Things you miss with GNU/Linux

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Recently I've noticed an increases in the number of people I know who are migrating from Windows to GNU/Linux. Either my tireless advocacy is grinding them down, word is starting to spread. Perhaps they've actually seen Vista in action and decided to jump ship now. Either way there are some things they are going to miss when they make the leap.

Service packs, upgrades and updates

I had one of the regular weekly IT newspapers drop on my desk today and the headline was screaming about how the release of SP3 for Windows XP might hit sales of Vista. Service packs don't really happen with GNU/Linux distros. Oh sure you can download a new CD for Hardy Heron and upgrade your Gutsy install, but that's not really a service pack, it's a whole OS. To expand on that, you cannot install SP3 onto a clean hard disk and use it, you can with a new Ubuntu/Fedora/Debian/OpenSuSE release. Good distributions have facilities for updating the entire system. So when Debian Etch was released, all I did to upgrade was type apt-get update and then apt-get dist-upgrade on my Debian Sarge system. You can upgrade Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon to Hardy Heron using the update manager (_System→Administration→Update Manager`) Most modern distros, particularly the *buntu ones, will tell you when updates are available in a similar way to Windows update.

Updates are a different case because most decent distros will allow you to update packages very easily. This is not like Windows or Microsoft update though. Package updates on GNU/Linux include any application you've installed from your distros repositories. For most of us this will be any application on our system--not just the ones made by our distro supplier. Also package updates will give you pretty good information about what the update does and why. No more "a security vulnerability has been found, installing this update will fix it" type messages. I'll grant you that a lot of them could do with lessons in being a little more verbose though.

Trial versions

Many of the home Windows users I know tend to just buy a new PC whenever they "need" to upgrade their OS. I have tried to get them to chuck some of their clearly disposable income in my direction but so far it hasn't worked. So when they get their new PC home they start on the wonderful process of turning it back into something they want to use--you know like their old PC. This will involve removing the many trial versions of various packages they don't want that were installed by the OEM in the factory. I once saw a script written by someone to do this on new Dell machines--it was called the de-crapify script but it was short-lived because Dell kept changing the "crap" that came with their PCs.

With GNU/Linux you rarely get this kind of issue. A new install will invariably install its own preferences for standard applications but, believe me, getting rid of them is far easier than un-installing an OEM trial version of Norton Anti-virus! In addition it's rare for a free software application to be a trial-version: the nature of the licencing means you get to try the full version. The only real parallel I could think of was live CDs where you get to try the whole OS before you install it.


If you've used Vista at all you'll definitely miss the User Account Control feature. This is the security "enhancement" which asks you to confirm that you just asked the computer to do something. For example you may want to change your Internet settings by running the Control Panel applet and the UAC will ask you if it was you who just double-clicked the icon before it runs it. With GNU/Linux you do occasionally run across this kind of thing--where you are asked for the root password. Generally it asks you once at the start of the operation (so, you'll miss out on that) and it's only for the stuff you really need it for--that is stuff that could screw up your system. This includes things like running a package manager or configuring hardware.

Proper boundaries

If you are used to the limitations of Windows XP, with its three choices of window widgets--well one choice really but in three very "exciting" colours--you're in for a surprise. Similarly if you are used to your OS finding every printer shared on your network and installing it--without asking, then you are going to be in for another surprise. With GNU/Linux you will find the playpen much larger. You are able to fiddle and tweak to your heart's content, no longer are you stuck to just changing your wallpaper. Also you will find the system does far less automatically without prompting you or asking you first. Plug in a USB printer and it will still be detected and you'll be prompted through a driver wizard (unless of course the driver is already loaded then you just be shown the new printer ready to go). But plug your laptop into somebody else's network temporarily and you won't suddenly have half a dozen "AUTO" printers installed which you are unlikely to use. GNU/Linux systems tend to recognise a proper boundary between you and them.

What do you miss?

