Reinstall Windows XP, or Switch to Ubuntu?

My computer is getting old and tired. More precisely, Windows XP is getting old and tired. As you may know, Windows is notorious for getting more and more bogged down over time, leading to a slow, clogged, and unresponsive computer.

The machine itself is four years old, but I bought at the front of the pack, so its specs are still fairly respectable (2.6 GHz Pentium 4 with 1 GB RAM). That’s certainly adequate for my needs, which primarily include Web browsing, email, light word processing, and some photo editing with Paintshop Pro.

But oh, does it feel old and tired. I know that a reinstall of the operating system (meaning a complete wipe of the hard drive, reformatting, and reinstall) would make it like new again. Or I could give up on Windows altogether and switch to Linux Ubuntu, an idea that appeals highly to the contrarian in me.

For the record, Windows Vista is out of the question, as is switching to Mac – at least for now. All I want is to squeeze another 12-18 months out of this machine, at which time I will quite likely go Mac.

But in the meantime, I’m not sure which route to take. Here’s how it stands as I see it:

Switch to Ubuntu; Pros

  • Stick it to Microsoft. Good riddance!
  • Free! Easily upgradeable. Lots of nice free, open source applications available.
  • Faster to leave hard drive alone and install Ubuntu than to reformat and reinstall Windows.
  • Supposedly, using the WINE Windows emulator means I could still run most Windows applications (but it is unclear just how convenient – or not – that would be).

Switch to Ubuntu; Cons

  • It means I have to find, and learn, substitutes for some of the applications I use (e.g., HTML editor, file backup utility, photo editor, iTunes, etc.).
  • My scanner is absolutely, unequivocally, not supported by any flavour of Linux. (Thanks a heap, Canon. Canon is on record as having no interest in supporting Linux for any of their products.)
  • I don’t know if the custom features for my keyboard and mouse will work.
  • I don’t know if there is a “suspend” mode that is as reliable as what I’m used to (I use “suspend” on a daily basis).
  • Although it is quick to install, it will probably take me weeks to get fully up to speed as I endlessly track down the various tweaks, applications, and goodies I need to make it work the way I want.

Reinstall Windows XP; Pros

  • No surprises. Once the job is done, it’s business as usual except faster and smoother.
  • Although the reinstall will be slower than installing Ubuntu, the whole process will be faster in the long run.
  • I get to keep using the apps I like.

Reinstall Windows XP; Cons

  • I don’t get to stick it to Microsoft.
  • I don’t get to knotch up my geek quotient.
  • Assurance of having a really bad day, as the process of dealing with Windows, multiple updates, multiple software installs, multiple reboots, etc., is sure to throw me into a tailspin of anger and despair.

I’ll probably do one or the other next weekend. Please vote in the poll below to help me decide.

[poll=2]

(One vote per IP address. If you see the results but no voting buttons, you – or someone else at your IP address – have already voted.)

28 thoughts on “Reinstall Windows XP, or Switch to Ubuntu?

  1. I am in the same mode some times… I am not a fan of going Linux, I’d rather go mac.. I am more in the reinstall XP or not mode…

  2. If you stick it to Windows, can we buy your old XP (if possible with licensing and such). You may think you’re old, but our eight year old computer is running around the web naked with Windows 98. Apparently 98 is too old to be supported by various antivirus software.

  3. I’m a long-time Kubuntu user (the KDE variant of Ubuntu) and I really enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the Linux environment over both Mac and Windows. It’s a perfectly fine platform for any user with the type of needs you describe. I’d encourage you to give it a try since you sound like you’d be pretty patient with the transition. The community surrounding Ubuntu is huge as well, which gives you a lot of troubleshooting resources if you run in to an issue.

    As for Windows dependencies, WINE works decently for many apps…I’ve used to play WoW and to run a handful of Windows-only apps with only minor issues with things like fonts. But of course while WINE works pretty well, the level at which it supports various APIs differs so it’s best to check the AppDB (http://appdb.winehq.org/) for issues with any critical apps you have dependencies on.

