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2016 has been a big year for Linux. Chromebooks continue to sell like hotcakes, and Chrome OS is technically a Linux distro. But Google’s web-centric devices are hardly what free software enthusiasts had in mind when cracking the same joke every year: Is this the year of the Linux desktop?

For many of us, it doesn’t matter if Linux achieves world computing domination. What matters is that we can use it today, and it’s awesome. Are you considering making the switch for the first time? Then 2017 can be your year of the Linux desktop.

And let me say, with all of the work taking place in the open source world today, this really is a great time to take the plunge.

Why Is That?

Linux has a reputation for being difficult to use and only intended for computer geeks. That isn’t the case at all. These days Linux is arguably easier to use than Windows 6 Ways Linux Is More Welcoming Than Windows for Newcomers 6 Ways Linux Is More Welcoming Than Windows for Newcomers If you recently installed Windows 10, you may have experienced a rather cold piece of automation. Contrast this with installing Linux, which is warm and informative - just two of many reasons to choose Linux... Read More , especially for first time computer users.

Not only is Linux increasingly simple, it’s also pretty. There are versions out there that are as nice to look at as anything being sold in stores. It’s hard to go back to paying for commercial operating systems when, depending on your needs, you can get a better experience for free. Just take a look at Elementary OS Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Why I Switched From Windows 7 to Elementary OS Luna Bye bye, Windows. Hello, Linux! Here's what convinced me that eOS Luna is a better bet than Windows 7. Read More .

Switching to Linux is not only good for your wallet, it’s great for the environment. The OS runs on just about anything, and the system requirements are much lower. This encourages you use your existing computers for years longer than you thought you could. Adopting Linux helps you fight back against planned obsolescence Defeat Planned Obsolescence with Linux and Open Source Software Defeat Planned Obsolescence with Linux and Open Source Software Unlike a 5-year-old PC, a 5-year-old smartphone can barely run any modern apps. But there is a way to enjoy the benefits of technology without buying new hardware: embrace Linux and free software! Read More and reduce electronic waste.

This freedom empowers you to be more creative. Since you can run Linux in so many form factors, makers all over the world are using cheap hardware like the Raspberry Pi to produce their own gadgets 10 of the Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects So Far 10 of the Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects So Far With a lack of full-size USB or Ethernet ports, Pi Zero projects are both attractive and challenging in equal measure. Here are ten great Raspberry Pi Zero projects to get you started. Read More . Even if you’re only running Linux on your desktop, the customization options empower you to create an interface that is uniquely yours.

Plus with all of the leaks 300 Million AdultFriendFinder Accounts Have Leaked Online 300 Million AdultFriendFinder Accounts Have Leaked Online If you have an AdultFriendFinder account you should change your password immediately. Because Friend Finder Network, the parent company of AFF, has been hacked. Read More , breaches Web of Trust Data Breach: Accident or Money-Grab? Web of Trust Data Breach: Accident or Money-Grab? The Web of Trust browser extension has been silently and forcibly removed by Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Did the popular privacy and security extension collecting and sell your data to third-parties? Read More , and other privacy concerns Your Computer’s Microphone is a Privacy Concern – Here’s Why Your Computer’s Microphone is a Privacy Concern – Here’s Why What if your privacy was being invaded without your knowledge? There are many reasons why you should disable or cover your webcam, but what risk does your computer's built-in microphone pose? Read More  making the news, switching to Linux is a good way to increase your security. Attackers prefer to target more popular OSes like Windows, and Linux developers are far less inclined to monitor your usage (and the community is quick to call them out if they even try).

How to Switch

There are two ways to make the switch. One requires zero technical experience, while the other option is free.

1. Buy a Computer Running Linux

Aside from Chromebooks, you can’t walk into your local big box store and walk out with a computer running Linux. But you can buy one online. You’re not limited to one site or vendor either.

System76 has a flashy website and computers that ship with Linux running out of the box. All you need to do is create your account to start using your new laptop or desktop, as though you had just picked up a Windows or Mac.

Some other vendors give you a choice of which version (or rather, distribution) of Linux you run. ZaReason and Think Penguin are two sites that will let you choose your preferred Linux distro at checkout.

2. Install Linux on Your Current Computer

You may not be aware that you can replace the operating system powering your current computer. Well, you can, and this can often breathe new life into hardware that Apple and Microsoft would tell you needs to be replaced.

