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Making the jump from Windows to Linux isn’t always a walk in the park for long-time Windows users. That isn’t the say the experience isn’t a great one. It’s just that there are certain things you take for granted in Windows that are quite different in Linux.
Some major differences include the need to become comfortable with the command line, a different approach to handling peripherals, and the need to switch to a new family of applications.
The following are six of the most common things Windows users struggle with when they switch over to using a Linux distribution.
1. Using the Command Line
Most Windows users are able to get by very easily without using the Windows command prompt for nearly everything they do. Installing software, adding new devices, and even configuring the Windows OS itself can be accomplished through pointing and clicking.
In many cases, like adding new devices, the experience is plug-and-play, and the user doesn’t even have to do anything.
Meanwhile, in most Linux distros users might need to learn the command line interface (CLI), but doing so is much easier than you might think.
Linux distros also offer a useful package manager that lets you install an impressive assortment of powerful applications. This experience is largely like the Windows experience where you just click on the app you want and it’ll be installed automatically for you.
However, on Windows, if you can’t find the application you need, you have to go to the store (or online) and buy it.
In the case of Linux, you just research the app you need online, find the installation name of the app, and just run a simple “sudo apt install” command to find and install that software (for free).
Other typical uses for the CLI in Linux include:
- Quickly checking system information and statistics
- Reconfiguring the system (changing things like display refresh rate)
- Scheduling system commands or tasks
- Creating, searching, or manipulating files and folders
- Network management
- Installing peripheral drivers and software
Solution: Becoming comfortable with commands available in the Linux CLI isn’t a steep learning curve, and it can greatly enhance your Linux experience.
If you want to dive in and start learning common Linux commands, have a read through these most-used Linux commands.
2. Configuring Peripherals
Another area where long-time Windows users often find a stumbling block is when it’s time to install new hardware or configuring printer connections.
This is because at times the Linux approach to setting up drivers enters into the “manual” realm where you’re running CLI commands to troubleshoot and set things up.
In Windows, setting up a printer is extremely simple. It’s usually just a matter of going through a wizard that uses default Windows drivers included with the OS.
The problem in Windows is that when a printer driver fails, you’re left trying to find which Control Panel area shows you the right port or device error to troubleshoot your printer problems.
Solution: In Linux, while the existing printer drivers that come with a distro may not work with your printer, troubleshooting problems is much easier. Several Linux commands allow you to easily connect to the printer and configure communications manually.
Again, learning CLI commands can make your Linux experience much more flexible and easier to troubleshoot than Windows.Run into trouble? Check our guide to setting up a printer in Linux.
3. Configuring Internal Components
In addition to configuring new peripherals, installing new hardware inside your Linux computer follows the same approach as with printers.
In Windows, when a new graphics or network card doesn’t work, troubleshooting the problem can turn into a nightmare. Finding the right hardware so you can see the error, and then figuring out how to fix it, is almost impossible for a regular user.
Solution: In Linux, things in this area are getting easier, as new Linux distros (or updated ones) come prepackaged with support for many more internal components.
And when things go wrong, Linux provides you with a lot more power to set things right.
For example, to configuring a new network card in Linux, you have the power (with simple CLI commands) to:
- Add entries to /etc/network/interfaces to configure the card address and netmask.
- Set up DNS configuration in etc/resolv.conf.
- Test the interfaces with ip or ifconfig commands.
- Set up firewall rules to allow traffic.
This all may sound complicated, but the commands are very simple to learn and let you fix problems with your devices a lot faster than hunting and clicking through countless settings in Windows.
4. Windows Software Is Not Available
Even though Linux desktop distros are becoming more popular than ever before, it’s still a Windows world. That means that the vast majority of software out there is written to work on Windows, and there aren’t always versions available for Linux.
A classic example of this are Microsoft Office products like Word or Excel.
Solution: It may not be quite the “Windows world” as one might think. Windows software is costly. With Linux, there are almost always free replacement applications that are as good or better.
One example of this is LibreOffice as a replacement for Microsoft Office. Meanwhile, anyone who has used GIMP knows that the Linux alternatives certainly give Photoshop a run for its money.
The key, if you’re a long-time Windows user switching to Linux, is to do your research. Windows software isn’t always the best just because there’s a price tag attached. In the Linux world, you’ll quickly discover that open source alternatives are pretty impressive.
But if you’re dead set on using those Windows apps, a powerful Linux tool called Wine is available to make many Windows applications work just fine on a Linux distro. That means Linux gives you everything you need from your Windows experience, plus a whole lot more.
5. “Limited” Gaming Options
A long-running assumption for years has been that there are many more popular games available for Windows than for Linux. The fear of this limitation makes Windows-based gamers wary about making the big leap over into the Linux world.
These days, that fear is completely unfounded.
Solution: You can now run Steam on Linux, so just about any game you can buy to play on Windows, you can play on your Linux workstation. If you install PlayOnLinux, you can even install and run games that are designed to run only on Windows.
This fact alone should make most gamers sprint to use Linux immediately.
Why? Because Linux distros consume far less resources than Windows. This leaves more resources available for an exciting, fast-paced gaming experience!
6. Customizing Desktop Themes
Customizing your desktop theme in Windows is as simple as opening up Themes in System Settings, and tweaking things like the desktop background, color settings, the mouse cursor, or applying purchased themes from the Windows store.
Many Windows users think that customizing Linux distro themes are more complicated, or impossible.
Solution: Customizing themes on Linux distros is getting much easier. Most distros now incorporate easy GUIs to customize everything you can tweak in Windows.
Even better, you can go beyond those basic settings by learning some simple theme-based CLI commands. These let you manually change the appearance of individual items like icons, fonts, window settings, and much more.
There are actually a lot of things you can customize in many Linux distros that you can’t customize in Windows.
And in most cases, Linux distros come with an existing theme that’s already more aesthetically pleasing than Windows.
Switching to Linux Isn’t Painful
Even just a few years ago, making the transition to Linux distro for daily computer use was not enjoyable. It was tricky persuading hardware to work properly, and connecting to your home network would require endless of patience.
Thankfully, the developers of most popular Linux distros have made tremendous strides in making their OS handle a much larger family of peripherals and system components.
There are now GUIs available for easily configuring network interfaces. And with the growing collection of Linux-based applications that easily rival some of the best that Windows offers—the transition is nowhere as painful as it used to be.
In fact, I would say that exploring a modern Linux distro is an adventure that any long-time Windows user should try at least once. And if you’re thinking of getting started today, check our list of the best Linux distros.