The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees

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Are you a Windows XP user needing to upgrade your operating system? Do you dislike the idea of Windows 8, or are you hesitant to spend any money? For many people, installing a Linux operating system onto their computer is a sufficient and free way to keep your computer running and still get security updates. 

But there are a lot of Linux distributions, or “flavors”, out there. If you’re new to the Linux world, which distributions would be best for you?

What’s Linux and a Distribution?

Before I start recommending various distributions, what exactly is Linux and a Linux distribution?

Linux is simply the name of the kernel – that is, the core piece of software that bridges communication between apps and the hardware. Linux distributions, on the other hand, are what we typically describe as operating systems – including the kernel, a desktop environment, utilities, and a default set of programs. So in other words, Linux isn’t one single operating system – it’s a kernel used to power many different operating systems.

linux kernel map   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
Installing (most) Linux distributions is free, and keeps you secure. You’ll continue to receive security updates, and it’s extremely difficult for a virus to affect a Linux system thanks to the multiple layers of permissions.

Although Linux is a completely different system than Windows, and isn’t compatible with all the same software, switching can be relatively painless. For example: some Linux distributions try to emulate the desktop as closely as possible so you have a very small learning curve. If you’re not a power user, you’ll be able to find plenty of good alternatives to programs you currently use on Windows XP. You can also find a list of great Linux applications via our Best Linux Software page. Additionally, it’s unlikely that you have a random device that you’ll need to use, so hardware compatibility is rarely a concern.

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Now that you’re more informed about the benefits of Linux, here are the top four choices if you’re new or coming from Windows XP.

Zorin OS

zorinos startmenu   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
If you’d like to stick to Windows XP’s interface, you’ll want to check out Zorin OS. This distribution specializes in making its desktop look as much like Windows as possible. You can even choose between a Windows 7 look and a Windows XP look. The main differences between these two are the layout of the start menu, and whether you can pin some apps to the taskbar for easy access.

zorinos look changer   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
Zorin OS uses Ubuntu as its base, which means that you’ll get the same updates as all other Ubuntu systems, and you’ll be able to install apps that are packaged for Ubuntu. This means that you’ll have access to arguably the largest software collection for any Linux distribution.

Linux Mint

easy linux distro mint   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
Another great recommendation is Linux Mint, the most popular Linux distribution based off of Ubuntu. In fact, Linux Mint was originally created to fix all the various papercuts – annoying, minor usability bugs – in Ubuntu.

Linux Mint is available with four different desktops – Cinnamon, MATE, KDE, and Xfce. The MATE or KDE desktops are probably more comfortable for Windows XP refugees. Similar to Zorin, you’ll get access to Ubuntu’s security updates and software selection – but you’ll also get a few Linux Mint-specific goodies, such as a unique package manager.

elementary OS

luna os desktop   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
Another good choice is elementary OS, a Linux distribution that focuses on simplicity in both functionality and design. Although this distribution doesn’t come with a desktop environment that has much in common with Windows XP, it was still good enough for Akshata for switch from Windows to Linux completely.

Yet again, this distribution is based off of Ubuntu, so the same benefits apply here.

Ubuntu and Co.

upgrade xp ubuntu   The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees
Of course, it’s impossible to mention three distributions based off of Ubuntu without mentioning the Ubuntu family itself. As I already alluded to, Ubuntu is one of the most supported Linux distributions available, so there’s lots of software available for it. Ubuntu’s default desktop environment, which it calls Unity, is different from other desktop environments you may have seen, but it’s functional and easy to learn.

Besides Ubuntu, you can also try Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Lubuntu which sport the KDE, Xfce, and LXDE desktop environments respectively. They’re all unique spins on the Ubuntu core, and one of them is probably just right for you. Experiment.

Conclusion

In case you haven’t noticed, all of these distributions are Ubuntu or Ubuntu-based. While I’d love to include some other distributions that aren’t Ubuntu-based, most aren’t friendly enough to newcomers. Maybe once you’ve gotten used to using Linux and you’re curious, you can try out more advanced Linux distributions like Fedora or Arch. If you’re curious, you can check out other recommendable Linux distributions by visiting our Best Linux Distros page.

These four Linux distributions really are the best ones for transitioning over from Windows XP. If you need any help learning how Linux works, we have plenty of resources on MakeUseOf. There are four ways to teach yourself the Linux terminal, and we have a guide to writing a Linux disc image to a USB drive so you won’t have to boot off of a disc.