Installing Linux yourself does require some comfort with certain computer terms, but it’s not that hard. Linux distros usually come in the form of an ISO or IMG file. You then burn this data to a blank CD or USB drive 5 Best Linux Distros for Installation on a USB Stick 5 Best Linux Distros for Installation on a USB Stick USB drives are great, not just for installing portable versions of Linux but for protecting your computer when things go awry. Here are the 5 most useful Linux distributions for installing on a USB drive. Read More . After this, you restart your computer and fire up your new CD or flash drive before your operating system kicks in.

I know this sounds complicated, but we have guides to walk you through the process How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin We've already talked about Linux and why you should try it, but probably the hardest part of getting used to Linux is getting it in the first place. For Windows users, the simplest way is... Read More . Most Linux distros let you demo the experience before beginning installation, which involves following on-screen prompts as though you were running a program for the first time in Windows.

What Version to Pick?

Linux doesn’t come in the form of a single product. Rather, it’s collection of programs made by many different developers. When bundled together, this software is capable of making your machine run as well, and often better, than it does running a commercial operating system.

This means typing “Linux” into a search engine won’t bring you to a website with a giant download button. You’re going to need to learn a few new terms in order figure out what you want.

1. Distribution (“Distro”)

Instead of installing something called Linux, you have to choose which distribution, or collection, or software you want running on your computer. Some other popular options The Best Linux Operating Systems The Best Linux Operating Systems There are many Linux distributions available for a number of different purposes, which makes it difficult to choose at times. Here's a list of the very best to help you decide. Read More  are Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Linux Mint, and Elementary OS.

Yes, the list above is pretty long. Picking one can seem overwhelming, but there are a few that are aimed at first time switchers from Windows and Mac The Best Linux Distros for First Time Switchers from Windows and Mac The Best Linux Distros for First Time Switchers from Windows and Mac Linux has an intimidating image, making it seem like it would be difficult to start using it. But the switch from Windows and Mac is actually pretty easy, if you can ease yourself into it. Read More .

2. Desktop Environment

When you’re looking at distros, what you see in the screenshots are various desktop environments. Windows and macOS each have their own, which you aren’t able to change. In Linux, you can fundamentally transform how your computer looks and feels by swapping one environment for another. Some will feel familiar to what you’re already used to. Others offer experiences that are unique to Linux and other open source operating systems.

Some of the desktop environments you will see mentioned most often include GNOME, KDE, Unity, Xfce, LXDE, Cinnamon, and MATE. That sounds like a lot, but in the Linux world, we’re only getting started.

Don’t worry, you can save experimenting with desktop environments for later, or you can choose to stick with the one you start off with. You will find plenty of Linux users taking either approach.

3. Free and Open Source Software

The vast majority of Linux programs are considered free and open source software. The “free” part doesn’t refer to price, though most don’t cost you any money to use. Free software is code that you’re free to use, tweak, and share however you wish. The only way you risk running into any legal trouble is if you try to take someone else’s code and try to sell it as your own. This is very different from most commercial software, where you have to read (“skip”) a long license agreement and accept the terms before use. This often means giving companies control of your data and what you can do with it 5 Reasons Why Software Should Be Free and Open Source 5 Reasons Why Software Should Be Free and Open Source Free software doesn't just mean you get to use the app or game without paying. It's about longevity and much more -- in fact, all software should be free and open source! Read More .

Open source means an application’s code is visible to you. Most commercial software is hidden, leaving you to trust that the developer is only doing what you expect them to. You have no easy way of knowing what information is being logged or if there are security holes that make your machine vulnerable to attack. Most of us can’t look at source code and make sense of it ourselves, but we can rest a little easier knowing that other people with expertise can do that for us.

Getting Software

When you want new applications on Windows, you look for a big download button on a website and click on the EXE. Life is different on Linux. You can grab most software from your distro’s repositories. That’s a big word, but it means most of what you want is available in an app store of sorts. Installing programs is roughly as easy on Linux as it is on a smartphone.

year linux desktop app center

Each distro comes with its own way of distributing software How to Install Software on Linux: Package Formats Explained How to Install Software on Linux: Package Formats Explained You've switched to Linux, and want to install some software. But package managers differ depending on your distro. So which apps can you download and install? It's all in the acronyms. Read More . Newcomers will feel right at home with GNOME Software, Linux Mint’s Software Manager, or Elementary OS’s AppCenter. Only the more technical distros will force you to use the command line. Once you get used to the Linux way of doing things, you may not want to go back.

