How to migrate from Windows to Linux in small steps

Crossing boundaries

For some reason you have become interested in Linux. It is after all the most talked about OS at the moment. Before deciding whether or not to switch write down what you dislike most about your current non-Linux OS and keep it as a reminder. Linux can be quit hard to master and to support your determination you need te remind yourself why you want to use Linux. Many people use Linux, so if you are stuck know that any problem you may have can be overcome.

There are, as with all choices, positive and negative sides to switching from one OS to another. The positive sides of switching to Linux are:

  • no virusses, no worms
  • a safe user environment (a user cannot damage the system, e.g. your neighbour)
  • multi-functional, e.g. as desktop workstation, webserver, mailserver, printserver
  • much support from other users through forums on the internet
  • a lot of free software which makes any distribution fully functional from the start

The negative sides of switching to Linux:

  • steep learning curve for beginners who used Windows before
  • limited plug-n-play support
  • not all hardware is supported (although most common hardware is )

Anyone who is able to install Windows from scratch should be able to install a Linux distribution. The hardest part is not installing Linux, but comes after the installation. Finetuning the system requires specific knowledge, so read the manuals on the internet or get a book on how Linux works from your local bookstore.

The first step is to become less dependent upon software that comes with Windows

Start using Linux while you’re still using Windows. This means that you start using the software you will be using in Linux. A lot of the software used in Linux is cross platform and can be used in Windows as well. You can start by using Mozilla Firefox as your main browser and as your Office Suite. This will also enable a soft transition in the filetypes you’re using. For other software you use you can use the internet to find similar products or check my software comparison list for some hints.

After some weeks you’ll be comfortable with the new software. Once running Linux you’ll be using the same software, thus you have limited your transition problems to the OS itself. This way problems can be delt with in an orderly fashion instead of all at once.

Get to know your hardware!

Most Linux distributions detect your hardware during installation. Still, Linux is about having full control over your system; you still should know what is hidden in your computer case. For a properly installed Linux system you must know what kind of hardware you have. This way you can make sure the kernel loads the correct modules for your hardware. This means knowing your motherboard and it’s chipsets, the kind of video card you have, what network card you use etc.

The Knoppix live distribution offers an easy way of checking your systems ability of running Linux and what kind of modules it loads by checking the Knoppix configuration files. This gives easy feedback on how to configure Linux on your computer.

Orientation: which distribution should I use?

There are many distributions of Linux. Some are for businesses only (Red Hat), some for beginners (College-Linux, Xandros), some for intermediate and advanced users (Gentoo, Debian, Slackware), some are localised versions (Asian languages, Arabic languages), some focuse on security only. Since there are so many limit your orientation to the most used distributions first and expand your search later to the smaller onces. The simple reason is that the most used distributions have more support from other users, because more people use it.

If at some point you’re confused about what to choose, just flip a coin. However trivial, one does have to start somewhere. The differences between distributions can be discovered best by using it and stick with what you like most.

Choosing an interface

If you thought that choosing a distribution was confusing you still have to choose an interface to use (if using one at all). The most used interface seems to be KDE, followed closely by Gnome. Other popular onces are Blackbox and Fluxbox, which are minimal interfaces focused at fast performance.

Choosing an interface can only be done by using one. It’s personal preference which makes one better than the other. I used Blackbox for a long time (I liked it’s minimalistic approach) and currently I’m using KDE (well designed eye-candy and ease-of-use). Switching interfaces is not difficult and you can have more than one installed.

Using Linux

Anything you can do on a Windows system, can be done as well on a Linux system. It’s that easy. It will take some time to get used to it, but if you are having second thoughts, remember your experiences with the Windows computers at work or just go to your local library to use Windows again for a while and see if your appreciation of Linux returns. It works for me.


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