Lately, I've been getting bombarded by a very telling question. It's a question I've been asked over and over throughout the years, but never with the frequency and desperation that I'm seeing now. What is that question?
What alternatives to Windows are available?
This question is coming at me from all layers of the user space—from members of the business sector, single mothers, retirees, hipsters, metal-heads, gingers, and even the occasional character from Bloom County.
Why is this happening all of a sudden? The answer to that question should be quite obvious to most who follow technology. Microsoft has, over the last few years, blundered and squandered their popularity to an almost irreparable condition. Now, with the pending release of Windows 10, they hope to change that.
Honestly, they are trying. This new look Microsoft is mending bridges with a lot of groups, including the open-source community. But this isn't about trust or a shiny new leaf turned over by the once unstoppable juggernaut. This is about the court of public opinion and how sour it has turned on products delivered.
Consider this. The last widely accepted platform Microsoft produced was Windows 7. From there, it's been a very bumpy ride—one that has jettisoned users left and right. Add to this the fact that an ever-increasing number of consumers have evolved into mobile-only users, and you have the makings for trouble.
And that's where I come in... to answer the call of questions from users of all ilk. When someone asks the question, "What alternatives to Windows are available?" I answer simply "Linux."
I can already hear the groans. You've all heard it before. Linux is superior, more secure, more flexible, and reliable. The list goes on and on. But for some people, there's another answer that they're now anxious to hear. That answer? It's not Microsoft.
Okay, let's get this out of the way. I fully understand that businesses will continue to breath deep the oxygen that is Microsoft until they are blue in the face. That's not going to change any time soon. But I'm speaking to and about consumers—that cross section of humanity that doesn't require proprietary software to prevent the bottom line from bottoming out. I'm talking about an overwhelming amount of people that really only depend on a browser... those that would get by just fine with a Chromebook. For those people, the answer to the question is, undoubtedly, Linux.
Unless you can afford a Mac, which many cannot.
So, we're back to Linux... the affordable OS X.
It used to be that we'd all assume Microsoft operating system releases were like the Star Trek movies—the even numbered films were great, but the odd numbered, not so much.
- Windows 98—good
- Windows Me—not good
- Windows XP—good
- Windows Vista—Ugh
- Windows 7—good
- Windows 8—not good
- Windows 8.1—marginally good
- Windows 10—unknown
With the release of Windows 8, the regularity of dark and light side of the force (I'm mixing my metaphors, I know) has been challenged. Windows 8 was the beginning of the end for consumer faith in the Windows product line. Consumers have grown weary of fighting with their computers and the lack of assurance the machines will actually work the way they expect.
Linux will bring users a breath of fresh air. And that's why, at this point, I no longer hesitate to suggest that users give the Linux desktop a try. The time is right, the storm is perfect, the stars have aligned. And even if Windows 10 arrives to become the single most perfect operating system ever developed, Microsoft is looking at a very possible too little, too late scenario.
How can I say this? Simple. Over the years, 99% of the people that contacted me about using Linux as an alternative operating system were nerds, IT pros, and those in the know. Now? I'm getting contacted by your grandmother, your weird uncle, that lady with too many cats, and the adorable young couple who ride matching scooters everywhere they go. That's what's different this time around. Everyone is looking for an alternative—one that will allow them to check their email, get on Facebook, listen to music, toss a sideways glance toward their bank account, pay their bills, and watch videos. These are the people looking for a reliable alternative that won't require them to purchase new hardware, visit their local PC repair shop every other month, or spend an arm and a leg when their machine crashed every time they want to play Candy Crush or write a term paper.
The answer, the one they desperately want to hear, is that yes, there is an alternative—and that alternative is Linux. For example:
Each of these distributions (even the beta release of Solus) are ideal for users seeking an alternative to Windows. They have everything you need and nothing you don't. They are user-friendly and will get the job done. There is no cost associated with the platform, so you won't miss a meal to upgrade.
To put it simply, Linux is the answer. If you concur, what's your favorite distribution? If you don't agree, I'd love to hear your reason in the discussion thread below.
- Five Linux desktop distributions with a great future
- The Linux desktop battle (and why it matters)
- The real convergent desktop: Data over interface
- GNOME 3.16 could possibly be the most polished iteration of the Linux desktop to date
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.