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Should I Switch to Linux from Windows?

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I give up. Between Windows 8 and Windows 10 and Microsoft’s privacy debacle, I’m done.

What do you think if I convert to Linux, or am I wasting my time? What applications and utilities are compatible, i.e. browsers, anti spyware, virus protection, etc. How would you go about setting the computer up. I have moderate experience, utilizing forums and sites like yours when encountering major problems.

Linux is a great way to extend the life of older computers, simply because many Linux distributions require fewer resources than Windows does.

And lately, I’m hearing from people who, like you, are frustrated with Microsoft and Windows, and are looking for something else.

Linux isn’t for everyone, but it can be a solid alternative.

However, we need to set realistic expectations, and naturally, there are a few “gotchas” along the way.

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Linux distributions

One of the first concepts to understand about a switch to Linux is it’s not just one operating system — it’s many. In fact, the number of different Linux versions numbers well into the hundreds, and the vast majority of them are completely free.

These different versions are referred to as “distributions”, or “distros” for short. Each is based on a core version of the Linux guts, referred to as its “kernel”, but each differs in various ways and for different reasons. Some are targeted at low-end machines, others make really good web servers, and others are better for desktop usage.

It’s the latter I’ll focus on here, recommending two distributions for general-purpose use.

Both of these allow you to choose between different user interfaces. Windows comes with whatever Start menu and desktop it comes with, but with these distributions of Linux, you get to choose among several options.

As we’ll see shortly, you can experiment to see which you like best. For now, I’ll recommend the one I often use on desktop machines.

A switch to Linux Mint Cinnamon will probably be most comfortable for those resisting the kinds of user interface changes that appeared in Windows 8 and 10.1

Linux Mint Cinnamon

Linux expectations

Once we’ve selected a distribution, there are a couple of important expectations I want to set. Windows users often complain about how often updates happen and how long their current version of Windows is supported.

In Linux, both those factors vary with the distribution you’re running.

Linux update frequency

Different distros update at different rates. In fact, those rates can cascade in a fairly complex chain of events. Both Ubuntu and Mint, for example, are based on the Debian distribution of Linux. That means updates can be initiated from no fewer than four places: the Linux kernel, the Debian distribution, and the specific downstream distribution (Mint or Ubuntu) you’re running, as well as any additional applications you have installed.

Mint Update

Unlike Microsoft, most distributions don’t batch their updates into a once-a-month cycle, but make them available as they’re ready. My experience with Linux Mint is that updates appear frequently, as in perhaps multiple times per week. The good news is, there’s usually no harm in waiting awhile, and should there be a critical update, it’s made available as quickly as possible.

Linux life cycle

I’ll be blunt: if you’re complaining about Windows’ life cycle, you don’t know how good you have it. I know of no other popular operating system that is supported for as long as Windows. If you switch to Linux because of this, you’ll be disappointed.

Most Linux distributions fall into two classifications of release:

  • “Normal” releases, typically supported for two years.
  • “LTS” releases, standing for Long Term Support. LTS releases are generally supported for five years.

In addition, while frequent releases are typically in-place upgrades, more major releases often don’t have that as an option — you must reinstall the operating system from scratch in order to upgrade.2

The good news, however, is that unlike Windows, it’s typically not nearly as risky to keep using an unsupported version long past the end of its life.

Linux: the same, only different

Most major concepts are common across Linux, Windows, and MacOS. Files are files, folders are folders, they all have a clipboard, and they all run similar applications.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. Keystrokes may be different (CTRL+Q instead of ALT+F4 to exit a program, for example, or CTRL+Insert to copy to clipboard, rather than CTRL+C); menu options may be different; and occasionally, similar programs behave differently, perhaps making assumptions in one operating system that the other asks about instead.

There are simply too many small differences at this detailed level to cover exhaustively. The good news here is that, as I said, the concepts are typically the same, and the differences often fall into the category of “similar” rather than radically different.3

Linux applications

The first place folks often run into trouble with a switch to Linux is applications support.

Windows applications will not run on Linux. You’ll need to find Linux versions of the applications you care about in order to run them on Linux. These fall into three broad categories:

  • Applications that are, in fact, the same. Many applications you may already be familiar with have Linux versions. Examples include the FireFox web browser and the Thunderbird email client.
  • Alternative applications. In many cases, there are alternatives to the applications you’re familiar with. For example, the Open Office (or Libre Office) suite is available for Linux. While it’s the same as the Open Office suite on Windows, it’s only an alternative to the more common Microsoft Office on Windows. As an alternative, it’s compatible — to a point. Many, though not all, of the same features and functionality exist, though often in different ways. Even though they’re “compatible”, documents may look different when exchanged between Microsoft Office and Open Office applications. This is a common experience across many of the alternative applications available for Linux. Once again, they’re the same, only different.
  • Missing applications. There is no Quicken or QuickBooks for Linux. You can’t play World of Warcraft on Linux; some applications have no direct alternative available. Your only hope then might be to choose a different approach to the problem (for example, QuickBooks has an online offering, if you’re comfortable with that), or running Windows on another machine so you can continue to use the Windows program(s) you need.

When it comes to applications support, it really boils down to what you need and how you use your computer. The great news here is that there are thousands and thousands of applications available, mostly for free.

Mint Software Manager

While there are anti-malware tools for Linux, they’re typically not as extensive, and, to be honest, not as necessary as they are on Windows. Linux on the desktop simply isn’t the target for malware that Windows is.4

Linux hardware support

The second place folks run into problems with a switch to Linux is hardware support — more specifically, either advanced support or support for newer (or more esoteric) hardware.

One problem with hardware support is rooted in device drivers and the terms of the Linux open-source license. Technically, all software distributed with Linux is supposed to be open-source — meaning anyone can view, and in some cases even modify, the software (within certain limits). Hardware manufacturers resist this, as it can expose proprietary features relating to their hardware. On top of that, hardware manufacturers don’t often take the time to write device drivers for Linux, as it’s such a small part of their overall market.

