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Windows 10 Alternatives for the Linux Beginner

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knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
With the release of Windows 10 barely a year gone, the freebie offered by Microsoft has expired and Windows 10 has moved through all the fledgling editions to become a mature and polished operating system. While most can agree that we have received a functional and solid OS, not every person can claim happiness with some of the decisions Microsoft has made for the end user. With that in mind , I went in search of Linux distros that would worthy of mention as an alternative. There are a jungle of different distributions out there, but I tried to focus on the ones offered a similar user experience/ease of use to a Windows 10 machine. The aim of this post is to shed some light in that direction.
That last statement might need a couple of qualifications to be meaningful.... “offered a similar user experience/ease of use” . My definition of use experience starts with boot time and includes such things as the snappiness of the user interface and how hard it is to find a particular feature/program in the menus. That is not all that defines the user experience, but as an average user, that is what I notice the most. I did not get overly technical with my definition of user experience. I simply noted whether boot time seemed abnormally long, or if a particular item was difficult to find in the menus or required a Google search to understand. There were very few such problems, but they will be noted for each individual OS.
I was loose with my definition of user experience and ease of use because those types of things are really an “eye of the beholder” type of issue. Performance is not. For each OS I set up a virtual machine on my Daily Driver with Virtualbox. Each VM had a 25gb virtual hard drive for OS installation and 8gb of ram. I also tested a Live environment on my laptop (not in the sig, but quick specs are: i5 2450M with 8gb DDR3) . In the live environment I set up Phoronix Test Suite (Linux Benchmark) and ran a few quick tests. Phoronix has a whole slew of different benches but I chose 4 tests that I believe reflect the average user: Postmark, Ramspeed, C-Ray, and Apache (I will say more on these later). I chose the live environment to run the benchmarks from because I could be more confident that each OS had exactly the same resources to use, as opposed to virtual machines that could be potentially affected by the host OS. Now lets take a look at those Operating Systems!
Remember that when I started my search I was looking for “Windows Look-alikes” or “Windows clones” for Linux. I came up with a decent sized list from those terms a little reading and luck led me to 5 top choices and an Honorable mention (in no particular order):

1) Kubuntu with Plasma DE
2) Robolinux (no benches for Roblinux because it was uncooperative)
3) Zorin 9
4) Linux Mint
5) ChaletOS

with the Honorable mention being ReactOS. This OS is not a Linux distro or derivative in any way. It is an actual free Windows clone. If you cant find a copy of Windows 95/98/ME and miss it, this guy is for you. I still havent tested whether my old games will work, but ReactOS installed just fine and seemed lively enough. It was a near exact clone of older Windows and was worth mentioning just as an interesting aside rather than as a true consideration for Windows 10 replacement.
Another quick word before we get into the good stuff: I will not be going into all the ins and outs of each OS or whether it is based on Ubuntu or Debian or otherwise, except where the difference may matter to the “average user” . I also will not go into specifics about where to find certain settings or accomplish certain tasks unless asked. This post is long enough already, but if you as a reader want to know how to do something that I have done , I will be more than happy to provide a link or other helpful info. Bench results and links to benchmark info are at the bottom of the post. Without further ado...

Kubuntu:

Now to explain a little more about my loose testing of the user experience. Step 1: Install on VM >Step 2 : Put up a custom background on the desktop, configure the taskbar to my liking and search up some internets. Basically check OCF, check some emails, and watch a few vids on youtube. Average user stuff. All of my steps went off without a hitch. The first thing to notice about Kubuntu is that the fella who said it looked like Win10 wasn't lying. The window design looks very familiar. The general themes is very comfortable and the file explorer is arranged in a nearly identical way to Win10. Open any windows and you have the file explorer sidebar right there , easy to navigate and organized. I connected to my home network with zero troubles and found all the settings I was looking for right in the initial menus. As if the out of the box similarities to Win10 weren't enough I decided to see if I couldnt make this box identical to Windows 10 and guess what? Yep. There are windows 10 themes and icons available for Linux. Also a pretty painless process. 2 downloads and 2 unzips. 2 folders placed in the appropriate directories and then boom! Linux looks like Windows 10. The Windows Dissenter in me loves this. Its like dressing up a doberman in a poodle suit or something!
The live testing with Kubuntu was just as pleasant and simple. I made a live usb with Rufus and booted on my laptop like I mentioned earlier. After boot, my first stop was the software center (if you dont know how Linux handles software and installation you might want to look into it, I find it to be just short of nirvana myself ) to get Phoronix Test Suite. The suite from many that Phoronix offers I chose had the 4 tests that I mentioned earlier (Postmark, RAMSpeed, C-Ray and Apache). I will include a small section end with links to explanations of each bench. For now, just know that Postmark measures small file transfer. Ramspeed is ...ramspeed, Apache is , well it just sounds hard for to do. C-Ray tests “floating point CPU performance”. I am judging these all as “higher is better” but I will admit to not being overly interested in what these tests actually mean so much as how they differ between each OS.

