A guide: From Windows to Linux
Ever felt that you are being bombarded at by unnecessary stuff most of the time. Like the Ads, you face after you log in to your PC. The out-of-the-box bloatware that came with your newly minted laptop. This is as agonizing as it is annoying. Don’t you feel like running for cover when that happens to you? You have been facing this so much since the last few years. I am talking about none other than a Windows user. (Cannot talk about mac as I don’t have the monetary means to satisfy that appetite).
This story does not end here. After every routine of update your PC goes through, you find yourself sitting near your PC, your hand slapping your forehead. After every update, some bug takes your PC away from your control. And you spend countless hours blaming your luck and the insane guys at Microsoft. Either your PC does not boot or there are some issues with the speakers or the theme and the wallpaper turn black. This list has no end. (No Offense to Microsoft loyalists. The experience differs from person to person).
It seems as Windows is made for people who have a knack for replacing their devices every 18 months or so. Even if you try keeping your device as close to working condition as possible, it is just impossible to get any work done from it. The unnecessary latency that accompanies after 18 months, in almost every aspect makes you bang your head at the wall. The device just refuses to work any faster than that. Every application takes almost a zillion years to open up and be usable. I believe Microsoft does this on purpose. So that people are forced to buy new devices every 18 months.
There is that other thing. The anxiety about being attacked by viruses. You have to spend some more money to get an Antivirus for your PC. If you do not, your data and your identity are compromised. This does not end here. Microsoft also collects your data as leverage over you.
Let me cut to the chase. I am writing this to inform you that there is a third pillar in the world of personal computers apart from Windows and mac, and it is called Linux. Linux is everything that Windows should have been and everything that mac can be. It is the reason why your Fridge, your toaster, your TV, your car, and your smartphone work as they should. All of these gadgets and much more work because of Linux.
Linux is — as many put it — free as in “Freedom” as well as in “Free Beer”. It is not mainstream in the world of Desktops and Laptops though. That forte is in the hands of Windows. But your go-to-gadget for virtually everything — many call it a smartphone — most probably runs on Linux. The user base of Linux in Desktops and laptops is very less which makes it ideal to run Linux as it is not as vulnerable as mac let alone Windows. Not much malicious code is targeted at Linux users which means you are safe even without an Antivirus. The regular firewall built into Linux is enough to protect your data and your identity. The malicious code that is targeted toward Linux is not worrisome as well because the source code of Linux is available to everyone. There are so many eyeballs looking at any hint of fault in the code that they just can’t be missed at all. The whole Linux community is dedicated to removing all those loopholes in the code.
Linux is built with a modular approach in mind. You can remove the modules that you don’t want and alter the ones you want, to your liking. Because of this, Linux is lightweight and fast. It can also be ported to any device which makes it ideal to breathe new life into old and modest hardware. Do you know the ease of using the Play Store and App Store for a one-click install? Linux invented this practice even before Android and iOS were conceptualized.
Having said all of this, there are some undesirable qualities of Linux as well. As it is free in every possible sense, developers have the liberty to change the code at their will. There are so many options for the developers to make a new OS. Hence, so many distributions (OSes) of Linux exist. You are spoilt for choice in Linux world. So many flavors (distributions — will explain this shortly) of Linux exist and you are supposed to choose only one as your daily driver. This variety of options is the drawback (And if I may, strongpoint as well) of Linux.
As it can be customized so much, the learning curve of Linux is steep. You have to literally spend hours of effort in understanding how you can use the system to its fullest.
As Linux is not mainstream, there is a dearth of cross-platform applications. You have to make do with whatever alternative you get. But this is not the case if you are a programmer. Then Linux is the gatekeeper of Heaven. (Yes, I am pointing at you, Tumbleweed).
Linux is an example of how creativity and open-mindedness in the forte of technology can be used to make life easier and more productive than earlier. It also signifies the importance of tailoring software to achieve more while using resources optimally.
Silly fact: It was developed as a fun, personal project by Linus Torvalds in 1991 at the University of Helsinki. He intended to make a Unix-like software for educational purposes. And he very well did that and some more.
Linux is a utility that lets you the freedom to create your content without any inhibition or rigidity. It emboldens you to be experimental. And who knows, while you do that, you may end up finding a new solution to an old problem.
Diving into it
Linux is a barebone OS-kernel by itself. Various communities build working, present-day OS solutions on top of that kernel. And the train does not stop here. Some communities go as far as building an OS on top of an OS on top of the Linux kernel. They don’t do that for fun. Actually, it seems they do that for fun. But most importantly they do that to not reinvent the wheel while solving the problems. All of these OSes are called Distributions or just “Distros”. The hobbyists have an even better word — Flavors.
To find a Linux OS that suits your taste the best, you would have to try a lot of them. A practice called “Distro-hopping”. You can choose a server-like OS for your home server. You can choose an OS to ensure no one spies over your internet activity. You can get an OS for your casual computing needs. The possibilities are endless and so are the distros. You can keep on experimenting with different OSes until you find one that suits your needs and finally settle on it.
How to run it on my system?
I can understand, it is scary to jump onto a different boat (Operating System, in this case) that you don’t know, will, or not take you to the port. Uncertainty exists in this case.
Would the boat give me all the facilities while I am on it?
Will, it not break down and leave me in the middle of nowhere?
Will it change courses as required?
A lot of these questions would remain unanswered if you don’t make the jump.
To ease this jump, you have several options in your hands. These options allow you to test the waters before you take a leap.
1. Option 1 –
Run Linux in a Virtual Machine
A Virtual Machine is a machine within your device. A Virtual Machine container creates space for the OS to be installed and allots it a certain amount of resources like processing power and memory. This machine acts in isolation from your original system. Basically, the OS operates within a container. This method allows you to test the Linux distro of your choice, tinker with it, and let your curious side explore the system.
