How To Switch Your Personal Computing From Windows To Linux

About ten years ago I was trying to help my uncle to reduce the IT costs of running his small home based office. His computer was old and Windows 98 was running slowly on it. And he had no license to use it. So he had to buy new computer with licensed Windows 98 and spend few hundred dollars on that.

But I got a better idea. Why not switch to Linux? It’s free and it could probably run on that old PC. At that time I had only heard about Linux, never used it myself. But it should be cake for me to set it up, I’m a geek! So I went to buy some magazine with a Linux CD inside and started playing with it at home.

Uh! Command line, configuration, installing Gnome, permissions. What a nightmare. If I couldn’t manage with this thing myself how would my uncle manage? I gave up quickly.

Even today Linux sounds scary and hard for many of the regular Windows users. It sounds geeky, something that’s only for programmers or system administrators.

But that’s no more true. And that’s why I’m writing this post. Today installing and using Linux is just as easy if not easier than using Windows. And here I’ll tell you how to go start.

Choose a Distribution

Assuming you are not experienced, there are just two appropriate choices: Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

Linux fans are attached to their favorite distribution and if you go and ask in a forum you’ll get tens of different opinions. I’m recommending these two only because, in my opinion, they are the easiest to use. Maybe to be on the safer side you’d better stick with Ubuntu because of its large user base.

So, download, put the DVD or the CD with your Linux inside the player, restart your PC and follow the installation steps. It’s really easy and you are unlikely to meet serious issues with the installation. The current Ubuntu installation is even simpler than a Windows one.

First Steps

Once installed you’ll see the clean Linux desktop with menus similar to Windows, just placed on the top or on the side. The latest Ubuntu versions by default comes with a bit different setup where you see only few icons at left (this is called Unity). It takes a while to get used to either but the user interface is in fact not much different than the one in Windows. You have nearly the same ways of copying and moving files and folders, similar right-click functions, and similar way to double-click files and launch programs.

Besides getting used to the user interface there is almost nothing else to do at this step. Except of course, installing software! And this is also very easy: if you know what software to install you can just search online for “Install XYZ in Ubuntu” (or Mint) and you’ll get the command that you have to run. Using the software center in Ubuntu you may even not need to run commands because a lot of software can be found there. And it can be installed by a single click.

Replacements For Your Software

Here are some of the most popular programs on Windows and their most appropriate replacement for Linux:

Browser: Internet Explorer is not available for Linux. But Ubuntu and Mint both come with Firefox pre-installed. You can also install easily Google Chrome or Opera.

Office: Yes, there is full featured replacement for Microsoft Office suite for Linux. In fact they are two: Open Office and Libre Office. And both are free!

Email client: Outlook is not there but you can use Thunderbird Mail and many others.

Accessories: calculators, simple text editors, zip utilities, they are all there. If you have chosen Ubuntu just go to the Accessories category in the software center, browse and enjoy.

Media Players: While there is no Windows Media Player, you’ll find many free replacements. VLC Media Player, Gnome MPlayer, xine, are just a small part of the hundreds of players available.

Finally, even if you use more professional software like Photoshop or Illustrator, there are Linux alternatives too. Gimp can do almost everything that Photoshop does, and InkScape is decent alternative of Illustrator. (However if you spend most of your day using these two programs you have to know the Linux alternatives won’t compete well enough.)

But for the average home or office user Linux has all the software that they may need, and then some. And most of it is free.

Common Hurdles For The Newcomer

OK, it’s not all roses. There are few common problems than the beginner meets when switching to Linux. Here is how to deal with them:

– Permission denied! You are trying to copy, rename or delete a file but it just doesn’t happen. After searching a bit you may figure out you don’t have permissions to write to the folder or file. Don’t worry, it’s an easy fix. Press [control] + [alt] + T to open the terminal (or find it in the menu). Write “sudo su” and press [enter]. It will ask you for password. Hopefully you know it 🙂 Then navigate just above the folder you need to edit using “cd” command (same way as in Windows command line). And then write “chmod 0777 directory_name” where “directory_name” is of course the name of the directory you want to allow writing to. That’s it, problem solved.

– Where are my files? Linux stores files and folders in a bit different structure than Windows. Instead of “My documents”, “My pictures” etc, by default most of your files will be in Home directory and it’s sub folders – Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures etc. You can as well create files even above the Home directory. But if you are not comfortable with the structure yet just stick to everything under Home.

– Some strange error! Well things are never 100% trouble less. Sometimes you will get some strange error out of the blue saying things you don’t understand. Take it easy: just copy the error, drop it in Google and almost for sure you will end up in a place where the error is already discussed. Just follow the instructions and in most cases you will be able to solve it for few minutes. The major downside of Linux in the past – its high knowledge requirements – is now a huge advantage. The majority of Linux community is of knowledgeable users who will help you fix almost every problem.

This can’t be definitive guide of course. You will need some practice and time to get used to Linux. And if you can pass the first few days or weeks of confusion and uncertainty, you will never want to look back.

About the author:
Bob Handz creates easy to use software for webmasters and internet marketers.

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