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I enjoy using Linux on the desktop. Not because of software politics or because I despise other operating systems. I simply like Linux because it just works.
It's been my experience that not everyone is cut out for the Linux lifestyle. In this article, I'll help you run through the pros and cons of making the switch to Linux so you can determine if switching is right for you.
When to make the switch
Switching to Linux makes sense when there is a decisive reason to do so. The same can be said about moving from Windows to OS X or vice versa. In order to have success with switching, you must be able to identify your reason for jumping ship in the first place.
For some people, the reason for switching is frustration with their current platform. Maybe the latest upgrade left them with a lousy experience and they're ready to chart new horizons. In other instances, perhaps it's simply a matter of curiosity. Whatever the motivation, you must have a good reason for switching operating systems. If you're pushing yourself in this direction without a good reason, then no one wins.
However, there are exceptions to every rule. And if you're really interested in trying Linux on the desktop, then maybe coming to terms with a workable compromise is the way to go.
Starting off slow
After trying Linux for the first time, I've seen people blast their Windows installation to bits because they had a good experience with Ubuntu on a flash drive for 20 minutes. Folks, this isn't a test. Instead I'd suggest the following:
- Run the Linux distro in a virtual machine for a week. This means you are committing to running that distro for all browser work, email and other tasks you might otherwise do on that machine.
- If running a VM for a week is too resource intensive, try doing the same with a USB drive running Linux that offers some persistent storage. This will allow you to leave your main OS alone and intact. At the same time, you'll still be able to "live inside" of your Linux distribution for a week.
- If you find that everything is successful after a week of running Linux, the next step is to examine how many times you booted into Windows that week. If only occasionally, then the next step is to look into dual-booting Windows and Linux. For those of you that only found themselves using their Linux distro, it might be worth considering making the switch full time.
- Before you hose your Windows partition completely, it might make more sense to purchase a second hard drive to install Linux onto instead. This allows you to dual-boot, but to do so with ample hard drive space. It also makes Windows available to you if something should come up.
What do you gain adopting Linux?
So what does one gain by switching to Linux? Generally it comes down to personal freedom for most people. With Linux, if something isn't to your liking, you're free to change it. Using Linux also saves users oodles of money in avoiding hardware upgrades and unnecessary software expenses. Additionally, you're not burdened with tracking down lost license keys for software. And if you dislike the direction a particular distribution is headed, you can switch to another distribution with minimal hassle.
The sheer volume of desktop choice on the Linux desktop is staggering. This level of choice might even seem overwhelming to the newcomer. But if you find a distro base (Debian, Fedora, Arch, etc) that you like, the hard work is already done. All you need to do now is find a variation of the distro and the desktop environment you prefer.
Now one of the most common complaints I hear is that there isn't much in the way of software for Linux. However, this isn't accurate at all. While other operating systems may have more of it, today's Linux desktop has applications to do just about anything you can think of. Video editing (home and pro-level), photography, office management, remote access, music (listening and creation), plus much, much more.
What you lose adopting Linux?
As much as I enjoy using Linux, my wife's home office relies on OS X. She's perfectly content using Linux for some tasks, however she relies on OS X for specific software not available for Linux. This is a common problem that many people face when first looking at making the switch. You must decide whether or not you're going to be losing out on critical software if you make the switch.
Sometimes the issue is because the software has content locked down with it. In other cases, it's a workflow and functionality that was found with the legacy applications and not with the software available for Linux. I myself have never experienced this type of challenge, but I know those who have. Many of the software titles available for Linux are also available for other operating systems. So if there is a concern about such things, I encourage you to try out comparable apps on your native OS first.
Another thing you might lose by switching to Linux is the luxury of local support when you need it. People scoff at this, but I know of countless instances where a newcomer to Linux was dismayed to find their only recourse for solving Linux challenges was from strangers on the Web. This is especially problematic if their only PC is the one having issues. Windows and OS X users are spoiled in that there are endless support techs in cities all over the world that support their platform(s).
How to proceed from here
Perhaps the single biggest piece of advice to remember is always have a fallback plan. Remember, once you wipe that copy of Windows 10 from your hard drive, you may find yourself spending money to get it reinstalled. This is especially true for those of you who upgrade from other Windows releases. Accepting this, persistent flash drives with Linux or dual-booting Windows and Linux is always a preferable way forward for newcomers. Odds are that you may be just fine and take to Linux like a fish to water. But having that fallback plan in place just means you'll sleep better at night.
If instead you've been relying on a dual-boot installation for weeks and feel ready to take the plunge, then by all means do it. Wipe your drive and start off with a clean installation of your favorite Linux distribution. I've been a full time Linux enthusiast for years and I can tell you for certain, it's a great feeling. How long? Let's just say my first Linux experience was with early Red Hat. I finally installed a dedicated installation on my laptop by 2003.
Existing Linux enthusiasts, where did you first get started? Was your switch an exciting one or was it filled with angst? Hit the Comments and share your experiences.