The result is that many drivers are basic, generic, or fail to take advantage of a device’s full range of abilities in Linux.

Sometimes there’s no driver at all, so a particular piece of hardware simply doesn’t work on Linux machines.

The good news is, the vast majority of hardware is either fully supported, or supported well enough to keep most people satisfied.

Linux user support

The final place folks run into trouble when they switch to Linux is when they … well, when they run into trouble.

Getting help for Linux issues is more difficult than for either Windows or Mac. There are two basic stumbling blocks:

  • There are few equivalents to an “Ask Leo!” for Linux. I don’t address it often, since most of the people coming here are Windows users with Windows issues, so I’m able to help the greatest number of people by answering those types of questions. The result is that Linux isn’t big on my radar. The same is true for the vast majority of technical support sites and forums on the internet.
  • The forums and venues that do exist for Linux support have a reputation for being intimidating, geeky, and unfriendly to beginners. That’s unfortunate, but I’ve visited enough places for solutions to my own Linux problems, and I’ve seen it often enough to note it here.

The best advice I can offer is to be extremely clear in any questions you post, and to read carefully and respond to any and all responses you get. More often than not, frustration is generated when questions are vague and incomplete, and when people provide answers that are apparently not even read.

Giving Linux a try

It’s really easy to give Linux a try, and if you’re considering Linux, I’d encourage you to do so.

Most distributions are delivered in the form of a “Live” CD or DVD (or bootable USB image) which you can download from the website of the specific distribution you’re interested in, such as Linux Mint or Ubuntu. Download and burn these to a disc, and then boot from that disk5. Rather than running a setup program, a live CD will actually boot into a running, usable copy of Linux — without modifying your hard drive or Windows.

In fact, you can often use these live discs to recover files from your hard disk using Linux-based tools.

Play with Linux. Experiment a little. See what programs you like or don’t like. See how it is different and whether or not you really care about those differences.

Two important things to note about running a live CD:

  • Nothing will be saved, unless you happen to use and save to an online service. (For example, reading your email on Outlook.com on the web should work — and save — just fine.)
  • It’ll be slower than if it were installed on your system. Don’t read too much into the performance you experience with a live CD.

Switch to Linux

First: create a complete image backup of your existing Windows machine.

I cannot stress that point enough: back up your machine completely before you install Linux.

The issue here is that switching from Windows to Linux is as big a change, if not bigger, as upgrading directly from Windows XP to Windows 10. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to get used to. After using it for a while, you may very well decide that it doesn’t meet your needs, or it’s just not your cup of tea.

Maybe Windows wasn’t so bad after all. 🙂

Having that complete image backup of your machine means that reverting to what you had will not only be possible, but relatively easy.

The bottom line: depending on your needs and your willingness to take a little time to learn a few different ways of doing things, Linux can be a very viable alternative to Windows, and a cost-effective way to extend the life of an older PC.

Video Narration

Footnotes & references

1: Warning: Some folks can get downright religious when expressing their opinion on what the “best” distribution or “best” desktop choice might be. Don’t let that scare you; for everyone that feels this or that is good or bad, there are others that feel the polar opposite just as strongly. Ultimately, make your own choice – something Linux is good at.

2: I recently went through this exercise with my Linux machine. My current version was no longer supported. I let it run that way for “a while”, but then bit the bullet and did a clean reinstall.

3: I’m really talking about the graphical user interface. The Linux command line is actually fairly different, though exceptionally powerful, and pretty consistent across all distributions.

4: Running a Linux server, on the other hand, is another matter. While not subject to the same types of malware as the desktop, they are all under constant attack. The only machine I’ve ever personally had compromised was a Linux server which was then used to send spam.

5: Check out How do I boot from CD/DVD? and How do I boot from CD/DVD/USB in Windows 8? if you’re unclear on how.

83 comments on “Should I Switch to Linux from Windows?”

  1. I think Ubuntu would have a hard time in 384MB of ram. It would still work but it would not be as nimble. I would first try SAM Linux. It’s a derivative of PCLinuxOS. I would download the Live CD and give it a whirl. It has most of the multimedia codecs and plugins baked in or at least readily available with the package manager. The next step down in hardware requirements is Puppy Linux and after that DSL (Damn Small Linux).

    {expired links removed}

    Reply
  2. I think that installing Windows 2000 is still a very good option for this laptop! I have several older machines running this version of Windows. Even on an old P1 233 Mhz. – 128 MB RAM it runs quite well!

    Reply
  3. I second the suggestion of trying out Ubuntu with a “Live Cd” . If you do not like it or if it does not meet your needs then all you have to do is get rid of the CD. Other Linux distros also have “Live CD” so you can easily test any number of them.

    Reply
  4. I see someone beat me to the suggestion to just go back to Windows 2000. Which I run with 512mb RAM on a P3 1000mHz computer, and I shamelessly overload it with live stock market data coming in and many programs running at the same time. Occasionally the overload boggles it down, but in general it does very well.

    Which brings up a question for you Leo, why XP? Can you tell me what advantage a person would gain by switching from Win2000 to WinXP?

    John

    Reply
  5. I agree with Richard about trying the small linux distros. I have been looking for a couple of months at different linux distros. Those he mentioned would be a great place to start.

    Reply
  6. When you’re running from LiveCD, loading of programs will be quite slower than normal because it’s loading from CD. After you load it once, it’ll load from RAM. (In Ubuntu) You can add a system monitor on your panel and change the preference to show the memory. Then you can see how much RAM is used while you’re doing your usual work. Note that “cached” doesn’t really count as being “used”. I personally would recommend Ubuntu. I’ve used it for 5 months and never gone back to Windows. Good luck.

