A few days ago, I purchased an iPad. This is my first Apple device in awhile, so I decided to check and see if my Apple ID still worked. It did, albeit after going through the process of resetting my long-forgotten password.

To my slight surprise, this was the first time I’d used my Apple ID since 2012. That was the year I moved away from OS X to Linux as my everyday operating system. Nearly nine years later, I’m still a happy Linux desktop user. My current laptop–a refurbished Dell Latitude E7240 (2014)–runs Linux Mint 20.1 Cinnamon.

Like many Linux users, I’ve not used the same distribution since Day One. To be honest, I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve changed the running distribution–or distro, in Linux-speak–on my machine. I wager I’ve done at least 100 different installations during the past nine years over at least a half-dozen laptop and desktop machines.

As long as I’ve been a Linux user, I’ve seen the perennial meme that this will be “the year of the Linux desktop.” It’s never happened, of course. Still, desktop Linux has definitely gotten better each year that I’ve been a user. In my early days, I ran into occasional hardware issues, mostly revolving around wireless networking and graphics card drivers. Today I never run into such issues. Some of this is due to my understanding the best type of hardware to use with Linux. But the majority of the credit goes to the thousands of developers around the world who build the Linux kernel and the hundreds of distributions that rely upon it.

So would I recommend others switch to desktop Linux in 2021? That depends. I’ve never been a Linux or open source evangelist. For many people, desktop Linux simply would not meet their needs. And others might benefit from a switch but find themselves overwhelmed by the plethora of choice among distributions.

Based on my own experiences, I have a few thoughts on the subject of switching today:

  • For the non-technical user, desktop Linux is best viewed as an alternative not to Windows or macOS, but Chrome OS. I would rather use a Dell or Lenovo laptop with any version of Linux than a Chromebook. I prefer having all of my applications and files installed locally, as well as the full system control offered by Linux.
  • The Windows-vs-Linux comparison does not matter as much as it did back in 2012. For one thing, Microsoft has made great strides in supporting Linux, notably its Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Indeed, as I’m writing this post, word is that WSL will soon support running graphical Linux applications, not just the command line. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I do have a Windows 10 PC that I keep primarily for gaming.)
  • I wonder if Apple’s ongoing transition to its own M1 processors will lead to a small boom of users converting soon-to-be-obsolete Macs to desktop Linux. I suspect most of the people who would choose between Linux or Mac are software developers, and they will almost certainly prefer the newer, faster Apple architecture. But there are still a lot of salvageable pre-M1 Macs that can be easily converted to Linux.

In terms of selectinng a distro, if you’re a first-time user without any prior desktop Linux experience, these are the three I would recommend:

  • Linux Mint, which as mentioned above is what I currently use on my laptop.
  • Pop!_OS, an Ubuntu-based distribution developed by computer manufacturer System76.
  • Solus, an independent Linux distribution focused on desktop use.