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Escape from big tech companies - 1 year away from Microsoft Windows

alevoski
I’m a young cyber security engineer eager to learn new things. I code a lot during my free time.
・5 min read

[This is my first article of a series about escaping "big tech" companies, sometime referred as GAFAM.
My goal is to see if you can efficiently and simply use information and communications technology without the big IT providers like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Dropbox and Amazon.
What are the alternatives ? Could they be open source ? Are they usable for everyone ? How much does they cost ? Do they respect your privacy ?
I am not the first to write something about this subject and I will not be the last I hope !
]

It has been a year since I moved from Windows to Linux for a daily use. In this article I will explain why I did that, what are the benefits and the drawbacks.

I was a Windows user for several years, remembering the good old days of Windows 95/98 with a touch of nostalgia.
Then it was the XP time for quite long and after a frustrating moment with Vista I stayed with 7 almost 10 years.

7 was quite an OS, very easy to use as a simple user and also easy to set as an IT guy.
8 then 10 came, I tested them but I was not convinced (you will see later why).
So I directly switched back to 7.
Then, in January 2020, Microsoft eventually dropped support of this great OS.
It means no more security updates ! I was faced with a dilemma :

  • Do I take the risk to stay with a no more patched OS with all the security risk it includes ?
  • Do I finally migrate to 10 and suffer at home all the issues I face everyday at work ? (Coincidentally, I am sticked with Windows 10 in my professional life.)
  • Do I migrate to Linux and say goodbye forever to Windows ?

One thing was certain, I could not stay with a not updated OS !
Okey, no more 7 but at this state I was not able to make a decision. I needed some more thinking.

Why I don't want Windows 10 ?

  • Very poor update service : I don't know anybody who likes to be interrupted in a middle of something and forced to have their computer rebooted for an update !
  • Performance : 10 can take many resources in order to run. And some software like Firefox could eat literally all your RAM if you open more than 10 tabs... I don't want to buy a new computer to stay updated !
  • Not very secure : It is a known fact that the majority of viruses / malware are targeting Windows OS or software Windows version (it depends of course of the usage, I am sure a well managed Windows will not be hacked that easily).
  • Not privacy oriented : many trackers are installed by default
  • Far too fancy : I just cannot take the modern interface !
  • Too much unnecessary thing by default : why all this non needed preinstalled software ? (Cortana, OneDrive and many apps)
  • Proprietary : I want to use as much as possible open source OS and software
  • Compatibility : I found after installing 10 on some (not that) old computers that it's simply not usable (loop reboot, freezing screen, etc), like I am beta testing an OS I bought !

Why and how everyday am I using a computer or what is my daily use ?

  • To surf the web, enjoying streamed videos and musics, editing office documents, reading/writing emails, chating with my friends including videoconferencing, coding stuffs and virtualizing, backuping some files in the cloud somewhere, sometimes gaming.
  • I respect as much as possible security best practices by staying up to date, not installing any kind of software I don't really need, encrypting my system, most of my data and also my passwords.

More precisely, what kind of software do I use on Windows and what are their equivalents on Linux ?

  • Web surfing : there is Firefox or Chrome !
  • Cloud clients : you can find all sort of cloud sync tools (ie rclone), I use Nextcloud and there is a Linux client for it : nice
  • Office work : there is Libre Office and many PDF viewer, Freemind, LateX !
  • Coding : Atom is a very good replacement of Notepad++ and many programming languages are available
  • Emails : there is Thunderbird if I want my emails when I am offline
  • IM/Videoconf : almost all chat services I have ever tested (Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal) have a web version and some have a Linux version
  • Video/music : there is VLC which can read almost all format you want
  • Virtualization : there are many virtualization softwares like KVM, Virtualbox or simply virt-manager.
  • Manage remote systems : SSH client (replace putty)
  • Files transfert : scp and tftp and if you want a GUI use Filezilla (replace winscp)
  • VPN clients : many VPN providers have a Linux version of their clients
  • Encryption : You can use Luks to do a full disk encryption (natively), use Vera Crypt to have safe container, KeepassXC to store your passwords
  • Games : I am not playing as much I used to do but there is a Linux version of Steam and it can run many games very well thanks to the Proton emulator

At this state of thinking, I knew I could migrate to Linux without regret but one question remained : what distribution to choose ?
I need performance and reliability in an handy system, I tested some Linux OS :

  • Ubuntu : Work well !
  • CentOS : Work well too but it remembered me too much of a Linux OS I used at work
  • Linux Mint : yeah quite right but it lakes some packages in their repo (note : I use it daily as a nomad setup)
  • Debian : yeah that the thing I am talking about !

Pros :

  • Package/software management is wonderfully simple and it doesn't need to reboot your system : magic !

To update your OS and your software :

apt update
apt upgrade
apt full-upgrade
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To uninstall a software and its dependencies and to remove unnecessary packages :

apt purge
apt autoremove
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  • A computer much more responsive than with Windows (even with 30+ Firefox tabs !) and very quick to start up and to shut down
  • I found all the software equivalents I needed and they all work as expected
  • The native multiple workspaces ! (ok 10 too can do that but Linux was first)
  • It's free and open source (of course) !
  • It won't play with your privacy

Some cons because nothing is perfect :

  • Debian : at the beginning I had difficulties with microphone support during videoconf
  • Mint : after a long time running (several days without reboot), the system sometime lost its Internet connection

To conclude, I found Debian and Mint far better for a daily use than Windows 10, that's all I wanted !

Things to consider before migration :

  • you are an IT guy/gal and/or you like to learn : go Debian, have in mind you need to use the terminal for some basics operations like update/upgrade/install
  • you are a regular user and/or you want an OS very easy to use : go Linux Mint (normally you won't have to use the Linux terminal), nice gui update manager
  • you use specific software like Adobe Premier : test the Linux equivalents (in a virtual machine) before migration !

In all case, Google Duckduckgo is your friend !

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