Next Up: RoboLinux.

RoboLinux is an interesting project with lofty goals. I couldn't tell you if the OS lived up to the literature because that is beyond what I wish to talk about. I will say right away though that RoboLinux didnt want to play nice with the benches that I had used for all the other OS, so I have none for it. I am certain it is user error.
If there were such a thing as Home and Pro versions of Linux (Like Win10 Home and Win10 Pro) Robolinux would fit in the Pro category. This is one of the ones that has more involved questions in the installer. Beginners can skip the hard questions and the OS will still install with all its moving parts intact. The reason I would file this one in the Pro category is simple. The wifi wasn't working “out of the box” and to be completely honest I spent a few minutes with a search engine and still had to use ethernet. Also youtube died when I tried to use fullscreen. Every time. I don't know why and didn't check. My guess is a little tinkering could solve that, but I did not have the time or inclination. Please don't think that I am saying anything poor about the OS, just that I couldn't get it working quickly with base level knowledge and skills. I am certain someone that knows the ins and outs better would have no problem with it. I did move right
into the benchmarks because of that limitation though. I didnt tweak any menus or set and wallpapers because of the wifi issue, but I did notice most of the familiar things, and knowing the customizable nature of Linux , am willing to bet that “it can be done”.



Third on the List: Zorin 9
This one gets points right off the bat for UI snappiness. I felt like I was jumping in for a test drive on one of those fancy dealership cars that hasn't had all the life squeezed out by “efficiency”. That is just to describe the feeling, not to say that the OS is not efficient or anything. Zorin 9 passed almost all my preliminary tests with flying colors. Zorin did not want to put on its Windows 10 dress and go to the ball. Perhaps it was embarrassed? I looked into it a little and saw a blurb about “purchasing” more themes for Zorin, but I didn't keep the link. This makes me think that the OS is locked into certain themes, but don't quote me on it. There is a built in “look changer” that will let you tweak how it looks to a Windows 7 theme, so I will bet later releases will include a Windows 10 theme. Zorin also did not want to see my wifi network until I opened a Terminal and told it what to do. The process was fairly painless process requiring all of 2/3 command lines, then worked as it should. Zorin had a neatly organized file explorer that was once again almost identical to Windows. This isn't surprising based on the look changer's “Windows 7” theme option. As I already said, I immediately liked Zorin 9 and its user friendly atmosphere. This one is almost pure win. I do have to mention though that Zorin did not have Phoronix Test Suite available in its software center , but I could install it from command line. Command line Phoronix was a little more effort to use and I did have to run each test separately instead of just running a suite of tests. I would have to guess that Zorin just isnt marketing this OS towards a crowd that will want to run benchmarks, and so did not include it in their software center.

Moving on to Linux Mint:

I haven't checked in on Mint on about a year or so and liked it well enough then. When I tried it this time I was floored. Boot times were noticeably quicker than Windows, and I would bet noticeably quicker than other distros on the list. If I was impressed with the snappiness of the UI on Zorin 9, Mint was worth a back-flip or two. Often touted as the most user friendly of the Linux clan, with a large development team, you can tell that these guys take pride in their work. Smooth, fast, and already nice to look at is about all a guy can say about Mint. Changing the wallpapers and themes took a blink of an eye and everything else worked out of the box. If I had to choose a favorite on this list (and I am glad I don't because I liked them all), I would have a hard time NOT choosing Mint. Phoronix was available in the sofware center and ran smoothly.

