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What OS to use?

by EE4life
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Apr3-14, 09:58 PM
P: 46
Hi all,

I am currently a electrical engineering PhD student, and I spend a huge amount of my time on a computer and I plan to do so in the future as well. So, I thought it is wise to look around for another OS to use besides Windows 8, which is tolerable and works but I can't help but think there is something better.

I do some computer coding, I use mathematical software (matlab, labview, python). I think all the programs I use can be used in windows, mac, and linux.

I tried ubuntu, but I gave up after I spent hours and hours trying to install Java correctly. I am a not a computer enthusiast, rather I just want a good system. Do you think it is worth the time to learn how to use a Linux system? Or will Windows suffice just as it always has? I am not necessarily a open source enthusiast, so I will not buy into linux just because it is free. What do think I should use for my operating system? I am not afraid to try a linux distro again or even mac, but I want to be sure that my learning investment is well spent.

I humbly ask for some advice.
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Simon Bridge
Apr4-14, 12:00 AM
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You want to start a "My OS is the best" war?!

When I was postgrad I used Windows NT at college and Windows XP at home ... which was pretty much as you described: it works OK but, also like you, I'd really like to do better than just OK.

Computer science used a lot of macs ... which were also kinda OK - quite good as long as you stayed inside the apple world.

A friend put me on to linux and I have not looked back.
I currently use Ubuntu - mostly due to lazyness. I usually suggest one of the Debian flavors.

You don't want to have a steep learning curve, probably try Linux Mint.
The main thing is to check your hardware compatability - linux has very good HW support but not all vendors play ball.
But it is definitely worth learning.

Installing java is a common task so there are walkthroughs.

Linux favors Free and Open Source software, though you may purchase a license to run propriety software if the vendor will sell you one. If it ain't FOSS, you must use vendor support.

You probably found out that the FOSS implementation of JAVA is OpenJDK - which is the linux default.
It will probably feel different to use than the propriety JAVA you are likely to be used to. This is mostly superficial, like the Apple implementation of Java may feel different to some people.

It is usually worth the effort of getting used to the new one. It won't make it harder to switch back to using Oracle Java or someone elses ... the whole point is that the JRE is platform independent so everything should play nice.

The biggest advantage of choosing some linux for you is the learning support and information.
Generally try not to duplicate your windows experience and functionality one-to-one ... the windows experience is what you want to get away from right?

The second biggest advantage to you, initially, is the freedom - but that won't become apparent right away so you can ignore that for now. It can become very important at higher academic levels, but depends on what you do. It's the kind of thing that grows on you.

Like you I did not get into it from the freedom etc etc political stuff, so I know to chill when people don't want to hear it. The big advantage for me was the low entry price - and in my day you had to compile your own kernel! The next big advantage was the toolset - I became massively more productive after the change and only missed some of my windows games.

These days I find it quite painful to use windows or osx.

I'd also suggest looking for a linux user group near you - ask them when the next "software freedom day" or "installfest" is ... chances are some of them will be willing to guide you through the early acclimatization stage.
Now there is going to be some arguing.
Apr4-14, 02:01 AM
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Assuming you're working on a project(s) for a professor, you'd probably want to use the same OS that the professor, fellow students, and what's in your lab, are using for the project(s). Most of your time is going to be spent generating programs or documents for projects, or working with lab equipment, and not much will be spent dealing with the operating system itself, so I'm not sure that the OS really matters as much as the tool sets you'll be using and I assume most tool sets would be available for most OS.

Apr4-14, 02:29 AM
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What OS to use?

Although I don't own one myself, I think a Mac is the most decent solution. You can use Microsoft office if you have to, but you also have a unixoid operating system which permits you to do serious work.
In comparison with different kinds of linux, there is better support for drivers and the like.

I am using linux myself, but as you realized, it can take hours to get some standard software working, and, despite libreoffice and the like, you will always have trouble if you have to cooperate with Microsoft office users.

Microsoft Windows is not a system very useful for scientific work. Working with larger files, scripting, programming or running command line programs is always a pain in the neck or requires expensive additional software.
What personally drives me nuts with windows is (missing) internationalization. I permanently have to switch system settings in windows because one file or program assumes a colon as decimal separator while another one uses a period.
Apr4-14, 09:14 AM
P: 46
Thank you so far for the informative posts. As you can imagine, I read a lot online about linux vs. windows. Although I hate the apple logo, that should not cause me to be so arrogant to dismiss it, but we are all human after all and something in my heart makes me hate mac.

So I hear 2 votes to change and 1 vote to keep with windows. Currently, I am collaborating with others in such a way that I feel the OS will make NOT be a barrier. For the most part I work alone so this will not affect others much. Actually, I can even install linux on the older pc's in my lab.