The bigger question is whether you can find the software you want. Most commercial software isn’t available for Linux, but there are plenty of free and open source alternatives you can try instead The Best Linux Software The Best Linux Software Linux is full of awesome apps, both open source and proprietary. People new to Linux and even seasoned Linux users tend to find new and useful software quite often. Here's what we love. Read More . I’m going to quickly go over a few categories.

1. Web Browsers

Firefox is an open source web browser, and Google Chrome is based on one. Both support Linux. Mozilla’s browser is often included by default, while Google’s is available from the company’s site (it’s one of the few programs you will have to download the same way you do on Windows). The fully open source version of Chrome, Chromium, is also an option. Plus there’s Opera and Vivaldi, two freeware (but not open source) browsers that work on Linux. If you hate ads, consider Brave.

You can also find browsers made specifically for Linux. I’m a big fan of GNOME Web (also known as Epiphany). Other options include Midori and QupZilla.

Not enough to pick from? Keep looking, there’s more Are You Using the Best Web Browser for Linux in 2016? Are You Using the Best Web Browser for Linux in 2016? Using the "wrong" browser can lead to a lot of unnecessary headaches, wasted productivity, and even lost data. So which browser is the best for your Linux computer? Let's find out. Read More .

2. Office Suites

Having a valid office suite used to be a make or break issue for Linux desktop users. Not being able to submit homework assignments or view documents without compatibility issues meant someone couldn’t use Linux at work or school. These days, that’s largely a moot issue Everything You Need to Migrate Your Home Office to Linux Everything You Need to Migrate Your Home Office to Linux It's for this reason why many users are looking to make the switch to Linux. If you're one of them, you're going to want to read on. We're going to talk about how to move... Read More .

LibreOffice can open and save Microsoft Office documents with a good amount of success. Likewise, Microsoft Office is now able to open the OpenDocument format. In many ways, LibreOffice is ready for the office suite crown Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? LibreOffice is the king of free office suites. It's unlikely to replace Microsoft Office in a business environment, but it's an excellent alternative for casual users. Here's what's new in LibreOffice 5.1. Read More .

With so many people in the Windows world now turning to free office suites, Microsoft Office doesn’t have the stranglehold it used to. But even if you must have access to Microsoft’s software, you can now access online versions with an Office 365 account. You could run older desktop versions with PlayOnLinux How to Install and Use Microsoft Office on Linux (And Its Shortcomings) How to Install and Use Microsoft Office on Linux (And Its Shortcomings) Your PC runs Linux. How on earth are you going to install Microsoft Office, and use it without running into problems? Read More , too. If it’s merely the interface you’re after, WPS Office can provide something similar on your Linux desktop WPS Office For Linux Looks As Good As MS Office, Performs Even Better WPS Office For Linux Looks As Good As MS Office, Performs Even Better Read More .

Depending on how often you collaborate with others, you may prefer to use Google Docs instead. That works on Linux. So do other cloud-based options such as ZoHo Docs.

3. Creative Editing

These seems to be two types of photo takers who use computers — those who swear they can’t get anything done without PhotoShop, and those who use GIMP. GIMP was made for Linux before it came to Windows and Mac, so that’s not a problem. PhotoShop doesn’t support Linux, but there are alternatives 5 Photoshop Alternatives You Can Run on Linux 5 Photoshop Alternatives You Can Run on Linux it is tragic that after all these years, the open platform of Linux still has yet to produce competing software that can really match Photoshop head-to-head. But powerful options are available... Read More .

Plus there are many other open source tools out there for letting your creative side show 7 Apps That Prove You Don't Need Adobe Creative Suite on Linux 7 Apps That Prove You Don't Need Adobe Creative Suite on Linux Adobe has refused to make its Creative Suite compatible with Linux, so how do you edit photos, movies, and audio, create vectors, and more? Well, you create your own open source creative suite! Read More . There are even entire distros aimed at artists and musicians 6 Linux Distros Designed for Artists, Musicians and Editors 6 Linux Distros Designed for Artists, Musicians and Editors Read More .

4. Gaming

Many Windows users list gaming as a big reason they haven’t switched to Linux. The vast majority of PC games are developed with Microsoft’s platform in mind.

