Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.
You might have thought of the Linux desktop as Windows’ and MacOS’ geeky cousin. But, unfortunately, it gets no media time, and except for that one eccentric coder friend, you don’t know anyone who uses Linux. But Linux is the best-kept productivity secret that the world ignores. So if you want to get more done or make your digital life more manageable, switch to Linux and supercharge your productivity.
Here are some of the ways Linux will turn you into a productivity powerhouse.
Be the next Neo by becoming a Linux master with a course from the Linux Foundation.
Linux is Customizable
I know you can swap out the desktop wallpaper and change the mouse icon on Windows. And while that’s great, it just doesn’t come close to the customization possible in Linux.
- Don’t like your taskbar? Install a different one, or just don’t run one.
- Don’t like your login screen? Delete the program that handles it and log in automatically.
- Want a different file manager? There are dozens: command-line-based, text-based, GUI, GTK, and QT.
- Even the Linux kernel itself is customizable, use an older version or compile it yourself with your own edits.
I don’t recommend you spend hours customizing every aspect of your computing experience; many download-and-go distributions do an excellent job of building a usable desktop experience. But for the things that matter to you, a small amount of time spent customizing can result in hours of saved time every week down the line.
For example, I have a small script that runs every time I plug my SD card into my PC; it copies the RAW images into the correct folder, formats the card, then opens Darktable, my photo editor.
Setup Hotkeys for Speed and Efficiency
Window managers such as DWM, i3, BSPWM, and Awesome expect users to use hotkeys for many functions. As a result, you can change workspaces, open programs, run scripts, and change theming elements with key combinations rather than endlessly clicking through menus and searching for the function you want.
Hotkeys save you time, and while there are programs you can install to help you set up hotkeys, nothing beats the experience of using hotkeys with a window manager on Linux because they can reach so far down into the operating system and do more than those programs will let you.
CLI – The Command Line
The command line is the most efficient way to interact with your computer. It gives you the power to do anything a GUI interface would and much more, but you don’t need to move or click on files with the mouse, which is time-consuming. Instead, you can do everything with commands.
- With a simple command, I can change the names of hundreds of files in a second.
- I compress and resize images for this site with a single command
- With one command, I can update all the software on my system, from my browser, video editor, and office suite, to the components of the operating system itself, such as menus and window managers, even the kernel. “sudo pacman -Syu” Done!
The command line isn’t only for commands, either. Want fast and efficient time management tools? Look for CLI programs you can use with only the keyboard and a terminal. You can easily create a minimal productivity system using only command line tools such as Taskwarrior.
You’ll know all the commands you’ll ever need at the end of Introduction to Linux.
Stability: Less Downtime with Linux
You may have heard that Linux distributions are unstable, crash, and need programming skills to run, but that’s untrue. Many flavors of Linux require some extra work, but many work straight out of the box and don’t require any special skills. So choosing the correct distribution for you is critical.
Distributions such as Debian release long-term support (LTS) rock stable versions designed for enterprise. Redhat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu are also known for being stable and perfect for anyone who just needs a system to work.
With one of those distributions, you’ll get fewer crashes, programs closing or not responding, or glitches than any Windows or MACOS machine.
Improved stability means you can get more work done instead of troubleshooting the latest weird error.
Security: Ditch the Anti-Virus
The only thing worse than getting a virus on your laptop is the anti-virus software you must install to protect it. It runs whenever your computer is on and hogs the resources, slowing everything down. That’s fine when you’re doing a little light internet browsing or writing up a report, but when you need to edit videos or images, play games, or do something else intensive, the whole system crawls at a snail’s pace.
And that’s before the endless requests to update the software, run a virus check or upgrade to “premium.”
On a Linux machine, there is none of that. Most people running Linux don’t use any anti-virus software and never have any issues. Why? Fortunately, one of the benefits of being unpopular is that hackers don’t write viruses for Linux. Instead, they target Windows users as so many more exist.
A second reason is that Linux users download their software from official repositories where the code has already been verified, and you know you can trust it. Of course, you can still download and run programs from the internet if you want, but most people don’t.
Linux users always have full use of their resources without anything running in the background 24/7.
Linux’s package management and respiratory system make finding new software fast, like really fast. For example, say I wanted to install Firefox; all I need to do is pull up a terminal and type “sudo pacman -S Firefox,” I’ll have the latest Firefox version installed and ready to use in seconds. No need to open a web browser; go to Mozilla’s website, download a .exe, and run it. No, just one command.
Not only is downloading software fast on Linux, but most are free too. Downloading software from a distribution’s official repositories is almost always free, so you can save some money for the next productivity tool or gadget you need. If you don’t find it in your distro’s repos, check out Flatpaks, download Obsidian to organize your notes, and have complete control over what it sees.
I started using Linux in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I removed Windows from my hard drive. I was worried about finding replacements for some of my software and that Linux didn’t have a World of Warcraft client.
One weekend, I decided to take the plunge, remove Windows, and download Darktable to replace Lightroom; it was just as good and free. Running WoW through Wine worked flawlessly too.
Low on System Resources
I’m writing this on a laptop I bought in 2015; it takes less than 10 seconds to boot up and is currently using 448MB of RAM.
Depending on your chosen distribution (I’m using Arch), you can run Linux on outdated hardware with few resources. This means that your hardware will last longer because when a windows machine starts to slow down, it will still run Linux for years. It also means that you have more resources available to do the tasks you have.
If you’re rendering a video, it will be quicker if the editing software doesn’t need to fight the operating system for resources.
Which Linux Distributions Are Best for Productivity?
You could install any Linux distribution and add a window manager, set up hotkeys, and have a reasonably productive work environment, but to get all the productivity boosts mentioned above, a few distros stand out.
Arch is an advanced distro that installs as a bare-bones experience without any window manager or desktop. You must be comfortable using the command line to install Arch, as that is how you will set up your system.
There are three main advantages to running Arch.
- You can install exactly what you want.
- It is very resource-light.
- Access to the AUR Arch User Repository, a massive vault of software that you can install with a single command.
Gentoo, like Arch, also comes as a very minimal installation, and you can decide on all the software to install. However, Gentoo users compile their software from code, unlike Arch users. This gives the user more assurance of what they are installing on their system and the opportunity to make modifications when necessary.
Although the added step of compiling software takes a little more time, it does help to keep your system lean and snappy.
Manjaro is a Linux distribution based on Arch. Unlike Arch, however, you can install Manjaro with everything you need to get started pre-installed. Manjaro offers a variety of ISOs with different desktop environments and window managers. Find them on Manjaro’s download page. Flavors include:
No list of Linux Distributions is complete without mentioning Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an easy start for anyone considering trying out Linux for the first time, but it’s not the best choice from a productivity standpoint. Ubuntu is bloated, and although you can install a tiling window manager on it, it’s not designed to be run that way.
Of course, you won’t get access to the AUR with Ubuntu, and more of your resources will be used just keeping the lights on (1-2Gb when idle with Gnome.)