Do you feel that this is a thing that I need to explore by myself? I do not really want to waste weeks/months of time and then come to the conclusion that Windows is the best for me if I know there is a big deterrent. The big thing for me is organization and ease and efficiency of use.

How about we get some votes and a short description why I should change or not.
Apr4-14, 09:46 AM
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Quote Quote by Simon Bridge View Post
Computer science used a lot of macs ... which were also kinda OK - quite good as long as you stayed inside the apple world.
Under Mac OS, you can work in a Linux/Unix type environment at the command line in the Terminal application, and you can run X windows via X11 as a download from Apple. (It's been a few years since I used X11 so I don't know if that's still available, though.)

Many open source packages have options to compile and install under Mac OS (OS X). Ones that don't can sometimes be a bit tricky to install because Apple likes to put some things in different locations than is usual in Linux or common flavors of Unix.

And if you use Parallels Desktop (virtualization software), you can install any Unix distribution you like in a separate "virtual machine" and run it alongside Mac OS. You can install Windows, too. Make sure you have plenty of memory, though!
Apr4-14, 11:38 AM
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It also depends a bit on your work. If you are using your computer as an interface for measurement devices, these come often with drivers for windows only.
Ben Niehoff
Apr4-14, 01:07 PM
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One thing that is really great about Linux, that comes from its "free"-ness, is this:

Your hard drive will eventually die. Life expectancy is 3-5 years, but earlier if you are unlucky. It's usually pretty easy to install a new hard drive in your machine (as long as your machine isn't one of those ultra-compact laptops). But then you will have to reinstall the OS, from scratch.

Did you remember to make a recovery USB stick for your Windows 8? Do you know where it is? Because if not, you're out of luck. Might have to buy Windows 8 again.

But with Linux, you can get it anywhere, install it fairly painlessly, and be on your way.

MacOS Mavericks is also free, but harder to get a hold of, especially if your only Mac just died. It's also a royal pain in the *** to install from scratch, because Apple assumes you'll never have to do that.
Apr9-14, 08:51 AM
P: 1
I pretty much agree with what Simon Bridge wrote. I switched from Windows to Linux several years ago and do not regret it. You should be aware that there's a rather steep learning curve and that most system tools are command line only but these days it's quite easy to get help and find information online.

The main problem is that not all hardware manufacturers support Linux, that has been my biggest source of frustration in the past so be careful when buying new hardware. The only software I'm missing are a couple of games.

I would also recommend a Debian based distro, Linux Mint seems great (although I haven't tried it myself yet). I'm currently using Ubuntu but I'm a bit concerned with recent controversies and privacy issues. A new version of Ubuntu, 14.04 "Trusty Tahr", should be released within the next few weeks (17 april).
Apr9-14, 10:15 AM
P: 46
I think a really good thing about linux systems is that it forces you to learn how to use the computer at a lower level. In the beginning it may be difficult, but in the long run it will give you new possibilities that you would normally ignore on a windows or mac.

Thanks to all of you for your help. I decided to install Linux mint on a spare laptop of mine to get used to the interface and to install my programs for testing. I will probably install Linux mint on my main laptop after the semester ends.

I really appreciate your comments. If it were not for this forum I would have a lot of trouble getting your valuable opinions.
Simon Bridge
Apr9-14, 10:42 AM
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5 months to software freedom day.
Apr10-14, 05:19 PM
P: 9
Personally I use a dual boot with Windows and Ubuntu. Since the learning curve on Linux can be time-consuming I'll boot into Windows when I need to do something quickly and boot into Ubuntu when I have some extra "learning" time. Although the plan is to eventually become proficient in Linux since the power and the freedom (already mentioned) is great and gives me a much better understanding of what I'm doing, I wiill most likely always maintain my Windows partition. There's just some things I can't do in Linux plus I have some 'laziness' issues. Finally, it's much better if you get a new computer and then pre-order all the hardware components which you have by then (hopefully) already researched as working well in Linux.
Just sayiin'...
Simon Bridge
Apr11-14, 12:03 AM
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For *nix support and help:
... is to linux what PF is to science.

To check HW support - try a live boot first.
The ubiquitous "which distro to choose" question is answered here:
... by Zegenie studios.

It's not definitive - your first choice will not be the last one you try.
Apr11-14, 01:27 AM
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I used various versions of Ubuntu for many years, then totally hated it when they changed the philosophy drastically.

I thought about other Debian-derivatives, but none of them sounded like what I wanted.

I then tried Sabayon Linux, but got BADLY burned by their "rolling updates". Totally lost everything on my disk when I tried to install an update, and had to recover by re-installing from scratch and then backups.