This remains true, but gaming on Linux has come a long way. You’re no longer limited to the open source games in your distro’s repositories 10 Great Games Hiding in Your Linux App Store 10 Great Games Hiding in Your Linux App Store Linux gamers have some real gems available - if you know where to look! These 10 games aren't new, but if you're a Linux newcomer, they'll offer some great, free gaming experiences. Read More . The Humble Indie Bundle has brought plenty of ports to Linux. Plus Steam is available How to Install Steam and Start Gaming on Linux How to Install Steam and Start Gaming on Linux Installing Steam on Linux computers is straightforward, and the result is usually the same seamless gaming experience you had on Windows. Read More , and while you don’t get the full library, the selection for Linux is pretty good 10+ Windows Games You Could Be Playing on Linux with Steam 10+ Windows Games You Could Be Playing on Linux with Steam If you've been holding onto Windows simply to play your favorite games, let go. Installing SteamOS is now a viable option and the following collection of titles illustrate just what the situation is in 2016. Read More . Plus if you’re a fan of classic games, there are more than a few ways to get your fix 7 Ways to Play Old Windows & DOS Games on Linux 7 Ways to Play Old Windows & DOS Games on Linux Gaming on Linux is on the rise, but if you don't want to turn your PC into a game server then the answer is with old games, retro classics from the Windows platform. Read More .

Is This the Year of the Linux Desktop?

Only if you make it. There aren’t many companies trying to push Linux into the hands of consumers. Many users adopt the operating system out of their own interest. Rather than the kind of instant name recognition you get from big ad campaigns, Linux’s growth is slow. But it is growing. This year we saw Linux usage reach 2 percent of desktop users Is Linux Finally Good Enough to Replace Windows? Is Linux Finally Good Enough to Replace Windows? Recent figures show that Linux desktop usage has reached 2%, it's highest yet. Does this mean Linux has reached a point where it can replace Windows and Mac OS X for the average user? Read More . For many people, the time to use Linux is now.

What you use Linux in 2017? Is this a first-time thing, or have you already been using Linux every year for a decade? Either way, share your plans in the comments!

Image Credit: Bubbers BB via Shutterstock.com

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  1. David
    September 27, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I'm afraid that until the games I play are supported on Linux (currently WoW and some other Blizzard games (Overwatch, HotS, Diablo 3), the older FF games via steam etc), I can't make the switch. Wish I could though, being forced to feed MS regularly is painful. Considering trying dual-boot just to have a go. Don't know what IDEs are available on Linux for Java coding but that would be my first trial I guess.

  2. lou
    December 31, 2016 at 3:53 am

    I went dual-boot earlier this year, running Linux Mint and Windows 7 on an older Acer desktop. I am enjoying most of the Linux experience, but, there are a few annoying issues (like a 6 hour difference in time stamp) due to running a dual boot computer.
    As I expected, software is an issue, which is why I stay dual-boot. There are a few Windows programs I need, and use, on a regular basis. I have done some searching for Linux equivalents, but, so far, I cannot find complete and competent Linux equivalents for these.
    The sticking point is data format. In my limited experience, certain document types just do not translate nicely from Windows to Linux. I am willing to learn new applications, but, I am not willing to dedicate time and energy tweaking my historical data so it plays nice in Linux.
    For a lot of very valid reasons (and several personal prejudices) moving to Web-based applications are not an option.
    Aside: it is probably time (and past) to drop the "first time computer users" argument. Such individuals are no longer the norm. In fact, they are a rapidly diminishing minority.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      January 13, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      I hear you. In contrast, I benefited from using open source apps on Windows long before I discovered Linux, so that allowed for a very easy transition.

  3. spyjoshx
    December 30, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Great article as always! Just recently put Fedora 25 on my desktop and haven't booted to Ubuntu since. Although I might soon just to delete some programs to make more space for Fedora...

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      January 13, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      The Fedora folks put out great work. Kudos to them, and thanks for the kind words!

  4. Josh
    December 29, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I love using Linux. I just wish some of the software I need was available for Linux, namely SolidWorks. I have to dual-boot to get the best of both worlds.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      January 13, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      Hopefully you're able to dual-boot without problems.

  5. Carl Draper
    December 29, 2016 at 5:25 am

    For most average users who need to get on the web and do basic tasks I would recommend a Chromebook, as it is the most hassle-free computing experience I have encountered, and it is still Linux! For anything heavier I prefer Kubuntu or Debian with KDE. I've been using Linux since around Red hat 9 or Fedora Core 1 and distro hopped through most distros until Ubuntu 7.10, and then used some form of 'buntu since then.

    PS.
    I wouldn't recommend Elementary, i've tried it several times and found it buggy.?

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Elementary OS? I've encountered a few bugs, but not particularly more than in any other Linux distro.

      I agree about Chromebooks. The number of tech support calls I received from family members dropped after switching them to Chrome OS.