    All that said, if you’re already sure you’re going Mac, what about a Mac Mini? They are only ~$600. And maybe your iTunes playlists would transfer too. If you feel bad about your current hardware going to waste you could always install Linux on it and make a file server for mp3s and photos, or you could donate it.

  4. Man, the fact that Canon doesn’t support Linux just blows big rocks, and pretty much would eliminate my migration to Linux.

  5. Thanks for the info, RS. The truth is, I’m really quite excited about the idea of getting away from the Microsoft/Apple dictatorships, so Ubuntu sounds better every day. I just don’t want to end up shooting myself in the foot.

    I checked the Wine database you linked to and it wasn’t very helpful. For Paint Shop Pro they only considered the situation from the point of view of trying to install and run the software. What about if the software is already installed? (If I go the Ubuntu route, I will not uninstall Windows; I’ll just partition it off so I have the option of booting it if I need to, although it will always be a pain in the ass to do so).

  6. Howdy!

    I’ve done the Ubuntu thing – and the most painful part was thinking about it. It truly is painless, and easy. Promise.

  7. I vote for reinstalling Windows XP until you get your next machine. Then decide Vista, Linux, or Mac.

    The kicker is the idea of running WINE in order to use your Windows applications. If it’s Windows apps you need, then why add the unnecessary layer? Just so you can start over with an unfamiliar UI?

    Same goes for the possibility of one day switching to Mac. Sure, it’s great that you can run Windows-only apps on a Mac, but if the bulk of your time will be spent doing that, there’s not much point in switching.

    If your work does not depend on Word or FrameMaker or Adobe CS, and especially if the bulk of your work is web-based, then switching to Linux is appealing. Otherwise, I suspect it will be a productivity sinkhole.

  8. For reference, I use Ubuntu on a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4, with 2.5 GB of RAM, and it runs perfectly fine. It was pretty slow when I only had 512 MB of RAM, but 1 GB should be fine.

    It sounds like what you really want to do is try out the Ubuntu Live CD. It’s probably what you’d use to install Ubuntu anyway, but before you mess with your hard drive, you can boot off the CD to check whether suspend works with your hardware, your keyboard works, see if you like the UI at all, etc. It runs a bit slower than if you installed it, and all your changes go away when you reboot unless you’ve got a USB drive to save them on, but otherwise it’s just like running it normally.

  9. I know that in this venue I’ll probably get lapidated for saying this, but going with something non-standard is a total pain in the ass. Every time you encounter an incompatibility it’ll be back to haunt you. Is it really worth the (slightly elitist) geek cred?

  10. Hee. I doubt you’ll be stoned, because rocks are heavy, but I don’t see you getting any invites to the GTs in the near future.

  11. If you’re going to do essential work with the machine, stick with XP. Maybe image your disk once everything’s set up to make restoring a snap next time. If you want to try Linux, get a junker machine, install, and play with it. Then once you’re familiar with the ins and outs you can determine whether or not it’s right for you to use every day.

  12. It is said, “”Linux is stable, Windows is the stuff you find on the floor of a stable.”

    Harry – Happy w/ Mac & OS X – Frikkin’ Finance it!

  13. So far the vote is 21 to 19 in favor of Windows.

    Harry, I would “frikkin’ finance it,” but I’d rather not. I’ve managed to reduce all of my credit card and line of credit debts down to virtually zero, which is very refreshing, but we’re celebrating by getting a new LCD TV, Blu-ray DVD player, and HD pvr (which we’ve been wanting for several years), plus I’m about to pour $5000 worth of dental work into my mouth — not one penny of which is covered by insurance.

    So maybe that apple will have to wait.

  14. Give a try at Suse 10.3 or 10.4 on a live CD. No install necessary to explore and use this flavor of Linux. If you like it just start the install over your existing HD. It will automaticaly do a dual boot if an other system is present. Switch to Open Office at the same time.

