My Reluctant Upgrade to Windows 10

Back in April, I published a detailed post about why I intended to fully migrate to Linux and other open source software for editing photos before Windows 7 supports ends in 2020. The grounds for my stance are still valid, in my opinion, but I want to explain why my experiment was less than successful. I have since upgraded my two main systems to Windows 10, with one of them dual-booting Linux Mint.

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I still strongly prefer Linux (and the Linux Mint distribution, in particular) to Windows. My reasons all boil down to aesthetics, performance, privacy, security and freedom of choice. That's not to say that Windows 10 doesn't have some strong selling points. Overall it is a significant improvement, performance-wise, over earlier Microsoft operating systems. Linux, on the other hand, is at least equal to Windows 10 (or Apple's Mac OS) in terms of performance, and has the added advantage of letting you remain in control of your computer and everything it does. That freedom of choice may not matter to you, but it is important to me.

So why backtrack on my Linux migration plan? In short: stark pragmatism. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now that I am in business for myself, workflow efficiency has become a critical concern. I can no longer afford to dabble when I have work that needs to be processed and delivered to clients in a timely fashion. While it is possible to do almost everything in Linux with open source image editing software that one can do with Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop, there is no competing open source software that lets me work as quickly and easily. There are a growing number of exciting paid alternatives, such as Luminar and ON1 Photo RAW, for Windows or Mac OS. But there's little or nothing of the same caliber for Linux currently being sold.

I had earnestly hoped that Darktable (which is finally available for Windows for those who would like to try it), would be a suitable Lightroom alternative for me. I commend the developers who have worked so hard to create such a powerful program. They have done a terrific job at adding new camera RAW profiles, so that even very new models have support. The software allows adjustments that even exceed the capabilities of Lightroom in certain respects. Aside from the lack of Fujifilm film simulations (which are important to me as a Fujifilm mirrorless shooter), there's not much I can't do in Darktable with some fiddling around. But that's the problem.

Open source software like Darktable or the equally powerful RawTherapee are designed for highly technical people who want granular control over settings that ordinary photographers don't necessarily want to muck around with. It's not that the software lacks sophistication; in fact, it's arguably too sophisticated for the average photographer who wants to make basic adjustments quickly and easily. There are really only a handful of adjustments that I make on images from a typical photo shoot. In Lightroom, I can apply automatic settings or stored presets that often get me most of the way to a final image, and then I tweak specific shots as needed.

The other major issue is that, with a few exceptions, there's a notable lack of quality training and support available for open source software tools. They do offer some helpful documentation in free manuals, which is a good start. However, if you want to see some real-life usage scenarios demonstrated, there's just not much of that out there. For users of Adobe products, there's no end to books, workshops and online training. There are a ton of online forums where users can interact and ask questions. Need to know how to resize a background in Photoshop without resizing the entire image? Just hop on Google (as I recently did), and have your answer in a matter of seconds. If you run into an obscure problem using a feature of Darktable, you may spend a lot more time looking for answers with little success.

Back in July, I attended a KelbyOne all-day Lightroom training event in Nashville. While the class did cover a few things I already knew, I was truly overwhelmed by a wealth of techniques and tips that have already saved me considerable time and frustration in my own editing. The training also touched on Photoshop for specific techniques, which is made possible by the fact that the two applications are designed to work seamlessly together. There are no similar training events for photographers using open source software. Having a large community of users, along with expert teachers, is an invaluable resource. After years of learning how to use Adobe products, I've concluded it would be foolish to jettison that hard-earned knowledge only to start all over again.

None of this is to say that I'm abandoning all use of Linux or open source software. I will continue to keep a watchful eye over new developments and test them out. I certainly don't mean to knock the dedicated people who work on these complex programs that have more capability than I'll probably ever understand. But for right now, as someone making a living via photography, the lack of mainstream support makes it tough to embrace other options. I really want to get away from the clutches of Microsoft, but it's an uphill battle at every step.

As for my concerns about Windows 10, I have done all I can to wrest control of my computer back into my own hands. In response to mounting pressure, Microsoft has given back a modicum of control by making it easier to select how much information is sent back to them about your computer and your data. While you can't disable it completely, you can set it to collect a minimal amount of data.

There are additional steps you can take to minimize how much information is gathered. After you've turned off all the nosiest features that you can live without, you may want to install the third party Spybot Anti-Beacon to further clamp down on Windows phoning home. How foolproof are these and other tools at guarding your privacy? Only Microsoft knows how much data gets sent back. But at least you'll have done all you can to maintain control of your personal information.

Now, if we could only persuade Adobe to port their flagship products over to one of the popular Linux distributions, all of my concerns would be addressed once and for all. Until a better option comes along, I'm stuck in bed with the Beast of Redmond.