Why I Switched From Windows to LinuxDisclaimer: This post mostly talks about my troubleshooting experiences for games and a few other things on Linux and not so much about my constructive criticism of Linux.
I have been using Linux for almost 3 years now, and I want to contribute to the community by sharing my experience. I started off using Linux as a gag after a discussion between my brother, my dad, and me at a sports bar. My brother claimed that the iPhone is more private than Android. That got me thinking about three desktop operating systems: Windows, MacOS, and Linux. I was already into privacy and personal data protection from businesses. I had switched to DuckDuckGo and Mozilla over Google and Chrome, and I heard about the background telemetry processes Windows conducts on its OS and how they weren’t present on nearly all Linux OSes.
I built my first gaming PC and installed Windows 10 on it a few months prior to that discussion, and my dad wanted me to build another one for him so he could run a Steam game again that was being constantly updated with each update requiring better hardware. I decided to go through with it, but instead of giving him the newer PC that was built, I gave him the older one and installed Linux Mint 19.2 on the newer one. I went with Mint, because it was the popular distro that looked the most like Windows, and I had heard the main Ubuntu distro, simply called ‘Ubuntu’, was collecting data. (To clear up potential confusion for people who don’t know much about Linux, I will explain what I mean when I write ‘Mint’ or ‘Linux Mint’ or ‘Mint 19.2’. ‘Mint’ refers to the type of Linux distribution or ‘distro’ which is a type of Linux operating system. There are different Linux distros like Manjaro, Fedora, and Ubuntu. ‘19.2’ is a number that refers to the version of a distro. Linux simply means its from Linux OS, and OS means ‘operating system’.)
OS InstallationI followed the instructions for installing Linux, formatting the USB driver I used, copying a bootable Mint 19.2 OS onto it, and installing it on my newer PC. This process wasn’t hard. Afterwards, I wasn’t sure on what to do. I was still naive to the Linux world and only knew which distributions were most popular and user-friendly. I didn’t know everything about Mint. At the most, I only watched a video demonstration on it once. For example I tried Lutris, which is a Linux gaming application that is meant to help with the installation of games, but found that directly using Steam to launch games was far better. To me, Lutris was only useful in niche situations.
GPU DriversI attempted to install an Radeon driver (for AMDGPU) on the machine by downloading the driver from the AMD website, not knowing that open-source Radeon drivers are already installed on Ubuntu distributions through the Mint installation process via Internet download or via Mint updates. After unnecessarily going through many internet articles and terminal and dependency errors, the latest of which are the least fun, I was surprised to find that the Radeon drivers don’t need to be downloaded manually like they do on Windows. I loaded Heaven Benchmark to test whether my graphics card was working, and it was.
Steam, Skyrim, and Skyrim ModsThen, I went ahead and tried to install Steam. I don’t remember if I used the Mint Software Manager or if I downloaded a package install from the website. I don’t remember having trouble with this part. Then came Skyrim SE (Skyrim: Special Edition, not to be confused with Skyrim Script Extender) which was also no problem. Then came the hard part, Skyrim SE Mods. I needed to install Skyrim Script Extender 64 and a mod manager. The latter wasn’t too difficult, but not the former. I had to use a custom Proton module from the “glorious egg” series (Proton-GE). But then, I also had to use the previous version of script extender as the newest version did not work for some reason. How could I have thought of that? I couldn’t until I went through much trial and error and just luckily stumbled upon the answer. The flag that indicated that Skyrim SE Mods were working was the Mod Configuration menu showing SkyUI, a Skyrim mod. When I finally got that, I was overjoyed. For the first time, I thought that maybe Linux as my OS wouldn’t be a gag after all. I recorded all my troubles in a “Troubleshooting Repository” inside my ‘Documents’ folder, so I would not have to go through the trouble of figuring things out again. Proton DB, a database that helps with troubleshooting Steam games for Proton users, was a big help.
Victories and ChallengesThere are things I got to work and things I didn’t get to work. I had success with Virtual Machines on VirtualBox, so I could run non-GPU dependent Windows applications on Windows 10 without having it as my main OS (you do not need to buy Windows 10 to do this as only some aesthetic features are disabled on Windows 10 without a license). Some of the toughest challenges I had mostly had to do with Steam Games.
The hardest game to troubleshoot and get to work was Middle Earth: Shadow of War. I don’t even remember exactly what I had to do to get it to work and I didn’t record it in the Troubleshooting Repository. I just remember using at least two different solutions on Proton DB and having to do work on my own in combination of one of those solutions. Devil May Cry 5 was comparable in challenge as I had to switch it to an earlier version of DirectX, and I had to wipe some of the files to get it to run after it failed to work on a certain version of Proton. Wiping the files was necessary to get it to run on a certain setup that worked before, but then didn’t work, because I used a different setup which messed something up.
