Switching From Windows To Linux

Category: Linux

If you thought computers only came in two flavors, think again. There are other operating systems besides Mac and Windows. In fact, most of the computers that power the Internet are running Linux. This free operating system is robust, secure and runs great even on older computers. Here are some tips on switching from Windows to Linux...

Switching from Windows to Linux

Why Switch to Linux?

Linux (pronounced "lynn-ux") has been used for years to operate the servers that run much of the Internet. And just like DOS grew up and sprouted a fancy graphical interface, so Linux has evolved into a user-friendly point and click system that doesn't require a computer science degree to use.

The question remains however; why switch? Making the jump from a popular, mass-marketed product like Windows to a more obscure, less-hyped solution like Linux, is akin to opting for the wallflower over the Homecoming Queen. But sometimes the wallflower offers more than the Queen...

For starters, Linux is available for free. It is an open-source program, which means that the source code is available to anyone. This allows a worldwide army of volunteer programmers to update and tweak the Linux software. Over the years, various companies have built upon the Linux core and created their own versions of Linux, referred to as distributions. Some of the more popular Linux distributions are RedHat, SuSE, Debian, Gentoo and Ubuntu.

Linux is a more secure and reliable system than Windows. Tired of rebooting a frozen Windows machine? Linux is less prone to crashing (some users report running Linux for years without rebooting) and is less vulnerable to security threats like spyware and viruses. Also, Linux doesn't require the latest and greatest tricked-out hardware to work efficiently. It runs on any PC with a 486 processor or better and 256 MB of RAM is plenty of memory. A scant 500MB of free disk space suffices to run Linux on your desktop happily.

Which Linux?

Ubuntu LinuxUbuntu, which has become the most popular Linux distribution in the last two years, is available as a free download, or you can order it on a CDROM disc if you don't have a high-speed connection. Ubuntu comes with lots of software, including word processing, web browser, email and games. For techies, there are plenty of programming tools and a built-in web server.

There are dozens of Linux distributions, so which one is right for you? Most of the differences depend on your comfort level as a user. If you prefer a focus on ease of installation and everyday use, then Ubuntu or RedHat may be the way to go. If you are more of a programmer type, then Debian or SuSE may be the best choice for you.

I suggest you try a Live CD version of Linux to try it out. With a Live CD, you don't have to install the software -- just boot up from the CD and you can take Linux for a test drive without making any changes to your system. Try the Ubuntu version, Knoppix, or the Gentoo offering.

I've Installed Linux, Now What?

Whichever version you go with, you can still do pretty much the same tasks in Linux as you can in Windows. Almost all versions of Linux come with a Windows-like interface, a desktop with familiar icons, and a file manager similar to Windows Explorer. A web browser and email software will be just a click away. You'll also find games and office software.

If you don't like the browser that comes with your Linux distribution, download Firefox, which works on Windows, Mac or Linux systems. While there is no version of Microsoft Office for Linux, you can download Open Office, a free suite of programs that includes a spreadsheet, word processor, slide show creator and database. It will even create files that are compatible with Microsoft Office programs. While you may not find a Linux version of your favorite Windows-based software package, there is an abundance of free software written for Linux. Check out the Tucows repository or Freshmeat and browse around.

Linus Torvalds - creator of Linux As Linux is constantly being updated, it is becoming more plug and play friendly. Software drivers for components and peripherals are becoming easier to find, so most hardware works just fine with Linux. The downside is that sometimes support for new hardware lags behind Windows. But vendors are keenly aware that Linux is growing fast, so you can expect that gap to close quickly in the future.

Linux can be fun for those that like to delve a bit deeper into the innards of their computer system. Full access to the source code lets curious programmers see how the operating system works. And the Linux command line, although it can be daunting, is a powerful thing of beauty once it is mastered. Check out my LowFat Linux tutorial to learn more about Linux commands.

