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Linux is no harder to use than Windows, and has many more capabilities. It just takes minutes to get familiar with a distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora, which come with many programs installed. 

If you need commercial-quality software to work with business documents, Internet/networking, or multimedia and graphics, it's there right out of the box. Want more than that? Linux can do it; there are hundreds of free, high-quality applications you can find and install easily.

You shouldn't assume however, that Linux is a clone of Windows. To know what to expect when stepping into it, this article will help you with the basics of switching to Linux.

From Windows to Linux

This is what everyday users usually find better, mostly the same, or not as good, when switching from Windows to Linux.

What is Better in Linux

  • Programs. There are a wealth of free applications available at no cost under Linux. To edit professional documents, burn music CDs, rework photos, design a website, or organise music; there's no need for $200 software with restrictive licenses.

    The internal installer makes it incredibly easy to find, install and remove programs.

    It's also safe: you can forget the demo/trial crippled software, or harmful freeware polluting the web.
  • No constant struggling. Keeping your computer in shape over time needn't be a struggle. One year on, Linux runs just as fast as the first day. And it may bring your old PC back to life.

    Also, Linux lets you choose what you want and what you don't. If you had a hard time getting rid of MSN Messenger, Windows Update notifications, or Clippit the paperclip, you'll find Linux refreshing.

  • Security. Forget expensive and restrictive anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-anything and anti-everything. Linux is very, very secure.

    It is often difficult for Windows users to believe that there are no spyware nor viruses under Linux—but it's true. Malicious programs have a hard time doing anything at all in a well-built system. Regular, easy software updates will keep everyone entirely safe.

  • Support. Linux benefits from a great sense of community whose friendliness will surprise you. If you try to do something complicated but can't succeed, there are a lot of people around to help you out.

    The companies behind the main GNU/Linux distributions, such as Canonical, Red Hat, and Novell, also provide expert commercial support.

  • It's free. Unlike Windows, Linux is free software--free as in freedom. Install it on all computers and make copies for your friends! You can even study it, transform it as you please, or build and sell your own distribution.

What is Mostly the Same in Linux

Fundamentally, everyday users will find Linux similar in use to Windows or Mac OS X.

  • General set-up. If you still believe Linux is controlled with code and command-line interfaces, you should update your point of view!

    Just like Windows, Linux a graphical interface when you switch your computer on, where you use programs to accomplish different tasks. The taskbar and layout of applications will feel familiar to Windows or Mac OS X users.

  • Web browsing and common tasks. The Web looks just the same when viewed with Linux (in fact you can browse the Web with the same program if you already use Firefox). And of course, you can go through your picture and music collection all the same. Files and folders are navigated with a file manager like Windows Explorer.

What is Not as Good in Linux

"Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it." — Mark Twain;

or:

"Tell the truth and run." — Yugoslavian proverb.

  • Driver support. Manufacturers of computer hardware don't always (yet) release drivers for Linux or publicize full specifications.

    So, drivers are sometimes unavailable for the most recent high-end graphics cards — some are reverse-engineered from Windows drivers by volunteers. Some are also released free of charge, but under restrictive licenses.

    Sadly, the same problem occurs with many low-end WiFi cards.

    However, the vast majority of computers with standard hardware work out of the box with main Linux distributions. Common hardware such as USB keys or photo cameras never are a problem.

  • DVDs, restricted formats. Many multimedia formats in use are proprietary and not openly specified; this means, broadly speaking, that Linux programmers have to find out how to read them without any help from the format designers.

    This might lead you to circumvent the restrictions in some DVDs and the DRM in some music files, even if you purchased them in full legality, to be make them work under Linux. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, such circumvention processes may be illegal even if you purchased your media entirely legally.

  • Gaming. Hard-core computer gamers, you might find that the Linux gaming world is less professional and out-of-the-box than under Windows: the large game developing companies are only slowly getting interested in the free software world, which means that many well-known titles do not work on Linux, or need special restrictive emulators to work.

    There is a very active free software game development community though, and they have produced quite a few high-quality games, both 2D and 3D, that are free software. You can head to the Ubuntu gaming forum to find more information.

  • Hibernating. Because of the driver issues above, hibernating is not always reliable. The most common occurrence is the loss of WiFi connection after hibernating on laptops whose hardware drivers are not free.

Bottom Line

Whether you are going to enjoy Linux depends mostly on what you expect from it.

  • If you wish Linux to be just exactly like Windows, you will probably be disappointed. Linux is built by people who simply wish it to be different. In the free software community, members have different visions of what makes an ideal operating system. These differences lead to variety, which is what makes Linux so special and interesting.
  • Your freedom matters. Thousands in communities and companies work to build software on which you may exert this freedom. Using Linux is the easiest way to do so fully.
  • It's fun! Not having to worry about spyware, viruses, program registrations, demos that expire, or finding software that is really free as in freedom, makes using a computer suddenly very enjoyable.

We hope you'll switch soon. There's a large community waiting, and no one in it asking you to "sign up, purchase, and register."


Choose a Distribution

Because there is no "one Linux", finding what you need can be difficult. Here are our choice of two beginner-friendly, widely used distributions.