Then I considered the Fedora-Redhat-CentOS trinity, and decided to try Fedora (KDE variant). It was fantastic. Noticeably quicker than the others, which was a surprise. The upgrade mechanisms seem a lot easier than I was used to with Ubuntu. Never had a problem getting software to do what I wanted.
Simon Bridge
Apr11-14, 05:47 AM
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Oh yes, and then there is this thing:
Apr25-14, 11:21 PM
enorbet's Avatar
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While OSX is certainly a viable alternative one of the great values of OpenSource as in BSD and Linux is that even the most fundamental part of the system, the kernel, is open. Because of this there are complete Operating Systems available as "Live". This means a CD/DVD/ or USB installed system can boot almost any PC and provide a complete system. Some are even capable of "persistence" - maintaining settings beyond copying to a local hard drive. These can be used as a repair/recovery device, an eminently portable system, or simply for a "Road Test". The only equivalent in Windows, like Bart's PE, employs the Pre-install Environment which is extremely limited. I don't know if Mac has an equivalent.

Here's a list of some you can try out at your leisure. They do nothing to your existing system so as long as you don't get rambunctious with "Delete" you'll be fine. Here ya go -

BTW there are also some great live compilations in LiveCDs for specific purposes, so be sure to look at that column. Many come with superb Windows fix tools as well. Hirens is a favorite of mine... a real Swiss Army Knife.
Aug13-14, 04:44 PM
P: 46
Hi guys,
After trying linux for a awhile I realized its not worth it. Sure its opensource, and you can boot from it. Actually, doing things in linux is a waste of time for the regular computer user who does not need to interact with the OS.

My advice to all:
1. Don't go linux unless you have a need to
2. I know you used windows for your whole life and you think mac users are stuck up and foollish for buying over priced computers. But, they work well and you can pretty much guarentee you won't have problems
3. I am currently still using windows 8.1. I don't really like it, but it get the job done without much hassle, so why switch to linux where the learning curve is not worth it for people like me who do not interact with the OS

Simon Bridge
Aug13-14, 06:18 PM
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Quote Quote by EE4life View Post
Hi guys,
After trying linux for a awhile I realized its not worth it. Sure its opensource, and you can boot from it. Actually, doing things in linux is a waste of time for the regular computer user who does not need to interact with the OS.
That must have been quite a while ago .... these days, one of the features of linux is that the OS just gets out of the way.
The only time I've see the OS in years is update notifications.

The "learning curve" for most distributions is now roughly like going from XP to W7.
(But it's dangerous to make generalizations: you realize that Android is Linux right?)

Aside: OS ≠ GUI ... some people mix them up.

I don't like [win 8.1] but it get the job done without much hassle, ...
I hear you. This was my position for many years. That and having spent so much money on windows software, and I had got used to the windows workflow etc. etc. So I totally sympathize with this position.

One of the things windows is very good at is being just good enough that you are reluctant to trash it. You sound like you are familiar with the feeling. Considering the price and the contract terms, are you really willing to settle for merely "does the job"? Is that really good advise to give others?
Still, it is good for OP to see a range of opinions.

Compare: Apple is very good at looking cool ... to the point of making previously uncool things look cool.

Sure its opensource, [but]
A gnu/linux distro is not just "open source" it is Free Software. That is much better that merely open source because it is designed to benefit to more than just software developers.

The number 1 selling point for gnu/linux is the freedom part - but freedom is a tough sell. There are plenty of other selling points and lots of choice from simple starters to advanced uber-customizable versions. Most people can find a good fit, and there is help getting a fit for the newcomer too.

One of the main negative points about Linux is the way "Software Freedom" sounds preachy and "holier than thou" much of the time... but you get those people in each OS camp.

The trouble with this sort of discussion is that it can turn into a "my favorite OS is the best" argument and the evangelists come to dominate. I think we can accept that everyone has a favorite, and everyone will recommend it to their friends, while keeping the discussion factually accurate.

How would someone go about neutrally suggesting an OS to another?
It's a bit like discussing a contentious political issue neutrally isn't it?

The trick is to avoid venturing a personal opinion, but, instead, empower the listener to frm their own opinion. (It's hard because we want them to agree with us - the scientific approach is to be suspicious of strongly held beliefs, especially those held by ourselves.)

We can't really say "do this" or "do that" because that risks disempowering the OP - instead we have to work out the needs, and suggest ways to balance them that work well on general principles.

In the end, most people pick "what happens to be handy when I'm are in a good mood" unless there is some oversight - in which case they pick whatever the boss likes. Ah... now my cynicism is showing :(

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