Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Computer Musings

Last week I realized that I've had my laptop for a little over four years. Apart from a few mechanical hiccups in its first year (thankfully covered under warranty) it's been going strong the entire time. I had some certain things in mind when I bought it, namely, “you get what you pay for” and “don't skimp on quality” which led me to get a powerful (if slightly more expensive) computer that would be relatively future-proof and wouldn't be obsolete in two years.

Four years later, I can say that my strategy appears to have paid off. My computer is still running strong, still quite able to run some of the more demanding games and other programs I've thrown at it, and barring accident I expect it will be running well for several years yet.

Of course, that hasn't stopped me from looking ahead to when I will eventually need a new computer. And with that comes the choice of what operating system to use. A few years ago I wouldn't have hesitated to choose Windows, because that's what I grew up with. I remember using Windows 98 for a little while as a kid, then Windows XP for a couple of years. After some experience with Windows Vista I knew I didn't want that, and bought my laptop with Windows 7, which I've been quite happy with since.

However...many of the reports I've heard of Windows 8 fill me with trepidation. I have yet to actually use it, but I've heard enough to at least give me pause before blindly upgrading. Of course, Windows 9 may be out by the time I'm actually ready to buy a new computer, and there's a bit of common wisdom that says that Windows version run on a good-bad-good-bad schedule, so perhaps Windows 9 will be fine like Windows 7 was.

Even if that's the case (and that's an unknown “if” at this point), I've found myself leaning more and more towards using Linux on my next computer. I now spend more time at my computer at work (which runs a flavor of Linux) than I do my personal computer, and I'm becoming more and more accustomed to it. I wrote about my experience running Ubuntu (a flavor of Linux) as a dual-boot on my computer almost four years ago now. At the time it was a novelty to me, and while I don't come out and say it in the post, I couldn't really see myself ever using it principally over Windows.

A few years and a lot of experience later, and I know a lot more about Linux than I did then. For instance, Ubuntu is simply one flavor (or kind) of Linux; there are many different flavors out there catering to many different kinds of people. Many of the underlying (and most important) features are the same across them, though. I've run across some flavors of Linux that look quite nice, and which I could definitely see myself choosing as my next main operating system (I sometimes find myself wishing for certain conveniences of Linux while using Windows.). In some ways Linux is actually easier to use than Windows (while simultaneously offering more power to power users), but it's just different enough to feel uncomfortable while making the switch.

One thing that has given me pause in my consideration of Linux has to do with games. It has long been true that nearly all computer games are targeted at Windows because it has the largest market share. Sometimes an occasional game will get ported to Mac as well, but that's not exactly common. And Linux? Forget about it. It's only been within the last few years that a small but hopefully significant number of game developers are starting to release games for all three platforms. There are doubtless many reasons for this (including one of the currently-more-popular game-engines making it very easy to make releases for multiple platforms), but whatever the reason it's an encouraging trend, and it will be interesting to see what the game landscape looks like another twenty-four months down the line. I've taken to actively trying to support games that run on Linux, and preferring to buy ones that do in order to future-proof my game library (pretty much any game of any note that runs on Linux also runs on Windows and Mac at the moment, so it's an all-around good way to hedge my bets).

It's an interesting time to be living in, to be sure. People have been predicting the rise of Linux as a serious contender with Windows and Mac for market share for years now, but with the way things are going with Windows recently, who know? It just might finally happen. Or not, and people will continue to predict it. We'll see! Exciting times, to be sure. A hui hou!


  1. If it weren't for the fact that I'm a total non-gamer, making the switch to Unix-like operating systems would probably bother me too. On the other hand, the only way that we'll ever see the large-scale production of Linux-compatible games is if enough people make the switch. So perhaps suffering through a couple of years of relative gamelessness will pay off later.

    I adore Unix derivatives, especially Linux. My work laptop is a Mac, which is okay and has a few built-in features that Ubuntu doesn't (conversely, Ubuntu has built-in compilers and a repository manager that Mac OSX lacks), but Ubuntu is far less clunky and resource-demanding. And I'll admit I'm somewhat biased against Macs because of all the fanboys who zealously advocate for the superiority of their Macs based on vague, hand-wavy arguments that are less than convincing. The next time I do a Linux OS, however, I'm going to try out Crunchbang ("#!") Linux, which I've heard offers a number of advantages over Ubuntu for the power user.

    1. Yeah, it's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem – the only people really making games for Linux at the moment are small indie studios. It'll need some more market share before you start seeing the really big games come out for it. It helps that I'm usually drawn to the type of games that end up available on Linux. And Minecraft will run anywhere you can get Java to run...

      I definitely like Linux in principle because I love free and open source software – other than the games I play, I think every program on my computer (barring the pre-installed Microsoft Office) is of that ilk. I haven't put too much thought into flavors yet, though Linux Mint caught my eye a few months ago. I'll have to look Crunchbang up when I start seriously looking.


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