Every so often, I like to step back and look at what I've done and think about what's the next thing I should update. I have 6 physical machines that make up my homelab. 2 of them run FreeBSD, 4 of them run Debian, and 3 of those 4 Debian instances are Proxmox. Then there's my desktop which is still running Windows 10 and does not qualify for Windows 11. That means I have about two years left before my OS stops getting patched. I've talked about switching to something that's not Windows for a few months, but it was something I would get around to when I needed to, and I just haven't needed to yet. I've got a couple of years. Sure, I'm a big fan of Linux in general, but I've been using Windows since I was a kid. I know it very well, and it's what I'm used to. It's comfortable. It's easy. Yes, Microsoft has repeatedly introduced features that I have to put effort into disabling, but those were minor inconveniences compared to switching to a completely different operating system. What if my games don't run? It's just not worth the hassle.
In an effort to ChatGPT all the things, Microsoft released Edge version 111.0.1661.41 which introduced "A New Microsoft Edge Sidebar" that no one asked for. Almost overnight, the internet exploded with pages offering ways to remove the button using registry edits, which aren't usually a problem but can be potentially dangerous to system stability. Now, I've used Edge because it's Chromium-based and it's convenient. I'm already on Windows, so it's not like I'm hiding anything from Microsoft. I also use Firefox about equally as much. I've been a fan of Firefox since before the days of Rapid Release, and it's my primary browser on my phone (because I want as little Google as possible, but that's for another day). Anyway, I'm looking at this button, and I tack that onto an ever-growing list of features Microsoft has forced on its end-users:
Microsoft also did itself no favors by releasing Windows 11 with even more features that no one asked for, like additional ads, and requiring that the hardware it runs on be no more than 2 or 3 years old. For me, it was time to embrace the desktop experience Linux has to offer.
So, off I go researching Linux desktop environments and various distros. It's been a while since the popular options were either Gnome or KDE. Now there's Gnome, KDE, Mate, Cinnamon, Xfce, and a dozen others, and they're all good in their own way. Most everything I use is Debian-based, so I really tried to stay towards Debian-based distros... with one exception: Manjaro. I was plesantly surprised at how wonderful Manjaro was to use. Thanks to my Nvidia video card, getting drivers working that are good enough to game on is a painful trial-and-error process with the conclusion generally being "Just use the proprietary drivers." Manjaro bakes this process in and makes it very nice. It's not the only distro to do this, but since it's probably furthest from my comfort zone (pacman instead of apt, cutting-edge kernels instead of ole reliable, etc) but was such a good experience, it's totally worth mentioning. If I ever get hardware that's just too new for Debian, I will definitely give Manjaro another try.
I'm a fan of Debian and, in general, Debian-based distros... with one somewhat surprising exception: I do not like Ubuntu. With the release of 20.04, the networking was so impossible to configure that I had to abandon it. Since then, Ubuntu has leaned heavily into snap packages, and it feels like Canonical is really trying to control their own ecosystem like the Apple Store, Windows Store, Google Play Store, and all the others out there do. I'm quite simply not a fan. This is especially unfortunate, because the most recommended Linux distro for leaving Windows is Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu. I've used Linux Mint before, and I've never found anything wrong with it other than where Ubuntu goes, Mint follows... or so I thought.
Then I stumbled onto LMDE, short for "Linux Mint, Debian Edition. Its goal is to ensure Linux Mint can continue to deliver the same user experience if Ubuntu was ever to disappear." Oh really? "LMDE aims to be as similar as possible to Linux Mint, but without using Ubuntu. The package base is provided by Debian instead." You mean, I can enjoy Linux Mint without depending on Ubuntu? I'm in love! Did I have any problems? Well, yes, but they were definitely first-world problems. I ran the live USB for about 30 seconds before I decided to go for the install. Installation was painless. The welcome screen gives you the option to toggle between light mode and dark mode, choose how you want your panel (think Windows Taskbar) to look, and get into things with the Update Manager, System Settings, and Software Manager. Now's a great time to pick on Ubuntu again. I'm not a fan of any distro that picks its own package manager to be the end-all-be-all like Ubuntu does with snap. This is where I really like LMDE. Packages can come from Linux Mint or Debian package repositories, or they could be Flatpaks from Flathub!
After a reboot, I was running Linux Mint, Debian Edition, and everything just worked... except for gaming. This is where Manjaro is probably better suited, but I wanted Debian-based not Arch-based. With my strict requirements, it was time to roll up my sleeves and put in the effort. After several hours of reading and following instructions and even reimaging a couple of times, I learned that:
After getting this all figured out, I can launch the games I'm most likely to play in Linux with minimal issue. One game has some occasional stuttering, but it's not so bad that the experience is ruined.
I've been running Linux for about a week, and honestly I don't obviously see that I've switched. Web pages are more immersive without the ever-expanding distractions Microsoft adds to Edge (I'm only using Firefox). The panel is smaller than the Windows task bar and is resizable. By default, the panel only shows on the primary monitor but can be added to multiple monitors and configured to show as much or as little as desired. Sound can be finicky at times, but that's because I switch between a headset and a bluetooth speaker. Windows did not struggle with this, and I can probably fix it after reading up a bit, but it's so minor that I haven't bothered yet. Outside of games, almost every app I ran in Windows runs in Linux with no additional effort. Some apps, like Greenshot, have a Linux alternative that does the same thing but a different way that takes getting used to. Overall, I think I'm happy with the move and will stick with it. Microsoft will have to do something really compelling to get me to pay $100+ to buy their operating system that just doesn't offer anything special beyond a better driver installation and easier gaming experience.