I’ve managed to build a career writing online, and I’ve done so using Linux. Early on I had to keep a Windows computer around to use specific software, but that’s a demand that only one client has demanded. Everywhere else has allowed me to make my living from a Linux-powered laptop.
You, too, can use Linux to manage your professional life. Actually, I highly recommend it! The sheer amount of free and open source software is bound to save you money. Many of these apps haven’t changed much in the past decade, even as they’ve gained new features. That makes them dependable, predictable, and ideal for getting the job done.
There are more advantages that I’ll share as we go along. Let’s get to work.
Picking a Linux Distro
There isn’t one version of Linux that everyone uses. Many communities have accumulated and packaged open source software in different ways. We call these Linux operating systems “distributions” (or “distros” for short). These distros are largely the same underneath, but they offer diverse ways of interacting with the same Linux operating system.
Some distros are more stable and consistent than others. Since you’re using Linux to make a living, these traits matter. Getting the latest updates daily through a distro using a rolling release model is fun, but you run a higher risk of starting your workday fixing a bug that popped up overnight. I recommend picking a distro with a consistent release schedule and a large community. This way you know when major updates are coming, and there are more users to test and spot the issues that may arise.
I’m a big fan of Fedora, a reliable distro that offers the latest in free and open source software. Ubuntu is a relatively well-known option that makes it easier to install the kind of commercial applications you may need for your job, but newer releases haven’t received quite as much investment as in the past. openSUSE is another solid choice that could be said to offer the best of both worlds.
Many distros come with enough software to cover most of your basics. The default browser is likely Firefox, and there’s a good chance you already have LibreOffice pre-installed. This is one of the best office suites out there, even on Windows and macOS. For other professional tools, you will eventually need to turn to your distro’s package manager.
Think of a package manager as an app store for your desktop. These contain the many thousands of programs that you can install on your computer over the internet. With very few exceptions, all of this software is free (in both senses of the word). There are many different package managers, with GNOME Software being particularly common and welcoming to newcomers.
Regardless of which one you use, the general process is the same. You can browse software by category or try searching for the specific type that you want. Most of the programs on Windows and Mac aren’t available for Linux, but there is usually a free alternative. With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to know what’s out there, and not everything is of excellent quality. Here’s a list to get you started.
Creating Invoices and Tracking Finances
LibreOffice is plenty capable of creating invoices. The hard part is knowing what to include or how to format. Fortunately you can find templates online. There are also plenty of tools online that can help you, some of which don’t even require an account. If you’re often away from your computer, this is a task you can punt to your phone.
Getting paid is one thing. Tracking that money is another. If for no reason other than filing taxes, you’re going to want to know what’s flowing in and out.
Linux has quite a few accounting apps that run on your computer, no internet required. These give you the tools to track and categorize every dollar related to your professional life. Most provide the option to export your data.
Alternatively, you can still use whatever online service you like. These offer plenty of features related to running a small business, such as payroll.
I personally use a spreadsheet. As a writer, I don’t need to keep up with all that much.
Maintaining Your Workflow
Installing Linux is a great way to breathe life into an old PC. So once you make the switch, you can expect your computers to remain usable for much longer. That’s great for your budget, but it’s also good for your workflow.
Once you get used to Linux, you typically don’t have to deal with major interface changes. Occasionally one of the more popular desktop environments will undergo a massive redesign, but those incidents are rare, and you usually have the option to switch to something that feels more familiar if you don’t want to adjust.
The same is true of apps. I first started using the GIMP image editor over a dozen years ago, and the interface remains largely the same. Once you establish your workflow, you won’t have to encounter the kind of routine ground-shaking changes that a new version of Windows or Microsoft Office provide.
If you’re buying a new machine, I recommend getting one that comes with Linux. This will save you the effort of installing Linux on your own, and you know all of the hardware will work. Companies that sell Linux pre-installed, such as System76 or ZaReason, will send you a fully functional machine. Computers that come with Windows might have a graphics card or Wi-Fi chip that isn’t yet compatible. That’s assuming you’re able to install Linux at all.
Dealing with Windows Requirements
Occasionally a client may require that you use software that’s only available on Windows or Mac. In my case, Windows Live Writer was the only accepted way of submitting content. My wife’s laptop ran Windows, so I used that and stuck to my Linux laptop for everything else. That client eventually removed that requirement, and I haven’t had to use Windows since.
You don’t have to keep around two laptops to be prepared. You can run Windows inside of a virtual machine. Alternatively, you can dual-boot Linux and Windows or even macOS on the same machine. Neither approach is as complicated as it sounds.
You might even be able to run the Windows app you need directly in Linux using Wine, but I haven’t had much luck going that route. Your mileage may vary.
Can Everyone Do Their Job With Linux?
No. If your job requires you to use a specific Windows-only app for nearly all of your work, you might as well use Windows. But if you’re a writer, a photographer, or a video editor who is able to choose your own tools, then Linux provides you with plenty of choices. And if you only need a computer to manage the financial side of your work, then yes, using Linux just makes plain financial sense!
Are you ready to make the switch, but you’re intimidated by the logistics? Don’t be afraid. Here’s what you need to know to make the transition.
I’ve been using free and open source software for so long that I don’t feel comfortable trusting other tools to help me do my job.
What about you? Have you used Linux to get serious work done? Are you considering making the switch? If you have any questions, I’ll be hanging out in the comments.
Image Credits: Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock
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