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53 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

jumo

If they are still running XP because of program compatibility. I don’t think they would switch entirely to a new OS with even less support.

Howard B

It’s not about program compatibility, it’s because XP has reached end-of-life (and you need to pay for future security updates, probably through a corporate contract).
Most people that will switch to a Linux distro will do it because they can’t afford a new Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer, and their existing PC can’t run it.

matador

I recommend either Mint or Zorin. They’re both very friendly. Some Windows programs can be installed through Wine, too.

I run a computer repair shop, and use Linux on all of my personal computers. I’ve never missed Windows.

Captain Obvious

There’s very few people who have a program or widget that needs XP and not the internet (which is now unsafe). Run your old app on WINE, or find a replacement.

dragonmouth

“There’s very few people who have a program or widget that needs XP”
Obviously you do not mean corporate users. There are many companies that need XP to run their applications on. Ex. ATM machines run XP.

Danny S

It’s true that people who run XP because they need program compatibility most likely won’t be helped by Linux, but a large majority of home users still on XP don’t use any software that still requires XP. Browsers, email clients, office suites, image editors, and a lot of other programs that simple home users use on a regular basis are all available on Linux.

dragonmouth

You’re right, Danny, but home users of XP finally had enough time to get used to an O/S without M$ jerking the rug out from under them. When they “upgrade” to Vista, Win 7 or Win 8.x (especially 8.x) that comfort factor will be gone and they will have to get used a new O/S. In a couple of years, rinse and repeat.

Reply

Clyde A

I use Mint on an older machine and it feels like a new machine when I got rid of Windows.

Reply

Grcoeeg

I started with Zorin 6.4 core for 8 or so months and then moved on to Zorin 8 core a month ago. Zorin has made the transfer from Windows so easy I still can’t believe it. I’m using Zorin in a duel boot on a Dell Laptop with Windows 7 on the other side. I have not yet replaced my Espson 330 printer with one that is compatible with Zorin but will soon, it is the only draw back I can see, and another printer will fix that. Anyone reading this, do not hesitate to go with Zorin 8 core, for a Linux/Ubuntu newbie it has been a sweet breeze smooth sailing. It is fast fast fast fast in everything you do. It is a better mouse trap by far than Windows.

Bob C

One needs to consider the CPU for Zorin 8. The Linux kernel changed to no longer support non-PAE architecture (common in Celeron processors or any other Intel series M processors). Even Linux Mint 14 + and other late-released Debian-based distros (e.g., Ubuntu, et al) will not boot on PCs with that processor – exception is Linux Mint Debian Edition. It handles non-PAE processors and also has “rolling updates” so no need to re-install every LTS (or every release).

This also affects users who buy Windows 8 – same problem – so beware!

BTW, Zorin 6.4 will run on that processor. I have an older Acer which has a Celeron M processor and both Linux Mint 13 and Linux Mint DE run on it.

KerryW

Of the latest Ubuntu flavours, I’ve tried two. Ubuntu Unity 14.04LTS and the Xfce version, Xubuntu, also 14.04LTS. Both get my Canon PIXMA MG2560 (MG2500 series) working as the driver is installed. The driver needed is CUPS+Gutenprint v5.2.10. However I’ve had no luck with Linux Lite, or Manjaro as yet.

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Henry L

I switched to linux Mint (a little by accident). not turning back to windows

Reply

KT

Great article and all great choices. I’ve never tried elementary and I don’t care for the unity desktop, but starting with mint (I love the package and software managers) or zorin is great advice to people needing to switch from xp. I’m an experienced Linux user now, and I’ve only used the command terminal 2 or 3 times just to mess around, so don’t be scared to change.

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jymm

I have tried Mint and Zorin. Both are good, but give Point Linux a try. It is lightweight, fast, stable and runs great on an old XP computer. It is Debian based, so easy to use. I like Zorin but it has given me fits with the updates. I have also tried Mint which works, but was just not for me. One way you can tell Point is good, not many questions on the Forum, because it just works.

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Garry

That Linux kernal map is a great image to use in an article trying to persuade technophobic XP users to switch, well done! ;-)

Danny S

At least I didn’t use a complex image to describe the distros I was recommending! Haha. I just wanted to make a point on why distros even exist.

Reply

steve

It would be worth pointing out system requirements – i tried to change an old xp laptop to Luna (elementaryOS) but the system requirements were too high.

dragonmouth

How old is the laptop?
I run the latest version of Mepis Linux on two different P3 667mhz, 256meg RAM laptops with no problems. They are not speed demons but every day computing they are OK.