    Reply
  7. I’m suprised Leo!?! There a number of emulator/virtual machines for Linux! I personally use Ubuntu 7.10 and tried Linux Mint, Mandrake, and kubuntu! On my current Ubuntu based computer I’m using Wine for Windows media Player and a few other apps! And Im using Innotek Virtual box to run XP inside Ubuntu! I use Compiz fusion which a desktop manager basically gives you 4 desktops in the form of a cube and on one side of the cube is XP (Would be vista but my 64-bit Vista isnt supported yet) and on the other 3 desktops I play with internet or whatever! I have a Matrix animated background for all the desktops play music surf the internet with Linux and inside the xp virtual machine I encode video or anything else while my system is faster than Windoze would
    be as the host system! Did I mention this is all on my HP laptop lol! I have to say I havent been able to play Battlefield 2142 online in the xp box tho! Heres is an attempt at posting a screenshot!
    http://i77.photobucket.com/albums/j43/brianarydata/Screenshot-4.png

    Reply
  8. In your opinion, what should I do? I am a complete green pea!!

    I’m running an old Dell w/ a pentium III processor. The OS is Windows XP. I have a ton of files I want to keep on this computer, and never want to lose.

    How can I convert to Linux? How would I import my files to the new OS? If I have cleaned up my disks and the computer still ran slow, would it run faster with Linux? Would I have more space…??? Do I have enough in my old processor to handle the use of both Windows XP and Linux?

    Please help. I’m broke and need some tips. I heard something about being able to do all this for free, just by downloading, and tweaking. Is this true?

    Thank you!!!
    -slow computer user

    First, BACK UP THOSE FILES. Burn them to CD or do something so that you have them somewhere safe in case your computer dies or otherwise has problems.

    Second, yes Linux may well be a viable alternative. Without knowing exactly what kinds of applications you rely on it’s hard to give you a definite yes or not. I will say that most Linux installations will reformat (erase) your hard disk as part of the installation process. There are ways around it, but if you have your files BACKED UP it’s often still the right thing to do.

    Good luck!

    – Leo
    24-Feb-2009
    Reply
    • Go to egghead.com, and sign up for their emails. They have great deals on refurbished computers, as low as $100 – $200. Many of these even come with Windows 7. This gives you vastly improved hardware AND software.

      Of course, you could install Linux on the new system if you’d prefer. I recommend Linux Mint, because it’s interface is more like Windows.

      Then copy your important files over to the new computer.

      Then get yourself a USB thumb drive (or two), at least 16GB in size. Again, these are very cheap. Make extra copies of your files and store them.

      Now you’re sitting pretty, for just a few bucks. Enjoy.

      Reply
        • The reference to egghead.com is in a comment not in the article. So it’s not coming from Leo. Also, it’s not actually broken, it looks like it is redirected to Amazon. That’s done on purpose. Nice to know the subtle differences.

          Reply
        • I wonder if the site Jack was referring to was newegg.com. Egghead.com has been out of business for more than a decade. Apparently, Amazon bought the domain and redirects egghead traffic to Amazon.

          Reply
  9. I just bought a Toshiba NB205-311/W netbook with Windows XP home and trial versions of Norton, Works, etc, none of which I am enthused about paying for. I already have an assigned work laptop (personal use discouraged seriously) and a home desktop, which has all the addons and memory I require for most purposes, which I am not ready to part with yet. So this netbook is going to be used for my weekend-away-from-home, holidays where weight is at a premium, checking my e-mails in bed or surfing-the-net on the verandah. I really am quite frustrated by the bloatware that Microsoft is creating not to mention the instability issues that I see on my work laptop and my home desktop frequently, so want to try Linux, etc. Do you think Linux + Openoffice would be a viable trial environment for the new Netbook? And if so, what browser will I need to download?

    Yep. My little Asus eeePC is running a version of Ubuntu. I think you’ll find most come with FireFox for a browser.

    Leo
    29-Jul-2009

    Reply
  10. I have just tried the Live CD version of Mandriva Linux 2010, and not only does it recognize all my hardware on both machines, it also will let me import my Windows Xp data. I for one cannot lose 1.5 Tb.’s of data, as it is important to my work.
    yet out of all the latest distro’s available, this one simply works, with out breaking my exisiting Xp install /stored files.
    i hope this helps anyone considering the switch to linux.

    Reply
  11. Surely (almost) the easiest thing to try is installing more RAM? Assuming you’re not running more stuff in the background that’s doing you no good at all. I run a 1 GHz Athlon WinXP in 1 GB of RAM and have nothing to complain of.

    Many machines, particularly older ones, are already maxed out on the amount of RAM they can hold.

    Leo
    01-Dec-2010

    Reply
  12. i have an older computer 1gb ram, and my dedicated video card died. so playing Diablo II on bnet became a lag problem. using game booster and process explorer, i was able to get my Xp installation down to use 44% of my ram, still lagging on Bnet, i wondered if vista would do better i installed it, but it used over 68% of my ram no matter what i did and bnet was even worse. then i switched to win 7, i got the resources down to about 56% of my ram, which seemed to fill up quickly when using programs. then i found a win 7 installation that has the cache turned off. (is it true Leo, win 7 reserves 512k for caching???) not only does my computer fly now, i can play on Bnet, and using game booster and process explorer i can get win 7 down to using 22% of my ram!!!!!!!!!! it handles memory so much better that my old intel 945 video adapter has plenty of spirit and i dont have to switch to linux now!

    Reply
  13. Here’s my cautionary tale. Having recently reinstalled Windows XP after trying Ubuntu 10.10 from the Live CD, I must warn anyone trying it out to check first before installing Ubuntu to see whether your printer (or other hardware) is supported by whatever installation you choose. I ran Ubuntu alongside Windows for a while and liked it, so I decided to install it (alongside Windows, I thought), but during the installation I guess I agreed to having Ubuntu reformat the hard drive and it removed Windows.

