Is Moving From Windows to Linux The Right Choice For You?

The intention of this article is to provide Windows users with some basic information about why and how they might choose to move to a Linux based operating system instead. 
In general, Windows users tend to stay with what is the most familiar computing environment, but many complain about it. 
Moving to a Linux based system instead is now a much easier operation than it was a few years ago. Linux systems have become much simpler to install and use, and some have even been developed to mimic Windows so Windows users will feel more “at home” in their new environment. 
Windows operating system logoWhat are the main reasons why Windows users stay put?
  • Influence exerted by Microsoft
  • Familiarity with the operating environment
  • Hardware support at which Windows excels
  • A misconception that stuff they need doesn’t work with Linux
  • Confusion. Anyone researching Linux for the first time is likely to be confused by the sheer number available and also the different desktop environments such as KDE, Gnome, Xfce etc.
Linux logoWhat are the reasons why folks might decide to change?
  • Security. Apart from exploits targeting *servers, Linux can be regarded in general terms as being virus free.
  • Speed. In general, most Linux systems run many times faster than Windows.
  • Customization. Pretty much everything in Linux can be changed to suit your personal preference. With just a few minutes work you can have a system that looks very different to the default package. There are tons of examples of standard and customized Linux systems in these two forum threads. (work backwards from the last pages to see examples of the latest releases).
  • Try before you (don’t) buy. Most Linux systems provide a “live” mode option that can be run from a DVD or USB drive. This provides the ability to try out a selection of Linux distros to see which might suit you best. This does not affect your installed Windows system in any way. 
  • Support. Most Linux systems have their own support community where users can post queries and receive help with problems.
  • Ready to go out of the box. Unless you choose a minimalistic Linux distro, all the programs you need for daily use including web browser, mail client, office suite and media player come pre-installed and ready to use.
  • Dual boot with Windows. You can install one or more Linux systems alongside your existing Windows installation and choose which one to run at boot. You can also access your Windows files from your Linux system(s). There are comprehensive guides detailing how to dual boot specific Linux distros with Windows. See also our own guide here for dual booting an existing XP installation with Linux Mint.
  • The ability to run many of your Windows programs in Linux using a special program called Wine (explanatory video).
  • Ease of maintenance. Updates for your Linux system and all your installed programs are automatic. 
* Other exploits do exist, including Linux specific rootkits. However, Linux was designed to be secure from the outset and unless users ignore the default safeguards, the chances of a home system being compromised are to all intents and purposes, nil.
Where do I start?
Read some reviews. Good sources are:
There are also some great reviews on YouTube including:
A not too accurate guide to the popularity of individual Linux distros can be found here:
“Popular” however does not always equal better and many of the lesser ranked distros are worthy of consideration.
Choose a distro and download the ISO image for it. Always use a torrent download if one is available as the results will be more consistent. Use Google to find a torrent download if one is not provided by the developer. Then burn the ISO to a DVD or USB drive using the slowest speed possible (for DVDs). I use ImgBurn for Windows (beware of the unwanted bundled components!!) and either UNetbootin or Win32 Disk Imager to transfer the files to a USB drive. 
Use the resulting DVD or USB to boot into a live session of your chosen distro. Now you can try out all of the different functions you would normally perform to check everything works as expected. Hardware compatibility with Linux is not as good as for Windows. Some systems for instance will not run at all in my NVIDIA desktop and yet work perfectly in my Intel system. AMD systems may also be inconsistent with some Linux distros. Even if some functions do not work, these are mostly fixable and the solutions will already be in the Linux forums. To avoid spending time researching fixes however, it is important to at least check that your network connection(s), sound and video function correctly before committing to a full install. I have always enjoyed better results by installing from a live session, rather than choosing the direct install option when booting from the live DVD or USB.
Don’t be put off by the default “look” of a distro because everything you see can easily be changed (see the screenshot links above).
I guess from the popularity stakes alone I have to include Ubuntu and Linux Mint, but I wouldn’t use either. :) Also, providing a big list of options here is only going to add to the possibility for confusion already highlighted above. So, here are just a few covering a selection of the various desktop environments (DEs) *available.
Ubuntu (Unity desktop)
Linux Mint (Cinnamon desktop)
Point Linux (MATE desktop)
Manjaro Linux (KDE desktop)
Zorin OS (custom desktop)
ChaletOS (Xfce desktop)
Voyager (Xfce desktop)
Trisquel 7 (Gnome desktop)
Elementary OS (custom desktop)
Peppermint (LXDE desktop)
*Many distros offer a choice of DEs although (mostly) these need to be downloaded and installed separately.
Release Types:
Some distros offer a variety of release types such as Standard, LTS (Long Term Support) and Rolling. Standard releases might come out every six months or annually. Usually an upgrade is possible from the previous version but this operation is not always successful. Rolling releases are continuously updated so in theory you would never need to reinstall. These however tend to be more unstable than the other release types. LTS releases can be supported for up to five years and tend to receive more love from the developers and be more stable in use.

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If your employer makes the corporate decision to go with Microsoft Windows/Microsoft Office, as so many companies do, then it is not realistic to use Linux on your home PC. Switching between Microsoft Office and Open Office just adds to the individual's learning curve.

Secondly most hardware manufacturers focus their support on Windows. When support ended for XP I tried Ubuntu but I couldn't get my scanner to work. I then made the upgrade to Windows 8.1 and had no problem finding an updated scanner driver on the manufacturer's website. Also, for me, Windows 8.1 works well. Its very stable and was not difficult to adapt to from XP.

