25 things you need to know that will make your transition to an open source OS easy.

The basics

1. What’s a distribution?
Linux isn’t sold as a single package like Windows or MacOS. There are lots of variations on the basic operating system put together by different people for different reasons.

Some might be hardware specific – designed to run on netbooks, for example – while some might be tailored towards particular uses, like general desktops, webservers or multimedia workstations.

Think of them as like the different versions of Vista, but with many more apps in each package. Each of these different bundles is called a ‘distribution’.

2. How are they different?
The most obvious differences between distributions are the number and type of applications that come pre-installed. Under the hood, they may use a different technique for managing sound playback, too.

Not all distributions will use the same versions of core system files either, rather the ones they’ve tested and are most likely to work with the other programs in the package.

3. Which distribution should I choose?
Ubuntu is by far the most popular distribution for beginners, but most of the big names – OpenSuse, Fedora and so on – are just as approachable and have their strengths. Mandriva works well when syncing with Windows Mobile, for example.

4. Understand desktop environments
The familiar windowed desktop of any operating system is simply a layer on top of the core code that makes it easier for you to interact with your computer. Because Linux is highly modular, this desktop environment is easily separated from the core operating system, and you can choose one from several options.

Most popular distributions will give you a choice of desktop environment, while smaller ones, like Mint, may only come in one flavour.

5. Which is best for Windows’ switchers?
Gnome and KDE are the closest to Vista or OS X, and most people will find Gnome easier to pick up. Others, life XFCE or LXDE are designed to run quickly on low end systems.

Don’t worry too much, though. The great thing about Linux is you want to try a different desktop manager without reinstalling your OS, you can. In fact, you can have several different ones on the same machine to choose from at login.

IN CONTROL: Whichever desktop environment you use, you have an incredible amount of control over the way it looks and behaves


6. Live CDs
Once you’ve decided which distribution you’d like to try, download the installation file (usually a .iso file) and burn it to CD or DVD. With many distributions, booting from that disc will give you the option to try a ‘live version’. This lets you boot into a Linux desktop without altering your current hard drive.

7. Look elsewhere
Don’t forget, though, that the Live version will have its limitations. Before you discard a distribution for looking dull, run a few searches to see if it can be spruced up. Remember, most distributions are designed for maximum hardware compatibility. Your PC can almost certain handle better desktop effects, for example.

8. Putting Linux on your PC
If you’ve never installed an operating system before, it can be quite daunting. Don’t fear, though, it’s a straightforward operating and the big distributions have excellent documentation for first timers, like installing ubuntu inside windows. You will find this option in any latest version of ubuntu.

9. Keep the Windows open
The easiest way to install a distribution would be to wipe your PC clean and start over. You may want to keep your existing Windows installation, though, to run applications like games that don’t work so well in Linux.

Most installation processes will guide you through setting up a dual boot system, with two or more operating systems on. You will need a separate hard drive or partition for each, though.

my recommendation is always go for install inside windows option in ubuntu.

10. Getting to grips with the file system
Navigating the C: drive in Windows is second nature to most people. Opening a file browser in Linux can be a shock. Instead of a few neatly named folders like Program Files, there are several obscure ones with names like “etc” and “opt” whose contents appear to be the same.

Linux programs spread bits of themselves around in each of these folders, and while it’s logical to the trained eye, it takes experience to understand. Take the easy option – don’t worry about it any more than you would the contents of C:\Windows.

11. Stay in your Home
All your important files, like documents, music and video, are kept in a separate partition called the Home partition. Each username you create has their own password protected area within Home, so you can set one up for everyone in your household.

12. Understanding Root
Just like Windows, there are two types of user accounts – administrator and normal. The administrator in Linux is called ‘Root’, and system files are locked for ordinary users to edit. If you ever try to edit a document and find it can’t be saved, or a folder can’t be copied, it’s probably locked for Root access too.

13. Become a superuser
Anyone can temporarily be elevated to the position of Superuser, allowing them to perform operations restricted to root. This is done by opening a terminal and starting a command with the prefix “sudo” or “su”, depending on your distribution. You’ll then be prompted for the adminstrator password, which will allow the command to be completed.

14. Don’t be afraid of the terminal
It’s one of those words that scares off the non-geek, but a terminal is simply a program that lets you enter commands as text, rather than mouse clicks.

Because of the Linux file structure, it’s simply quicker for many expert users to use the terminal rather than the file browser to do stuff. One day you might feel the same way, honest.

15. Open file manager as Root
If you prefer the familiarity of a graphical user interface, though, you can use the terminal to open your file manager with administrator access, to move locked folders or edit locked text files.

If you’re using Gnome, just enter ‘sudo nautilus’ in the terminal and an empowered file manager will appear. Remember there’s no restrictions to stop you irrevocably damaging your system, though.

16. Installing new programs
Unlike Windows or OS X, most Linux distributions come with a graphics editor, office suite, messenger software and so on pre-installed, and getting new programs is simple.

In your main menu you’ll find a
“package manager”, usually Synaptic or Yum, which lists all the files currently installed on your PC, along with ones you can download for free.

17. Learn about repositories
The package manager gets these software lists from repositories, which are FTP servers full of free software maintained by Linux advocates or organisations. You can add new ones in the Software Sources section of the start menu.

18. Don’t always update
The package manager will cross reference software you have installed with the version in your listed repositories to see if you’re running the latest build. You don’t have to update programs when the update manager warns you, though. Remember, with Linux, you’re in control.

EASY OFFICE: OpenOffice is a complete office suite which is also available for Windows. It looks a bit old fashioned, but will read and save Microsoft Office 2007 files


19. Fix display problems
If you’re getting strange screen artefacts, like text and cursors vanishing in OpenOffice or your mail client, and are using an Nvidia or AMD graphics card, it’s worth going to the manufacturers’ website to see if newer Linux drivers are available.

20. Manually installing drivers
Unlike Windows, you may never need to install a device driver on your Linux system. Most hardware is supported straight from the kernel. Manually installing drivers in Linux can be tough, though, even when the process is well documented. It’s a good idea to print off the readme file before you get started.

21. Drivers or programs don’t work?
Upgrading core kernel files with “header” in their name will likely break any manually installed graphics drivers and some programs too. The fix is simple – just reinstall them.

22. Recovery mode
Most distributions have a recovery mode of some sort available at the first menu screen to help you sort out problems with an operating system that refuses to boot. Ubuntu scores highly in this regard, because it has an option to easily reset the graphics system, often a cause of problems.

23. Look before you ask
The helpfulness of the Ubuntu forums – and indeed most Linux forums – when it comes to helping newbies out is legendary. Don’t just log in and start asking, though, run a few searches for the problems you’re encountering first.

In the unlikely event a walkthrough doesn’t already exist with a solution, you’ll get a better idea of how to phrase your question so everyone understands you first time.

24. Keep notes
The web is full of really useful Linux walkthroughs that can give you PC superpowers just by cutting and pasting a few lines into a terminal. Sometimes, these walkthroughs won’t work. It’s a good idea to keep track of changes you’ve made in case you need to go back and fix stuff later.

25. Get Wine
There are some Windows programs you may find you simply can’t do without. Spotify, Evernote, World of Warcraft, Left4Dead perhaps? Wine adds libraries to get most Windows apps running in Linux.

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