 2015, Kampala was host to two international ICT conferences. The International ICT BPO Conference took place at the Kampala Serena Hotel and attracted a wide variety of participants, ranging from students studying IT at the various Ugandan universities to visitors from faraway lands. Several delegates flew in that morning from Nairobi after the close of the Indo-Africa Expo the previous day. I was on the team of 15 Ugandans who attended the conference and exhibited at the expo, with support from the ITC NTF III project, and we flew back Tuesday night so that we could attend the conferences.

Meanwhile at the shores of Lake Victoria was the Innovation Africa Summit at the Speke Resort Munyonyo which I also attended. The IA2015 Summit was well attended by high level officials from over 40 countries, speaking more than 4 languages. At some point we had a panel of 4 speaking 3 languages, so we actually got to use the headsets.

Microsoft was one of the partners of the Summit, and had a booth where they were showcasing their efforts towards ICT in Education. I arrived quite early on the 2nd day and as I strolled around I ended up at the Microsoft booth, and the gentleman in the booth at that time welcomed me and invited me to take a look around, handed me an info pack and we got into a conversation:

Mr Microsoft: What do you think about this software that we’re rolling out for use in institutions?

Me: Since its Microsoft I guess it’s gonna be great, and it will serve the students and institutions well.

Mr Microsoft: *After a brief hesitation, probably trying to decide whether it was a sarcastic remark or a sincere complement* Correct answer! *laughs heartily and gives me a high five*

Me: BTW I’m not just saying this to be polite since I’m in your booth, I actually believe that with your history you will put out a great product, just like you’ve done with your other products.

Mr Microsoft: Thank you! You know we do our best, we’re not perfect but we learn from our mistakes and improve. Because we’re often trailblazers, we have to make some mistakes ourselves along the way but we quickly learn and come back stronger. Take Windows Vista for example, we learnt the mistakes from that and Windows 7 was a resounding success… *blah blah*

Image Credit: TheBrainsNetwork
Image Credit: TheBrainsNetwork

I agreed with what he was saying, indeed there have been some Windows versions that suck and some that have been great. For instance Windows 3.1 (ok I just mentioned that one because that’s where my journey started!). Windows 7 was such a great OS that I refused to upgrade until I forcefully got onto Windows 8 when I bought a new laptop and found that all PCs had Windows 8.

It was fine initially, I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not, but apart from the dramatic touch screen like menu, it seemed to be Windows 7 in a new dress / suit. No major issues. Not even minor ones actually, it just worked like it should. This is one of the reasons I had expressed my confidence in Microsoft.

Then several months down the road, my computer started slowing down, and in several instances it ground to a halt, I couldn’t do anything. The thought that came to my mind was how much (or how little, for that matter) I’d spent on the PC. I kept telling myself that next time I’m buying a laptop, I shouldn’t use the strategy of walking into one of my favourite computer shops on Kampala Road and asking “what’s the cheapest laptop you’ve got here? Is it a Toshiba? Or Dell? Or HP? Great. Can you top up the RAM to 4GB? Great. Where do I pay?”.

Yes I always negotiate for a RAM upgrade because for some reason manufacturers still ship computers with 2GB RAM. I mean, seriously??!!!

Anyway, back to the Windows situation. It turned out my system was slowing down because something which I’m yet to identify was sucking up all my system resources randomly. I say randomly because I’ve not yet been able to identify any pattern or triggers. A process called “Service Host” keeps using up more and more RAM until it has used up all of it. Then when I disconnect internet, It slowly gets back to normal. Until I connect again. Then I try rebooting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sadly, this has happened before in the many years I’ve used Windows, situations which require reinstalling as the solution. Infact at campus we used to memorize product keys because the frequent re-installations of Windows XP!

I then remembered that I had recently made several tweets that poked fun at the ruling party and I quickly concluded that the government had successfully installed spyware and was funneling my data to their servers in Mbuya or Bombo or wherever it is that they have those Citizen Spyware things set up.

Then I googled and realized it was a more widespread problem, but solutions weren’t nearly as plentiful as the complaints and user reports. I have since talked to a few more people locally who are being affected by the same issue.

