Migrating from Windows to Linux at Home and Work
I’m currently in the process of trying to migrate from Windows 10 to Linux, both at home (desktop and laptop) and work (desktop).
A few drivers behind this:
- I’m in the middle of studying for the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHSCA) certification, and felt I really needed to immerse myself daily in a Linux OS. Occasionally dual-booting or spinning up a VM during study isn’t really cutting it. It’s time to dive straight in.
- I’ve begun digging down into the deep dark rabbit hole that is online privacy, security and anonymity. For every passageway you discover, it seems to lead to two or three more…
- As I’ve been studying for the RHCSA, I’ve genuinely been impressed with many aspects of the Linux OS; the ease of installing from trusted repositories, the speed of cat/grep/VI, a sane updating experience etc.
- About 10% of servers in my work environment are Linux, and I want to be more skilled in managing them.
This post isn’t going to go into the tired debate of comparing Windows/Linux in terms of stability, security, ease of use etc. This will focus on what I think is one of the biggest personal challenges to migrating, and that is finding Linux alternatives for the Windows software you’ve come to know and be familiar with.
Operating System – Microsoft Windows 10 to Linux Mint 20 Ulyana
Of course the first step is choosing a Linux distro. Not having much previous experience with Linux, I fired up a few VMs simultaneously to have a play around with them as a home desktop: Mint, Ubuntu, Debian and even CentOS. CentOS was an early drop-out; while it would have been nice to use in terms of being the closest OS to the RHCSA exam material, some software I wanted to use lacked RPM packages. Mint felt light, snappy, and somewhat familiar coming from Windows, so I went with that. Mostly gut feeling, I’m not opposed to changing in the near future.
Browser – Microsoft IE/Google Chrome to Mozilla Firefox
I’ve been a long time Chrome user, and can’t really complain about it in terms of performance, usability and stability, despite it occasionally being a RAM hog. It is however a Google product, a company I’m also migrating away from (Gmail, Google Drive and search engine). Chrome has also unnerved me a few times with its location services when I wasn’t aware such information was being provided. Whether an inherent feature of the browser or just my own laziness in reviewing security settings, I wanted a change to something more privacy orientated. The less said about IE the better, but like many corporate environments it’s the most widely used browser in our company (soon to be replaced by Chromium Edge thankfully, which I’ve had a good experience with so far). I’ve been using Firefox for a few weeks now, and am very happy with the privacy-first direction it seems to take. Combined with NordVPN and DuckDuckGo as the default search engine, it feels like a far less “monitored” browsing experience.
Text Editor – Notepad++ to VI
Initially I was a bit disappointed that there is no Linux build of Notepad++ available. I’ve found Notepad++ to be essential as a sysadmin in a Windows environment, particularly when dealing with large text/log files. I tried out Notepadqq, which is intended as an open source alternative to Notepad++, and that seemed an ok substitute. Over the the past few weeks though, I’ve come to the realisation that Notepad++ primarily exists due to how poor Windows Notepad is at handling large files. VI has been able to handle everything I’ve thrown at it so far, to the point where I don’t need any other editor.
Remote Desktop – MSTSC to Remmina
More relevant at work than at home, Remmina seems like the most popular Windows MSTSC alternative for Linux. There are a few niggling issues I’m still looking to resolve, like inconsistent window auto-sizing being and a generally slower login experience, but I can see myself being happy enough with Remmina.
SSH – PuTTY to native SSH
It sure is nice to launch a terminal and be able to SSH straight into a box. Not a whole lot of features I’m going to miss from PuTTY, although I’ve still to explore switch physical console connectivity from a Linux laptop.
Online Storage – Microsoft OneDrive/Google Drive to Synology Drive
I’ve detailed this migration in a previous blog (https://defaultroot.com/index.php/2020/07/31/self-hosted-online-storage-with-synology-drive/), and while Synology Drive isn’t open source, native or exclusive to Linux, getting away from large corporations storing my personal documents/information was a big push behind moving to Linux, so I’ve included it here. In short, Synology Drive is an excellent and better performing alternative to OneDrive/Google Drive if you’re willing to invest in the hardware and time to set it up.
Synced Online Notes – Microsoft OneNote to Synology Note Station
In a similar vein to Synology Drive, I wanted to move my synced online notes away from Microsoft. Synology Note Station did the job, and let me move away completely from OneNote (which, I have to admit, is one of Microsoft’s better applications).
Email – Microsoft Outlook/Google Gmail to GNOME Evolution
A work in progress, but Evolution mail client has been a good alternative to Outlook in our Exchange environment at work. Sure, it takes some getting use to a new mail client after so many years using Outlook, but initial impressions are positive. From a home perspective, I’ve begun work on moving away from Gmail and hosting my own mail server. It’s proving challenging for a number of reasons, but I hope to post more about this in the near future.
Anti-Virus – From Windows Defender/Malwarebytes to…nothing?!
So this is still a difficult one for me to be completely comfortable with, and everybody is familiar with the general opinion on this, but it genuinely seems accepted that you do not need to run AV on a Linux OS. A lack of malware/viruses targeting Linux, software installed from trusted repositories, and a culture of limiting root usage are all cited as reasons not to need AV. And although you will always be susceptible to directly targeted attacks, there is a certain amount of comfort knowing that the majority of viruses, worms and malware will be ineffective against your machine. I won’t miss CPU-crunching scans, notifications and pop-up subscription offers either.
The following applications that I use regularly all have native Linux versions, so no painful migration required. I haven’t tested all of the following, but initial impressions are that they will be like-for-like with their Windows counterpart: Visual Studio Code, Spotify, TeamViewer, GNS3, NordVPN (excellent on Linux, lacks the “pretty” world map, but is far quicker and easier to use), VMware Workstation.
And some applications which on the surface don’t appear to have native Linux versions, but may possibly run under Wine or have acceptable FOSS alternatives: Photoshop, VCE Reader, Visio, IceCream EPub Reader, Pro Tools, KeePass.
And the ugly…
And finally, the applications that unfortunately may prove to be a show stopper for running Linux on my work PC:
- PowerShell. It feels like this is so close, yet so far. PowerShell is of course now available for Linux in the form of PowerShell Core, but it is seemly very limited for managing remote Windows machines. Working on remote servers certainly seems possible from what I’ve read online, but painful to get working due to domain authentication issues. If I could use remote PowerShell commands on Linux to manage a Windows Server environment I would wipe my Windows workstation in a heartbeat (maybe Microsoft know this is common thinking!) Still some research to do on this.
- Microsoft Office. Love it or loathe it, when a company is heavily embedded in the MS Office ecosystem, it’s difficult to stand alone against that tide. While Office isn’t a huge part of my day, I’ve already come up with compatibility issues on spreadsheets that have been sent my way, and it’s going to take some work to replace Visio for network diagrams.
- Dameware. This is the remote desktop client we use at work for staff PCs. While I don’t need to remote onto user desktops very often, the lack of a means to do so will likely prove very awkward.
Migrating from Windows 10 to Linux is well on its way for me at home; my laptops are already fully Linux Mint, and my trusty desktop will be following suit shortly.
Unfortunately in work, where I manage a predominately Windows environment, is a completely different story. There are some real challenges to managing Windows systems from Linux, and as much as I am beginning to love many aspects of the Linux OS, I can’t see myself using a Linux desktop at work if it means having to keep another Windows desktop on standby any time I want to use PowerShell or Microsoft Office. I’m still holding out and researching, and am currently using a Linux Mint VM in work as much as possible, but I feel it may be a losing battle!