  6. Zhong
    December 27, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    I've been using Linux for a while and I have to say that you need alot of time on your hands to work with this particular kind of system especially when you're stuck on an issue that's going to take awhile. But most popular distros works out of the box; there's still a hint of curiosity and exploration that truly defines the meaning of working behind a computer.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 28, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Getting Linux to work with some hardware can be a big time suck. That's one reason I would encourage someone in the market for a new computer to buy one already running Linux. This saves a great deal of time, as everything already works and typically continues to work after each update.

  7. Harvey Green
    December 27, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I have been using Linux since 1999 first I used "Mandrake" with the KDE desktop and after a couple of years of testing as many Distro as I could I settled on "OpenSuSE" and have used it as my main OS ever since on both my Desktop and Laptop, I do have a bit of trouble though because I also love "PCLinuxOS" and have it installed on my desktop as well I swap from one to the other now and then just for fun. I try to tell people that they should give Linux a go, but if they have been brought up on Windows it is a bit hard for them to get use to Linux long enough to see how better off they would be. Ahh well I'll keep trying!
    Bowser
    a good friend of Tux. have fun

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 28, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      You've been using Linux for a decade longer than I have. Nice!

      • bowser
        December 28, 2016 at 9:23 pm

        I was lucky, I bought my first PC loaded with windows 98 and thought how good is this, then a couple months later I found a Magazine in the Paper shop that came with a CD of Mandrake and after reading it for a week or so thought I'd have a go at this. Boy how glad am I that I did, it took me a long while to get the hang of it, back then you had to use the command line a lot, but it was all good grounding for the future, now of course most Linux Distros just work out of the box, and I use the cml a lot less, must be getting old! but still having Fun.

  8. Danny
    December 27, 2016 at 4:12 am

    I've used Linux since Ubuntu 8.10. I have an Android phone, a Chromebook, a laptop running Ubuntu 16.4, and a desktop that triple-boots Windows 10 (for the annual running of the Turbo Tax), Ubuntu 16.4, and antiX 16 base which I have stripped down to make a distraction-free OS for writing. What I love about Linux is the open source philosophy. I'm not much of a geek, but I wrote my first computer program over Christmas break--a klugy thing that automates my word count tracking and enters the data into one program while also triggering events on a server that gamifies writing. It's a program that will only ever appeal to me, and I was able to do it by tying several FOSS programs together with some bash script. I could have never done this with proprietary software, and that is one example of why every year is the year of desktop Linux for me.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 28, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Ubuntu 8.10 was also when I switched to Linux! And kudos on designing your own program. You're right -- that freedom to tinker is a big part of what makes Linux great.

  9. PNH
    December 27, 2016 at 3:03 am

    I agree with most of this, but one thing is not mentioned that is a roadblock to serious adoption of Linux: the way it work with various devices, especially printers. Most will work and you can get some kind of driver that is effective for basic printing function, but you lose a lot of versatility/function that is included with proprietary drivers and software specific to your device. There is also far less "friendly flexibility" with off editing. These are the major missing elements for me of relying of a Linux distribution alone.

    • Valis
      December 27, 2016 at 9:51 am

      That issur is the fault of the manufaturers, not Linux! They couldn't be bothered to write drivers for Linux, mainly because it is such a small market. The more people who adopt Linux the more likely proprietary manufacturers will write drivers for it.

      • PNH
        December 27, 2016 at 11:16 am

        I agree, but regardless it remains a barrier to Linux adoption for normal users Scanners are even more effected in my experience). For printers, HP advertises they have drivers & software made for Linux, but they do not compare to Windows drivers a software.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 27, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Great point! Though it's worth mentioning that when devices do work with Linux, they typically work out of the box. You don't have to go hunting for drivers. Just plug in your printer and go.

  10. SM
    December 26, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    I run both Windows & Xubuntu on 2 machines. I have been since 2009. Back then, the learning curve was more steep and I'm glad it was. It forced me to understand the reasons I did certain things. For years, I have put many people with older machines onto Linux & made it look similar to Windows. They were always pleased with the dramatic performance changes too.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      It is nice to see how much faster a machine usually runs with Linux, even with graphical effects turned up. Glad to see you introducing people to something new.

  11. Ray
    December 26, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    I have been back and forth with different distros of Linux and find Arch - or one based on it - to be my favorite. Manjaro is great if you want to learn about Linux because it is much more forgiving than going with just Arch. I more recent have made the switch fully to Linux because of Microsoft's malicious style of and update system.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      December 28, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      Arch is quite the switch from Windows. Kudos.