Things to Know Before Using Linux

I was reading an article online with a similar title. I thought I would offer my own perspective, without fanboyism.

The first step is accepting that Linux is different from Windows. Similar in some ways, but different in other ways. Different does not mean good or bad, or right or wrong. The important distinction about the differences is learning something new requires leaving your comfort zone.

Generally, with a Linux based system, you will have many options and choices about configuring your system. Windows is somewhat like the old Henry Ford quip about having any color you want as long as you choose black. The greater abundance of choice often overwhelms new users.

Before trying to migrate from Windows to a Linux based system, instead focus on first migrating specific cross platform apps that are available for both operating systems.

If you use vertical Windows software, then most likely you will need to keep at least one Windows computer running with that software installed. A lot of vertical software is unavailable for Linux.

Even when there is compatible vertical software available, that software might not contain all the features you require.

There is a compatibility layer software called WINE that allows running Windows software on a Linux based system. High-end vertical software often fails to work seamlessly with WINE. For those who are not computer savvy, WINE is much like wearing a size 8 shoe on a size 10 foot. For those who are computer savvy, WINE is much like wearing a size 9 shoe on a size 10 foot. That is, be prepared for some tinkering one way or another.

Without WINE that means your single Windows computer must be physical or virtual. Converting a physical machine to virtual requires technical skills. Virtual machines also require minimal hardware to run nicely.

Forget dual booting if this vertical software is part of a business and needed daily. If your primary usage of a computer is for this vertical software, then you have no meaningful reason to migrate.

While some retailers sell Linux based systems preinstalled, the prices of those products tend to be higher than the same hardware with Windows preinstalled.

Not buying preinstalled means if you are daring you can test different Linux distros. This testing is performed by using a live disk. Live disks are slower than running directly from a hard drive but provides an opportunity to test and tinker. The hardest part for many people is learning how to copy something called an ISO image to a DVD or USB flash drive. If you get this far, you will have to learn to configure your BIOS or UEFI to boot from the device.

When testing you will discover that each distro is designed differently. If you get this far and decide you want to install the operating system, you will have to learn how to repartition your hard drive to make room for the installation.

Those who are not computer savvy often destroy their Windows disk partitions trying to install a Linux based system. Before trying to install a Linux based system you will need to backup your existing Windows system and know how to restore those backups.

Another option is installing a second hard drive, installing the new Linux system to the second drive, installing the boot loader to the second drive, probably manually editing the boot loader menu to properly chain load to the Windows disk, and configuring the BIOS to boot from the second drive. This method requires more steps but leaves the Windows disk intact.

Live disks provide an opportunity to discover whether all of the hardware in your computer is supported.

You will need to research all current peripherals, such as printers, scanners, or web cams, to ensure they are supported in the Linux distro you select.

Many free/libre software projects are developed using a rapid release model. The combined effect is that on most Linux based systems, you can bet really safe money that at least once a month something will break. Yes, Windows updates tend to break systems too.

When asking for help online you will almost always be told to open a terminal window and type scary looking commands that mostly have no meaning to those who are not computer savvy.

You can migrate to LibreOffice if you use MS Office. If file compatibility with other MS Office users is required, you can set the default file formats to DOC and XLS. For many people that is all that is needed. If your documents are complicated, you might need to learn to work around various LibreOffice conversion challenges. You will need to perform some round trip testing. That means opening an MS Office file in LibreOffice, make changes, save the file, and open in MS Office to see what broke, if anything. Then make changes, save the file, and open the file in LibreOffice to see what broke, if anything. You might learn that no matter how you try you are unable to achieve compatible files.

How and where files are stored in a Linux based system is different from a Windows system. There are no “drive letters” in a Linux based system.

Linux based systems are, by design, more restrictive with file permissions and how software is installed. The primary reason is security but many people migrating from Windows find this level of security annoying and inconvenient.

Applications and programs in Linux based system have funky names that more often than not provide no clue about the software’s purpose.

Sometimes Linux based desktops and applications are not as polished as counterparts in Windows. You will be expected to tinker to work around usability shortcomings.

These cautions have not stopped millions of people from using a Linux based system. Just be sane about jumping into the water.

Posted: Category: Commentary, Usability Tagged: General

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