Last but not least: ChaletOS


I have already said that I liked all the OSs I have talked about and ChaletOS is no exception. Snappy UI, fast boot.... it has all that good stuff. There is a nice paragraph or two on the homepage about what the developers were trying to do, and I think they hit the mark. The system is lightweight but still substantial and comes preloaded with all the usual software, A word processor, web browser, picture editor and other friends. The standout for this OS was pre-configured Conky. For non Linux users, think Rainmeter, but DIY. I have wrestled with conky more than once and am very glad for those nice folks who made Conky Manager and all the beautiful theme packages that there are because Conky is hell for someone with my skills, but a hell that will tell you your CPU/RAM temps and usage in a graphical desktop widget. You can make it look almost any way that you can think of, with a huge number of options..... as long as you can write the configuration file. ChaletOS wouldn't put on all of the Win10 clothes though. The theme installed and works, but more customization is needed to get the look of the min/maximize and close boxes. The ChaletOS team has put a lot of work into making this OS accessible for all user levels. A nice little Welcome directory will show newer users how to work the most important parts like Kodi and the theme manager while there are still plenty of goodies like Conky and virtual desktops for intermediate users.


At the end of the day, I really enjoyed looking through all of these different OS and would consider any one of them for my own machine. I had considered making an effort to test Wine and PlayOnLinux for each of these guys (Already Included in Chaletos and Zorin and Mint) and with a little grit and determination is likely available for most distros. That part I will leave up to more motivated folks however.

Bench Result and info:

Kubuntu:

Postmark 6114
RAMspeed 11394.52
Apache 11435.16
C-Ray 126.89

Chaletos:

Postmark 5657
RAMspeed 11357.35
Apache 11994.05
C-Ray 120.20

Zorin 9

Postmark I did say Zorin acted up about the benches right? I didnt get this one
RAMspeed 11187.74
Apache 12246.44
C-Ray 105.07

Linux Mint

Postmark 5143
RAMspeed 10997.60
Apache 10894.37
C-Ray 137.72

What the Benches Mean.....
Postmark More info on Postmark
RAMspeed
Apache
C-Ray

From the bench results you can see that not every OS works the same, or uses its resources in the same way. some were a bit stronger than others in cpu performance , and so on and so forth. I really do leave it up to you to interpret the results on your own and perform your own tests. That is half the fun right? :) As I said earlier I did not run these benches in virtual machines because I feared that might skew the results. Perhaps someday I might carry out these benches on the VMs as well , but that would be more of a test for the difference between live environments and Vm performance I think. SO there you have it folks: a cursory look at a few popular Linux distros and what can be done with them. I hope I have helped to demystify the process a bit for a newcomer or two because Linux really is a great option for a DIY enthusiast. Good Luck folks :)
 
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ATMINSIDE

Sim Racing Aficionado Co-Owner
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
I might have missed it, but what about options for gaming on these OS's?
 
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knoober

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
I might have missed it, but what about options for gaming on these OS's?
Yeah its a big old long read, sorry. PlayOnLinux comes with ChaletOS, Mint and Zorin (preinstalled) and can be installed on Kubuntu. Tobolinux is a big boy toy for me, but I am fairly certain it could be finagled in there. Wine has a Database for games that are known working.. That said, I largely ignored games because I don't own an extensive game library and have little to test with. ( I literally have 2 modern games and I didnt make my VM drives big enough to test them. I didnt want to remake them just yet)
 

ihrsetrdr

Señor Senior Member
Joined
May 17, 2005
Great write-up, a nice resource for those Windows users that are ready for a more quality computing experience.
 
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knoober

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
Okay, so you'd still be relying on Wine, got it.

Absolutely. If the game isnt written for the platform I think its amazing that Wine and PlayOnLinux even do as well as they do. I realize that games are a deal breaker for a large portions of the crowd, but I havent got an answer for that. I would still place myself in that average category, and would have to look to wiser folks for those answers. I do hope that gaming support improves and believe it will if users will begin getting behind some of the larger distros. It is my opinion however that the large number of distros and limited resources of development teams is what keeps the gaming support on the backburner. Im game to help build a Linux Gamers Edition distro.... if someone with alot of smarts and time gets on the project :)
 

Alaric

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Joined
Dec 4, 2011
Location
Satan's Colon, US
not every person can claim happiness with some of the decisions Microsoft has made for the end user.

