Ready to switch to Linux?

Tired of Windows? Ready to look for an alternative? As a desktop user there are really only two options: Linux or Mac OS X. The second pretty much requires that you buy some Apple hardware before you can run it. Linux, on the other hand, will run on most hardware, even some of the older hardware that lurks around homes and offices. Linux is also free to download so you can try it out before having to spend any money.

But, before you blow your bandwidth cap downloading the latest version of Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva or OpenSuse, there are few things worth considering. Not everyone is suited to Linux and, depending on how you use your computer, you may find it harder to switch than others do.

The first thing to consider is what it is you mostly do with your computer.

Are you a gamer, an office worker, a casual home user, or an IT professional?

Not a game

If you’re a gamer then you’re better off with Windows. It’s not that Linux can’t run many popular games and doesn’t have a growing collection of its own games, but your existing games won’t work out of the box without a little fiddling and tweaking.

It can be done but if all you’re really interested in doing is playing games then you don’t actually want to spend most of your time reading Wine (Windows compatibility layer) forums for tips on getting the newest games working. You just want to play. By all means, jump in and give it a try but do it knowing that there are bumps in the road ahead.

If you’re an office worker there’s a good chance you could switch to Linux.

In fact it may even be a good idea given the relative dearth of viruses on the Linux platform. The thing to consider here is what type of work it is that you do.

Do you mostly browse the web, write emails and documents? These are relatively standard tasks and can just as easily be performed using Linux as any other platform.

The thing to watch out for is specific proprietary applications that you need to use during your day-to-day work. If you need to run a specific book-keeping application for which there is no Linux version, then you’re stuck. You could look at running these under a compatibility layer such as Wine or CrossOver but there is no guarantee that the applications will work exactly as expected.

If you’re not too tied into your existing proprietary applications then it may be worth considering applications that can be run on Linux. TurboCash, for example, can be run on Windows or Linux while GnuCash is a Linux-specific accounting application which you could use in place of your current tool.

Are you a graphics professional doing DTP and graphic design? You’re probably also better off on Windows (or Mac OS X). There are many great Linux-specific graphics tools available but in an industry in which InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator dominate it’s not going to be an easy switch to Scribus, The Gimp and Inkscape. Each of these is powerful in their own right but there will be a degree of re-learning needed to get up to speed in each of these.

Specialist applications

With the exception of a handful of specialist Windows applications there are Linux-based alternatives for almost all applications found on Windows. In some cases these are even better than similar Windows applications. Audacity and VLC, for example, are among the best audio applications on any platform.

For a detailed list of application alternatives take a look at The Linux Alternative Project

Casual home users, those that use their computer to mainly email friends, surf the web and watch videos, are the users most easily able to switch to Linux. With no specific proprietary application habits there is no reason that they can’t make the jump to Linux. All popular browsers, excepting Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s IE, run on Linux and email clients like Evolution and Thunderbird have most of the functionality than most casual users could ever want.

Which flavour?

The one minor obstacle to switching to Linux is choosing a version. Unlike Windows and OS X which really only ship one single version of their OS, Linux is available in multiple flavours. Each of these “distributions”, as they are known, is packaged in a specific way to cater to a particular userbase. Many of the most popular versions – Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Mandriva, Fedora – are very similar and include much the same functionality as each other despite some underlying differences. Other distributions, like Puppy Linux, Mythbuntu and Edubuntu cater for specific markets (lightweight, media centre and education in this case).

First-time Linux users are best advised to stick with one of the popular Linux distributions to minimise setup headaches. Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, LinuxMint and OpenSuse are among the easiest Linux distributions to install and manage. These versions largely remove the need to fiddle with arcane commands to get the system up and running.

Linux is not Windows

The most important thing to remember when switching to Linux is that Linux is not Windows. There are similarities but Linux is fundamentally different to Windows. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily harder than Windows to use but things that you now know on Windows don’t always apply on Linux. If you’re not prepared to put in a little time to get to know Linux then your switch to Linux is going to fail. Guaranteed.

It’s worth the effort if you do put in the time, however.

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Ready to switch to Linux?