Linux offers unparalleled stability in a secure environment. At the very least, knowing you have the choice to run an OS other than Windows or Mac gives you freedom from the onslaught of marketing and the option of being master of your own computing destiny. Got questions or comments about switching from Windows to Linux? Post your thoughts below.

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Most recent comments on "Switching From Windows To Linux"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

26 Apr 2007

Why does not anybody mention MINT linux?I find it much more user friendly and closer to windows than Ubuntu.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are hundreds of Linux distros... that's why I suggest you try a few and see which one you like best.

Posted by:

John Howard Oxley
26 Apr 2007

For those concerned with intellectual freedom, there are just 3 letters symbolizing the Linux advantage: DRM! I've been a solid supporter/sufferer of MICROSOFT OS for decades, but the DRM implementation in VISTA is impossible to swallow, so I expect, over the next two years, to shift all of my computing over to Linux, and run whatever WINDOWS legacy applications I have in an XP virtualization.

Since I don't play games, I can not play them just as well on Linux as on WINDOWS, so the disadvantage of the former in that department is not much concern for me.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2007

I used windows in one version or another for years (1996). Windows was easy to use, but not crash proof. I quit windows because I found some things were not user friendly. Trying to figure out the sequence of security updates on reloads and end of support. If you wanted to up date the OS it probably was not compatible with some of your old software or hardware. I switched to Suse about 8 moths ago and will never go back. If you have cutting edge hardware its probably not for you. Although my son bought a new HP laptop and loaded Suse 10.2 with no problems. For the average user with slightly old hardware linux is great.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2007

What makes Linux more secure? Is it the operating system or that it is not a good target because of far fewer users than Windows? Does open source not make it more vulnerable if worked on? Help me understand.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Open source means that thousands of people can view the source code and examine it for potential security flaws. At Microsoft or Apple, there are probably only a few people who fully understand any given component of the code.

Posted by:

Scott Mohnkern
27 Apr 2007

Also don't forget if there are windows apps that you can't live without, there's Wine, the Windows emulator, and Vmware (Though Vmware requires a significant amount of computing power to run reasonably).

I'd been working on Debian machines for more than 4 years (and Solaris before that) and last month was my first look at Ubuntu's desktop. Other than a few minor annoyances, it was completely painless. And Linux does run significantly faster, and more stable than Windows XP on virtually any hardware. Even if you're running Beryl and KDE (Which has way more capability than XP for graphics) its faster on an average machine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Agreed, for further info, see http://www.askbobrankin.com/running_windows_on_linux.html

Posted by:

28 Apr 2007

Bob, One of your better articles trying to expand OS options. I have only dabbled with Linux, but wonder why the world has not switched to a free and flexible OS from an expensive and proprietary MS.

Posted by:

Mike Webb
28 Apr 2007

Bob, your articles on Linux are getting better every time. One thing I would add is that there are inexpensive (and even free!) sources for getting physical CDs of Linux distributions.

Three versions of the Ubuntu distro are available for free thru http://shipit.ubuntu.com, http://shipit.kubuntu.org and http://shipit.edubuntu.org (watch those .com's and .org's). Set up a Launchpad account at one, and then you can go to each of the other sites with the same account and add the others. Takes a month or two, but if one's on dialup, it could make the difference between getting 'em or not. There are also commercial vendors like http://www.cheapbytes.org that sell pre-burned CDs for a little bit of nothing.

I have some constructive responses to others' posts, but I'll make that separate. But I'll add an AMEN! to John Howard Oxley's post here--a major reason to use Linux is FREEDOM. That distinguishes Free Software from freeware. Open source, open standards, freedom to modify the code (or have it modified), no Microsoft trickery (like WGA, activation, DRM and whatever else they have hidden in their CLOSED source code). http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html explains the philosophy of free software. I'd encourage you to include this link in a future article. Keep up the good work! And thanks!

Posted by:

Mike Webb
28 Apr 2007

In addition to my comments on the article, I'd like to add some constructive info to the comments posted thus far.