Speaking of something similar, Skyrim SE failed to launch using a version of Proton it previously worked with after testing it with a newer version of Proton. To fix this, I had to manipulate Skyrim SE, Steam, and Proton to install/change files to render the version of Proton Skyrim SE no longer works with usable again. I had to switch to an earlier version of Proton, run the game so the files got changed, and finally switch back to the version of Proton I was using – I couldn’t use the older version because there were some game features that were not working. But that was only most of it. It turns out that Proton wiped all my previously saved games on the folder the game read from. Thankfully, I found them in a different folder after much file searching, so I copied those games over to the main saved games folder.
The Greatest Adversity YetThere was one time I had to wipe the whole system, because I had corrupted it out of naivety and negligence. There was a non-Steam game that wasn’t working optimally with Vulkan. I decided to install a version of Vulkan system wide – bad idea, right up there with installing AMDGPU the hard way – and see if that would fix it. Afterwards, most applications didn’t work anymore, including Steam. After a reboot, I was met with a screen that looked like a full-screen terminal without any desktop GUI whatsoever. I knew at that point that I would have to wipe everything and do a fresh install. Using the terminal, I saved all the written documents I wanted to on a USB stick.
Then I decided to try out Linux Manjaro 21 to see if I would like it better. I didn’t like how you were forced to update all the software applications that could be updated when you just wanted to install or update one of them. The deal breaker, however, was not being able to get Skyrim SE mods to work. I went through all the same steps as I did for Mint. I managed to install SKSE64 and the mod manager, but then I got stumped on getting a single mod to appear in the game. This caused me to switch back to Mint.
I went with the newest version of Mint at the time, which was 20.3. I managed to get Skyrim SE mods to work after using a .yml workaround for the mod manager install since the Lutris one didn’t work. I went through much difficulty on getting BodySlide files to appear in game (BodySlide is a complementary modding application), to the point that I was worried I wouldn’t get it to work at all. The solution ended up being to output the files to a different location using ‘CTRL + left click’. Then, I had to go to that location, copy the files, and paste them into the folder the game reads. I believe this issue was being caused by a file misname by BodySlide’s output and Skyrim SE where one folder had its first letter capitalized and the other didn’t. This goes to show that sometimes you have to problem solve again for things that were previously working, because variables are subject to change.
ConclusionI did talk about many problems I had with Linux which required troubleshooting that I might not have had with Windows. Does that mean I want to go back to Windows? No, because not only do I value my data privacy, but Windows in many ways is getting worse as time goes on with many more problems of its own, including more bloatware, less friendliness to both users and administrators, and less freedom. Linux on the other hand doesn’t have to be this way and it isn’t, and the users get to do what they want. I believe you may have to have or learn troubleshooting skills to get certain things to work, otherwise you can try getting help from the Linux community via its forums. Not too long ago, I watched a video from a YouTuber named “Nerrel” who reviewed the Steam Deck and how well Steam and non-Steam games work on it. I would say his video is accurate as to how my experience with Linux was as he was trying the same things with games, and Steam Deck’s OS is based on Linux.
Sorry if I may have sounded a little bitter at times with Linux. In truth, I really like Linux. Many common desktop features work without much issue on Linux such as Virtual Machines, Web Browsing, Office Applications, many Steam games, and much more. I am willing to take on more responsibility to make the system my own instead of delegating that responsibility to a big tech firm like Microsoft. Everybody should be willing to take similar responsibilities instead of letting the ‘experts’ do all the thinking for them.
I will say that from what I’ve read, Linux has come a long way and is continuing to make progress, and many people may begin to use it as an alternative to Windows (especially since they can just use Windows as a virtual machine after configuring their BIOS properly). Steam and Chrome OS are based on Linux, and according to Statcounter’s website even through the market share for Linux is under 3%, ‘Unknown’ OSes are at 13%, and there’s not too bad of a chance they are Linux based too as some web browsers may not be able to recognize Linux and thus list the user’s OS as ‘Unknown’.
If you’re coming from Windows and want the most user-friendly, Windows-like, experience possible without many of the problems unique to Windows, I wouldn’t go with anything else other than Mint. If you’re a Mac user looking to switch to a Mac-like OS, maybe go with something else if you’re not willing to go with Mint’s desktop GUI. Thank you for reading, and I hope I and this article improve the Linux community in time.
Sites I Used While Writing This Post
This graph shows the market share of desktop operating systems worldwide based on over 5 billion monthly page views.