Okay so I've not gotten into things like your existing hardware not working (although not much does work under Vista, does it?) or that obscure DTP package you got from a cover CD six years ago; however, there are a number of things which are refreshingly absent when you move to GNU/Linux. There are also some things which are more pressing and people tend to have different experiences and ways to overcome those obstacles. If you've made the leap to this side of the freedom fence:

  • what did you miss at first?
  • how did you overcome it?
  • do you still miss it?

If it's a short answer, feel free to comment below. For longer answers--for example--if you have some tips and advice to give--could be given in a response post to this one. Click the "Write a full post in response to this!" link below.




Andrew Min's picture

Also, it remembers your password for a certain amount of time, so you don't have to keep entering it in.

Andrew Min

endbegin's picture
Submitted by endbegin on

I really don't miss anything. In fact I have to use a Windows laptop for work, and I wish I didn't have to. As far as I am concerned, you are preaching to the choir.

melinko2003's picture

I miss windows games that use almost 100% of the resources on my machine. LOL. Nah i think i just miss going to the store on release day and getting my reserved Copy of what ever and sitting down for a frag fest. I know its unreasonable to expect it from Linux but its just something that windows does for me. What linux does for me is it gives abit more cool playability down the line for those games if/when they are supported.. So what do i do?

I dual boot and just keep a base WinXp image in case i need to reload Xp. Have Fedora installed with a self-compiled Kernel with accouple experimental kernels (patched with Bloat + patch w/o Bloat) and a bloat kernel.

Typically I dont use Linux for my work from home PC either. I hate to say it but Microsoft is still very unfriendly esp. when my company's programmers create very difficult properitary software, and Nortel VPN's. Plus with strict policies as to what you can and cannot load "Non-Production" software has been requested to stay at a minimum.

People recommend using Wine or VM's .. While the idea is novel i find that the speed is a noticable problem with VM's and Wine doesn't support 70%+ the "Extra" structures my company creates.

Ask them to create open packages? Ha, Simply put not enough people in the company use linux for them to bother allocating the resources.

So yes, the problem is resolved by dual booting.

Though what does linux offer as a leg up? Alot actually... mainly alot of arm related distro's and App's. Im one of those people who owns a N800 and really enjoys working with it. Im also one of those people who likes to tinker with Solid state solutions such as SAS/CF/SD to see what kinds of projects can be made and whats really viable vs a waste.

Id love to think that linux is a viable solution for everything but.. Until it can do a few things better I think im still going to be dual booting.

Ubuntu is a good direction but I still see most things a few years aways for it to really shine with the General public... Early Bird Converts of today will most likely be the Guru's of it later on and hopefully they will be better teachers then some of us in the past who were zealots. Heh

rogun's picture
Submitted by rogun on

That's about it and I only mention Photoshop because I'm more familiar with it. As for the hardware, I haven't really had any serious hardware issues in a while, but we all know that GNU/Linux is still lacking some in this area and I do miss the simplicity of syncing my PDA in Windows.

I only boot into windows a few times a year (I'm talking one hand, finger counting), so I really do miss very little. If I had to sum it all up using one term, I guess that I'd use "Lack of standard corporate support", because that best sums up the majority of frustrations involving GNU/Linux.

Terry Hancock's picture

Other than the sort of low-end consumer compatibility issues I mentioned in my broken toys post, there's not much I miss.

In fact, what I mostly notice nowadays is the stuff that I miss when I try, for whatever reason, to use a Windows machine: things like Mozilla, Inkscape, Gimp, etc. I especially miss applications that work for me instead of acting as toadies to some outside party, intentionally getting in my way when I want to do things, or trying to hold extra functionality hostage.

Windows is cheap if you don't expect to do much with it, but if you're a serious user who pushes your system to its limits (and I am, because I want to do a lot, or do unusual things, or because, not being able to afford to buy a new computer every couple of years, I'm often running with limited system resources).

For me, Windows (plus the huge list of proprietary applications I would have to buy for equivalence to what I run on my Debian system) would be outrageously expensive (including graphics, multimedia, desktop publishing, and development tools, at least $6000—and about $2000/yr to stay up to date), and as a result it would effectively shut me out of many endeavors I want to take part in.

