I was bored with Windows, but after a torrid weekend of tussling with Linux I'm almost looking forward to more boredom. It's not that moving to Linux is a bad idea – far from it – but I fell into a trap that made for a rough transition. Don't fall into the same traps that I did.
These days I'm a happy Linux camper, but I have the scars (mental and emotional, if not physical) that can come with straying from the well-worn path of familiarity. Here's how I went to Linux hell and back again – but I'll tell you the shortcuts.
The journey begins...
It seems that for months, every tech newsletter I received was raving about the benefits of Linux. Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I decided to dive into the world of Ubuntu, one of the most popular versions of the operating system.
It promised a free, easy-to-use alternative to Windows, complete with enough free software to run a basic system. Linux has the reputation of being fast, stable and free of the need for antivirus software because it lacks the malware that plagues Windows PCs.
So, with a bootable USB drive preloaded with the Linux installer in one hand and a giant cup of coffee in the other, I sat down to create my computing future.
The downfalls of downloading
First, I did the obligatory light reading on the topic, then – to play it safe – I backed up my documents (but, foolishly, not my whole computer). Booting up my PC from the USB drive, the Ubuntu installer said I could (A) create a Linux partition alongside Windows 7 so that I could boot up from either (this is called dual-booting), (B) pick my own partition, or (C) completely wipe Windows.
The dual-boot seemed to be the best option, so I clicked on (A). Or so I thought.
Instead of creating the partition, Ubuntu skipped ahead and asked me to enter my time zone. Something didn't seem right, but I clicked on Sydney, expecting to see the partition guide in the next window. I didn't.
Had Ubuntu skipped a step? Had I clicked the wrong button?
Digital damage control
With an uneasy feeling rising in my gut I quit the installer, intending to run back to my Windows safety net. Instead all I got was a blank screen. Not a good sign. Somehow I'd managed to wipe Windows off my computer completely.
Fortunately, I had created a Windows Recovery Disc when I installed Windows, which comes in handy during situations like this. Or so I thought.
After an anxious hour of waiting and restoring I had to face the sad fact that the boot manager couldn't restore my Windows system. Somehow, I had managed to put my computer into a state of limbo, stuck between two partially installed operating systems. My laptop was useless, my weekend destroyed. The next two days would be dedicated to reinstalling my operating system from scratch.
Going back to the disc
Installing Windows 7 Home Premium from the original disc had my PC up and running again in an hour or so, followed by another two hours of manually downloading and reinstalling all the driver software. I was back to factory-fresh mode.
The Windows installer had wiped Ubuntu, but to eradicate all traces of it (and any potential leftover gremlins) I did a low-level format of my secondary hard drive, which took another five hours. Next came reinstalling all my programs, utilities and lastly my many thousands of documents, videos and sound files, that I had backed up separately.
Rebuilding and rebooting
It was a slow process, made all the more painful by a nagging reminder that a simple disc image could have resolved the problem in under an hour. Oh, for the simplicity of a full-disc image backup to restore! I'm still not sure if it was user error or a faulty Ubuntu installer that put my laptop into a crippling coma, but bringing it back to the land of the living took more than a day.
However, I wasn't deterred. Armed with fresh knowledge – and a fresh disc image – I grabbed the bootable USB and started again. Only this time I triple checked the installer, making sure that I had picked option A.
Lo and behold, it worked! Now I'm loving Linux. This sporty little coupé of an OS is everything they said it would be. But I haven't given up the family sedan of Windows either. After all, there are only so many new tricks you can teach the old dog.
So if you want to give Linux a try, go right ahead. But back up your whole PC first (preferably with a system image), and read the installer instructions very carefully. Hopefully, you too will become a happy Linux camper.