Then out of the blue, it hit me: Linux. Yes I just said Linux after telling a Microsoft rep that they rock!

I first used Linux dressed as Ubuntu a few years ago when I was in programming class. Everyone said “you need Linux”. I’d managed to avoid it all my computing life but this time round I bowed to pressure, and set up a dual boot so that I could fit in when in class, then get back to Windows when in real life. I’d actually shut down Linux when leaving school and boot Windows!

Then I let go of the laptop some time ago. You see, one of the advantages of buying the cheapest laptop is that you can quickly sell it on OLX or Trade Links Africa and get good cash to buy the latest version of the cheapest laptops. This particular one was sold within 1 hour of posting on my Facebook page!

After careful consideration, consultation and preparation (read: thinking about it for a few minutes), I have decided I’m going to switch to Ubuntu this weekend.

I’m going to write about the “migration” process so that if any of the people I advised to buy a Windows PC want to follow in my footsteps they have the details at their fingertips. For the start I’m going to set up a dual boot so that I can keep my options open, you know what they say about the color of grass on the other side of the fence! But once I’ve confirmed that all the programs I need can run, I’ll put Windows 8 on hold.

In case you’re wondering why I shouldn’t upgrade to Windows 10, let me take this opportunity to inform you that I considered that! I talked to a few people who had taken the plunge but the general impression was “Give it a little while, maybe the next update will be better”. Talk of Wi-Fi connectivity issues, requiring frequent restarts etc were enough to convince me to leave it alone for a while.

This isn’t the first saga I’ve had with Windows, I’ve used windows since Windows 3.1, and like I mentioned earlier, I have at some point memorized product keys because we had to re-install regularly. Yes regularly. So this is just the last straw really.

My next post will be about the Linux installation which I’m going to embark on this weekend.

  1. Good Luck! Just make sure and be careful with whom you listen to when trying to solve problems. There’s been cases where trolls and people who do things horribly wrong have turned off new users in the past by giving them bad advice, and I don’t want to see that here! Ubuntu works nice, but don’t be afraid to try all the options (e.g. Elementary OS if you’re a Mac kinda guy, Fedora if you’re a developer, or Arch/Antegros if you’re not afraid of fixing problems yourself but you want to be on the bleeding edge of software!) Again, Good Luck!!!!

    1. Thanks @disqus_qj2wHbx5XT:disqus. I usually have a thick skin, that’s how I’ve stuck on Windows despite my Linux friends calling it rubbish, so I’ll be careful not to go to the wrong people if I run into trouble.

      Once I’ve gotten comfy with Ubuntu, I’ll give the other flavors a try on a home machine.

  2. Great choice. Once you get accustomed to the stability, easiness of use, freedom and security, it’s very unlikely that you will go back.

    «But once I’ve confirmed that all the programs I need can run, I’ll put Windows 8 on hold.»

    While I tend to recommend only native applications, there might be some rare cases in which you might need to use a Windows application via Wine. Anyway, if you encounter any issue in abandoning Windows feel free to ask me and I will be glad to help.

    I am going to share this post on my social accounts because it makes for a very good experience to share.

    Greetings from Italy!

    1. Greetings from Uganda!

      Thanks for your encouragement. I’m hoping that the stability and security will be as you and many other people I’ve talked to say. I’m going to run native apps, and I’ll always look for alternatives to any that doesn’t have a Linux version.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. 😀 Good decision! I moved over (from OSX) a couple of years ago, and will never go back! I ❤ the Open Source philosophy, and the community are friendly & unstintingly helpful.

    I’ve found there are decent apps that cover all the bases I need covering: perhaps different to the ones we’re used to, but no less able.

    And the updates seem evolutionary (in the main), which is a good thing: I’ve always got the latest version on my positively ancient (2GB RAM!) laptop! 😉

    None of those pesky viruses either!

    Ubuntu would be a really good option in East Africa, I’d’ve thought – it’s really stable, comes loaded with the basic apps to get cracking, and is easy to use.