1) To Shanx: Yes, you can run Linux WITH a GUI on older computers. There are lighter-weight GUIs available which are being used and work well. For example, I use Puppy Linux (http://www.puppyos.com) on an AMD K6/2 300 mhz clone with 256MB of RAM. With a swap file, you can go down to 64MB of RAM if necessary. And it runs like a greyhound!

2) To mel: http://distrowatch.com has more info on the different distros than anyone will ever be able to use. (Bob: consider this link, too)

3) To Kevin: Linux' security largely comes from its UNIX heritage. Like UNIX, Linux was designed with security in mind from the beginning, whereas MS Windows' security was "bolted on" as an afterthought. Bob's mention of the "many eyes make all bugs shallow" effect is also important. Bugs and security holes generally are fixed VERY quickly compared to Microsoft's track record. Hope this helps.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2007

I'm happy to see a positive article on using desktop Linux. Linux is my primary operating system, though I also have XP partitions on each of my three computers.

It's a little misleading to imply a graphical Linux can run on a 486 with 256 megs and fit on 500 megs of hard drive space. The most popular and polished Linux desktop environments require a fair amount of computer power to run well, and with 256 megs you'll probably be hitting the swap file pretty often. It's hard to fit the Linux distros you mention on 500 megs of hard drive. Most require at least 2 gigs of space, and that's for a cut-down installation. Linux works tolerably on older hardware and offers the advantage of a current, aupported operating system, whereas the same hardware can't run XP, and the versions of Windows that will run well on it are no longer supported.

RedHat is a business distro. Home users would use Fedora, but Fedora is something of a test bed for features that will make their way into RedHat. Because Fedora tends to be cutting edge, I don't think it's a wise choice for beginners. You didn't mention Freespire, the free version of Linspire. I don't use Freespire, but it's entire focus is on ease of use and should be considered by people who want something familiar to Windows users.

I use VectorLinux 5.8 Standard, which is designed for speed, lack of bloat, and stability, as well as ease of use. Support is provided through a very friendly and responsive forum. Most Linux distros have user support forums, but not all of them are friendly to newbies.

Posted by:

Thomas Cranston
29 Apr 2007

You wrote that "While there is no version of Microsoft Office for Linux, you can download Open Office, a free suite of programs that includes a spreadsheet, word processor, slide show creator and database". Open Office is included on most of the popular distros.

You might also mention the live distribution Knoppix which comes on CD or DVD. The DVD has 10 GB of stuff on it, including Open Office.

The more full blown live distros run better w/250MB RAM minimum. Try Puppy, Damm Small Linux, Feather, for machines w/less RAM. These distros are about 50MB in size. If one does not work on your computer, try another.

Posted by:

30 Apr 2007

Bob, you've got a great newsletter, but I disagree on your opinion on Linux. Microsoft is behind Ubuntu, so (a) Ubuntu gets press (because Microsoft promotes the coverage), (b) Ubuntu is designed to give would-be Linux users a terrible experience with Linux -- installation failures, slow operation, lack of really good applications, difficulty uninstalling. Indeed, Windows IS better than Ubuntu Linux -- by design.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Microsoft controls Ubuntu, and makes it bad on purpose? Quit your day job, you could make it big as a comedian!

Posted by:

05 May 2007

I made the switch to Linux over three years ago and have never looked back. Not only the savings in money and time on using a secure and stable system, but also the great satisfaction in being an *active* computer user, capable of controlling my own computer environment; rather than a *passive* user, dependent upon the whims of Microsoft and their partners in crime, Symantec, for the latest patches (botches).

Linux is based on the Unix filesystem and security model (root password protection). From the outset it was designed as a multiuser system so was well-equipped to deal with the problems of Internet security.

DOS and Windows were originally conceived for standalone single-user PCs - hence Internet security was always a bolt-on rather than a built-in.

Posted by:

08 May 2007

You mention installing the various products - one thing I found impressive is the suite that comes installed, and the inate ability of the OS to know about and be able to install so many other tools. For example, I thought OpenOffice was installed by default. And the Mozilla browser was just a click away in the installation interface. And through this same interface, all types of applications (both free and purchased) can be managed. A very well thought out environment.

