My escape from Windows hell

23 Aug 2023 - Frans Vanhaelewijck

Windows hell

This blog post describes my transition from Microsoft Windows to Linux as my primary operating system. Spoiler alert: Though I am not a technical wizard, I successfully made the switch. But Microsoft Office is still a show-stopper. Below are the challenges I faced with Windows and how Linux emerged as a superior alternative for my needs.

The Struggles with Windows

One of my main concerns with Microsoft Windows is its packaging and initial setup. The default installation comes cluttered with programs, settings, and advertisements that I neither need nor want, detracting from its core function as an operating system. Microsoft seems to prioritize promotional content over user experience, which is frustrating.

Another issue is the operating system’s instability. Approximately every six months, I find myself needing to reinstall Windows to maintain optimal performance. Although automation tools like Chocolatey ease the process, the frequent necessity for a clean install remains a significant inconvenience.

Security is another concern. The constant need for antivirus protection indicates a fundamental vulnerability. Despite these safeguards, the OS remains susceptible to malware and potential hacking attempts, undermining my confidence in its reliability for professional or personal tasks.

Making the Switch to Linux

Motivated by my concerns with Windows, I transitioned to Linux Mint. Even without a technical background, I overcame challenges by researching and reading online guides. Overall, the switch has been positive.

The Microsoft Office Dilemma

However, one significant obstacle was Microsoft Office. Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are indispensable for someone with my user profile, especially when collaborating with others who also use Microsoft products. In business contexts, it’s generally assumed that presentations will be in PowerPoint, and text documents will be in Word. Excel is the go-to for tasks involving complex calculations, expense tracking, and cash flow analysis. This makes it challenging to fully transition away from it.

I explored open-source alternatives like OnlyOffice and LibreOffice. But these packages are missing too many features, making them unsuitable for replacing Microsoft Office for complex tasks.

Bridging the Gap: MS Office on Linux

I explored several options to combine Microsoft Office with Linux. Notable among these are Wine, a compatibility layer for running Windows applications on Linux, and other products like Fmstrat’s winapps and CrossOver. However, these solutions have their own limitations.

I also tried the online version of Microsoft Office, but it lacks some critical features. Another worry with the online version is the integration with OneDrive for file storage. Although OneDrive is efficient, it doesn’t align with my preference for storing files locally on my own disk, where I have full control over backups. The constant need to download, store, and re-upload files between your local folders and OneDrive is cumbersome and is basically a recipe for disaster.

The Dual-Boot Conundrum

Another alternative was a dual-boot setup, switching between Linux and a Windows partition as needed. But this turns out to be impractical and time-consuming. Switching between operating systems disrupts the flow of work and consumes valuable time.

Virtual Machines: The Final Frontier

VirtualBox is the most accessible option for running a Windows guest Operating System on a Linux host. The software is open-source and performs well. However, it has two significant limitations that became show-stoppers.

  1. Firstly, I didn’t succeed in setting up shared folders between my Linux host system and the Windows guest system within VirtualBox. This disrupted the ease with which I could move files between the two environments.
  2. Secondly, clipboard sharing was notably absent. Capturing a screenshot on Linux and pasting it into a Word document in the VirtualBox Windows environment proved to be unfeasible, which further limited its practicality for my workflow.

I finally settled on VMware for integrating Windows into my Linux setup. I created a small Windows virtual machine with the sole purpose of running Microsoft Office and 1 or 2 other Windows-only products. VMware enables me to map my local Linux drives as network disks within the Windows guest system. This arrangement allows me to easily open and save files located on my Linux partition directly from Microsoft Word within the Windows environment.

An additional benefit is the seamless clipboard sharing. I can effortlessly capture screenshots in the Linux environment and paste them into my Office documents. Moreover, VMware offers a highly responsive window resizing feature that communicates directly with the Windows guest system, enabling an almost seamless user experience. This proved to be a far more practical and efficient solution for my specific requirements.

Resource Management: A Minor Glitch

One caveat to using Microsoft Windows is its impact on system resources. Occasionally, I forget that the Windows virtual machine is running in the background. This becomes apparent when my laptop’s fan starts working overtime, a clear indication that the Windows environment is consuming substantial resources, typically while doing nothing at all. When that happens, I just smile, think about the dark times when I was still fully dependent on Windows, and quickly suspend the virtual machine. Sure enough, 1 minute later the fan stops making noise.

Conclusion: Linux for the Less Technical

The transition to Linux is not only for tech experts. It’s entirely feasible for those less technical as well. Consider making Linux your primary operating system. A Windows guest environment can be efficiently managed via VMware Workstation or VMware Player, complete with Microsoft Office and any other specialized Windows-only software you may need. Making this switch has certainly contributed to my overall satisfaction and effectiveness.