Windows to Linux: Making the Switch
You're up against a tight deadline and you're in the zone. During a moment of intense concentration, a notification appears: "Don't turn off your PC. This will take a while. Your PC will restart several times."
Even when the OS is not updating, distractions abound. Logging into your PC requires staring at an advertisement. Bring up File Explorer and I need to buy a OneDrive subscription? This is getting ridiculous, and we haven't even mentioned Cortana!
One begins to wonder where the operating system stops and the profit motive begins. Is this really what an operating system was meant to do?
Unfortunately, the prospect of ditching Windows has traditionally been fraught: the learning curve, lack of familiar software, and installation issues have kept most from throwing in the towel on Windows. Linux, however, is changing all that.
Linux vs. Windows: Reasons to Switch
The Linux Operating System has worked hard to break down old barriers recently. In fact, today's Linux is not so drastically different from Windows. Because it's open source, Linux has been tinkered with by users like you for nearly 30 years. During that time, ease-of-use issues have been addressed, as each contributor works to create the operating system they most want to use.
Cost-conscious individuals have another great reason to switch, as most Linux distributions are completely free. And we're not talking free as in "peppered with ads and spyware." Linux is a product of the open source community, and, as such, most distros have no strings attached.
And those of us with older machines might want to try Linux rather than replace our PC or laptop. Some Linux distributions are specifically optimized for older hardware, but basically all Linux distros are resource-misers compared to Windows. The light footprint breathes new life into wheezing equipment.
The security-conscious may have the best reason to switch, as Linux is simply more secure by design:
Linux has robust user and file permissions (with encryption) to keep the unwelcome away from your data, as well as application isolation to prevent apps from running rogue
Downloads Come From Secure Repositories
The kernel is protected by mechanisms that differ between distributions. This security diversity means that if an exploit is found, it would only affect a small subset of users, reducing the motive to hack in the first place
Privacy settings are simple in Linux, whereas Windows has information sharing settings hidden all over the place
Ditching Windows 10 for Linux
Historically, the main impediment to dropping Windows has been a lack of familiar software on the Linux platform. For instance, graphic designers are not going to switch over to GIMP when all of their training is Photoshop-based. But today this is less of a problem for several reasons:
Online versions are available for much of the software we use today, and they work just like desktop software
Many Windows programs run perfectly on Linux using Wine or PlayOnLinux, including the aforementioned Adobe software
When the licenses on current software become obsolete, it's easy to move to free and open source variations such as LibreOffice, which is pre-installed on most Linux distros
Open source applications are becoming more like their commercial counterparts, eliminating the learning curve
With software out of the way, we turn our attention to choosing a Linux distribution. Nowadays, this choice tends to be mostly about cosmetics. We've all become accustomed to our computer appearing and behaving a certain way. The best Linux distros are aware of this, achieving very close harmony with how we expect our machine to operate. For this reason, Mint tends to be the most popular flavor of Linux for those switching from Windows.
For this post, we set up the Ubuntu-based Mint Linux on a Vista-era Core2Duo PC with 2 gigs of RAM and 128 gig Solid State Drive. This machine had Windows 10 installed, however, even with the SSD upgrade it was still painfully slow. We navigated to the Linux Mint web site, downloaded the Mint ISO (which took four minutes), and created a bootable USB stick using the Rufus utility.
The installation prompts were handled in only a couple minutes, asking if we wanted to keep Windows 10 or wipe the hard disk, and if we wanted to encrypt the Linux install with a security key. Everything else was either automatic, or we just accepted the defaults. The installation was both faster and simpler than with Windows 10, the installer was sympathetic toward keeping our old OS if we liked, and there were absolutely no stumbling blocks such as hardware or driver issues.
A grand total of 25 minutes after starting, which included some AFK-time while files copied, we were editing this document on our newly installed Mint Linux machine using Office 365 Online. And the entire process was completed within the graphic interface. We never saw a command prompt. Talk about painless!
If we had to gripe about anything, it would be that we were kind of left wondering what to do next after downloading Mint. There didn't seem to be any instructions on how to create a USB stick or DVD for installation. But because of the strong Linux community, precise instructions were just a quick Internet search away. We also found that connections to cloud storage were not as available as they should be. Using Office Online, OneDrive was easy to access, and using Google Docs we could see our Google Drive. However, interaction between the two was a no-go without significant effort.
As Microsoft continues to alienate customers, it's safe to assume that Linux will see more widespread adoption. As that happens, you can bet that vendors will continue to jump on the bandwagon. With this little experiment in making the switch, we've found that today's Linux is easier than ever to transition into, and we expect that things will only improve from here!
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