I appreciate that Linux and a whole bunch of software is available at no cost or very low cost compared with Windows and Windows software, but in my case my employer buys it for me and it all works well. There is just no incentive for me to change and I think there are a great many people who feel the same.

The main reason to stick with Windows is commonality. EVERYONE uses Windows, with all of the user-benefits that commonality brings. That's not to say Windows is the best, of course. ;-)

"Misery loves company."

MC, you've missed out some of "the main reasons why Windows users stay put": 1. Windows is the dominant desktop operating system (80-90% market share whereas Linux has a tiny footprint (the largest in the remaining 3% or so) so most users have never seen Linux in use. What makes it worse is that many users who see a Linux computer will not even realize that it is not Windows. 2. Most users don't know that Linux either exists or is an alternative to Windows. They never see an advertisement for Linux and they never see Linux computers in the shops. So it is no surprise to find that people won't think of it if you ask them for alternatives to Windows. 3. Not many home users know someone who provides free Linux support. Free software without free support is too risky for most people. This site works so well because it provides access to both free software and free support. Maybe we should provide more prominent and detailed support specifically to ease the transition Linux for home users. Linux is so popular here that it might be very successful.
I'm not sure I understand all of what you are trying to say. I thought I'd covered item 1. and part of item 2. with "Influence exerted by Microsoft". There are other reasons of course why Linux will never bypass Windows in terms of user numbers, but the gap would be considerably less if Linux had the same marketing budget as Microsoft. The second part of item only partially correct and depends on your geographical location. Here in Brazil for instance there are more Linux PC's available from leading suppliers than those installed with Windows. Windows use here is also mostly pirated with a street sold Windows 7 disk that will update and run as an original costing just $5. Maybe I'm having a slower day than usual :) but I'm not sure I understand point 3. either. I know of no one who provides free support for either Windows OS or Windows software, they all charge. In terms of forums there are of course plenty for both OS's where users can receive support for both system and software issues. The advantage of Linux though is the speed at which major issues get resolved when compared to Windows. There is also far less likely hood that a third party program will trash large numbers of machines as happened for example with Regseeker, Avast! and Bitdefender. The only risk for Windows users is getting past the dual boot stage and with so many dedicated tutorials online this risk is minimal and should be covered by a Windows backup image anyway. Thereafter they can play all day with Linux v Windows and over time decide if they want to keep their dual boot, change to Linux completely or stick with Windows. Those Linux users here always try to provide support via the forum whenever it is asked for. Possibly this article will generate more demand in which case we will try our best to service it. I don't think at this point though there is cause to move into more detailed support until we see the need for it. Most Linux users will post in the dedicated forum for their chosen distro and this is usually the best place to go. MC - Site Manager.
I'll rephrase them more focus on Linux. The vast majority of home computer users: 1. don't see desktop Linux running anywhere. 2. either don't know that Linux exists, what it is, or if it is even an alternative to desktop Windows. 3. don't know anyone who will support a Linux system for free. Most people don't pay anything for home computer support. They are supported by family and friends. As nobody they know uses Linux, they don't know who to turn to when they have a problem with it so they won't choose it. Those three reasons reflect most end-users "buying" decisions as people often buy technology in a non-technical manner. Their concerns are less technical and more social and they are quite conservative too. This means that the underlying technology is largely irrelevant. That's why, for example, for gaming consoles there are social groups who all have Wii consoles, others have Xbox consoles, and others that all have PlayStations. That's how my kids choose, they see what their friends are doing and using. Until Linux captures social interest then it is unlikely to become markedly more widely adopted. I'm keen for something that works better for less technical end-users. The uncertainty and confusion surrounding the use of Linux could be reduced for many of them by, for example, providing a few standard configurations with simple and complete instructions. Users could adopt them with confidence because they are proven to work on a wide range of computers and provide a relatively seamless transition from Windows. I have seen attempts to do this in the past but they failed because of the vagaries in continuity and consistency of the Linux distros, lack of commitment to do something that receives less kudos than producing a new distro, and the lack of a means to get the information to enough people who would benefit from it. The perceived risks for most home users are much more than the technical issue of dual-booting so a solution would need to be a great deal more than a dual-booting guide. Likewise referrals to support forums are a surefire way to deter most people I know. Isn't it true that most people who raise issues in the comments never move onto our support forums? A more complete commitment to free software might see this site champion the adoption of Linux. Perhaps by working with existing groups/sites. We do reach lots of home users, can maybe sustain the commitment to develop some simple options, and might be able to support two or three specific solutions.

Excellent article! Thank you. Just one question....

Aside from aesthetics and personal preferences is there any IMPORTANT differences that should influence a newbies choice of distros and DEs? For example: are any of them optimized for specific purposes such as gaming, Photoshopping and high definition content streaming or overly simplified for newbies and basic internet and email type usage?

There are Linux distros that are optimized for pretty much anything from multimedia to system recovery and security testing, or you can take a basic distro and so customize it yourself. Here are a few examples of what is available off the shelf. Also, if you go to the DistroWatch site and click "search" from their top menu, you can select distros by category such as gaming, multimedia, forensics etc. There are also other filters such as for desktop environments. DE choice is mostly a matter of personal preference. KDE in general will mostly be a little slower than something running Xfce, but then KDE offers more bells and whistles for stuff like desktop effects, if this is important to you. Cinnamon is also great for aesthetics but is in heavy development and there can be some issues, depending on your hardware mix. One other thing I would suggest is to surf a couple of forums relating to a particular distro before deciding whether to install it or not. This way you can see the issues being reported for it and decide if these are something you can cope with. If not, there are plenty of others to try and choose from. :) MC - Site Manager.