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Four Years, Four Computer Ecosystems

Since 2013, I've given four different computer ecosystems a try as my daily computing environment. This is roughly one per year. Here are some thought about the experience. The idea was to fully immerse myself in each environment, using the defaults and the native applications and settings.  In each case, the applications I needed to do my day job were installed, as as follows:

  1. Basic operating system
  2. Office suite: word processing, spreadsheet, presentation builder
  3. Web browser
  4. Graphical email client
  5. Secure shell client
  6. Shared filesystem
  7. Photo/video manager

This is pretty much what anyone would need to do their job in a modern office environment.

2013: The Year of Debian

Ten years of using FreeBSD gives way to Debian Linux. I decided to go straight to Linux, which wasn't much of a stretch from FreeBSD and the unix-like environment. I used apt-get package management system to install all the necessary software. Originally, I tried the current Ubuntu release at the time. Ubuntu worked on more hardware and simply seemed to work fine. I spent a lot of time trying to get various packages to work with each other. The packages didn't seem to work well together, but I was able to be somewhat productive day after day. For the most part, everything just worked using the defaults. Here's what I used:

  1. Ubuntu and then Debian
  2. OpenOffice and then LibreOffice
  3. Firefox
  4. Thunderbird and then Sylpheed
  5. native openssh built into the operating system
  6. Ended up finding a graphical/FUSE Amazon S3 client
  7. F-Spot on Ubuntu, and then Digikam on Debian

2014: The Year of Windows 8

I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 which came with Windows 8 pre-installed. I never trust the pre-installed Windows, so I always wipe, reformat, and install my own copy of Windows. It was still Windows 8. The environment took some time to acclimate, but once I did, I found I was much more productive overall. Everything just worked, I got used to the way everything worked in Windows and amazingly started to like it. The Surface Pro 3 is a great piece of hardware. The capability to write on it with a stylus like a pen and a notebook became my default notepad. To the point where I rarely took notes with a pen and paper. My handwriting isn't neat enough for OCR, so finding notes and such took some time, but the ability to simply draw and write on just about any application became the most liked feature. Here's what I used:

  1. Windows 8
  2. Microsoft Office 365 installed locally
  3. Firefox
  4. Outlook
  5. Bitvise SSH
  6. Microsoft OneDrive
  7. Microsoft Photos

2015: The Year of Mac and OSX

Changing jobs brought me into the world of Apple. The last real Apple I owned and used as a daily computer was in 2001 when I had an old iMac and Macbook. This was a larger adjustment than I expected. Everything seemed different.I fought with Finder constantly, finally giving up and using Spotlight search for just about everything. The whole thing would beachball at times. Using the Apple apps was an exercise in re-learning everything. It took me forever to learn to use this well. Plus, the Macbook Pro I had was very heavy, and I dreaded carrying it on trips. I ended up giving up on some of the Apple apps and going to use what I used previously. Here's what I used:

  1. OSX Yosemite and then El Capitan
  2. Apple iWork apps, and then Microsoft Office 365 installed locally
  3. Safari and then Firefox
  4. and then Outlook and Sylpheed (for useless PGP needs)
  5. Native ssh built into OSX
  6. iCloud and then Microsoft OneDrive
  7. Apple Photos app

2016: The Year of ChromeOS, so far

After spending part of the summer of 2015 on a Chromebook while teaching kids to code, I started to really like this environment. Granted, it's all Chrome-based, but it works surprisingly well. The chromebook hardware is pretty solid but really cheap. Cheap enough if I break one while traveling, I can buy another one and be back online and productive within an hour. The chromebooks I've used have another advantage in being super light. They are barely noticeable to carry for hours. I created a straight Google account without gmail and most of the other google-y apps. Everything works together really well. Here's what I used:

  1. Google Chrome OS
  2. Google Docs
  3. Chrome
  4. Web-based mail clients
  5. ssh terminal for Chrome
  6. Google Drive
  7. Google Photos


Now that I'm essentially using Chrome, I find I have to use Microsoft Windows from time to time in a corporate environment. I've been experimenting with a few remote terminals/desktops running Windows. I simply use an RDP client to connect to them and work full screen on the chromebook without issue. This works well, even over the wifi in an airplane. I'll expand upon these experiments over time.

Quick Reflections

I'll continue to blog about experiences with each ecosystem here. The cheapest ecosystem from the perspective of financial outlays is the Ubuntu/Debian. Nearly everything you want is free. I found the time cost expensive. I've been using unix or unix-like operating systems since 1983. But using it in a modern office/work environment can work, but it's not optimal. The most expensive was Apple. Everything is a purchase, and takes some getting used to using. I suppose if I was a native Apple person, the conversion cost would not have been so high for me. I still never felt fully productive in OSX like I did in Windows and ChromeOS.

All in all, it's been a great experience over the past few years. I could probably get away with just using Chrome and Google Apps on any operating system at this point.

More to come in the future. Thanks for reading this far.

This article was updated on 2020/03/14 15:54:19