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What OS to use?

  1. Apr 3, 2014 #1
    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.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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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.
    i.e. https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Java

    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.
  4. Apr 4, 2014 #3


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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.
  5. Apr 4, 2014 #4


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    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.
  6. Apr 4, 2014 #5
    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.
  7. Apr 4, 2014 #6


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    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!
  8. Apr 4, 2014 #7


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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.
  9. Apr 4, 2014 #8

    Ben Niehoff

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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.
  10. Apr 9, 2014 #9
    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).
  11. Apr 9, 2014 #10
    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.
  12. Apr 9, 2014 #11

    Simon Bridge

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  13. Apr 10, 2014 #12
    which Os?

    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'...
  14. Apr 11, 2014 #13

    Simon Bridge

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    For *nix support and help:
    ... LinuxQuestions.org 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:
    http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/ [Broken]
    ... by Zegenie studios.

    It's not definitive - your first choice will not be the last one you try.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  15. Apr 11, 2014 #14


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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.
  16. Apr 11, 2014 #15

    Simon Bridge

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  17. Apr 25, 2014 #16
    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 - http://www.livecdlist.com/

    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.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  18. Aug 13, 2014 #17
    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

  19. Aug 13, 2014 #18

    Simon Bridge

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    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 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.

    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 http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/index.php?lang=en [Broken].

    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 :(
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  20. Aug 13, 2014 #19
    It is all too easy to fall into the trap of simply adopting old cliches and joining the "My Ford Rocks! Your Chevy Sucks!" syndrome, when the solution is so simple and even simpler with operating systems since the advent of Linux.

    Let me explain. Aside from the extremely limited Windows Pre-Install Environment hack which was most notably found, researched for legality, and utilized by Bart's PE (which allows for a portable drive to boot a limited windows environment on virtually any machine) the only full OpSys that can be booted from any manner of drive; hard, optical, magnetic, etc., is Linux. This makes it easy to try it and even use it (especially for mobile and highly secure work) because the user doesn't have to commit to anything nor change anything existing on whatever machine he chooses.

    Add to that the fact that there are hundreds of Live CDs (boot anywhere, as above) and many hundreds of hard installed distributions, many of which have worked very hard and put huge sums of money (IBM has spent many billions - yup BILLIONS) into making Linux adaptable to all levels of users. Now, much like Fords and Chevys it is possible to "drive one" without knowing anything of what is "under the hood". However should you decide to learn how to "change a tire" or "improve your gas mileage" all the way up to the deepest and most fundamental workings are all available, free, and above all, unhidden.

    In summary, Linux (which is just the kernel) has distributions/versions that are all but without effort to learn and use, and any investment in time is paid back by not having to mess with (or pay for) maintenance software such as anti virus and malware at the very least. It/They offer a great deal and anyone can try as many as they like, free of charge.

    Macs have a reputation for high prices because originally the OpSys was tied to a very lean kernel (only supporting an extremely small list of top notch hardware such as SCSI hard drives) so it was in essence micromanaged and pared down as well as of extreme high quality. Many people also assumed that once clones of the iPod appeared, many were half the price that this just reflected that "gouging" .... but have you ever used an iPod? The sound quality is superb... better than anything cheaper and you can get to a specific song in under 5 clicks even if you have 10,000 songs on it. How much is your time (and annoyance/convenience) and listening pleasure worth?

    So let's lay it to rest.

    1) Macs are no longer way overpriced compared to PCs. They are slightly higher because they are extremely well designed and still prefer higher quality hardware, just not as exclusive as it once was, largely thanks to OSX which is based on BSD, another Unix-like OpSys.

    2) Linux is no longer just for hackers and software geeks. It's easy compared to the years any windows user has already invested in learning it and it won't turn you into a cash cow.

    3) That said, Windows also has it's niche and viability. It is rather amazing how successful they have been at creating a "one size fits all" system with the only cost being ever increasing hardware requirements to keep up with all the bloat, and of course the ever slowing user experience if you don't upgrade regularly including reinstalling.

    These are "flavors" each with it's own distinct pros and cons, but none of them are so exclusive as to be head and shoulders above the others in all categories and the difference grows slighter (excluding cost in money and freedom) over time.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2014
  21. Aug 14, 2014 #20
    I agree with you. It is a very opinionated issue, with no clear right or wrong answer. I'd rather spend my life doing stuff than trying stuff (another opinion), so I will hold off on linux until I make a friend who uses linux to show me the ropes. I earnestly tried ubuntu and linux mint and I think linux is "cool", but, as my incomplete experience shows...I really don't know.

    Let's talk about life philosophy. More choices make you more miserable than more happy. Google the book: the paradox of choice.
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