Back in the fold

What's it been? Five years? That's when I left Ubuntu for Debian. Now I'm back.

Why did I leave? Canonical adopted a corporate 'we know best' approach to  Linux, establishing a strong brand and pitching a proprietary desktop, Unity, with a bunch of proprietary add-ons and a cavalier attitude to privacy which now seems quaint, old-fashioned and remarkably restrained.

As this seemed ominously like the foreshadowing of a Microsoft or Apple-style walled garden, I decided to jump ship for a cleaner, purer, less constrained upstream distribution - Debian.

It seemed to make sense - moving upstream but staying with the apt and deb package world that I understand much better than the alternatives.

While Debian Wheezy, Jessie and Stretch provided a stable and compatible base, with a choice of simple, uncluttered and non-Unity desktops, I hadn't bargained for the amount of command line messing that I had avoided with Ubuntu; or the extra reading around I had to do to get certain things working

Whilst Debian is well-established and has a large, active community, there's nothing like the sheer amount of technical help available on the Ubuntu side, and, surprisingly, a better spread of ported, compatible .deb packages. The frequent game of hit-and-hope trying to install software in Debian from downstream repos made Debian look fringe.

What eventually broke the camel's back? Two things; one was the announcement that Ubuntu was ditching Unity. Yes, I know I could install alternate desktops at any time, but there was always that clutter of Unity sitting in the background doing who knows what.

Second, when the time came for a new laptop, I suddenly found a massive problem with the Debian ISO's; try as I might, I couldn't get any of them to dual-boot in UEFI with Safe Boot alongside Windows 10.

There was a long dark night of the soul as I considered the options; ditching Windows 10 is a professional no-no, not to mention a support issue with clients and family. It's not easy being the 'knowledgable friend' who knows about IT and you don't get to turn your back on it that easily.

The other option seemed to be to ditch Linux altogether. Having read for half a PhD in UEFI without getting any closer to a successful boot, it seemed sensible to cut my losses and just not go there. However, this would have meant living full-time in the Microsoft ecosystem. I could continue with the Windows releases of Open Office, GIMP, VLC, Audacity and other applications and live full time in Firefox and Chromium. Meanwhile, every sight of that Windows boot screen would seem like a small act of surrender.

And the winner is...

Ubuntu. The first ISO image I tried booted first time with UEFI. I quickly replaced the desktop with Mate. A few issues with VirtualBox (of my own making, I realised) had me sifting through reams of help and suggestions at Ask Ubuntu and other Ubuntu support sites.

Almost as if I'd never been away, I was back in the fold. RC