    I wasn’t too upset because I still liked it and thought it would work fine until I tried to print a letter and found that it did not have a driver from Canon that would support my printer and after visiting forums and searching for an answer found that Canon had no plans to develop one for Ubuntu or any other Linux installation, as far as I could tell. So, this put a tremendous dent in my ability to use Ubuntu and I would have to have Windows on the computer, too, for those times when I needed to print something. Either that or buy a new, supported printer which I did not want to do. So, I had to remove it and reinstall Windows XP.

    During the installation process, however, Ubuntu deleted a FATS partition from the hard drive that I had wanted to get rid of for a very long time but couldn’t in Windows XP. So, everything turned out ok. I just wish I could have installed it to run inside Windows, or alongside without having to use the CD each time I wanted to use it. That slowed the whole process down so much, it wasn’t really a solution to my “old computer” problem.

    Reply
  14. YES

    I cannot stress that more. I am posting this from a pentium 3 running at 450 MHZ with puppy Linux, a distro designed for older PC’s. As of version 5, puppy is binary compatible with Ubuntu. What ubuntu can run, puppy can also. Go ahead. There is nothing to lose…

    Reply
  15. I’ve been studying the various Linux Distros for at least 6 months and have tried several of them as live cd’s including among others Mandriva and Ubuntu. Then I tried Linux Mint. Currently my choice is Linux Mint Xfce. I’m running a pc with a 1.4 GHz Athlon, 512 RAM, and a 320 Gig HDD. It is set up to dual boot with Windows XP since I have 2 programs which won’t tun on Linux (my J Rivers Media Jukebox and movie organizer.) Otherwise I’d have completely switched since I’m tired of dealing with the Windows cost and other issues. In fact, to upgrade to Windows 7, will take new computers for our family, not an insignificant cost.

    Reply
    • Do you really need to rely/run. the above Programs?
      There is an excellent Open source one, derived from XBMC, now called Kodi; Are you sure that it
      wont fulfill your needs?
      There are many, excellent Media prog. free options available; Where would the Music Industry be without them?

      Reply
  16. One issue to know about before hand:

    Flash is generally unusable on Linux. Some flash sites run slow, and others not at all. Some streaming sites will check your OS and refuse to stream to a Linux computer. It is not a good option if you plan on using a lot of streaming video such as Hulu, Youtube and Netflix.

    Reply
    • Check out WHY Flash is problematic; It will be the same with some HTTP sites being rejected,
      over the HTTPS ones, A matter of Security.

      Reply
  17. Hi Leo . Thanks for your interesting and informative news letters.
    Just want ask, in light of the recent malware attack on Mac O/S, surly you would revisit your comment and emphasize the need for anti virus/ anti malware for both Mac and Linux O/S? I know the recent incidents must have put a little dent on the smugness of some Mac users, is it not possible that Linux could be a future target as well, after all no system is 100% safe out there.

    Reply
    • There now exist Site Attacks which circumvent Firewalls etc.,
      I think that there was an article from Kaspersky on this matter.

      Reply
  18. @Ralph
    in Are Macs inherently safer? Leo points out that because of a smaller market share, Macs aren’t targeted as much as Windows PCs. This is still somewhat true. Targeted less but still targeted. Linux has a much smaller market share than Mac, so it would be even less a target. But you are right. There’s always a chance of malware in any system.

    Reply
  19. Perhaps this might be a good time to mention / refer to virtual machines, and hosting a Windows VM on your Linux box? (In particular, a way to grab a disk image of your old Windows system and turn it into a virtual disk image for the VM.)

    Reply
    • Adding a virtual machine to run Windows on an older machine will very probably bog you down.
      A beter route may be to use Wine. It’s essentialy an API translation layer that allow windows applications to run on a Linux system.
      As it don’t need to have both OS loaded, the resources footprint is much lower.
      But I must agree that using the image of your old Windows system as a virtual disk to access your files can be very interesting.

      Reply
      • My experience running Wine some time ago was abysmal. It ran the application, but it was horrifically slow. Setting up a virtual machine and running the same app with that VM was much, much more effective. I suspect it depends on the hardware involved – specifically the amount of RAM you have available, and what else your machine might be doing at the same time.

        Reply
    • The Linux world is chock full of discussions of virtual machines but good luck getting anyone to tell how to set one up in language you can actually understand. Linux “helpers” expect you to be able to instantly run complicated, arcane codes somewhere (they rarely tell you where) or to recompile the kernel with their tweak (they might as well be speaking Martian). And just try to figure out the acronyms or other jargon without spending hours at Google. The Wikipedia articles about Linux features are often more incomprehensible than the original question you had. They will spin you long paragraphs using general, descriptive language where you can’t tell what is a label, what is a literal term and what is merely a placeholder to be substituted for. Then they avoid giving any examples, meaning you are supposed to know every term they use in detail, just as well as they do. This so-called support is nonsense. No thank you Linux. I still don’t know how to set up a virtual machine until some whistleblower reveals the secret Linux procedure. And the same goes for most additions to linux. I tried to set up Wine on Ubuntu and did get about a thousand lines of code displaying, ending up with some error. End of story. No indication of what error or how to fix it. So Wine is out too. Meaning Netflix is out too. Nothing really works right on Linux. Free is a great concept but the implementation is not for Earthlings.

      Reply
      • “Nothing really works right on Linux.” – I wouldn’t say that’s entirely accurate. It is, however, certainly accurate to say that getting things to work right can require perseverance. If you’re switching to Linux for the first time, you should expect to encounter some challenges and to spend some time scratching your head. That said, once you’ve climbed the learning curve – assuming you can be bothered to make it to the top – Linux really isn’t that much harder to use than Windows or OS X, on a superficial level at least

        I actually used Linux for hobbyist reasons in the dim and distant past, but abandoned it after a couple of years. The reason I abandoned it – and this is something people thinking about switching to Linux should consider – was that I had to use Windows at work. Switching between operating systems was a pain in the posterior. I’d attempt to use Linux commands and shortcuts in Windows, and Windows commands and shortcuts in Linux. It slowed me down in both operating systems and the situation didn’t improve with the passing of time. Maybe other people wouldn’t find switching back and forth to be a problem, but I certainly did. Yes, Linux has progressed since the time I used it and is now considerably more user-friendly, but there’s still enough differences to be problematic for users familiar with Windows/OS X.