Marcus

Huh? What are the specs on your XP laptop like? I have Luna running on a 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop as a dual boot(Windows 7) and have had no issues apart from the time i was trying to get the wifi card working which i eventually did. It is light and fast and i love how i can customize it to my heart’s content. My only gripe was that it does’nt come with an Office suite preinstalled but i later installed LibreOffice via the software center.
BTW the specs on the laptop are a dual core 1.6 ghz processor with 2 gigs of RAM.

Steve

It is older than Danny probably ;)
Dell Latitude c640
I have tried zorin, so slow that apps dont open the first 10 times you try,
Elementary also sluggish and context menus and most dialog boxes come up black,
Mint – was promising as was nice and responsive but had the same black dialog boxes so couldn’t install.
About to try Ubuntu, but not hopeful.

dragonmouth

Steve,
Try one of the small distros like Puppy or Slitaz.

Reply

eselma

Usually , Linux is less “hardware greedy” than Windows; in this case XP. There are a LOT of distributions (I do no know about Luna) with lower hardware requirements tha Win XP. The names of antiX, MX-14, SolydX, Simplicity, etc. and almost all of LXDE or XFCE Desktop Environments (DE) comes to memory.

On the other hand, instead of Ubuntu or other with Gnome or Unity desktops, the KDE based (as Kubuntu, SolydK, PC-Linux or Mageia are a much more friendly environment for Windows refugees.

As said, I did the jump more than ten years ago and never came back. NEVER. My only complaint is not doing this earlier. And now Linux is much easier than then!

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Arsalan

My only concern is as how to connect my Android phone to linux distro. Is there a way to install the driver so that it detects my phone? Long before I tried every possible way to connect my phone to Linux but failed. That’s the only reason, I am sticking to Windows.

Danny S

You should be able to easily connect your Android phone to a Linux computer. I’m not sure when you last tried to do this, but it’s seamless today. You just plug it in, and you get access to the onboard storage. You can even tether via USB with no hassle.

dragonmouth

Have you actually tried to connect your phone to a Linux PC? Or are you worrying just in case? :-)

Chances are that the drivers are already installed. If not, it is much easier to install a driver under Linux than it is under Windows.

technophoria

My computer automatically recognized my Android drivers. It may be something specific to your phone. What model phone and what version/distro of gnu/linux? Many of us in the ‘nix community are really willing to help smooth out the pain points you might have. (which isn’t to say we don’t have some horrid people, but just that it’s the same as in the Windows/Mac world)

Arsalan

Thanks Danny S and dragonmouth for your reply. As I told you it was long before that I wanted to connect my windows phone. But I was frustrated so much that I didn’t try it any more.
Believe me I am having dual boot system in my laptop but I didn’t open the Linux even once due to this reason.
One more question! Can I install new ROM in my Android through Linux and how? I shall be thankful.

Arsalan

Thanks technophoria for your concerns. My Linux is Ubuntu 12.04 which I didn’t update since long time.
My Android device is Coolpad 9976A. Just now I connected my device. But it only shows one partition of drivers inside the device.

Reply

terry

Great article, excellent distro pics. I have been helping people migrate from Windows XP. I don’t know why I never thought of ElementaryOS for them. Thanks.

Arsalan

Thanks Danny S and dragonmouth for your reply. As I told you it was long before that I wanted to connect my windows phone. But I was frustrated so much that I didn’t try it any more.
Believe me I am having dual boot system in my laptop but I didn’t open the Linux even once due to this reason.
One more question! Can I install new ROM in my Android through Linux and how? I shall be thankful.

Reply

wannabe Linux newbie

Great article and extremely useful in determining which flavor a Linux first-timer should try. Once I do decide, please help with the first step. The write-up does not mention how to get Linux onto my XP machine. Could someone also provide guidance about whether I can keep XP? Does that go on a separate partition (and how would I do that?). That way, I can run Windows programs (and NEVER let it connect to the Internet). Although I read the link for writing a Linux disk image to USB drive, I still don’t understand how to get the new OS onto my PC. (I’m writing from a Windows 7 system, but want Linux for my older desktop and another laptop.)

