There are important things to consider before undertaking the task of replacing Windows with Linux, which will save you time and energy further down the line.
Are you a technical user yourself?
If so, I’m assuming you’re doing this for yourself – great! I’m sure you are as excited as the next Linux geek to be doing this, and that you’ve thought out your own reasons. Far from me to stop you.
Are you a non-technical user?
If you are looking to make the jump from Windows to Linux, may I firstly say, congratulations on the choice! Secondly, however, please note a few of things beforehand:
- Linux is not Windows. Normally, you cannot run exactly the same programs you did as you used under Windows – namely the most popular Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Internet Explorer, or any other software intended for Windows only.
- Linux does however provide some tools to try and force Windows applications to run, but it’s not foolproof – Internet Explorer can be made to run, and some have had success getting Microsoft Office to be usable. Adobe Suite has proven problematic.
- The best thing to do, however, is to use their Free Software equivalents: LibreOffice in lieu of MS Office (note that LibreOffice is available for WIndows too!), Firefox in lieu of Internet Explorer; and the GNU Image Manipulation Program (aka The GIMP) in lieu of Photoshop.
- There are myriad other programs, readily and Freely available to you on secure online software repositories, accessible straight from your computer’s software manager. Some of them, like LibreOffice, are available to you on Windows too, but most are Linux-only!
- You may want to have a technically savvy person help you during your switch over time, as you will doubtless have many questions. Having a helping hand is always beneficial, and migrating incorrectly might cause you to loose data. Again, Linux is not Windows, and whilst it should be easy for you to use once installed, you need to have a lengthy talk about what the differences actually are.
Are you migrating a non-technical user?
Here be dragons. Before you migrate them, you have to absolutely clear that
- they will not be getting Windows. Even with Wine, programs they used under Windows will not always run perfectly
- they will be getting a whole new system, that runs a ton of other programs, some of which very similar to the Windows programs they’re used to
Also, this is a conversation to have at length with them – not something to be telling them as you insert the installer DVD into the drive. It will be such a change for them that it’ll be as strenuous a decision as to whether to move homes – minus the money, but with all other practical considerations, in terms of change.
Remember also that with non-rolling releases, you will need to reinstall the OS from time to time, so ongoing maintenance is to be considered. Most pertinently, make sure you do separate the /home directory to a new partition.
What about Mac OS X?
Apple are a tricky bunch. They’re making sure nobody other than them can fully support an alternative OS on the machines they build, so at the current point in time, switching a Mac to Linux is a bit more involved…
What are the reasons to switch?
With the above out of the way, what are the arguments to switch indeed?
- Windows is the most targeted system for system crackers, aka Black-Hat hackers – the ones who want to mess with you. Linux systems are targeted far less, if at all, and benefit from being able to install software from trusted sources only.
- Windows XP will soon be abandoned Microsoft, Windows Vista has already been abandoned. They are even more at risk from attackers, and software vendors are less likely to service XP – including antivirus vendors – and you need to pay for every upgrade to later versions of Windows, as well as for new anti-virus software. 99% of Linux systems are free($) so you can switch anytime.
- Linux was originally designed and built as a business system expecting to be on a network, with all the security implications that this would bring, from the ground up. Windows was not built with security and networks in the initial design, and much of its security design and tools still reflects this today.
- Linux benefits from the existence of a large amount of software developed specifically for that platform, freely available and provided by a central trusted source, namely the distributor’s application store, or software repository
- All that software is free($) as well as free from restrictions (libre)
- So no need to go looking for cracked software of dubious origin (probably modified by Black-Hat hackers)
- You can teach yourself computing on these systems, at no cost
- You can teach yourself how to set up business-grade systems at no cost – as in, exactly the same systems as a large corporation would use. You can’t do that on Mac or Windows at no cost.
Ease of use
- Windows 8 has proven unpopular with its new interface, and many have opted to retro-grade to Windows 7 with its familiar screen interface
- In the Linux world, normal desktop layouts are still alive and well!
- In Linux, if the designers of the desktop you use do a Windows-8 on you, you can switch desktops as easily as switching browsers!
- retro-grading to Windows 7 will still cost you money – the price of convenience to not have to re-learn to use your computer
- some software, like MS Office, anti-virus and Windows, becomes obsolete after a while. At which point, you need to purchase an upgrade, or you risk gradually finding you cannot use the files that others send you
- from Microsoft
- from other vendors of $$$ software
- from software vendors’ arbitrary decisions
- from software vendors’ attempts to make you dependent on their software (known in business as “vendor lock-in” and “feature lock-in”)
What are the reasons not to switch?
The main argument to switch to Linux is that using a system that is that Open Source (even better, sanctioned by the Free Software Foundation) frees you from the risks of having your data or wallet being locked-in by vendors.
It mostly boils down to usage freedom, and your ability to be autonomous with a computer.
Freedom however requires responsibility – and ability. If it is not in your plans to learn about computers, or alternatively if you do not have a techincally savvy neighbour/relative/flatmate to hand, you might want to stick with what you have.
Ideally, if you do switch, have them teach you, properly. If they can’t do that for you, you might not want to move quite yet.
Re-learning how to use a computer
Windows 8 has irked a good many people who ended up retro-grading to Windows 7, a more familiar interface. Switching to anything other than Windows 7 will mean re-training yourself on how to use your computer to a certain extent – so bear that in mind. Maybe you simply need to learn to use Windows 8.
Bear in mind as well that the main/flagship home-use software available for Linux is also available on Mac OS X and Windows, for example:
- LibreOffice to replace MS Office
- Firefox, Chrome for web browsing
- Audacity for sound recording
- Scribus to replace InDesign
- Inkscape to replace Illustrator
- The GIMP, Krita to replace Photoshop
- and more…
All of the above is Free Software that runs both all three of Windows, Mac and Linux (except Krita which is not yet available on Mac).
Must-have software and interoperability
Certain professions require you to use certain software. In the design industry, Adobe’s Creative Suite is the de facto standard, and collaboration with other designers will require you to have your own copy.
Audio production is dominated by ProTools and most recording studios and sound engineers operate with this. If you want to work with others, again, you need to use the industry standards.
Page layout for printing is nearly always managed by Adobe’s InDesign, another de fato standard set by Adobe.
Of lesser interoperability concern are Office documents – if you switch to LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice and use the OpenDocument Format (ODF) you can invite others to also install this alternative office suite at no cost. But if you do require 100% compatibility with other offices, or software that process Microsoft’s files, you may still need to keep at least one copy of MS Office around, on one licensed MS Windows machine.
That does not mean that if you’re a freelance you need those expensive tools however – all of the have Free Software equivalents. If you’re an independent, or your team doesn’t need to collaborate with other people, Free Software should provide you with all you need. They will be different from the industry standards, not necessarily a 100% feature match blow-for-blow, but they are certainly work-worthy, and many professionals use these tools exclusively, including locla governments, universities and research centres aroudn the world.
There are numerous “Linux distributions” or “distros” out there. These are different configurations of Linux so to speak, much like you would have to choose in Windows world between “editions” such as “Starter,” “Home Premium,” “Professional” or “Server.” Some are easier to use than others. Which distro to use may or may not be the right question for you to be asking at this point.
Best would be for you to read up on the topic; I have tried to collate the most essential notes here for reference: http://ducakedhare.co.uk/?page_id=639 Again, if you have never approached computing from a technical point of view before, you should ask a friend to help you out and explain the finer points to you. Self-teaching is one way to approach Linux, but by all means is not the only way.
As with everything, change requires effort. The question then is: are you ready to put in that effort?