        Should people convert to Linux? In most cases – and especially for non-technical people – I’d say no. From a purely practical perspective, both Windows and OS X are much better choices.

        I’m pretty sure that desktop Linux will remain a very niche OS. In order for it to become more mainstream, I think the Linux community would need to eliminate 90% of current distros and focus their manpower on properly developing and supporting the remainder – probably no more than 3 or 4 – but I really can’t see that happening. The current situation of multiple distros with different subsystems, different dependencies and different core libraries – which are frequently updated in such a way to break apps – simply does not work. It doesn’t work for software developers, and that means it doesn’t work for consumers either. What really matters to end-users is not so much the operating system, as the overall ecosystem of apps and services that it enables. And it’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to create that ecosystem when desktop Linux is so fragmented. It’s a pity really as desktop Linux could – if it were properly developed and supported – become a viable alternative to Windows and OS X.

        Reply
  20. Some quick pointers:-
    My Distro. of choice is opensuse; Next month, they are going to a Rolling Release cycle, so no 6/8 month releases.
    Many Lite Distro’s, can be run from a USB Stick; In fact, for security reasons, running from a Stick, in RAM, leaves no trace
    on the Host machine, and is THE means to do Secure Internet Banking.
    Printers; There is a Standard insall for Linux called CUPS, which interfaces with most Printers; But you can also work Wirelessly.
    Some Windows Programmes, can run on Linux, via WINE.
    David

    Reply
  21. It is also worth mentioning that you can also run a computer with Both a Linux Distro., as well as Windows, BUT, you must either
    install Linux first, then Windows, as Linux can be configured to use only a given sector of your Hard Disc, whereas, Windows spreads
    itself over the whole Disc; Do it in reverse, and you WILL corrupt most of your Windows Install.
    There is one Fundamental aspect which is often overlooked, and it is that for most people, whether it is Linux or Windows,
    opensuse or Ubuntu, tends to be insignificant, as what you will actually encounter is the Desktop Environment.
    My choice is KDE, but many Lite ones exist, see:-
    http://www.tecmint.com/open-source-lightweight-linux-desktops/
    One of the most intimidating aspects you will encounter, is the range of choices/options, in Packages to install, as well as
    Configuration options; In a way, a Linux based system does not THINK for you, and it is THAT which can prove to be intimidating.
    It should also be noted, that many Open source Packages exist, which can be installed onto a Windows, so you could try KDE,
    before installing a Linux Distro.
    David

    Reply
    • Partition the drive, with Windows in one of them, install Linux Mint into the other with the machine set up to be a dual boot. Then when you restart you can choose. You can also access all of your personal file in the Windows partition from Linux Mint.

      Reply
  22. Probably one thing that’ll surprise people is that they get less battery life on a distribution like Mint.

    It’s not that Linux can’t do power management, but that you need to do a lot of fiddling and twiddling to get it right. When you have a Lenovo, they’ve already tuned it and set up profiles for Windows. You click “battery saver” and you’re done.

    Linux… Not so much. I like it otherwise. But I get half the operating time I was getting under Windows. Still tuning, but it’s a pain.

    Reply
  23. A few friends have older computers whose OSes had deteriorated to a state beyond repair. They didn’t have any installation media, so I installed Linux Mint on their computers. They were all happy with it, as the kind of stuff they did on their computers was all able to be performed with the programs which came preinstalled in Mint. One customization I find necessary is to go into LibreOffice (OpenOffice in other distros) and change the default format for saving documents to .doc, .xls, and .ppt, so that the documents they produce are compatible with all other computer users. I’ve wondered why those programs don’t give you that option as part of the installation procedure.

    Reply
    • Many File systems are proprietary, and therefore, cannot be directly read with a Linux install, just as many
      Windows- Apple components will not interact; It’s all about the ‘money’/dominance.

      Reply
  24. Here is my basic setup, it may give someone a few ideals for their own setup.

    1. I have two computers; one for home, and a little net-book PC I carry in my backpack that a carry around town. Both are ‘Frankenstein’ systems that I built from parts of old dead computers given to me for free.
    2. I use a Free Dropbox account (from http://www.dropox.com), the Dropbox package installed on both computers. I save all my work to my dropbox folder so that it is automatically synced between the two computers. Also, I installed Dropbox on my cell phone so that any photos I take automatically go to my Dropbox folder.
    3. I use KeepassX, with database saved to my Dropborx folder, to keep track of my accounts, user names, and passwords..
    4. I use Zim, with notebooks saved to my Dropbox folder, to keep track of my contacts, meeting and project notes, todo list, shopping lists, and so forth.
    5. I use Thunderbird for email, Firefox for web-browser, and LibreOffice for work; all come pre-installed with Linux Mint.

    The Dropbox, KeepassX, and Zim packages can be installed for free from the Linux Mint repository.
    But, if you want to install GoogleEarth, do so from their website and NOT from the Linux Mint repository; that version does NOT work. The same goes for FireStorm, and Blender. Everything else seems to work from the repository OK.

    Reply
  25. I wanted to run Linux on a new computer, so I went to a “big box” store and bought a Windows laptop with reasonable specs. No go. The darned thing simply would not boot Linux. Come to find out, most new Windows computers come with UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface aka UnExcusable Freaking Interference) instead of BIOS. Somebody told me that UEFI is required in order to get the Windows-ready certification from Microsoft, and prevents booting any OS other than Windows. I returned the laptop to the store and took my refund to an even bigger box store, which sold me a desktop with Linux preinstalled. The preinstalled Linux was useless, but the box allowed me to install the distro of my choice. This was some time back. Now, if you Google “UEFI Linux” you’ll find some procedures — none of which I can vouch for — that tell you what steps to take to get it done.