  4. You’re not really ditching Windows since you’re just installing Linux alongside Windows and while I use Linux Mint myself, it’s not my primary OS an nor will it ever be. There’s tech pundit nerd fantasy and than there’s practicality in having access to the familiar Windows applications that you probably invested in over the years. If you don’t use any Windows apps, maybe you should consider getting a Chrome OS machine; it’s probably the best flavor of Linux around if you just want to putz around on the Net and write silly articles.

    1. @markbyrn:disqus I mentioned that I’m keeping Windows for the start, just so that I don’t get into a situation when I need to run an application which I’ve not yet installed, and I need to run it on short notice, with no time to find and install the Linux version.

      It’s the familiar Windows environment that has kept me on Windows for over 20 years, but I’ve gotten to a point when I’d like to try what’s on the other side, I’m not sure that its worth the trouble anymore.

      Thanks for the suggestion, I’m going to give Chrome a try sometime. For the immediate future, I’ll be writing my “silly articles” on Linux 😉

  5. I was a lot on Ubuntu in 2008/2009 but went back to Windows. I think Windows 10 solved a lot of the issues from Windows 8. The writer of the article have not tryed Windows 10, he seems only have heard rumours about it. Best try it out first. Windows 10 recived the first major update now to. A sort of service pack 1.

    Yes Ubuntu can be option to. But for a simple OS beside Windows I think Chrome OS/Chromebook are fine for most of the “normal” users.

  6. You’ll give up on Ubuntu eventually. It’s far worse off than WIndows in so many ways. Also, Windows 8 was the best Windows up to that date, now Windows 10 blows even that away. Sure, the Start Screen sucked in 8, but you could easily replace it with a free old school Start Menu, and reassociate all file types to desktop apps. It really wasn’t hard. Yet this guy is supposed to be a computer expert?!?! Bullhocky. Something’s up, and he’s not telling the whole truth.

  7. Linux is a good choice but I strongly prefer Mint over Ubuntu. Also, dual boot setups tend to be kind of wonky and a dedicated Linux install preceded by a full and proper wipe of the hard drive will provide far superior performance.

    Regarding cheap laptops, the brand new low end laptops are your worst choice for installing Linux on. You’ll have far better luck getting a refurbished Lenovo T-Series Thinkpad. Those are the first choice of many Linux users and T-Series Thinkpads make outstanding Linux machines.

    Also, avoid Asus and Acer machines, as they don’t work well with Linux at all.

    1. «a dedicated Linux install preceded by a full and proper wipe of the hard drive will provide far superior performance»
      «avoid Asus and Acer machines at all costs, as they don’t work well with Linux at all»

      I am interested in these topics. Can you provide some benchmarks that back your statements? I would like to know more about what technical benefit could give a single setup rather than a dual boot, given that the only difference would be the partition layout, as once a OS is booted the other is not running.

      Regarding Asus and Acer, I have installed Linux on a bunch of them to different people in my Linux Users Group and I don’t recall particular issues.

      1. My statements are based on personal experience. It may be partly psycho-somatic but I’ve always perceived improved performance after a full wipe and reformatting of the hard drive.

        My issues with Asus and Acer machines have mostly been with Broadcom wireless cards that failed to work with the Linux driver that Broadcom provides. After loading the new OS you have to use an ethernet cable to connect (which isn’t even an option anymore on many newer machines) and download a non-free Broadcom replacement driver that still gives very poor quality performance.

        1. «you have to use an ethernet cable to connect (which isn’t even an option anymore on many newer machines) and download a non-free Broadcom replacement driver»

          Yes, that’s Broadcom’s fault, not Linux’s. They decided to have a proprietary firmware rather than releasing the source. Regarding its poor quality performance, I don’t know. On machines on which I have installed it (including a PPC iMac from 2005) it was always working ok.

          But I admit I haven’t done a detailed speed test.

          1. I agree with you it’s Broadcom’s fault, but it does mean that machines that use certain lines of Broadcom cards are poor performers with Linux and Asus and Acer machines seem to frequently use those problematic Broadcom cards.

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