GNU/Linux, on the other hand, costs me very nearly zero in cash outlays (I do have to pay something for CD-ROMs and/or ISP time to download files), lets me use all kinds of software including advanced research- or commercial-grade workstation tools that are hard to even find for Windows, and the only cost is that I have to figure out how to use them...

...which in practice, I would have to do for Windows anyway! Because there are basically no Windows users trying to do the stuff I do on my system, and even where there are, they certainly aren't getting supported by Microsoft. They're learning from other users, exactly as we do with GNU/Linux.

Not only that, but having the O/S constantly try to second-guess you and/or talk down to you (the downside of "avoiding jargon" is a loss of technical clarity) just gets in the way of experienced users.

pachelbel's picture
Submitted by pachelbel on

As a FreeBSD user at home and MS Windows user at work, I must confess that my major pain on free systems is browsing the web on MS-only sites. Microsoft just keeps on saying that "the great thing about standards is that everyone can define his own", which is nonsense... unless your name is Microsoft.

Another strength of Windows is the backward compatibility: I can take nearly any installer of applications, even a 10-year old archive, and load it on my current machine in the office. On the contrary, I tried to exchange some documents with a friend, who was not able to install the relevant version of the editor on his Debian laptop (he had a Debian Etch and upgrading the app would mean upgrading the whole machine with all the libraries). The same app on my Windows machine at work could be downgraded without any problem. Now, this backward compatibility strongly affects the system security, as many malware exploit this fact. The ever changing libraries of Linux or FreeBSD help protect the systems to some extent - at least, the resurgence of a 2-year old virus would probably die away on its own.

To answer Terry Hancock's post about the cost of buying the Windows version of all the apps he's using, most of them have counterparts under Windows under GPL or other free license so the library would not necessarily be as expensive as you mentioned - it really depends on what you need to run. And I do use Mozilla, Gimp and Dia without any problem under Windows (these are my de-facto editors and browser).

I started working on a column for this magazine - it will be somewhat controversial for this site :-) but I try to focus on the aspects that affect a wider use of Linux or *BSD in the professional world (the tone is not quite "I'm a journalist, I grabbed a CD and installed it" :-) ). I'll come back soon. Cheers.

Terry Hancock's picture

"most of them have counterparts under Windows under GPL"

Of course they do.

But the point is "why would I do that?" All of those apps run just fine (better, really) on my Debian system, so why would I run Windows?

ISTM, the only reason I would do that is to run proprietary applications that are only available for Windows, and as I said, that would generally not be cost effective (in terms of licenses or effort) compared to using the free alternatives.

What I pay in effort to deal with the occasional awkward install on Debian is nothing compared to what I would have to do to keep a Windows system going. And even then, I'd have to pay for the privilege.

pachelbel's picture
Submitted by pachelbel on

Terry, I got your point.

"But the point is "why would I do that?" All of those apps run just fine (better, really) on my Debian system, so why would I run Windows?"

I'm sure they do, although they made significant progress in the last few years under Windows. If you work in an office dedicated to Microsoft, you basically have no choice: the decision is taken at a board of director's meeting and no one can object. The arguments are compatibility of Microsoft Office (here is the paying package you referred to) and availability of support contracts (no flame, I am my own, non-corporate view on this too).

For the rest, I have a bunch of free applications (GPL and others) for my day to day job: as I don't have a Visio license, I use Dia; for emergencies, I have a PostgreSQL server (when MS SQL causes problems). Plus Cygwin and a few others. If you want to push free systems in the office, you have to show first that the applications do the job and having a Windows version is a good way of demonstrating it. If you want to make a U-turn, you pull the steering wheel and progressively turn around. Engaging the reverse gear may be a dangerous and inefficient alternative :-)

"What I pay in effort to deal with the occasional awkward install on Debian is nothing compared to what I would have to do to keep a Windows system going. And even then, I'd have to pay for the privilege."