    Reply
    • “prevents booting any OS other than Windows” – this is technically incorrect. As I understand it, with secure boot enabled it prevents booting an unauthorized or unsigned OS. It is possible to get any OS authorized/signed – again, as I understand it. It should also be possible on most UEFI machines to turn secure boot off. (That being said, it’s not possible on ALL machines, since I have a Surface Pro original that I’ve never been able to get to boot from CD/DVD at all for anything.)

      Reply
  26. If you want to try Linux but are not comfortable with virtual machines then I suggest installing Linux on either a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. If you are creating a USB LiveCD you shouuld be given the option of setting aside a chunk of storage so that you don’t lose changes when you shut it down. If you create a full installation you won’t need this option. I have a Linux system on a one terabyte external hard drive that I use for partition resizing, recovery of files (in the event of catastrophic system failure) or for those troublesome times when Windows has decided that I need greater than Administrator access to delete certain files or folders (even those on a non-system drive).

    As a computer professional of more than 40 years I have worked on dozens of systems, however, most of my experience with personal computers has been with Windows based systems. Even so, every couple of years I dip my toes in the Linux pool. Every foray has been fruitless mostly due to the lack of comprehensive support. While I very much appreciate those who are willing to volunteer their time to help others with technical problems (I do the same on another site for Windows programmers), I find that every request for assistance is met either with techno-babble which is of little to no use, or is missing one or more crucial bits of information which everyone seems to assume I already possess. It’s sort of the equivalent of your typical car owner being told that all he has to do to fix his problem is to flush the rad. I imagine most owners would be unable to do this themselves.

    Yes, Linux is free, but only if you do not put a price on your time.

    Reply
  27. Linux is the operating system that everyone dreams will work great for them. Drivers are a very serious issue. Then support, if you need landholding you are pretty much out of luck. There is a reason Linux has such a tiny market share. Linux for servers is another story. There Linux is stable and works great.

    Reply
  28. It’s nice to see that Ask Leo is branching out Linux. Judging from the comments many of your readers are also into Linux. I use Linux Mint as a dual boot system with Windows XP. Most linux live CD’s make the dual boot option available if you want to install Linux. The average home user spends most of his computer time reading email or on the internet. Linux is great for that. When you want to use a Windows program and have the printing flexibility that Windows drivers provide just boot into windows. Linux supports my HP and Epson printers, but not as well as windows drivers do.

    Installing linux into a laptop requires trying out a live CD to verify that internet and graphics chips are supported. With a desktop you can swap boards if you find a distribution you like but is not supported. The website Distrowatch is a good site to shop for Linux distributions. My P4 computer with 2 gig of ram is twelves years old, and runs just fine with XP and Mint.

    Reply
  29. I converted a desk model computer that was running XP to Linux Mint. I like it but am frustrated that I can’t find good info to load a program in Linux even though the program I downloaded and want to install says it’s Linux compatible. I haven’t found the help groups all that friendly even though they know what they are doing. Frustrated!

    Reply
    • If a programme says it is ‘Linux compatible’, that can only mean that there is a Linux version of that programme which you can download. A ‘.exe’ executable programme will simply not be recognised by any form of Linux. Ubuntu and Mint are Debian based and usually use ‘.deb’ packages for an installation. Also ‘tarballs’ or executables ending in ‘.tar.gz’ are used — but a programme which installs in Windows will not be recognised at all.

      Reply
  30. When a gremlin did something to my windows based system, locking me out of a hard drive, puppylinux on a cd allowed me to go in and copy off everything from the disk I needed (either music or photos) to a safe place for re installation later,
    my only complaint is that as has been previously pointed out flash based things do not function in linux, if someone can get that side of things sorted, then linux would be so much more popular for those people who just want to do the basic, email, news, weather, utube type things
    one thing often overlooked (not a linus thing, but) the cheapness of bluray writers (portable type) and the ever decreasing cost of bluray blank disks, the storage of vast amounts of data (backups of films etc) can be achieved neatly and easily

    Reply
  31. I use Linux Mint on a laptop (Medion Akoya, almost three years old) because, after I exchanged the HD for a SSD, Windows decided to stop working. Not at once, but after some time. A new installation of Windows 7 worked, but only for a very short time. Probably there is some issue with the BIOS, because it was also impossible to put a logical partition on the SSD. Linux is working fine.

    Reply
  32. TO Whomever posted “Should I Convert To Linux?” Well, in my humble opinion…YES! As “Leo” has a very helpful and descriptive article concerning “LINUX”, I really think your asking for opinions of those who use Linux daily(?). I switched from MSWin (XP Pro) to Linux about 5-6 yrs. ago. I was not looking for an alternative to MSWin. I took my laptop in for a “checkup” (it had some issues I couldn’t fix) and started talking to the tech. He just mentioned a difference that Linux had that MSWin didn’t and the conversation just evolved until I was looking at and ‘testing” a Linux distro. Almost immediately, I was convinced to trash MSWin and install a Linux. I’ve not been disappointed! I started with Ubuntu 10.04, then went to Zubuntu 10.04 and am currently running, and very satisfied with, LinuxMint 17.2. There are many versions of the Linux/Ubuntu family and you can adapt any of them to just about any comp/laptop/notepad. They are extremely easy to use/setup and “help”, should you need it, is abundant with both online forums and Linux’s own tutorials. My one suggestion to you is to TRY Linux/ubuntu before installing. This is easy to do…just D/l one of the distros to a flashdrive and run it “virtually” to see what it’s about/like. There are many programs to assist you in getting a distro to a flashdrive You can google that or use “LiLi”(extremely easy to use) which is a MSWin program that’ll format & install the Linux distro to your flashdrive. Then set your PC/laptop to “boot” from the flashdrive first. (directions to set your “boot” sequence are set forth in your owners manual or just google). I’ll bet it doesn’t take you much time before you go ahead and install Linux/Ubuntu permanently. A little advice here: should you decide to install Linux/Ubuntu, before doing so….COMPLETELY “wipe” the HDD!!! MSWin has been known to leave residual “apps” that will mess with any other O.S. …excepting MSwin. Believe me, I know this to be true for I had it happen!!! Go ahead and try/use Ubuntu/Linux. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
    RICK

    Reply
  33. One thing which trips people up is that Linux pays attention to upper and lower case. Desktop and desktop are completely different places!

