At this point, I am thinking I might just skip letting my roommate play with his drive cloner and go straight to the part where I install Lubuntu on the new SSD.

The various not-Windows operating systems generally let you make what's called a LiveCD or LiveKey, which is essentially the OS on some kind of portable media. They generally start with a menu that gives you the choice between using the OS off the optical disc/USB drive, or installing it to the local hard disk.

I have LiveKeys for both Lubuntu 16.10 and RemixOS 64-bit. The trial for RemixOS is a little unfair; it saves absolutely nothing, not even for pretend, and is almost telepathically fast, so it's clearly running off a RAM drive. I can get it to boot to an "installation", as it's designed to run off of a portable drive, but it's deeply unhappy about being confined to USB 2.0, and an I/O speed of less than half the 10Mbit/s it wants makes it unusable. It's got some quirks; notably, it assumes I'm on a tablet, so the multitouch scrolling wants me to drag the contents of the screen up and down, as opposed to the regular computer method, which drags the aperture instead. There's probably a way to change it, but I've no idea what it is. If it ran off of a local SSD, I think it would be perfectly content.

The Lubuntu LiveKey happens to be on a thumbdrive with an access LED, which goes blinky-blinky from time to time, so it is actually using some kind of disk cache when running from portable media. (I assume a LiveCD configures itself to use a RAM disk for cache. Otherwise it would get very confused when it couldn't put anything on the scratch pad.) It's effectively running off of a very small, very slow SSD. I can see the local HDD, and open things off of it, but otherwise it doesn't spin up at all. The computer generates so little heat that the fan has pretty much been idle the whole time.

What's particularly interesting is that this is also almost alarmingly fast. I get reasonably good performance out of the Toshiba (Satellite A205, release date 2007; 1.30 GHz dual-core Celeron/1GB RAM; network name: Maleficent) running a lightweight Lubuntu install with XFCE graphical shell. Maleficent doesn't particularly like maintaining two dozen Chromium tabs under a full-screen HD YouTube stream while I fool around with GIMP on the other monitor, but neither does anything fall down go boom. The amount of grumbling I get, in fact, is roughly the same as I get putting that load on the ASUSTek (RemixOS seems to think it's a K54C, release date 2011; 2.20GHz dual-core B960/4GB RAM; network name: Natasha). Which means the main bottleneck here is not the hardware, it's fucking Windows.

I am not a power user. I don't do a whole lot of real-time 3D renders or video editing. I'm not a big PC gamer; nothing on my Steam account is less than 10 years old, and the most processor-intensive games I run locally are on emulators, where I coax a pile of computer parts worth maybe $20 into pretending to be a 20-year old, $200 Playstation. The single worst thing I do to the actual brains is probably work with large print-resolution raster graphics in GIMP, and I abuse the RAM by using Open In New Tab... by default for days at a time.

[And actually most of the gaming is on the Kindle Fire now. I find 7" a nice size for getting a game and the control overlay on the screen at the same time. It's plenty smart enough to be a PSP, a handheld which itself was smart enough to run PSX games in emulation. Supposedly there's a working PS2 emu out there somewhere. The only downside is that emulators eat battery like a scientifically-engineered battery-eating thing. So does Pokémon GO!, and everybody loves that, so I think I'll cope.]

Unless you are rooting around in a terminal window -- pun unintended, but spared in edits for being apropos -- all of the major OSes work pretty much the same. You communicate with the computer the same way you order food in a foreign country: Find a picture of what you want and poke at it until your server gets the idea. The window/icon metaphor has been the fundamental basis of every GUI since they were invented at Xerox PARC. They may be arranged slightly differently and stashed in different places, but at the end-user level, all computers do the same stuff now. Once upon a time, when the architecture was much more obvious to the schmuck at the keyboard, the various kinds of "microcomputers" were tuned for different things -- Amigas were known for video, Ataris and the Speccy were good at games, PCs descended from boring business computers, etc. These days, all of the working software runs at such a high level of abstraction that what the machine is optimized for is not down to the brand or build, but to the amount of raw computing resources you've shoved into the case.

There are two reasons all of my preferred software is free open-source stuff, and the less obvious one is that I don't want to fucking learn everything three times. Programs like Libre/OpenOffice and Sigil are not written for one platform and ported to others; they're written in high-level platform-independent languages and compiled for different operating systems instead. (The interpreter and compiler you use to write it are dependent on your OS; the language itself is not, although if you really want you can still tune it to quirks of specific architecture.) The Windows, Mac, and Linux forks are compiled off of the same master build, so all three versions work exactly the same no matter what kind of computer you're on. It's especially obvious if you use GIMP for Windows. Windows applications are supposed to keep all their child windows inside a containing parent window, but this by tradition, not necessity; there's nothing in the operating environment enforcing it. And in fact GIMP for Windows uses the Mac/Linux paradigm of letting all its toolbars and palettes float all over the damn place, completely unconnected to the window that holds the working image and the master menu bar.

There are a few compelling reasons for sticking with Windows if you're running a business or an institution. If you've got any specialized software that runs only on Windows, you kind of need it. Most people are familiar with it, so you don't have to give all your employees a crash course on the many and various uses of apt-get and why you do not type sudo anything unless you have a damn good reason. There's also the stability of having your OS supported by a giant corporation with a 24-hour helpdesk and upper-tier technicians and some sort of independent existence that you can sue the pants off of if for some reason they make your computer burst into flames.

I need to perform specific tasks more than I need to have specific software, and all of my shit is A) junk by current standards, and B) way out of warranty even if I didn't constantly void EULAs by tinkering. I really just need something that functions as a computer. I might have bought a Chromebook the last time I was on this merry-go-round, except they topped out at 13" and I'd go blind trying to do graphics work on that.