I came across some applications that are definitely more stable under Windows than Linux - in particular some CAD programs for electronics design, which happen to be free to use. I think the picture is not black and white and the more experience you have with Linux, the more forgiving you are.

Now, I remember a Windows app at my previous job that we ran on a RedHat 9 machine under Wine because it was 30% faster that under Windows NT - supposedly the native host! I still try to push this argument when I can.

Terry Hancock's picture

Yeah, I know that circumstances sometimes force you to use Windows (as in your example, where your choice of O/S was made by your employer). Clearly, if you must, then you learn to make the best of it.

I'm lucky in that I can make these decisions for myself.

spartan2276's picture

Windows does not offer me anything that Ubuntu/linux does not. I have every application that I need to use on a daily basis and yes they are as good as the proprietary ones, Open Office, the GIMP, inkscape and raw studio(Aperture2 Clone) work very well and if I need to use anything like flash I run it under WINE. So ever since I switched I actually have more fun using my PC on a daily basis. I mean with Ubuntu for example you get everything you can think of to use your PC straight out of the box without any trials or OEM ads, also the community and support is great.

Yes I had a printer issue and input device(Art Tablet) issue due to hardware drivers, but doing a google search usually solves this problem or just downloading the software from Synaptics Package Manager(an actual Add/Remove Software repository). I'm sorry but you just can't beat that. For those of you who think that in order to get something good/quality you have to pay for it, you are 100% wrong. Open Source is here to stay. Woot Open Solaris!

IT Consultant/Web Developer

Bizurke's picture
Submitted by Bizurke on

When I first started using GNU/Linux as my only OS I would occasionally miss things or need things from Windows. Over the years it really just never comes up. When using other peoples windows there is an ridiculously long list of things I miss from my Debian desktop, but while using Debian I can't even think of the last time I truly missed something.

Rambo Tribble's picture

Who doesn't thrill to the prospect of loading a CD into their machine and having it take over? How can you live without having software you don't want automatically installed, your registry corrupted and more without so much as the press of a single button? Linux has a long way to go before it can claim to giving us the ease of use that allows people we don't even know to have more control over our machines than we do. Next thing you know they'll be giving Linux away for free. Listen, if people wanted control over their lives would George Bush be in the White House?

stoobers's picture
Submitted by stoobers on

I do not miss:
stupid system restores
long-winded upgrade and reformat procedures

I miss:
my old DOS games (though now I am running SCUMMVM)
the new games. When is someone going to release a 3d scripting game virtual machine?
The polish, fit and finish and consistency that winXP gui provides (though KDE is close).
fast web browser (ie or firefox are both WAY faster on windows XP, hands down.)

And, ironically, I miss having to buy new hardware. Under windows, I always had to buy new hardware to run something new. One time, I bought a wireless mouse and had to upgrade to XP to use the mouse (microsoft mouse!) Under Linux, you never really NEED to upgrade. Nothing ever really slows down. Older hardware seems to work just fine. I save tons of money. But before, I would buy new computer equipment every 2 years. Now I have the same old hardware, running as efficiently as ever. Cost effective, but a little dull: What kind of Christmas present shall I buy myself this year? That's right - nothing! Because I don't need anything.

There is rumor of an "open-source" graphic card. So if I buy that, I will never really need to upgrade my graphic card again (as the only reason I upgraded my old card was because ATI doesn't make XP/Linux drivers for it any more :( )

And I hear KDE4.0 will be faster than KDE3.5. That means my computer will actually speed up upon upgrade. At this rate, I am going to have to downgrade to a Pentium3. But I am looking forward to the up/downgrade to tiny little green computer that runs more slowly, using less power, but runs tighter, faster, cleaner and more reliable software more quickly than ever. That way, I can just leave it on all the time and have it always at hand.

And no, I am never going back to Windows. Never. Ever.

Thanks for reading!

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Ryan Cartwright's picture


Ryan Cartwright heads up Equitas IT Solutions who offer fair, quality and free software based solutions to the voluntary and community (non-profit) and SME sectors in the UK. He is a long-term free software user, developer and advocate. You can find him on Twitter and