Linux vs Windows: A simple guide for switching from Windows to Linux
Linux vs Windows – What’s the difference?
Microsoft has dominated the personal computer market for decades. With over 1.25 billion active Windows machines in operation around the world, the operating system has become the standard for personal computing. Is this owing to the fact that Windows is the best operating system out there? Certainly not, and here’s why you need to consider the benefits of Linux vs Windows and the advantages the former has over the latter.
Windows gained popularity after its historic partnership with IBM in 1985 which saw all IBM machines being shipped with the operating system pre-loaded on them. Being the largest manufacturer of personal computers, the duo went on to dominate the market. This meant that almost every new computer user was exposed to the windows environment and was seen as standard of personal computing.
The familiarity with the environment lead to the inertial, meteoric rise of windows. Since the IBM partnership was non-exclusive, other hardware manufacturers also started shipping with windows owing to the lack of a feasible alternative.
Linux was still in its early stages, though powerful, saw its applications mainly in academic and industrial environments. Because of its ability to reliably operate on any hardware, many manufacturers started using the system in embedded devices and other products like network communications to create a rock solid stable platform to operate their hardware.
A lot of the development of Linux was focused o this aspect and it was not particularly user friendly to the average consumer. This is where Windows proved to be advantageous. With Microsoft focusing on creating a user friendly environment that was fairly idiot-proof, average consumers flocked to it and left Linux to the nerds and the pros.
The two operating systems differ fundamentally in their development approach. Windows is a proprietary software developed by Microsoft whose code is not made public. This means that the source code is not open to the public and cannot be modified in any form. Any modifications are released as an official update by Microsoft based on the frequency of their development cycles. This means that the company chooses the features that it wishes to roll out or update based on their own research rather than being driven by the realtime need of its community.
Linux on the other hand is Open Source. This means that all of the source code of the operation is open to the public and can be actively modified by its community to suit any requirements. There is a very large community of developers who contribute code to the project which is reviewed and complied and released on a brisk release schedule.
Why choose the Linux operating system?
There are several reasons why I would recommend shifting to a Linux desktop or laptop for the average consumer
- Faster update cycles means its more resistant to vulnerabilities
- Fewer widespread cyber attacks target Linux owing to it’s relatively smaller user base
- Far more flexibility in terms of functionality
- Many options to choose from in terms of desktop environments, functionalities, and distributions.
When it comes to cross-platform software compatibility, Linux computers have really come a long way.
This is the most pertinent question when migrating to a new operating system. Microsoft office is the standard for professional use and it is very important that these systems be compatible with those formats. Although you will not be able to install Microsoft Office on Linux, there are softwares that allow you to open and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Libre Office is an open source software that supports many formats including those created by Microsoft Office. The interface however lacks the luster and user friendly-ness of the former.
For this I highly recommend installing WPS office through the Software Center which is a free and open source clone of Office. You will find the interface almost identical to that which you have been used to and there is almost no learning curve if you’ve used office before.
All Linux systems come with some native media players to play any audio or video formats. However if you prefer your trusty VLC player, that is available too through the Software Center.
Image, audio and video editors
Most basic audio, video and image editing can be done through replacement open source softwares but for professional use, there are no perfect replacements for Photoshop, Final Cut Pro or Abelton etc. If you are heavily dependent on these softwares, it’s recommended you stick to Windows.
However here are some open source alternatives to try out
The open source alternative to Microsoft Linux is Mozilla Thunderbird. This is fantastic software with a huge library of plugins to extend its functionality. But at the end of the day, Outlook is the best email client there is and you will find Thunderbird lacking that finish you are used to. But it’s just a matter of getting used to as there is no shortcoming in term of features in Thunderbird.
Which Linux OS distro is right for you?
There are hundreds of different Linux based operating systems out there, each maintained by a dedicated community. The core of the operating system – the kernel is centrally released and the rest of the operating system is built around it by the communities. Each community has a different philosophy while building these operating systems and choosing the right system depends completely on the preference of the user. Here is a simple checklist to help decide which Linux distribution (or distro) is best for you.
- How stable is the environment?
- How fast is the update cycle?
- What are the applications that you need to apply it for?
- What desktop environment do you prefer?
- How good is the documentation for the project?
- How helpful/responsive are the forums?
- Application respositories
All of this requires research and trial and error before you actually find a distro that fits your requirements perfectly. Here are a few leading distros to get started. Please note that the suggestions I’m about to make here are purely based on my experience with Linux. Many people would have a different opinion on how to go about the selection process or what path of evolution to follow. But I guess that’s the point. There is no one right way to do things in Linux. You must find whats right for you.
Choosing the right Linux desktop environment
One of the many advantages of Linux is the capability to choose your preferred desktop environment. There are many available the main ones are as follows
This is great simplistic desktop environment that is no-frills and highly functional. Everything is where it intuitively should be and for the most part, requires minimum amount of navigation to reach a particular function, feature or application.
This is a much more pedantically organised environment with everything categorised based on its features into menus and sub-menus. You will find this desktop environment similar to the Windows environment in its organisational structure. It is a beautiful and polished desktop which is great for those skeptical about experimenting with an unfamiliar environment.
