Considering Linux? 10 Common Questions Answered

Danny Stieben 30-09-2014

A lot of Windows users might be a little afraid to try out Linux because they don’t know how to deal with the differences between the two operating systems. So, to alleviate some of that fear, we’ll be answering the most common questions that Windows users have.


After going through this list of questions and answers, you should feel much more confident trying out Linux.

Can You Run All Your Old Software?

Most likely not. While there are a lot of popular applications that are cross-platform (such as Firefox, Chrome, VLC, and so much more) that will run on Linux perfectly, there is other software that isn’t available on Linux — the primary example being Microsoft Office. Now, the majority of applications do have Linux alternatives that may or may not be as good as the program you’re replacing. However, generally speaking, you should be able to do the same things on Linux as you’ve been able to do on Windows. You might just have to look around a bit to see what you can use. The only exception is for extremely special needs — the more unique your needs are, the lower the chances are that there’s something you can use on Linux. The best way to find out is to try it out yourself.

Where Do You Find Software?

On Linux, you don’t have to scour the Web in search for the software that you want, as you normally do in Windows. Instead, Linux systems use several repositories to download “packages”, which are ZIP-like files that contain binaries and instructions for installation for a certain program or add-on. Each distribution uses its own set of repositories, which contain different amounts of packages. However, the included package managers and/or software centers will search through these repositories automatically, so virtually all new software can be found there. There may be a random package or two that you may need to get on the Web or by adding an additional repository What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained] Read More , but this is generally not needed. It may be important to note that larger applications often come in multiple packages, while smaller applications are often fine as a single package.

How Do You Install Software?

Like I mentioned above, you can install software through the included package manager and/or software center. Once you find the software you want to install, it’ll be as simple as a single click to install it. For the few instances where you have to install a package that you’ve downloaded yourself from the Web, you can just double-click on it and it’ll launch the package manager/software center to install it. In this regard, the package works very much like an .exe installer on Windows. The subtle distinction is that the package needs the help of the package manager/software center to be installed, while an .exe installer can just install itself.

Where Do You Get Drivers?

The beautiful thing about Linux is that it comes with a lot of drivers so that most, if not all, of your hardware will work out-of-the-box. So if everything works perfectly immediately, then you don’t have to worry about drivers at all! However, if there are some items that do need additional drivers, such as certain wireless chipsets and AMD/NVIDIA graphics cards How to Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers in Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mint Most of the time, you'll be fine with open-source software on Linux. But if you want real gaming and graphical power, you'll need proprietary drivers. Here's how to get them. Read More , some distributions will tell you when you run the Additional Drivers utility. It will check all of your hardware and tell you which drivers are available, which you can then opt to install. Other distributions won’t do this for you (so I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re new to Linux) and will require that you find out which packages you need yourself and install them. Therefore, the Additional Drivers utility is very handy for new users, and it’s only offered on Ubuntu-based distributions.


Is It Really Safer & Virus-Free?

Yes, it really is safer! Not only can Windows viruses not run on it, but there are only a very tiny amount of viruses written for Linux and they circulate very poorly. Even if you download a file that is infected with a Linux virus, the complex permissions system that Linux uses makes it very difficult for such a file to execute properly and actually cause any damage. If security is a big concern (especially if you’re still using Windows XP), then Linux is a fantastic choice to switch to.

Can It Play Games?

Yes, but there’s a big asterisk with that answer. Linux can indeed play games, and there are a lot of games available for the operating system thanks to the availability of Steam. However, the amount of games on Windows is still far greater than the amount that’s available on Linux. For the time being, there are only a few “AAA” games available on Linux right now, while the majority of them are not. With more and more game developers gaining interest in making games for Linux, the number of Linux games will continue to grow until it is on equal footing with Windows.

How Can I Try It Out?

