Thursday, October 15, 2009

Five ways to ease migration from Windows to Linux

With the ever-maturation of the Linux operating system there are more and more people considering a migration from their operating system of choice to the flagship of the open source community.

For many this migration is a strange, but simple adventure. For others, however, the task is very daunting and one challenge after another.

What most people do not realize is that there are very simple ways to help ease this migration.

In this brief series (if two articles can be considered a series) I will help ease the migration from both Windows to Linux and Mac to Linux.

Hopefully, upon reading these articles, you will have a good game plan so your migration (or your users migration) will be as seamless as possible.

Choose your distribution wisely
This is the real key for easy migration. There are a LOT of distributions out there, for just about every type of user and every type of use.

There have been plenty of distributions that have attempted to mimic the look and feel of Windows as closely as possible (this was a very ’90s tactic).

But ultimately it boils down to which distribution you choose that will help to make your migration simple.

Most Windows users are going to want to stick to one of the major distributions (Ubuntu, Red Hat, SuSE) if for only one reason: support.

With the major distributions you can actually have a phone number to call when you have a problem. Outside of that you are going to want to look for a distribution who’s goal is simplicity.

One advantage that Ubuntu has over the other major is that it takes the root user out of the picture with the help of sudo.

Start using similar software before you migrate
Let’s face it, you spend a vast majority of your time working with applications, not operating systems. Because of that you can make the job of migration much, much easier by employing the applications you will use with the Linux operating system while you are working with Windows.

You can install Firefox, OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Scribus, The GIMP, and many other applications on Windows and get used to using them in a more familiar environment.

By doing this you are removing one obstacle out of your way when the migration actually happens.

Check your hardware
One of the biggest issues that many people have had in the past is hardware incompatibility. Although this is slowly becoming an issue of the past, there are instances where a specific piece of hardware is supported.

When you install the operating system, and find a particular piece of hardware is not supported your computing life has become infinitely more difficult.

Before you actually do the migration make sure the hardware you plan to use will function as you expect. 

What you want to pay particular attention to are: Networking cards, video cards, sound cards. One of the best places to check is the Linux Drivers site.

Software installation
With the Windows operating system, installation is always nothing more than a double click of a file and then what sometimes seems like an endless amount of clicking the Next button.

In Linux the process of installing software is more centralized. You often read in my articles about opening the Add/Remove Software tool.

This is a fundamental change to the philosophy of Windows. Think of the Add/Remove Software tool as more a shopping center for software instead of a location to manage software already installed.

Once you get beyond the Windows Add/Remove Software philosophy, installing software in Linux is a snap.

More than one way to…
One of the philosophies that originally drew me to Linux was that there is almost always more than one way to take care of a task in Linux. This is something that many Windows users struggle with at the beginning.

With Windows there is generally one way to handle a task – the Windows way. With Linux there is always multiple ways to do something. This is often very confusing to the new user.

This is especially made true when that new user goes to a mailing list for help and gets five different replies with five different ways to solve a single problem.

Is everyone wrong? Is everyone right? In that situation the best thing to do would be read everyone’s solution and decide which one sounds like it would be the easiest for you to re-create.

To this end, when going to a mailing list for Linux help, it is always best to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “How do I do A?” you might say “How do I do A using a graphical tool in GNOME?” or “What is the easiest way to do A in KDE?”

Final thoughts
You might think these very generic lessons for migration, but to the new-to-Linux user they are lessons that can save a lot of time and a lot of headache.

Do you have any migration tips for Windows-to-Linux users? If so, share them with your fellow Ghacks readers.

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