Last updated on July 13, 2014
Do you want to switch to Linux? Before doing so, I invite you to reconsider all implied consequences of a switching to another operating system.
Linux? What is that?
But in the first place, what is Linux? It is the kernel of the GNU/Linux operating system. To be frank with you, «Linux» is a generic name for a few dozens of distributions having one thing in common: the Linux kernel. What is a kernel? It is a software that manages your hardware (motherboard, CPU, hard disk, networking, etc.) to make it work with applications you use. Current Microsoft Windows’ kernel is NT. By the past it also had MS-DOS which was the kernel used for Windows 1 up to Windows ME. I can write about this longer, but then we’d be off-topic.
So, Linux is an operating system, competing with Windows. It has to be known that Desktop computer market is the «final frontier» for Linux. All desktop computers nowadays come with Microsoft Windows pre-installed.
Because they use different kernels, Windows’ software will not work on Linux. There’s still a (poor) workaround for this problem, but I’ll talk about it later. This is also a blessing because Windows’ viruses can’t run on Linux whatsoever.
I’m not saying Linux is totally clean of viruses – because people have already created viruses that have successfully infected a Linux system – but still, with right reflexes, you’ll avoid most of problems. The most basic tip is to never run a Linux-based system as a root user, unless you know exactly what you’re doing. You can still run tasks requiring root privileges by using your own user password, but it will mostly happen when you install programmes.
Linux is Free
Primarily, Linux distributions can be used legally free of charge, by anyone. This means you don’t need to install an «anti-product activation » thing picked from a weird site, to use your operating system at will. The latter action, often performed by Windows users, is not only illegal, but can also compromise your security by letting that weird software from a weird site dig «holes» (backdoors) in your firewall. For people who like doing computer DIY, Linux is also open-source, developped by a community counting thousands of programmers an code reviewers. Have you found a bug in the software? You have the freedom to patch it and share your patch to other people. Yes, Linux licence allows this.
You also have a vast array of choices regarding distributions (commonly known as «distros»).
Linux distros are all built to do things in a certain way, so you have to think about what you’ll be doing with the OS, and then you download the distro that fits your needs. It is not like Windows, where you first install your OS, and then figure out what you need.
All distros (eleven) have their own software repository and desktop environment (DE) but they all have something in common: the Linux kernel, hence the generic name. By May 2014, the most recent version is 3.14 issued two months ago.
Something that discriminates each distro is at first sight their desktop environment, then the default software. Ubuntu itself has six desktop environments (Edubuntu, Kubuntu, Mythbuntu, Ubuntu Studio, Xubuntu, Lubuntu). Depending on your taste, you choose your DE: Unity has a very «modern» appearance; KDE is a very flexible desktop making it look almost like what you want it to (you can even rotate icons on the desktop!); LXDE offers a lightweight DE as well as XFCE. About updates, they are done through an update manager. Also, most of distro issue a new version every year.
So you’ve finally decided to switch. Your CD is burnt (or your USB key is configured), and you are going to shut down your PC. Please don’t do it yet, there are some matters to be thought about : do you use specific software for your videos? Do you play games? Have you some specific hardware for which installation requires a driver burnt on a CD?
To answer these questions, you’ll have to do some research on the Web. If you use frequently used software, then it is likely to find a free and/or open-source equivalent on some distro. If you use something like AutoCAD or Photoshop, then you’ll still find «free» equivalent of these on Linux, but they won’t always be as powerful. Furthermore, chances are that Photoshop format will not be compatible with their free equivalents.
About games, forget about playing Call of Duty, Battlefield or League of Legends on Ubuntu. The Steam Machine is on its way, so gaming will soon be possible and be more and more common on Linux.
If you cannot separate of your Windows software, there’s still a workaround: Wine. This piece of software allows you to run simple programmes on Linux. It is not guaranteed that everything will work on it, but still, it’s better than nothing. If you depend on a Windows-OS-only software to do your business, I advise you to dual-boot your computer. Then you’ll have and a Windows OS to run your software and a Linux distro to do your things as well. Note that Windows files can be accessed easily from Linux, when the opposite requires you to download software, and mount manually Linux partitions from that software. It is the way most people do when switching to Linux, avoiding all the inconvenience of having data requiring to be backed-up on another HDD.
Your hardware has come with an installation CD? The best way to proceed in this case is to check if the distro you’re going to install will support it.
Still, the best way to know if the distro you’ve chosen fits to the hardware is to boot using the CD which is most of the time a Live CD. Live CDs allow you to test the operating system on your computer without changing anything a single byte to the hard disk drive, as every required data is charged into memory. You can then choose to install the OS on your hard drive once you’re satisfied by the OS behaviour on your computer.
If you decide to switch, take the time to check if you’ve successfully backed-up all your data. We never know if something is going to fail, and to have twice the same data is always better than not having the data. If you can’t somehow migrate your data because you don’t have an external HDD, you can still choose to dual-boot your computer, so you’ll still have access to your data stored on the Windows NTFS (or FAT32, or FAT) partition. You can even choose to install your OS in an external HDD, if you need all the space on your computer HDD for your data. But to boot, do not forget to plug-in the USB key !
Usually, installation won’t take a long time. To install Kubuntu 12.04, I only needed 50 minutes to format the entire disk (500 GB) and get the PC ready for work.
My personal story
Because I got fed up by the inefficiency of my (free) anti-virus programme and by Trojans, key-loggers and root-kits compromising personal data security (my credit card number somehow leaked when I made an online purchase on a well-known financial transaction platform), I decided to make the big switch by changing the OS of my 4 year-old laptop computer to some Linux distribution.
Because I do care a lot about hardware support and user-friendliness, I’ve taken the decision to choose Kubuntu 12.04, first because it is a long-term support version (i.e. updates will be done on this OS for 5 years), and secondly because I am familiar and have positive experience with Ubuntu distros in terms of hardware support.
I made the switch a month ago by changing my laptop OS from Win7 to Kubuntu 12.04. The most annoying thing I’ve had to face since the switch is (still) hardware support. If your hardware is a little complex, crap happens quite a lot. Before definitely switching to Kubuntu, I tried Ubuntu (unity desktop), Mandriva (now OpenMandriva), Mint, Mageia and Debian. The latter three were unable to support my networking hardware, and (perhaps I have deficient research skills, but…) I found no workaround for it. Same problem for my printer. My connected printer refuses to do its job when I order it, which is quite frustrating to the average user.
When the switch has been complete, I noticed that Kubuntu – or at least the 12.04 version – has a serious memory leakage problem: kded4 process occupies more and more memory as time passes, and after a week of activity it ‘eats’ up to two gigabytes of memory. The PC then gets slower and slower, making it totally unusable so I’ve had to find a workaround to make the inflation cease. The price of this has been the inability to make the PC sleep, which reveals to be quite impractical, especially when you are working outside without an accessible plug to help your laptop keep the charge.
Even if Ubuntu support fairly well all the laptop’s hardware, some hardware problems still arise when you don’t expect them: I wanted to make an Ad-hoc connection to a friend’s laptop, but Kubuntu prevented me to do it because of kernel bugs. Also, a friend of mine had a Ubuntu 12.10 version and I was really astonished to see a so unstable Ubuntu version: random errors pop up every 10 minutes! I finally advised him to install another version.
Despite the lack of hardware support, switching to some Linux distribution is something great, especially when your hardware can’t support the latest Windows version. Also, for people who don’t want to invest tens of euros (or dollars) in an anti-virus solution, it is also a good choice.
Last updated on July 13, 2014