Once you’ve picked out a distribution that you’d like to try out (I’d recommend either Ubuntu or Linux Mint), go to the distribution’s download page and grab their ISO image. If the site asks whether you want 32-bit or 64-bit, it’s best to go with 64-bit unless you know your computer is really old (anything less than 5 years old is guaranteed to support 64-bit). Once you have the ISO file, you can choose to burn it to a DVD, write it to a USB drive Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Read More , or run it in a virtual machine. If you are using a DVD or USB drive, don’t forget to change your BIOS settings so that you can boot from your new media. At this point, you’ll experience another benefit of Linux: the ability to run a live environment. With a live environment, you can try out Linux and do everything you could possibly want on it, completely risk-free. Any applications that are “installed” while running the live environment are simply stored in RAM, which is wiped as soon as you turn off or restart your computer. The only way you can make any changes is if you mount your Windows partition and mess around with the files stored on there, or if you decide to actually install Linux to your hard drive using the installer shortcut on the desktop.

Is It Compatible With Windows Or Other Operating Systems?

Generally speaking, yes! Linux is compatible with other operating systems and can fit in with any pre-existing mix of systems. There are plenty of packages that can provide compatibility for a variety of needs. For example, with file format compatibility, alternative programs can read files made by other systems.


LibreOffice can read Microsoft Office files, GIMP can read Photoshop project files (.psd), and so on. With Samba, you can also access and host your own Windows shared folders across your home network. This is great because that means you can use Linux to create your own home server and have it be accessible by Windows, Mac, and Linux systems alike.

How Often Do I Have To Upgrade?

This depends a lot on which distribution you choose. Some distros, like Fedora, are very fast-paced and usually prefer to only support the last one or two releases. Therefore, in Fedora’s case, their support time frame ends a month after the second next release is out. So, as an example, Fedora 18’s support ended a month after Fedora 20 was released, which is equal is approximately 13 months. Ubuntu’s regular semiannual releases are like this as well — except that support ends 9 months after it was originally released. So for example, Ubuntu 13.10’s support ended 3 months after Ubuntu 14.04 was released.

Then there are other distributions, such as Ubuntu’s LTS releases, that are supported for much longer. LTS releases come out every two years, but each release is supported for 5 years. So while you can upgrade every two years as soon as a new LTS release is out, you wouldn’t have to until 5 years after.

Finally, there are rolling-release distributions which are never upgraded ever because they just get a constant flow of incremental updates. As soon as a major new version of something comes out (such as your desktop environment), your installation will simply be upgraded to the new version. You won’t have to do an upgrade to a new release — you just have to update your packages as normal.


Don’t forget that all Linux upgrades to a new release are completely free since Linux is a free operating system. No need to fear about having to pay to get the next version!

Is It Legal?

Yes, but with very tiny exceptions in certain spots. Linux distros as a whole are legal, and downloading them is also legal. A lot of people think that Linux is illegal because most people prefer to download them via torrent, and those people automatically associate torrenting with illegal activity. Torrenting itself is completely legal, so the illegality of a torrent download depends on what you’re downloading. Linux is legal, therefore, you have nothing to worry about.

That being said, there are a few exceptions where tiny components may technically be considered illegal, but the chances that you’ll face any ramifications is just about 0%. For example, the MP3 codec that you can download and install is patent-encumbered and therefore illegal if you didn’t pay for it. However, there are plenty of ways around this — if you ever bought Windows, which comes with this codec, you’re in the clear — it doesn’t matter whether or not you have specifically bought it for Linux. The same thing applies to Mono, which has the same patent-encumberment problem as it’s very similar to Microsoft’s .NET framework.

Has anyone ever been punished by using these items on Linux? No. If anything, companies will sue other companies for such issues but they will never go after individual users. If this bothers you, whether philosophically or otherwise, there are certain distributions or spins of distributions which specifically exclude these types of packages from them.


What Are Your Linux Questions?