    Reply
  34. Linux Mint is THE Distro. which is often referred to, as a Widows (X.P.) replacement;
    But I would like to introduce another option, and that is Manjaro.
    I’m now considering moving to it myself, whilst it also seems to have an excellent
    support community.
    As a side issue; Do some homework, if you are changing out your HDD for an SSD,
    as there are functions, which you don’t want to impose on an SSD, and can even cause
    their early demise.

    Reply
  35. I have a Dell desktop with Windows 10/64 which I definetly don’t like. I also have an HP desktop with Vista. I am thinking I would like to put Linux Mint on the w 10 computer as I cant get Vista on it because of EUSI and other things. Any suggestions? Will Linux handle EUSI? Leo didn’t address this.
    Also I would like some links for some education on Linux That seems to be something Leo left out.

    Reply
  36. EUSI; What are you referring to, is it End User Support Interface, or, European Space Initiative, or something else??
    Not sure how involved you have been with Computers, but Googling will reveal a plethora of information, and If you
    have bothered to read some of the above letters, then there are links to pursue; If you need additionalinfo., then go
    to the relevant Distro’s (opensuse, Manjaro, linux Mint, etc., etc., etc.), DE’s (KDE, LXQT etc.) to obtain an insight into
    there capabilities.
    The Distro’s all have Wiki’s, Blog posts, and User Forums; Hunt around for a few days, and, through Osmosis, you
    will begin to absorb the flavour and options available to you.

    Reply
  37. For those who like Visuals, then go to youtube, and you will find Hundreds of
    videos describing the use of Linux based distro’s.

    Reply
  38. I don’t think anyone has mention this put I have windows 7 and ububtu on my machine and I can switch back and forth when ever there is a need
    such as using windows only programs.

    Reply
  39. I would like to touch upon a point that Leo didn’t mention in his article, and that is that GNU/Linux is an open and free system, as compared to propriety systems like Windows and OSX. To me, that’s the essential reason to prefer Linux over those other systems: the fact that I’m free (as in freedom mainly, even though it is also free as in “free beer”) to use it as I like. There are no freedom-restrictive EULA things with GNU/linux. I’m willing to take a certain level of inconvenience in order to be free (and that inconvenience is actually very shallow).
    Knowing that you are *not* locked in with a system of which the owner only actually “allows you to use one copy” under his terms and conditions, that you can put that system anywhere you want, and modify it the way you like it, is for me a very important aspect.

    Another important aspect is that it is open source, meaning that it really does what it says it does. With a propriety system, you never know what the software *actually* does, whether it is spying on you, and whether one day it will “lock you in” (like the Win-10 upgrades that you cannot switch off).

    Finally, the multitude of linux distributions (which are all based upon GNU/linux and only differ in package choices and management, and some system layout choices) is a good thing, in that you even do not depend totally on your distro. For instance, Ubuntu (by Canonical) is a very popular linux distro, but you may become wary about Canonical (like people can become wary about Apple or Microsoft). Well, the day that you don’t like Canonical any more, you can still keep your home directory, install a totally different distro, copy your home directory into it, install the same packages (using eventually other package tools), and everything will work the same, because, after all, it is still GNU/linux. With a GNU/linux system, you know that you will NEVER be “locked up” into the whims of a single company. You cannot say the same about a switch from Microsoft to Apple. If you don’t like Microsoft, and you decide to leave Microsoft, the “move” will be much much harder, and things will not work the same. If you decide to leave Apple, you’re also in for a big loss. You’re tied to them. With GNU/linux, you’re never tied up.

    Concerning needed support, I would say that this has improved a lot. First of all, popular distro’s like Ubuntu really do work “out of the box” for most hardware, at least since edition 14.04. And there is the ubuntuforums, where most issues you might encounter are solved, and if you have a problem, you can always post there. And then there IS professional linux support. It is Canonical’s business for instance. There are freelance people who do this too. If you want to pay for support, you can just as well get it for linux as you can get it for any other system.

    I would say that concerning computer literacy, a linux distro of today is much easier to use than a windows distribution of the 90-ies. Now, unless people have become much much more stupid and illiterate since 20 years, I don’t see why it should have become harder to use a linux system now, than it was to use a windows PC in the 90-ies. I’m not saying that a linux system now is like a windows system of the 90-ies. I’m saying that *the required computer literacy* of a linux system now is certainly not higher than the required computer literacy for using a windows system of the 90-ies. People are not bigger idiots now than they were in the 90-ies I would presume.

    The fallacy is to say that “linux is not always compatible with Windows”. In how much is that a problem of linux, and not a problem of Windows ? Why should a linux user be compatible with his windows fellows, and shouldn’t be the burden on the windows fellow to be compatible with the Linux user ?

