Linux sounds intimidating, but it’s essentially just another operating system. When you buy a pre-built PC, it arrives with an operating system pre-installed, usually Windows or Mac. But Linux distros such as Ubuntu are just as capable as Windows.
The process of installing Linux is rather simple. But actually using Linux is a bit different. There are many incentives for migrating from Windows to Linux. For instance, Linux variants often use less RAM or offer a lightweight environment.
Overall, there’s simply more choice. If you’re tired of Windows, switching to Linux will be pretty easy if you know these things.
Windows vs. Linux
Let’s start by looking at the differences in Linux and Windows. Windows has nine main variants with various flavors such as Home and 32- vs. 64-bit iterations. Linux is vastly more complicated. Although the Linux Kernel is the backbone of all Linux distros, the open-source nature means anyone can alter the kernel. Thus, there are loads of varying Linux distros available.
Installing an Operating System
Depending on your hardware, installing Linux is often easier than loading Windows. Linux distros usually feature live boot options to try an operating system before installing. As opposed to Windows, Linux distributions typically come with open-source drivers. This alleviates the need to mess with drivers on a fresh install. However, as is often the case with Linux, you may need to perform some post-install tweaking. After loading Ubuntu on an HP m6 x360, I discovered that the wrong Wi-Fi driver loaded. Blacklisting the improper driver was fairly easy, but did require poking around in forums.
Windows, on the other hand, features a relatively minimal install from a user perspective.
System admins are notorious for adoring Linux. Sysadmins also tend to value security. Therefore it’s no surprise that Linux is pretty heavy on the security front. By default, no Linux user accounts have full administrator (root) access. However, Windows does. So on a Linux system, there’s an extra level of protection because of restricting default users to non-root access.
Sounds great, right? Well, there are certainly situations when these security measures might seem a hassle. Early on in my Linux days, I managed to move a folder with root-only access to my Trash bin. Because this folder was owned by root, I had insufficient privileges to delete it. Eventually I managed to purge it from my Trash, but the process involved launching Nautilus and navigating folders.
Windows lends the user much more control — but as they say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” You can easily delete the wrong file and muck up your entire computer. Additionally, viruses and malware are usually written for Windows. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use security software on Linux. On the contrary, you absolutely should. But fewer viruses for Linux, as well as limited root access, help contain the damage viruses and malware may wreak on Linux.
Installing new apps and games on Linux is straightforward, if a little different to Windows.
Installing apps on Linux differs from Windows as well. With operating systems like Mac and Windows, programs arrive as EXE (Windows) or DMG (Mac) files. DEB files on Linux are close in that they too are package managers. However, you’ll often find yourself installing via the command line, or using a TAR file.
The command line is crucial to most Linux distros. Some such as Elementary OS eschew the command line in favor of a gentle learning curve. Using the command line, installs typically work by entering the apt-get install command. This command runs a package management command line program that uses the Advanced Packaging Tool). Using apt-get downloads new packages from the repositories. Depending on what you are installing, you may need to add sudo to install with superuser (administrator) permissions. As further reading, refer to this beginner’s guide to installing software in Ubuntu with APT.
Other Package Managers
On Linux, the TAR.GZ or TGZ file type is really common. If you’re coming from Windows, how to handle a TAR.GZ file might not be that intuitive. Like using apt-get to install, you’ll also need the command line. Here’s an excellent guide for how to compile and install TAR.GZ and TAR.BZ2 files in Linux.
You’ll have to follow a few different steps, such as ensuring that your file is writeable. Many sources such as DRM-free games repository GOG provide programs compressed as TAR.GZ files. On Fedora, there’s also RPM, which once stood for Red Hat Package Manager. Now RPM stands for RPM Package manager. See this wonderful guide for a complete overview of package formats explained.
Permissions and File Systems
On Windows, the default user is an administrator. Linux user accounts though are not. As previously mentioned, this really enhances security. Directories and files feature three main groups:
- Owner — Owner permissions apply to the file or directory owner, and have no effect on other user actions.
- Group — These permissions remain only applicable to the group assigned to the directory or file.
- All Users — All User permissions are applicable to every user.
Then there are the permission types:
Even file structure differs in Linux than on Windows. Whereas Windows features different drives, commonly C: and D:, Linux includes simply a main file tree. All of your drives are within that tree. Similarly, unlike Windows, Linux lacks a registry. Essentially, the Windows registry is a central database of computer settings. The Windows registry houses user passwords and app information. Linux eschews the registry. Instead, programs store their individual settings.
Are Windows and Linux Apps Compatible?
Windows software dominates the market. However native Linux programs are increasingly prominent. Noteworthy Linux apps include Slack, Steam, and several games including Alien: Isolation. But if you’re coming from Windows, you’ve likely got lots of Windows programs. Unfortunately, most of those probably aren’t cross-platform compatible.
Before you chuck those Windows programs in the rubbish bin, you try Wine. No, I’m not telling you to crack open a bottle of red and drink yourself into consolation at lack of compatibility with your favorite Windows software. This compatibility layer software app lets many Windows programs run on Linux distros.
Wine lacks support for some software, and some programs are admittedly buggy. There’s a solid app database of compatibility. Additionally, apps like PlayOnLinux provide a superb front-end for installing games and other programs. You can learn how to run Windows apps and games with Wine with very little effort.
A Window of Opportunity for Linux
If you’re debating a switch from Windows to Linux, now is the perfect time. There’s growing support for Linux, and an expanding list of distros and updates. By switching, you can help make 2017 the year of the Linux desktop.
Windows users seeking a streamlined Linux experience may consider Elementary OS. Elementary OS features a low learning curve and avoids a reliance on the terminal. Similarly, these distros including Zorin and Ubuntu make superb Windows and Mac replacements. Ultimately, making the jump from Windows to Linux sounds more intimidating than it is. Plus, using Linux yields with a bevy of benefits like making you a better student. Switching from Windows to Linux doesn’t even necessarily mean abandoning Windows: dual booting gives you the best of both worlds.
What is your advice for users switching from Windows to Linux? What do you wish you knew during the transition?