  15. Re: Frikkin’ Finance it!

    It’s from Ruthless People w/ Danny Devito and Bette Midler from 1986. Not my favorite movie but, it’s a line I’ll always remember… Here’s the scene.

    ( Ken Kessler, a salesman, is played by Judge Reinhold.)

    [trying to sell a new stereo system to a teenage couple… before he realizes they’re expecting a baby]
    Ken Kessler: Check it out, my man! Thirty feet of thigh-slapping, blood-pumping nuclear brain damage!
    Heavy Metal Kid: Bitchin’! Hey, what’s it fucking cost?
    Ken Kessler: That’s the bitchin’ part about it! It don’t matter! If you can’t afford it, FUCKING FINANCE IT!
    [turns it on]
    Ken Kessler: So what if it’s as big as a fridge and costs as much! You’ll never have to get another one! This is gonna be with you for the rest of your life! And when you die, they can BURY you in it!

    …Like you, I still won’t bite, and can wait as long as the next guy, but whenever Laurie and I allow ourselves to ogle over the latest big screen or latest bells and whistles gizmo, Judge Reinhold as Ken Kessler always comes to mind saying that phrase. As I am “Heavy Metal Kid” in this flashback, I pretty much always break into air guitar as well.

    Good luck with the toofs and congrats on your fiscal restraint!

  16. That’s hilarious. What’s doubly hilarious is that I know that scene very well, and I invoke it all the time. In fact, just a few months ago I was trying to explain it to Martine and I ended up spending about an hour on the Web trying to track it down. (I was hoping to find it on YouTube but I didn’t.)

  17. > Give a try at Suse 10.3 or 10.4 on a live CD. No install necessary to explore and use this flavor of Linux.

    Same applies to the Ubutu live CD. You can try it out just by booting from the CD. If you like it, just press the big install button. I’ve never used Suse, though I’d be surprised if it was as gentle an introduction to Linux as Ubuntu is.

  18. Ha ha. You’re tied.

    Of course, these days, can’t you do both?

    Or will tiny virtual soldiers fight wars for domination of your computer?

  19. Well, I had the same problem, actually worse. My XP machine has died. I tried reinstalling any operating system on it and it does not work. I keep bluescreening. So I bought a Vista machine. I must say that I am happy with the purchase. I got a beefier computer with no problems. My old machine, on the other hand, is completely useless. I can’t even install Mandriva Linux on it without it hanging.

  20. Wow, Alston, that’s bizarre. It sounds to me like it’s a hardware problem, or a whacked BIOS.

  21. If you install WinXP, won’t you just have to do it again in a year?

    Also, haven’t they stopped developing WinXP? So you won’t be using that forever, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to be able to make anything better, so…

    On the other hand, Ubuntu is improving, and I think the rate of improvement is increasing as more people use it.

  22. Came across your blog in my own quest to see which is the OS for me. I’ve made the jump to Linux in the past only to be driven back by some footling app that wouldn’t run but was deemed essential at the time. This time I’m inclined to go the whole way. Here’s my logic for the decision: Linux has a smaller footprint than Windows, so i invest in vmware. My base OS uses less memory than XP so there is more free for the virtual machine. I have Linux as a base OS and then run back to my vmware based Windows XP security blanket.

    Some things (like .NET) will never migrate but I can stay huddled in my virtual world and use the Linux world for the basics such as browsing/office/mail which it is very good at. I migrate stuff out of my XP world until I get to the point where nothing else can come across. Then I’ll spend less and less time in the XP world as I grow to understand this Linux thing.

    What this approach would also do is to ‘tune’ windows virtual machines to do certain tasks well should I need it. e..g a gaming xp vm or a development xp vm each with specific memory/disc requirements.

    I suspect this approach would work for me but maybe I’m weird in my need for virtual worlds! :)

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