I’ve Installed Manjaro, a GNU/Linux distribution on my ThinkPad X220.

Why Manjaro and not another Linux? I wanted a beginner-friendly Arch-based distro, and Manjaro more than fit the bill. And I liked how it looks.

Why Linux? I have no issue with Windows 10, on the contrary it has helped me get my work done. Even more so accessiblity-wise: I need all the help I can get in order to compensate for my bad eyesight, and the last couple Windows 10 updates have been great in that regard. And so has been Microsoft Office. I have no problem using them. Save one.

I was aware of Windows 10 ‘telemetry’, as Microsoft qualifies its own integrated spywares: the fact that they collect a lot of data about us, what we do on our machines and how we use them. I was getting tired of having to fight Windows 10 just to try to preserve some privacy — it is an absurd fight, no user should have to deal with — but it was not that hard either, and I could have keep on using Windows 10 just because of Microosft Office 365 and its accessibility features.

No, the straw that broke the camels back was Microsoft Office itself, and for the stupidiest reason: I wanted to write offline.

So, what? Cut the Wifi and done, no? Not really.

Quite naively, I discovered that my Office 365 subscription wouldn’t let me work offline for more than a month, as it needs to regularly check my sub is still active to keep on working as expected. Too bad, to my best and most optimistic guess, I needed at least three months to finish this project, probably more. I perfectly understand Microsoft’s motivation, but discovering that I had to connect to use Word was a hard pill to swallow. Even more so as the only solution they ‘offered’ to my specific problem was to purchase an Office 2019 perpetual license (non-subscription based), ignoring the fact that I was already a paid subscriber to Office 365.

The standard perpetual license of Office is not cheap compared to the subscription (it starts at 150€ against 69€, for the base subscription plan to O365), it is also tight to the machine you install it on (there is no way to uninstall it and then to install it on another computer, later on), and it is not as feature-rich as the subscription version (you don’t get access to the advanced AI stuffs). But since it was for work, and since I don’t need those fancy AI features, I purchased a license, uninstalled my subscription-based Office from the computer (since they can’t co-exist on the same PC), and installed the new one.

As expected, after a single connection to the Internet to activate the new license, I was able to fully work offline. No problem. Save one. Every time I would open my freshly-purchased Microsoft Word, it would display an ugly button right in the title bar, suggesting me to… use an Office 365 subscription. With no way to turn it off.

WTF, Microsoft?

To be clear, the button was just sitting in the title bar, it was not blocking anything or preventing me to use Word at all. It was just starring at me all the time, and me back at it. A mocking reminder that I had just spend good money to not access the latest and most feature-rich version of Word, a version I was already paying for but was not allowed to use. Instead of writing, I ended up looking at this stupid button and it got me thinking.

Not only was I constantly being forced to fight against my computer’s operating system, in order to preserve my right to privacy, but I was also being asked to spend more money, on a word processor I was already paying for, just to be able to use it the way I wanted to, on my computer. And now, this stupid button.

Like I told you, I have no problem using ‘proprietary’ softwares and paying for their licenses, but what happened struks me as going far beyond that. The real question was not to decide if it was stupid/too expensive to pay for that, but to decide if this computer really was still mine anymore?

Was it? Everything I was doing was being spied upon, and I was told what I could do (and could not), and when, and how. And if it wasn’t mine anymore, why was I being asked to pay for it like if I owned it?

I did not like the anwser to that question. And here I am, today: running Manjaro on my computer, using LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Word.

I have not given up on Windows or MS Office (and a few other apps), that’s simply not an option. But I want to see if and how I can work using Linux and libreOffice (and other Free Softwares).

I need time to adjust to a new ecosystem, and I also have no idea if I can do it. Some things are good, some are better than on Windows (or macOS). Some are worse. Some are driving me nuts (like some stuff on macOs or Windows).

As far as writing is concerned, LibreOffice lacks a few of MS Office more advanced features I heavily rely on:

  • Its macro language being the most important: Microsoft VBA may not be cool and popular nowadays but I could not care less: it lets me do whatever I want (I wrote my own WordPress parser, taylored to my specifc needs, to publish to my blogs directly from Word). And if I was alright with the idea of spending some time learning the basics of LibreOffice’s own macro language, after I started browsing its documentation… I gave up. It may be powerful but I could not say, as I could not find an easy (to me, at least) entry into it. I could spend much more time on it and find my way out (or is it in?), but I don’t want to spend that much time on this. I’ll probably end up using some bash scripts instead, but that will take some time too just to figure it out.
  • There is no Immersive Reader in LibreOffice, which happens to be the mode in which I now write the most when I use Word. There are workarounds, you can expect a post on that topic.
  • LibreOffice Navigation pane is very limited in comparison to Word’s (under Windows, the macOS version is very limited too) which lets you move content anywhere in your document directly from the sidepane by drag’n drop, and lets you quickly get word count for a specific chapter/section by right-clicking on its heading in the sidepane.

Not having those tools in LibreOffice is a pain, but it’s not a dealbreaker: I can work — if more clumsily — without them but it’s frustrating. So, I’m still looking for better solutions, the question being: how much work and time am I willing to put in order to find viable alternatives to what I’m used to do in Word? We will see ;)

So far, the experience of using Linux itself is very positive: I enjoy it. It was easy to set the desktop to fit my bad eyesight. Manjaro is fast and responsive, even on my nine-years-old laptop. It’s easy to use. I quickly found fine alternatives, when not better, to many things and apps. Except maybe for image editing, more on that in coming posts.

And not having that constant feeling of my operating system spying on me is liberating, as is the feeling that I can do what I want, how I want, when I want. Plus, it’s an opportunity to learn to do things in new ways.