Posted by:

Quaid J Surti
16 May 2007

Thanks Bob for excellent resources that you provide us all. The best thing to happen to Internet is your TourBus and making resources understood to all its riders over past several years.

Posted by:

19 May 2007

i use suse 10.2 Bob, and is it safe not to have antivirus on a linux machine? i have seen free real time scanners offered by bitdefender.com for example, but do i really need to run a scan once in awhile? i mean, i do get fearful with all these viruses being created daily and it make me feel unsecure on a linux box sometimes. let me know what you think! thanks for any guidance. Mark

EDITOR'S NOTE: Anti-virus software is not common on Linux machines, but as they grow in popularity, virus writers will target them more. (Same applies to Macs) I'd run an occasional scan...

Posted by:

Gordon lee
18 Dec 2008

Sir, Is it possible to obtain a list of software that can be installed on Linux? For instance "Nero" which we use now has a version that is Linux compatible. Is "Sound Forge" compatible? We use "Firefox" as our browser and we know that also is OK, what about others.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gordon, there are thousands of Linux software packages. Here's one starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open_source_software_packages

Posted by:

20 Dec 2008

Very interested in scrapping windows and starting over w/ linux. I am, however, not the best w/ computers. What do I do to keep the stuff I want to keep - music, programs, etc. Can I run i-tunes and other basic programs thru linux? (vlc, etc.) What do I do - just download the distributor I want and then delete windows? Kind of a scary thought to the uninitiated...Thanks for any info - is there a big online tutorial on what exactly to do?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I would recommend that you install Linux (Ubuntu will probably be a good choice for you) in a separate partition, with dual boot, so you can boot up either WIndows or Linux. You can access your Windows partition (and thereby all your files) from Linux. You'll find there are decent replacements for most/all of your Windows programs supplied with Ubuntu. If/when you decide to stick with Linux, you can delete the Windows files.

Posted by:

08 Jan 2009

I've been playing with Ubuntu Linux for a little while now and am just getting into switching from IIS web server in Windows to Apache in Linux.

For my own personal computing purposes, because I have so much software for Windows I'll continue to use that, but I know in my mind that there's got to be a better solution for a web server than IIS. The only problem is I'm so used to managing my web pages with FrontPage that when I switch over to Linux all of that will disappear.

I like creating web forms and using PHP and MySQL - all of this can be done on Linux as well but I don't know what kind of tool to use for creating these applications. Any recommendations?

Posted by:

19 Feb 2009

Hello there!
I've been using Linux for the last few years parallel with Windows. A few months ago I bought a new laptop, with which I was forced to buy Vista. I have never used Vista previous to this, and had a great deal of difficulty with it, so I eventually uninstalled the whole lot, reformatted my hard drive, and installed Mandriva Linux, which is my preferred distro. I have now been running Linux exclusively for the last 3 months, and am perfectly happy with it. It is more stable, and more reliable.

I am a little surprised that you have not mentioned Mandriva Linux in your article, Bob. I have tried various different distros over the past few ears, but have not found anything to compare with the ease of installation and intuitive design of Mandriva. Here I am thinking very much in the way of wireless network (including the availability of ndiswrapper, so you can use Windows drivers if necessary), which is a great deal easier to set up in Mandriva than Ubuntu, and the administrator tools in Mandriva are collected in one place, and presented in a way that makes the operating system easy to configure.

It was impossible for me to buy a computer without having to pay for an operative system that I didn't want (as far as I know, I can't even sell it on to someone else without the computer). Isn't it about time laws were passed to prevent computer producers from forcing customers to buy operating systems that they don't want - or any other software for that matter?

Posted by:

arthur pepe
02 Jun 2010

changen windows 98 t0 linux is because can not get virous putcion or get hardware or software or support for windows will not spend hundres of$ for a computer today be gone tomorow will not buy another computer tomorow 3years from now

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