You, sir, have won the Understatement Of The Year Trophy. :) This is the kind of thread I've been waiting for. I'm going to do some research on the games I play and see if I can gather any info to contribute here, although my research tends to garner questions at an equal rate to answers. LOL. I've been thinking about a second SSD and Raid 0 so that may be the perfect time to take a run at Linux. This is good stuff, knoober. Very good stuff. Thank you!
 
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knoober

knoober

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Joined
Mar 18, 2015
You, sir, have won the Understatement Of The Year Trophy. :) This is the kind of thread I've been waiting for. I'm going to do some research on the games I play and see if I can gather any info to contribute here, although my research tends to garner questions at an equal rate to answers. LOL. I've been thinking about a second SSD and Raid 0 so that may be the perfect time to take a run at Linux. This is good stuff, knoober. Very good stuff. Thank you!

I would be lying if I said that I didnt draw inspiration from some of the other threads about Win10 and its many quirks. You know what I think of Win10 :D I just hate to see folks pass on Linux because of the alien nature of it. The fact is that gaming is the only area where Linux doesnt stand toe-to-toe with Windows (and as I already said, I know that can be a dealbreaker). Anyone who will give just about any distro a chance and a little elbow grease (but really didnt it take a little thinking to get Windows running the way you wanted as well ? ) will find it to be well worth the effort. If anything I could spin conspiracy theories about why gameing is centered on the Windows Club, but that is outside of the point here.
 

Alaric

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Dec 4, 2011
Location
Satan's Colon, US
If anything I could spin conspiracy theories about why gameing is centered on the Windows Club, but that is outside of the point here.

Surely you're not suggesting M$ would try to force people to do something??? I'm shocked! :rofl:
 
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knoober

knoober

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Joined
Mar 18, 2015
Surely you're not suggesting M$ would try to force people to do something??? I'm shocked! :rofl:

Nah they just make a clearly and vastly superior product and the masses choose it because its the best :D
 

Alaric

New Member
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Dec 4, 2011
Location
Satan's Colon, US
Oh, well then. As soon as my wool is sheared and placed over my eyes I'll get right on that bandwagon. :salute:

I'm laughing so hard I shot beer out of my nose. LOL
 

Stratus_ss

Overclockix Snake Charming Senior, Alt OS Content
Joined
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Location
Ontario Canada
I just wanted to point out that Kubuntu/KDE does /NOT/ look like Windows 10, Windows 10 came /AFTER/. KDE has been on this path for some number of years, and while Windows 10 is what the average Windows user may associate with this look, really the KDE guys have been doing this look in public for a very long time.

If I worked on the project I probably would be pretty cheesed that Microsoft was getting the recognition and my work was the "look alike"
 
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knoober

knoober

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Joined
Mar 18, 2015
I just wanted to point out that Kubuntu/KDE does /NOT/ look like Windows 10, Windows 10 came /AFTER/. KDE has been on this path for some number of years, and while Windows 10 is what the average Windows user may associate with this look, really the KDE guys have been doing this look in public for a very long time.

If I worked on the project I probably would be pretty cheesed that Microsoft was getting the recognition and my work was the "look alike"

I absolutely agree. I had considered pointing out how Win10 really seemed to be trying to take pointers from Linux (in more than just looks). My first thought when I entered Win10 was that they were trying for a sort of hybrid user experience, but I really don't know know how to quantity such a thing to other folks.

Insofar as KDE is concerned, I was also unsure if "Plasma" desktop was in addition to the normal KDE (which I read as kubuntu desktop environment).

I had also considered mentioning that nearly regardless of distro the desktop environment can be removed and replaced with little trouble (switching from KDE to Gnome for instance), but thought that might end up as more of a "how to" when I was really trying g to present how pain-free the switch can be.