    Open/Libre office is an example. Open office can read and write Microsoft office documents, but not always perfectly. However, Microsoft office cannot read Open office documents. I would say that that’s a problem of Microsoft office, that is visibly not capable of handling the Open office fellow’s documents *at all*. There are many examples like that, where Microsoft (or Apple) products fail to be compatible with Linux products. I don’t see why that should be a problem for the Linux products, and not a problem for the Microsoft/Apple products.
    If I send an open office document to a collegue, and he can’t read it with his microsoft office suite, then I consider that that is a problem of *his* office suite. But, open office being open and free software, it can never block him: he can always install it and read my document ! However, in as much as he sends me a microsoft document which I’m supposed to modify, say, my suite can actually read it. But sometimes, things don’t work out perfectly. And no, I cannot download a version of microsoft office to handle it: it is propriety software. So the open office document standard is actually superior, in the sense that nobody is ever “locked out” of it, while propriety standard documents do lock out people, unless they commit to the propriety software (by buying a license, or having to sign other commitments).
    It is not the fact that certain propriety software is at this point ubiquous, that this isn’t a problem of principle. I don’t have, nor at the office, nor at home, a microsoft office suite. If I send documents to collegues, I send them my open office produced .doc file (which may or may not work), my open office .odt file which he can ALWAYS use if he installs open office, and a pdf.
    If I receive a .doc file, and it doesn’t read well, I ask my collegue to send me a pdf. If I have to work with it, I send him the screwed-up .doc file back. His problem, not mine. But most of the time, actually open office does handle .doc files well.

    So yes, Linux can have some shallow inconveniences, but I consider the fact that it is free open source much more important than those shallow inconveniences.

    Reply
    • Later versions of MS Office can open Open/Libre Office files. I think that started with Office 2010, but might have been since 2007. When I install Libre Office, one of the first things I do is change the default to save files in MS Office formats to avoid this problem. It might preclude a few features, but compatibility, for me, is essential.

      Reply
  40. Re: saving files while running a live CD….
    The article mentions that “Nothing will be saved, unless you happen to use and save to an online service.”
    I am able to save files by locating my hard drive while using Linux (similar to what you’d do if you were using the live CD to recover files, as mentioned above).
    In Linux, I can locate my hard drive using the Linux menu (Files>Devices–in my case, it’s labeled “80 GB Volume”). I can right click the file I want to save and choose to MOVE the file there or I can save to my hard drive using the Save As prompt in the program.
    I’ve had problems with this, however:
    1. If I start up using the live CD after having hibernated in Windows, I can’t access or save to the hard drive (says Unable to Mount)
    2. It may take extra effort to save the file so that it will be readable in your regular OS (but I’ve had success saving text and jpeg files).
    Once in a while (and I don’t know why it only sometimes happens), I will save a screenshot to my hard drive while using Linux, but I am unable to open it with Windows (in that case, I have to go back to open the file with Linux and “re-save” it).
    Also, when I save a text file, I change the default “Encoding” on the Save As box (I use Western/Windows).

    Reply
  41. I finally switched one of my laptops permanently (maybe) to Linux. The system crashed when I was teaching a class, and luckily, a student had Ubuntu on a USB flash drive. It booted into Ubuntu very quickly, and I was able to do all I needed to do that day from the PE version. When I got home, instead of reinstalling Windows and all my programs from scratch. (Since this machine is always in the case at home, I haven’t done an image or incremental backup in over a month. All my data on that machine is backed up and synchronized with my other machines via Dropbox, so I was sufficiently backed up.) When I got home, I downloaded and installed Linux Mint (The interface is more like Windows 7 than Windows 10 is 🙂 ) After installing DropBox and LastPass on the Linux machine, I was ready for work. I was even able to use to teach my office computing class, as I had decide to teach Libre Office instead of MS Office this semester, as most of the class is using Macs, so I was already set up for that. The only problem I have is that the touch screen doesn’t behave properly, but I can live with that, and I’ll probably find a driver for that when I have time to look. I found that Mint had matured quit a lot since I had last tried it out.

    Reply
  42. This is a great article. Leo does a masterful job of addressing the topic.
    As someone who has used Linux for 2 years, I certainly have to agree with the points regarding it’s shortfalls. On the Linux forums you will find a lot of Windows hatred, often for no good reason.
    I would have to say in all honesty that nothing has made me appreciate Windows as much as using Linux for 2 years.
    I especially agree with this assertion made by Leo.
    “The forums and venues that do exist for Linux support have a reputation for being intimidating, geeky, and unfriendly to beginners. That’s unfortunate, but I have to say as I’ve read through various places for solutions to my own Linux problems, I’ve seen it often enough to note it here.”

    If your computer needs are simply, web browsing, email, online shopping, then Linux can serve you well. If you require a full featured ‘work horse’
    stay with Windows.
    Rather than spending more time learning a system that ultimately won’t meet my needs, I am now spending more time learning the broad spectrum
    that is Windows.
    Alternatively the Windows forums are extremely helpful without being condescending.

    Reply
  43. How safe is linux? Can someone get all my browsing and viewing history if i have linux from his/her own pc (if we dont share the same router)?

    Reply
    • Linux is not intrinsically safer than Windows. It’s just not targeted by hackers because such a small percentage of the population uses it. But think about it… even if you are using Linux someone could walk up to your computer, sit down, and go through everything that is on it. Your ISP is still sending you to every website that you visit… so they have a record of your browsing. In those two cases it is not any “safer” than a Windows machine. On the other hand, though, if you download malware that is written for a Windows machine it won’t work on your Linux machine. So the answer is: in some ways Linux is more safe. In others? Not so much.

      Reply
      • I see….but could someone see my browsing history without having physical access to my pc because i use linux? I know my isp can and if someone puts some spy programm on my pc. What i mean is like my friends and family?

        Reply
    • There are ways, of course, that someone could get your history – doesn’t matter what OS you run. It’s more difficult in Linux, but nonetheless, possible.

      Reply
  44. “In fact, you can often use these live discs to recover files from your hard disk using Linux-based tools.” What Leo is saying here is that you can also use a Linux to access files on a Windows computer, in case that wasn’t made clear.

    Reply

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