As the adoption rate of Linux on the desktop grows, so does the number of people who are considering making the switch to Ubuntu. These folks have heard all the good things, but, as per usual, not enough in the reality check department.
This article will offer a reality check, in addition to offering some critical advice to anyone thinking of making the leap over to Linux on the desktop.
Why are you trying Linux?
Whether you decide to try Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution, the one thing to ask yourself is "why?" If you're not able to actually answer this question, stop, and just stick with what you're already using. On the flip side, good answers include: curiosity, to gain new skills, frustration with your current operating system or just trying to get more life out of an old computer.
Once you've settled on your own personal motivation as to why you want to try Linux, don't frustrate yourself by expecting it to be familiar. All too often I see folks trying to find distributions like what they're already used (Windows XP, for example) only to end up being disappointed when, despite its appearance, the distribution is nothing like their previous operating system.
How to select a testing distribution
I think this is going to be different for everyone, but overall most newbies will want a distro that is designed to make things easy. Obviously those who are seeking to "learn" Linux might take a more hands-on approach, however a casual computer user looking to extend the life of his/her computer is going to be best off with a simple-to-use distribution.
From my perspective, I tend to lean with either Ubuntu or Linux Mint when it comes to new users. Any distro that automatically detects proprietary drivers, discovers printers and makes finding commonly used items on the desktop is a winner from where I sit. This isn't to say that there aren't some other great options out there that aren't based on Ubuntu, but for the most part, Ubuntu has the features and the community that is best suited for newcomers.
Choosing the right applications
More often than not, some of the applications you'll be using on the Linux desktop will already be in use on your previous operating system. Common applications that cross over are: Firefox, LibreOffice, Thunderbird and perhaps others as well. For those who are already active users of Open Source applications, making the switch to Linux becomes tremendously easier. Nothing makes a transition to a new OS easier like using familiar software titles vs. starting over from scratch.
For myself personally, I've found there are fourteen specific apps that I use to get work done. Other folks out there may need to expand on that list, as their needs may vary. Still, it's important to remember that for most people, applications break down into the following groups:
Browser: Usually Firefox is the goto solution here, but sometimes alternative browsers are preferred.
Messenger: These days this is less of an issue than it used to be, however Skype continues to be a player in this area – usually due to it's voice/video capabilities.
Office Suite: Without question, LibreOffice is my most commonly used and recommended office suite for Linux users. This isn't to suggest that GNOME's and KDE's office suites are bad somehow, rather I feel strongly that LibreOffice offers a more compatible, mature experience for users of all skill levels.
Now for the hard part – specialty applications. These are not always simple to find. Sometimes you're going to need to do some hunting in order to find what you're looking for. But like most things software-related with Linux, I recommend starting off with the software repositories for your distribution.