KT

Here’s the easiest way to set up a dual boot.
1. Get a Linux disk (burn the image on yourself or get one over the net for around $5) Mint is probably easiest. (make sure you get 32 bit or 64 bit depending on your computer, some old ones are 32 bit)
2. Put the disk in your disk drive and restart your computer.
3. At start up it will boot from the disk, this may take a bit because it’s reading the disk as it works.
4. When it’s done click the “install linux” icon on your desktop and follow the very easy instructions. It will ask you whether you want to erase and use the whole disk or partition it. Give Linux half the disk.
5. This will take a half hour to an hour depending on your pc. When it’s done, you’ll see a little shield shaped icon at the bottom of your screen. It will be blue with a white ! in it. Click it and enter your password that you created. This will update and install all the software. It takes about a half hour. When it’s done, the shield will have a green check mark in it. That’s how you know updates are ready in the future as well.
6. Now you’re ready to go, a few things I like to do is open your menu (looks just like the windows start button) and find firefox and drag it to my desktop along with system monitor, calculator and any other stuff you use a lot. Don’t forget to get your add ons for firefox like adblock plus, etc.
7. When you restart your computer, you will have a few seconds to choose windows or linux. If you don’t choose one, it will default to one os “not sure which one” Hope that helped.

Ed

0. Back up all your important files first!!! (Just in case).
1. Go here and download the Universal USB Installer.
It is self running. Nothing to install.
http://www.pendrivelinux.com/universal-usb-installer-easy-as-1-2-3/
2. Download the .iso of the Linux distro you want to try by going to that Linux distro’s website.
3. Insert a blank usb key into your computer.
4. Run the Universal USB Installer (UUI)
5. Have the UUI installer look for the .iso Linux image from the folder you saved it into.
6. Have the UUI install that .iso image to the usb key.
7. When UUI is complete, shutdown your computer.
8. Turn on your computer with the usb key still installed.
At this point you should understand how your BIOS should have been set to boot off of USB.
If not, consult your PC or motherboard manual, or do a Google search on how to set your PC to boot from USB.
9. Your PC will boot into Linux from the USB key. It does not modify your PC at all – at this step!
10. Most USB key Live Linux sessions have an icon on the desktop to install linux.
11. Click this icon – (remember, you should have previously saved any important info from your Windows partition – make sure all your info is backed up first)
12. The install will give you an option to wipe your hard drive clean or install Linux in its own partition (keeping Windows XP and all your files safe).
13. Install Linux in a separate partition (it should create it for you).
14. When complete, turn off your PC and unplug the usb key.
15. Turn your PC on without the usb key installed.
16. You will have an option to boot into Windows or Linux.
17. The first time you choose Windows, it will fix your Windows partition since it is now a new size.
18. From this point on, every time you reboot or turn on your PC, you can choose which OS to boot into.

Marcus

Go to the website for the respective distro you are interested in. Download the iso image either 32-bit or 64-bit, depending on your hardware. Burn the iso image to a dvd (or cd if u chose elementaryOS Luna). Put the disc in the cd/dvd drive and reboot your computer to boot from this drive. You have the option to either try linux before installing or installing it on a separate partition on your hard drive by following the on screen prompts.
Alternatively you can create a bootable USB stick by using a program called uNetBootin and run linux from this USB stick.

wannabe Linux newbie

You all are amazing! Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and getting me on the right track. I really appreciate the advice and know your expertise will make this switch a less painful experience.

Reply

tgarza

I have been running LXLE on two machines for over a year — its lightning fast. Every bit of hardware was detected — It is lubuntu based and has a very small footprint —

Reply

Yosua

I have gathered some distros that will be easier transformation for ex Windows XP user.
http://blog.ideadrive.net/index.php/posts/6-free-os-for-windows-xp-replacement

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Allan

I have tried over 50 linux distributions over the last 7 years having previously dual booted for 2 years with XP and will never return to windows. If you use XP chances are your hardware is ageing and many linux systems specialize in this details of which ones are best checked out at the Distrowatch website but bear in mind some old printers and webcams may not work or will be very difficult to get going however with the money you save on not buying from microsoft perhaps its time to upgrade them. Honourable mentions should also go to Peppermint and Pinguy which are the two systems i install for all new converts to linux i can find.

dragonmouth

“bear in mind some old printers and webcams may not work or will be very difficult to get going”
I don’t know about web cams, Allan, but I do use older printers. I have had more problems getting them working on XP than on Linux. The printers are popular HP models, not some esoteric ones from a fly-by-night company.