The Virtual Machine containers that allow you to do this are Oracle VirtualBox and VMWare to name a few.
2. Option 2 –
Dual Boot with Windows/mac
Linux allows you to install itself alongside your daily driver. You can etch the image of Linux distro onto a pen-drive and boot from it in your system. You can even test the distro in a Live environment. That is, boot from it and use it in a Live session to find out whether the hardware of your system is compatible with it or not.
To etch the image of your distro onto a pen-drive you need to use utilities like Balena Etcher or Rufus.
i) Get these utilities from their official websites and install/run them on your system with Administrator privileges.
ii) Download the distro image from the distro’s official website.
iii) Connect a pen-drive to your system.
iv) Open any one of the above utilities. And follow the instructions to select the distro image as the source and the pen-drive as the destination and click on proceed.
3. Option 3 –
You already made a bootable pen-drive. And you already booted from it. You have already tested it on your system as well. You could follow the on-screen instructions and install it as a daily driver OS on your system.
Which is the best Linux OS?
Various flavors of Linux exist. Many enough to hop from one to another for the rest of your life. You should set some expectations from your ideally-practical system (pun intended) before trying them out.
Do you want the cutting-edge software to run on your system or does the stability of the system matter more to you? You decide.
Do you want updates every few days or you like updates every 6 months to a year? You decide.
What kind of UI do you want? A Windows-like UI or mac-like or perhaps, something else altogether? You decide.
I’ll introduce you to some of the best Linux distros out there.
Ubuntu and Linux Mint
Ubuntu is the most recommended option for Windows-to-Linux transitioners. That is just because Ubuntu users make the majority of the Linux community. It is the mainstream within the Linux community. If you are a new Linux user then it would be safe to use an OS where help is just a click away. In case you do not want to use Ubuntu for some reason then move onto Linux Mint. It is said to be “Ubuntu done right”. Ubuntu follows a static release cycle, meaning, you get updates, periodically. It also has an LTS (Long Term Support) version. People who don’t want to be bothered by updates at all use it. You can use Ubuntu in various Desktop Environments (DE) like Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Cinnamon (the native DE of Linux Mint), Mate, and Budgie. We will talk about these environments in a short while.
Manjaro is a Linux distro (based on Arch Linux) for users who want cutting edge software on their devices but also don’t want a system that breaks due to unintentional, little tweaking at the wrong corner. It gives you the Arch system but only after the updates are thoroughly tested and found to be safe for regular use. You could just use Arch-Linux but if you know nothing about programming then Manjaro is a safe bet. It follows a rolling release cycle, meaning, you get updates almost regularly. Again, Manjaro comes with DEs like KDE, Gnome, and XFCE, etc.
openSUSE is the most professional Linux distro you can get your hands on. It has two variants — Tumbleweed and Leap. Tumbleweed is for the users who want openSUSE’s cutting-edge technology. It is a rolling release distro and is meant for people who want to try their hand at programming. In short, it is a programmer’s distro. Although all Linux distros are programmer’s distros openSUSE Tumbleweed is more so.
The other one is openSUSE Leap. It is meant for regular users who want to be productive with the things in their system and are, in no way, going to tinker much with the system. It has a static release cycle so you don’t waste time updating the distro all the time. Both Tumbleweed and Leap have a similar base. Both of these variants come in different DEs but most primarily in KDE and Gnome.
Don’t consider what I have to say about Zorin OS. It seems like a ninja’s distro by its name. But would you call a Windows lookalike, a ninja? No opinions. You decide. It looks like a Windows OS. It was made to ease the transition of a person from Windows to Linux. This does not mean you can install Windows software on it. It is Linux and has its repository (software store), just like other distros. You do not have to worry about it as it is based on Ubuntu. (Yes, in Linux you can make a new OS on top of other OS. It is a common practice. I think I mentioned it earlier in this article). It has its own DE based on the Gnome toolkit. A highly modded Gnome if I may.
The Desktop Environments
The Desktop environment is a graphical user interface that helps you to interact with your OS. The GUI that you use on Windows is an example of this. (By the way, the GUI of Windows is called Metro UI if I am not wrong). Similarly, mac has its own Desktop environment — Aqua Environment. These DEs are static in nature, meaning you can only fiddle with some aspects of it. You cannot customize them as much as the DEs of Linux. I’ll introduce you to some DEs of Linux.
KDE is the most customizable DE in the Linux space. It is short for the “K Desktop Environment”. It shares some interface similar to the Metro UI. It was built with a seamless user-interface in mind. Seamless enough to allow the user to alter it to the highest degree possible.
GNOME is the DE made with hand-held devices in mind. If your device is touch-sensitive then Gnome is the best DE there is, for Linux. It has huge icons (which I am not fond of) in the interface. It is suitable for your 2-in-1 laptops and tablets if readily available drivers are present to use the touch interface.
XFCE is one of the lightest DE to use Linux. It was made to be less-resource hogging and being enough appealing and user-friendly at the same time. It is ideal for old and aging desktops and laptops. It would breathe new life into them.
I have carved a path for you to try Linux out. The rest is up to you. Linux is and will remain one of the major inventions of the 20th century. It is a living example of what “Freedom” in the field of technology means. Thanks to the guy who invented it. Innumerable possibilities exist about what you can do with Linux by your side. If you are any curious-to-the-core, you could even build a whole system for yourself using the Linux kernel — A totally tailor-made OS for yourself. Or you could be a supporter of any distro that gets your job done without being sore to your eyes and hands. This is all from my side.