As an additional addendum to the original post I would like to add that I will give a similar look over and bench test for any distro that folks would like (so the results can be comparable on the same hardware) , as long as folks are willing to wait. I am struggling with a proxy right now and going back and forth about whether to make a positive about it. After that is done though I can get back to playing with stuff :D

Edit: Making the thread for the proxy in Networking section. Networking is awesome! :)
 
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Stratus_ss

Overclockix Snake Charming Senior, Alt OS Content
Joined
Jan 24, 2006
Location
Ontario Canada
Blizzard does not support Linux directly. Every game I have tried of theirs (WoW, Diablos, Star Craft) all work wonderfully in WINE.

That said, there are about 1000 games for Linux on Steam, and a few dozen on GoG as well as Humble Bundle. I haven't missed Windows gaming, but then again I was not much of a BF or Call of Duty player
 
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knoober

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
After a quick perusal it looks like the only game that I play that is available specifically for Linux

That reminds me... I would like to test Wine and playonlinux a bit to see if there is a difference between the different distros. As I already said I originally intended to but my game library is small and Ive got other projects as well. If someone has a good free game to try I would run it through and post the results. The VMs I set up only have 25gb hard drives so large games will require me to remake them and I would rather not if I dont have to. Honestly I dont even know what I would test for games. From game and hardware reviews that Ive read I would assume that tracking the framerate at different resolutions would be what people want to see? Hardware (cpu/ram) usage stats while playing? Anyhow suggest the game and tell me what you want to know and Ill give it a shot.... or you could try it in a live install or vm of your own and let everyone reading know as well :D

Also, Dont forget to check WineHQ to see if your games are listed there, as they may already be supported and known working.
 

Stratus_ss

Overclockix Snake Charming Senior, Alt OS Content
Joined
Jan 24, 2006
Location
Ontario Canada
That reminds me... I would like to test Wine and playonlinux a bit to see if there is a difference between the different distros. As I already said I originally intended to but my game library is small and Ive got other projects as well. If someone has a good free game to try I would run it through and post the results. The VMs I set up only have 25gb hard drives so large games will require me to remake them and I would rather not if I dont have to. Honestly I dont even know what I would test for games. From game and hardware reviews that Ive read I would assume that tracking the framerate at different resolutions would be what people want to see? Hardware (cpu/ram) usage stats while playing? Anyhow suggest the game and tell me what you want to know and Ill give it a shot.... or you could try it in a live install or vm of your own and let everyone reading know as well :D

Also, Dont forget to check WineHQ to see if your games are listed there, as they may already be supported and known working.

It has been my experience that you will have poor performance on ANY OS including Windows when trying to test them in a VM. Video Card passthrough is still very limiting
 
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knoober

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
It has been my experience that you will have poor performance on ANY OS including Windows when trying to test them in a VM. Video Card passthrough is still very limiting

I dont know if this link is relevant to PCI passthrough in the terms that you are speaking. What I mean is that I am unsure if you were speaking in terms of the limited amount of video memory that Vbox makes available in Settings, or a method such as the one described. I have only verified that my mobo and cpu will allow for the process, but havent taken any of the other steps as they look quite involved. When all is said and done though I will give it a shot sometime if I get the chance.
 

Stratus_ss

Overclockix Snake Charming Senior, Alt OS Content
Joined
Jan 24, 2006
Location
Ontario Canada
I dont know if this link is relevant to PCI passthrough in the terms that you are speaking. What I mean is that I am unsure if you were speaking in terms of the limited amount of video memory that Vbox makes available in Settings, or a method such as the one described. I have only verified that my mobo and cpu will allow for the process, but havent taken any of the other steps as they look quite involved. When all is said and done though I will give it a shot sometime if I get the chance.

I am more referring to the inefficient (or sometimes non-existent) ability to perform 3D applications inside of vms is a well documented issue and therefore tests inside of a vm would not accurately reflect the actual ability of a given OS to perform that workload
 

Alaric

New Member
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Dec 4, 2011
Location
Satan's Colon, US
Anyhow suggest the game and tell me what you want to know and Ill give it a shot

World of Warships and World of Tanks are free. I play WoWs mostly as of late. It runs a lot smoother since getting the RX 480.