How to Ready Yourself for Linux: Nine Tips

Wednesday Aug 26th 2015 by Bruce Byfield

The better you prepare, the more easily you can decide if Linux is for you.

These days, I rarely give unsolicited technical advice. However, if people ask me how to explore and install Linux, I urge them to be systematic. To the average computer user, installing a Linux operating system is an unfamiliar procedure -- to say nothing of an exercise in unprecedented diversity.

Bluntly, the procedure can be scary.

However, if you prepare and explore systematically, the procedure can be surprisingly straightforward. Specifically, I suggest you follow these nine steps:

1. Begin with Cross-Platform Applications

These days, many applications that are standard on Linux are also available for OS X or Windows. They include GIMP, LibreOffice, Mozilla, Amarok, digiKam, and a couple of dozen others. Trying these applications on your current operating system is quicker than investigating Linux, and can either give you more confidence in your explorations or show that further explorations are not for you.

2 Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Rumors about Linux are everywhere. Some used to be true, some are half true, and a very few are accurate. You should be especially suspicious of any that denigrate Linux, but don't automatically accept those talk about Linux's advantages, either -- the claim that it lacks graphical interfaces is as wrong as the claim that it is immune to malware. Research all claims until you are certain of their accuracy.

3. Be Systematic About Your Explorations -

Don't rely on general impressions. Instead, make a list of the common tasks you do on your present operating system, then try to do them on Linux.

These days, you can be reasonably confident that you can perform all basic productivity tasks on Linux, but the software's level of sophistication can vary. For instance, Krita is a paint program favored by many professionals, but tesseract-ocr is years behind OCR software on Windows.

Take your time exploring, and avoid snap decisions. Expect to take at least a week to gain a sense of what you can and can't do in Linux.

4. Think in Terms of Software Categories, Not Specific Applications

While Linux runs some applications that are available on other platforms, many are not. PhotoShop and Illustrator, for example, are not. However, equivalents such as GIMP and Inkscape are.

Be aware, too, the software and the features you look for may have very different names on Linux, or be spread across several applications rather than being contained in one. Sometimes, the names will be similar to the ones with which you are familiar, but not always.

Similarly, if one application doesn't fit your needs, you can frequently find others that do. For example, GIMP does not handle four color separations, but Krita does.

5. Look for Different Names and Locations for the Same Function

Desktop applications today are standardized in several ways. Almost all, for example, start with a File menu on the top left and a Help menu on the top right. However, the features you need are not necessarily going to be in the menu you expect. Some may have different names -- for instance, LibreOffice's AutoAbstract is the equivalent of MS Word's AutoSummarize. Unless you are flexible about locations and names, you may leap to the conclusion that some features are missing when they are simply presented differently.

6. Researching Distributions

You should soon find out that Linux is available in a number of different distributions. Although each distribution usually has a selection of features very like those in other distributions, many are designed for specific functions, such as sound editing, or for different levels of users.

Just as importantly, distributions can differ in the desktop they use. These desktops can be different enough that you could easily believe yourself to be in entirely separate operating systems.

7. Ignore Configuration At First

Linux users expect choice, and many Linux applications have more customization options that you are accustomed to. These can cause selection anxiety, leading you with the impression that Linux applications are more complicated than they really are.

Unless the defaults are actively repulsive to you, ignore them and concentrate on features and work flow. You can be reasonably confident that you customize later into something you that you can tolerate.

8.Decide on Philosophy, Not Technology

With each passing day, the differences between Linux, OS X, and Windows applications grow less and less. Each operating system has unique applications, but their overall impressions are similar.

That means that if you are dissatisfied with the technological choices on Windows, you probably aren't going to be more pleased with Linux.

Rather than technology, Linux is more about your privacy, your ability to control your machines and your ability to customize your desktop. If these things matter you, exploring Linux is probably worth your time. Otherwise, you are unlikely to be more pleased with Linux than with any proprietary alternatives.

9. Understand the Installation Process

You may have upgraded an operating system, but you probably haven't installed one. It's a big step, but very few computers come with Linux pre-installed, and chances are that you can't avoid it.

However, you can reduce your uncertainty by researching the process and taking notes. Learn how to deal with UEFI, and how to partition a hard drive, and whether you want to dual-boot so that you can choose operating systems when you start your machine. (Don't worry if you don't know what these topics mean now; the point of mentioning them is not to test you but to give you a sense of what you need to know).

Most installation programs are advanced enough that they should give you some kind of installation, but the more you know, the more you can ensure that your Linux installation meets your precise needs.

Getting Ready to Install

If you follow these steps, you should be explore Linux more carefully, tracking down what you might otherwise miss, and understanding better what you are seeing. You can make a more intelligent decision about whether Linux -- or at least the distributions you choose to explore -- are for you, and, most of all, make that decision without the added tensions of uncertainty and fear.

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