Switching to Linux

Making the switch from Windows to Linux

I have been helping folks break away from Windows and switch to either Linux Mint or Ubuntu for a while now and I’m going to share part of an email I got this morning with you. It really exemplifies the reaction I get when people start using a Linux distro for the first time. You just have to get them in front of it and let them experience it for themselves. This fellow’s name is Brandon and he writes:

“I have come a long way since my first and even the last email I sent you. Linux Mint Cinnamon is looking great and thank you for emphasizing its value. I guess I had just never heard of it. I am also considering abandoning my support of Windows. Meaning I will let it live on a spare laptop in the mess that it’s in but from this point forward the mental weight of optimizing it and carrying it along in a reliable form seems like it is not worth it anymore. I will use that large amount of energy and focus towards proactively advancing skill with Linux, enough so that I can depend on it entirely. So rather than multi-boot it looks like I am going to throw in a blank SSD and put Mint 17.2 on it. Many of the configurations I saw you do in your Mint videos cover the points I am looking for. I am confident the other usability tweaks I am seeking in time will fall into place.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself, Brandon. That is exactly how one should proceed if they intend to learn Linux.

Let go of the old and embrace the new!

I have found that it is so much easier to teach kids how to use Linux than it is a long time Windows user. Because kids come to Linux with no preconceived notions and they ‘get it’ very quickly. On the other hand, someone who grew up computing the Windows way can get very frustrated. It’s because they have to ‘unlearn’ all of the little workarounds you must implement in order to keep a Windows install running. Linux is actually a much simpler system, but it can seem unintuitive and difficult to use if you approach it with the mindset that it should be as convoluted as most MS products are. Many very experienced Windows technicians will totally screw up a Linux install just because they tend to over-think it.

Another mistake that Windows users who come to Linux make is that they try and replace applications. They say, “I need something like Blah-blah 5.0 that I use on Windows for Linux.” It generally doesn’t work that way… Linux is NOT Windows and therefore, cannot be expected to work exactly the same way. This way of thinking will only bring you frustration and pain. They expend a great deal of energy trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole.

Linux users build websites, edit video, compose music, create presentations, write documents and pretty much do exactly the same things Windows users do, just not exactly the same way. If you want to do those things in Linux, find out how other users are getting those things done and then choose applications that will get the job done for you. Yeah, you’re gonna have to learn a new way of doing things but if the result is the same and you’re not tied down to Windows then it’s worth the effort. I found that once I let go of Windows completely I still got everything done I was doing before but now in a better and simpler way. Many Linux applications are cross-platform which means they’ll run on your current Windows install. For instance, LibreOffice is pretty much the default office application for Linux these days. You could install it on Windows and get to know it before you install Linux and then you’ll already be familiar with it.

It takes time and research to figure this all out. Join the Mint community. Read the Ubuntu Wiki. There are lots of people out there trying to do just what you’re doing and this is where you find out how they get it done.

You have to install Linux to get the best from it, really.

It is also important to give Linux an environment that will give you the best results. I have actually talked to many folks who have Linux on a USB stick with a persistence file and they complain that it doesn’t work well for them. The “Live” environment was developed as a way to make installation more friendly and give folks a chance to look around the system a bit before taking the plunge. It is NOT intended as a production environment.

I’m not a big fan of dual booting, especially for a new user. While it offers improved performance over a USB stick install, it is dangerous because it is possible to lose both Windows and Linux in the process. Setting up dual boot, removing either Windows or Linux and transitioning the computer back to a single OS is difficult, to say the least. Dual booting is best if you’re doing it on a machine where you don’t care much about the Windows install to begin with.

The best way to get started with Linux is to find a computer to install it on all by itself. Keep your current Windows system while you learn Linux and move gradually from one platform to another. When you finally get to a place where you’ve accomplishing everything in Linux, then you can finally get rid of Windows. Used hardware is cheap and plentiful these days and Linux happily runs on just about anything but you’ll find that you have the best luck with laptops and desktops that have Intel processors and video cards. It’s not that AMD won’t work, it’s just that the Intel folks work very closely with Linux kernel developers and many drivers for Intel chipsets are already integrated into the later Linux kernels.

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that this process will take time. If you consider yourself a Windows power user now, I’m sure it took you quite a while to get there. Well, the same will be true with Linux. A great deal of what you already know will simply not apply and there is much new to learn. It can be a very satisfying adventure if you approach it with the right attitude and a bit of patience

Have fun!

Joe Collins
Joe Collins worked in radio and TV stations for over 20 years where he installed, maintained and programmed computer automation systems. Joe also worked for Gateway Computer for a short time as a Senior Technical Support Professional in the early 2000’s and has offered freelance home computer technical support and repair for over a decade.

Joe is a fan of Ubuntu Linux and Open Source software and recently started offering Ubuntu installation and support for those just starting out with Linux through EzeeLinux.com. The goal of EzeeLinux is to make Linux easy and start them on the right foot so they can have the best experience possible.

Joe lives in historic Portsmouth, VA in a hundred year old house with three cats, three kids and a network of computers built from scrounged parts, all happily running Linux.

6 thoughts on “Making the switch from Windows to Linux”

  1. I’ve had the exact same experiences over the past several years. I’ve been using GNU/Linux for over 18 years myself, and ditched Windows in 2008 (7 years ago). Just like this article says, you CAN switch, and it is some work finding applications to replace those in Windows, but it’s well worth the effort in the long run. Especially with the problems with Windows 8 and Windows 10, not only the massive updates but the information gathering that goes on under the wraps. No thanks. I’ve been on CentOS Linux for several years, it’s great and has 10-year support. With Ubuntu’s LTS (long term releases), it offers the same thing. I’ve mentioned this a lot but the first hurdle is making people aware of GNU/Linux, and getting them to use it, and they will soon understand it’s great stuff.

    • All I want to do is get as many people as I can in front of a computer running Linux. There’s so much BS on the web about it that they really have to see it for themselves. Once they do, they’re usually hooked. 🙂

  2. As to the comment on kids, yes that is VERY true. They get it, no matter what the desktop interface is. I make sure I can expose them to GNU/Linux as it’s an open system allowing them to explore and learn a lot about computers. They will also have to know Windows since it is out there, too. But having them know multiple operating systems is the best scenario, just like learning multiple languages.

    • Thanks. It’s funny, my kids have more experience with Linux than Windows and they grumble whenever they have to use Windows. I have never ‘taught’ them how to use the laptops, they just picked them up and figured it out for themselves and it took them 30 seconds, at most. 🙂

    • I’ve found instances of this on all platforms. Apple and Windows have great examples of this behavior, too. I’ve also seen this with geeks judging non-geeks. It’s not limited to one platform only. 🙂

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