Reply

timmocat.com

Archlinux is the best.
Simple
Clean
Fast
Reliable

dragonmouth

While Arch may be a great distro, it does require at least some Linux expertise. I would not recommend it for “absolute beginners” and “XP refugees.” As much as it pains me to say, Ubuntu derivatives are much better for beginners than Arch, Sabayon, Mepis or any of the dozens other distros.

Reply

sar10538

I’ve come from Unix in the 80’s and run everything from Slackware onwards. I have settled on OpenSUSE with KDE desktop as it’s easy to move back and forth between WinXP and the like. It’s easy to manage, rich in applications and easy to use. It seems to be left off people’s Linux list in favour of Ubuntu distros. I have tried Ubuntu but it seems a lot harder to kick around than OpenSUSE and a lot less polished too. Just MHO.

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Steve

Thanks for the timely update on alternatives to this problem created my Microsoft.

Because of my only experience being with Windows OS…I seek advice…
My dear friend, Linda, has an older computer running on XP
It has minimal ram and a smaller HD
The HD is 50 or less with either 256 or 512 of ram
At the present she’s not into computing much, basically has computer experience in her workplace environment-software specific- very little at home…
She uses her computer for occasional email and a few video streams per week
(likes to catch up on her favorite Soap :) Not into Facebook , and pays a few bills via the web.

I would like to help her replace XP with a safe and secure OS that would be easy for her to use, so similarity to XP would be preferable.

So, what would be the best for her?
And, should XP be uninstalled because of the computers limited resources?

Thank you very much in advance for your responses…
I just want to help Linda the best I can.

KT

When I switched from XP to Linux, I used Linux mint. It has a very similar feel and is easy to install, because it asks you questions and does the rest for you. I’ve been reading that Zorin looks the most like XP, but I have never tried it. For that old computer, you should get a 32 bit version instead of 64 bit. Try going to youtube and watching different Linux systems in action before you choose one. Just type in Linux mint or ubuntu or zorin or pclinuxos, etc. Hope that helps.

dragonmouth

@Steve:
The CPU is of more importance than the amount of RAM or the size of the HD. I have run various flavors of Linux on PCs with 256 meg RAM and 20 gig HD. However, they all had at least a P4 or a late model P3 CPUs.

“So, what would be the best for her?”
Any of the distros recommended in the article.

“should XP be uninstalled because of the computers limited resources?”
Definitely, once you decide which distro to install. However, to try Linux you do not need to get rid of XP. All the recommended distros come on a “LiveCD”, meaning you can boot off the CD and try the distro without installing it to an HD. Running a distro from a CD is slow and definitely not indicative of its speed once installed, but it gives you a chance to preview it.

Reply

George

Lubuntu
wait till 17th April for 5 year LTS release
or go here:
http://cdimages.ubuntu.com/lubuntu/daily-live/current/

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Risen D

I switched from Windows to Ubuntu about 9 months ago, and have only had one real dissapointment: that I didn’t switch sooner.

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Jim K

I keep hearing about Linux mint to replace Windows XP. That is a joke! I like and use Linux Mint, the problem is when a new version of Linux mint is released if you want to use it you need to reinstall the whole operating system. Anyone who is still using Windows XP isn’t going to reinstall the operating system to get newer updates. Ubuntu like many other distros allow you to update in place without wiping the disk. For these people a much better idea.

Reply

dragonmouth

I would suggest that Windows refugees go to http://www.robolinux.org and check out the RoboLinux distribution. It allows you to run Win XP or 7 in a Linux VM without Wine or other emulators. According to the site propagande you are able to run Win programs in Linux natively.

Disclaimer: I have never run this distro so I can’t say how good or bad it is, or whether it lives up to its claims. But, heck, XP users will have to do SOMETHING. Why not try RoboLinux?

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Ambassador Roger

I would have included openSUSE in this list. If it weren’t for openSUSE, Ubuntu would have chased me away from Linux years ago when I was first learning. I wrote an article that shows why, you may like to take a look and perhaps find cause to revise your list.

http://opensuseadventures.blogspot.com/2014/05/windows-xp-end-of-life-is-opensuse.html

Reply

David

I have two XP’s laptops one is a Dell 6 yrs old, and the other a Gateway 5 yrs old. Will my systems be compatible with Linux operating system? If so, should I do a complete install and wipe out the old XP OS? Will my Thunderbird email continue to function or not or is there an alternative? This all does sound good in-place of retiring the two laptops in my closet.

Tks, David

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