Ubuntu

 
 Simple, easy, usable. A tanned, smooth atmosphere that never gets in your way. All programs are kept in order and managed easily. Configuration is kept simple rather than exhaustive.

We recommend this friendly and complete distribution if you are looking for an easy way to try and step into Linux.

Ubuntu also has a sister distribution, Kubuntu, with a different layout and slightly more advanced graphics.

 

Fedora

 

The distribution by the long-time prominent GNU/Linux developer company Red Hat. The default layout is similar to Ubuntu (it is also possible to use KDE, the more advanced desktop environment in use in Kubuntu), but there are differences in the chosen applications, install protocols and several technical elements.

We recommend this distribution if you wish to learn more about the workings of a GNU/Linux system, security configuration, or work on software development.


Try or Install

You can see what Linux looks like on your computer in a number of easy ways.

Try out: The Live CD

Using a Live CD version of Linux--that is, a Linux that runs from a CD and is not installed onto your computer--is a good way to "try before you buy."

No Risk

Using a live CD means that Linux will be running on your computer without installing anything. It's a risk-less way to try and see by yourself what Linux is.

When running on a live CD, your computer uses solely the CD-ROM to work (without accessing the hard drive inside). You can launch all of the default programs, edit documents, and browse the web.

Since it is only designed as a trial mode, it is a little slow (it will take you five minutes to boot up, and programs launch somewhat slowly). If you proceed to install, the system will go much faster.

What You Need

To use a live CD, you need a little bit of curiosity and fifteen minutes of free time, but no advanced knowledge in computing. If you feel confident simply using Windows from time to time, then this is within your reach.

Installing With Dual Boot

If you're not quite ready to cut the cord from Windows, you can install both operating systems on one computer.

Choose at Start-Up

It is possible to install GNU/Linux along with Windows. This means that upon start-up, you will be greeted with a screen allowing you to boot into the operating system you prefer.

Setting up a dual-boot can be helpful if you need time to abandon restrictive software. It is not difficult to set-up, though erasing Windows altogether is even easier.

What You Need

Installing Linux on your computer will take you less than 30 minutes. It is not an obvious step for complete beginners, but if you use computers on a daily basis this is very likely within your reach. If you have already re-installed Windows on your computer, rest assured that installing Linux is no harder.

Get the CDs

For the distributions recommend in this article, the live CD is the same as the installation CD.

Ubuntu

Go download the Ubuntu CD You can download an iso image (rather large file) and then burn it to a CD.

Order an Ubuntu CD You can also order a CD that will be shipped to your home at no cost. Note that delivery can take up to ten weeks.

Fedora

Download the Fedora DVD or CD The Fedora live CD also enables installation. Alternatively, you can download the DVD, which cannot act as live CD but permits speedier installation.

Free Software Pre-Installed

Not all computers are shipped with Windows. If you do not wish to make the install yourself, or are in need of new hardware, you can get a laptop or a desktop pre-installed with GNU/Linux.
There is a list of vendors who pre-install Linux at LinuxPreloaded.com for more information.

 This article was donated to Linux.com courtesy of GetGNULinux.org, a project of the GNU/Linux Matters non-profit organization. GNU/Linux Matters has generously donated the content of GetGNULinux.org to Linux.com.

 

Comments

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  • manuel enguita torres Said:

    como puedo configurar el modem para conectarme en internet,con ubuntu-11,10. gracias

  • Said:

    What to Look for in a Hard Drive That You Are Purchasing? When you are going to buy laptop hard drive, it is extremely important to look for one that is going to be fast and large enough to accommodate all of your files and data needs. It
    Yeah, it's just what I need, I'm about to have a new one
    I always use Dell Hard Disk Drives, what about you, guys?
    Gateway!!!lol

  • Said:

    What to Look for in a Hard Drive That You Are Purchasing? When you are going to buy laptop hard drive, it is extremely important to look for one that is going to be fast and large enough to accommodate all of your files and data needs. It
    Yeah, it's just what I need, I'm about to have a new one
    I always use Dell Hard Disk Drives, what about you, guys?
    Gateway!!!lol

  • Said:

    What to Look for in a Hard Drive That You Are Purchasing? When you are going to

  • Nick Said:

    "Your freedom matters. Thousands in communities and companies work to build software on which you may exert this freedom. Using Linux is the easiest way to do so fully." Should be the headline or the leading paragraph!

  • lwatcdr Said:

    Really? What the heck is this? Only two distros mentioned? What about Mint? It is based on Ubuntu but with a much better out of box experience. http://linuxmint.com/ What about SUSE? http://www.opensuse.org/en/ What about CentOS? Which is based off of Red Hat. https://www.centos.org/ What about Puppy for older computers? http://www.puppylinux.com/ There are so many options but frankly to not include Mint is just terrible.

  • Hung Said:

    Look at the article's posted date, it is " Monday, 13 April 2009 06:37".

  • rubdos Said:

    I have TERRIBLE experiences with Linux Mint. It bugs on two different computers I installed it on. Going to move those two to Fedora, on which most of my systems run on nowadays (and CentOS for servers).

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