Perhaps it's time for a first review (warning: not everything ahead will please diehard GNU/Linux fanbois). I should also add this is a journey and that these remarks reflect the state of play as of today. There will changes as (hopefully) my know-how expands, existing software gets better and new software becomes available.
1. The Good
The good news is that MX Linux is mostly capable to be a replacement for my Windows 7 installation. The main positive points I took away from my year-long exploration are:
- Frugal installation mode and the persistence/snapshot tools of MX are in a league of their own. This toolset is one of the top reasons why I chose MX.
- wine is a lot better than I thought it would be (mind you, I am no gamer and I am using pretty basic stuff, like IrfanView or foobar2k both of which have been tuned by their respective developers to run well under wine).
- For those pesky Windows apps for which I can't find an (acceptable) Linux replacement and that won't run under wine I have a full 32-bit Windows 7 guest running in a VirtualBox VM. I suspect that this will be used less and less in the long run but there are still a number of programs I can only use in that VM. (An added bonus is watching the Aaahs and Ooohs of friends or acquaintances when they first see my MX Linux install (on a fast 128GB USB3 stick) boot on their PCs and then me starting a complete copy of my Windows 7 installation in a VirtualBox VM, full screen.)
- In certain areas, the hardware support of MX seems somewhat better than that of Windows 7. For instance, I have often trouble to get Bluetooth running on laptops. So far, Bluetooth has worked OOTB wherever I booted MX.
- I spend a lot of time in a command line environment; under DOS/Windows I have for ages used a CLI called 4DOS/4NT/TCC over the decades (now part of TakeCommand by JPSoft). This has, from the word go, been light years ahead of CMD.EXE (OK, so this isn't saying much). Bash is not bad as a CLI but zsh is blowing both TCC and bash out of the water. A real gem.
- Continuing the CLI theme, the depth, flexibility and ease of use of the available CLI tools and utilities is superb. There's almost nothing in the way of administrative tasks that I can't do (or automate) with a shell script or three and/or a quick Python hack.
- By far my biggest gripe is Linux USB support. Copying $BIG_DATA (dozens to 100+ of GB) from/to USB sticks is significantly slower than doing the same copy job on exactly the same hardware under Windows 7. There are some mitigations but I am still wary of doing that. In fact, I might have to keep Windows 7 (or a stripped-down Windows PE install) in a dual-boot scenario for the purpose of these copy jobs.
- Probably the same underlying problem... formatting certain USB sticks as ext3/4 sometimes takes almost an hour (no typo). Some sticks work reasonably well and are almost as fast as in Windows but others (even branded ones like Kingston or Sandisk) are downright unusable. Again, none of those sticks ever showed that problem in Windows on the same hardware. I can only assume that something in Linux' USB handling is broken (I do not think this is specifically an MX problem, other live distros I've tried showed similar behaviour. I've also tested this with different kernels, including Liquorix, to no avail.).
- For many programs I use under W7 there are virtually identical Linux versions (ie VeraCrypt, VirtualBox, XnViewMP, various browsers, kdiff3, FreeFileSync, ...). However, for many others there's just no comparable Linux equivalent. Often there is something but that something is just not as reliable/powerful/polished as the Windows app. Just two examples: Keepass v2 and a tool called Drive Snapshot. KeepassXC is not bad at all but it is clearly not as good as the Windows original (for one thing there's no internal viewer for attachments). As to Drive Snapshot, there is simply no better imaging (in the Clonezilla sense) tool around, whatever your OS. For a mere 400KB program its capabilities, including imaging ext2/3/4/Reiser/XFS partitions, are just amazing (actually, Drive Snapshot is another reason why I will have to keep some version of Windows 7 as a dual-boot install for the foreseeable future).
- A related observation is that the sheer choice of applications, tools and utilities for Windows is much, much greater than for Linux. This means that there's almost always an app out there that does its job in *exactly* the way I want it, simple or complex. Sure, over time this will change, as more and better software becomes available for Linux but for the time being this is a definite disadvantage.
- I find the lack of an easy-to-use standard application-level firewall a real omission. No amount of well-meaning arguments will ever convince me that for a Linux system this is not necessary... malware/adware/spyware does exist for all platforms and with more and more people using Linux it will become a more and more attractive target for miscreants of all sorts. So AFAIC there's a handful of carefully chosen apps that I want to give internet access... all the rest has no business whatsoever on the net. Trust is perhaps good, control is definitely better.
- In two words... GUI apps. I find many if not most GUI applications under Linux a lot less appealing than under Windows. The reasons are manifold (some are found in the Ugly section). If I compare the ease of use, flexibility and yes, the magnificent if sometimes merciless elegance of most GNU/Linux CLI tools with the mish-mash, inconsistency and hotchpotch that is Linux GUI applications... no wonder I prefer the CLI:-/ (Actually, I find it deeply ironic that the Unix CLI culture where the keyboard reigned supreme has given rise to such an unsatisfactory state in the GUI arena.)
- (Not really a bad point but an interesting observation IMHO.) MX on relatively old or underpowered hardware (ie netbooks) is palpably slower than both Windows XP and 7.
Well... here we enter the realm of the IMHOs and YMMVs as one man's ugliness is often another man's beauty. Anyway, here goes... two main points:
- MX GUI apps (especially GTK stuff) are often a lot less polished and smooth than similar Windows offers. Two things especially bug me: programs that just do not save their window positions/sizes, UI layouts, listbox column arrangements and similar such options. The other is the lack of consistent and reliable keyboard shortcuts in *all* dialog and message boxes. In general I am not a great fan of point-and-click (some people hate CLIs, others hate mice), and I have to reach for this $%£!*&@$ mouse much more often in MX than in Windows. I also find that usage of UI elements is often pretty inconsistent across programs.
- Fonts. Many apps (chromium-based browsers are prime suspects but there are others) produce dead-ugly screen output somewhat reminiscent of X/motif-based workstations of old. No amount of googling, theme tweaking or changing options gives me a fully satisfactory display: whatever I do, some apps will look well and others 'orrible. OK, so on smaller displays (say 1366x768 on a travel laptop) I normally switch off anti-aliasing... however I also do that under Windows and the font display is significantly clearer than anything that I can achieve in MX. With larger displays (eg full HD) the effect is less noticeable.
- (Out on a limb here.) I have a feeling that some of the UI "troubles" I am experiencing have to do with GTK and the way it was designed and works. I know very little about the various UI toolkits available for Linux but I have a vague sense that GTK apps tend to be less consistent and "well-looking" than QT apps. I may be utterly wrong here, maybe it's more a case of the specific mix of apps I have installed. Then again, perhaps a respin with say LXQT would be an interesting thing to try...
- As with any new system, there's some stuff that doesn't work, a bootload of stuff I want to change, other stuff that needs tinkering... no problem, there's always Google. Well... that's true but only up to a point. There are so many different GNU/Linux variants (and variants of variants...) that many perfectly valid solutions turn out to be dead ends. After a while you get a feeling what might or might not work... but this is nevertheless one of the most frustrating aspects of GNU/Linux.("The learning curve is steep, about as steep as the Eiger Nordwand." "True. But if you survive... what a view from the top!" Well... hopefully I will agree with that if I survive scaling the heights )