I remember having these questions whenever I first started messing around with Linux, and knowing all of this ahead of time may have made a few things a bit simpler. These answers should give you enough courage to try out Linux, which is necessary to go through the “Is Linux Right For Me?” checklist The Ultimate "Should I Use Linux?" Checklist Deciding whether switching to Linux isn't so easy, because Linux isn't perfect and sadly not for everyone -- although we'd like to think that. Is it for you? Read More . But it’s a good thing to try out, because what if Linux is actually a great solution for you?

What questions do or did you have as a beginner? What barriers do you think exist that prevents people from trying Linux? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Justice Gavel via Shutterstock, Computer Code with Lock via Shutterstock

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  1. Daniel E
    October 1, 2014 at 5:44 am

    Even if you download a file that is infected with a Linux virus, the complex permissions system that Linux uses makes it very difficult for such a file to execute properly and actually cause any damage.

    Re the permissions system, comparing Windows and GNU/Linux:

    When you install Windows, your account gets Administrator privileges, although Windows protects you by asking you to confirm that you do want to perform certain admin functions, e.g., something simple as running an "unknown" program. This may be akin to the GNU/Linux sudo mechanism.

    In GNU/Linux, OTOH, depending on the distribution, your account will also get root (the GNU/Linux analog of Windows Administrator) privileges, although if you try to perform an admin function, e.g., installing some software, you will have to enter your account's password (not the root password).

    That's why it's important not to log on as root, because you can bork your GNU/Linux setup if you're not careful. E.g., you can download and install a virus and, if you're logged on as root.

    However, if you're logged on as your usual account, and you download and install a virus, one of two things can happen:

    1. It'll require root access (via sudo), in which case you'll be prompted with a password, and that should make you leery.

    2. It'll go on and do its dirty deed, but affect only the files you have permission to write to — mainly, your own home directory.

    In the latter case, the rest of the system is intact, although your own files could be toast.

    • dave darr
      January 2, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      In response to "mainly your own home directory", is this why I've seen ppl put their home directory on a separate partition?

  2. Stephan H
    September 30, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Good article, but one remark: I think it would technically be possible for a Windows-virus to run via Wine, and it could also do some damage to Linux if Wine has access to folders.

    • Pablo_rocka
      September 30, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      an old Linux joke comes to mind... "If you want to be cool in a Linux party, stay away from wine"

    • ed
      September 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      Also, as a Linux user, one could be a carrier of a virus and not even know it. Getting files such as videos, jpegs, or documents that contain malicious code and passing them to friends or co-workers using Windows without you first checking them for a virus is not good.

      This is really the only reason I would suggest having an anti-virus program on Linux. It doesn't have to run in the background, but it should be something you can open up and quickly check a file you got from another source before passing it on to a friend or co-worker.

      And yes, very nice article.

      I like how MakeUseOf continues to spread the word of Linux.

    • dragonmouth
      September 30, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      A virus, even running in Wine, can only affect the userid running Wine. It will not bring down the entire system as it would under Windows because in Linux userids are compartmentalized.

    • tracyanne
      October 2, 2014 at 1:15 am

      In principle yes. In practice I have not yet managed to get a Windows Virus to work under WINE. I dare say the time will come when WINE is sufficiently bug for bug compatible with windows that a virus will work as advertised .

  3. B D
    September 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    As a new user of CrunchBang (how I love it !) I would prefer to learn how to update and install programs from the command line.

    • dragonmouth
      November 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      If you want to update and install packages from the command line, familiarize yourself with "apt" application. It is the main tool for manipulating packages in Debian and all Debian-based distros.

      Another CLI application that works with all Debian-based distros is "smxi". It is a script which guides you through updating/upgrading your system. It will also help you install/uninstall some predetermined system packages, such as Desktop Environments. "Smxi" is very useful in setting up and maintaining your system packages. However, it cannot be used to install/uninstall random applications, such as media players or email clients. For that you need to use either "apt" (CLI) or "Synaptic" (GUI).