Mate is similar to Cinnamon but has a more retro feel to it, especially if you’re coming from Windows. I’ve found it to be less resource intensive and works great on systems with lower specs. Which is not to say that it is not powerful. However the retro look does take time to grow on you.
XFCE is a lightweight desktop based on GNOME. The visual appearance may be a bit vanilla but this desktop is highlighy customisable. There are several guides available on how to customise XFCE and tweak it to your liking. This does not compromise on speed and its low resource usage makes it a great choice.
LXDE is the lightest-weight Debian based based desktop there is. It is visually plain and functional but has very low resource usage. This is recommended for computers that have very low specifications. This is a great choice if you’re trying to revive an old computer.
KDE is one of the most dynamic and visually appealing desktop environments out there. It is quite resource intensive in comparison to the others but delivers a stunning and highly customisable environment. There are features that can be used to enhance productivity, add flair or just look cool. Its a great environment to play with and tweak without losing any of the visual appeal.
There are many Linux versions to choose from. Below we give some popular ones.
This is a great starting point for amateurs. Debian based systems come with a massive repository of over 43000 software packages that can be installed via a handy software center. The experience is similar to an app store that iOS/Android users are used to. The system is very stable, however that does mean relatively slower release of updates.
The community is probably the biggest advantage for newbies. If you have any problems with the system you can visit any of the multitude of forums and if the question has not already been answered, the community is very responsive and accepting of the most basic questions, unlike other more advanced communities (read Arch).
Although I’m not a big fan of the default Unity desktop environment, there are many others to choose from based on your requirements.
Linux Mint is an Ubuntu based distro which has its own release cycles owing to the the fact that the packages are tested for additional stability and compatibility issues. Release cycles are slower but you get a rock solid system that will last you years. This is a highly recommended starting point.
For those who want to have a Mac like experience out-of-the box as far as desktop environment goes – I would highly recommend Elementary OS. This is a beautiful Ubuntu based operating system with a GNOME based environment.
For those who prefer a Windows look-alike, there is Zorin. Zorin is a clone of the Windows XP desktop complete with the start menu and everything. This is also an Ubuntu based operating system and is quite reliable.
At this point in the article, I must say that the lists I am providing here are in no way exhaustive as that would be a tall ask when you’re writing about Linux. There are hundreds of different operating systems out there and each suited to a different requirement.
Most average users who just want a stable, secure drop-in replacement for their windows machines should just stop here and continue running these operating systems. For the more technically sound users, this is just a stepping stone. Using Linux can teach you a lot about how an operating system actually works. My advice would be to get comfortable with the terminal and using the command line and then migrate to a more advanced operating system as when you get comfortable. The next logical step, in my opinion would be Arch Linux
Arch linux is a rolling release distro. This mean that changes to the operating system are pushed almost instantaneously keeping your system at the bleeding edge of what available. This does make the system a bit more unstable but nothing that you wont be able to fix. The Arch wiki will be you friend as you will find little help with newbie questions on the forums. This means that you have to dissect a problem by understanding whats broken through the wiki and then fix it. Its quite a satusfying process once you know what you’re doing.
Installing arch is a complicated process and can be overwhelming at first so you can take baby steps. Start with Manjaro.
Move to Manjaro – an operating system based on Arch but made much more user friendly. This will give you a peek into how everything works under the hood but will guide you through the process. Then move to Antergos.
Then shift to Antergos which takes care of the installation process of Arch but provides an almost native Arch experience.
Then attempt to build your own operating system on Arch. Once you’ve taken this path, you’ll be quite adept at managing your own operating system and you could chart your own path from there.
How to install Linux on a windows machine?
This is much simpler than you would imagine. Just follow the steps below and you should be up and running in no time. Please note that the guide given below is just a skeletal guideline on how to install the operating system. Please google the installation instructions for your specific operating system and follow that for a more detailed installation guide.
Step 1. Backup all your files to an external hard drive
Step 2. Download the iso file of the Linux distro of your choice
Step 3. Download UNetBootin
Step 4. Procure and format a pendrive of minimum 8GB size
Step 5. Open up UNetBootin and browse to your iso file which you wish to install, Select the pendrive as the target location and click OK. This will burn the image of the Linux Distro on the pendrive
Step 6. Plug your pendrive into the target computer and reboot.
Step 7. Press F2 while the computer reboots and navigate to the Boot Priority setting. You should find your pendrive listed there and set it to boot priority 1. Alternatively instead of going into the BIOS, you can also press F12 on most machines which will allow you to choose the boot devices. Navigate to your pendrive and hit enter.
Step 8. This will boot the Linux image from the pendrive. Navigate to “Install operating system” and follow the wizard which will guide you through the entire installation process. Choose the default settings and let the wizard do all the configurations for you.
Step 9. You’re done! Welcome to the land of the penguin!
We hope this Linux Vs Windows guide has enlightened you on the benefits of the Linux OS and the procedure for switching from Windows to Linux. Do get back to us with your questions and comments.