Tools for Migrating from Windows to Linux

Tuesday Jan 6th 2009 by Matt Hartley

Making the move from Linux to Windows requires more than simply installing a new operating system.

Taking baby steps to become more familiar with a new operating system can be as simple as revamping the OS already in use on your computer. It begins with unlearning Windows-born behavior to free up your mind for a new way of doing things.

Here are some tips on utilizing different open source resources to make the goal of a full time switch over to Linux a lasting one:

Relearning software installation with Win-Get

For Windows users, software installation is nearly always accomplished from some sort of simple GUI installer. The idea is basically to keep pounding away on the "next" button until the installer alerts its user that the installation has completed.

Linux users, on the other hand, generally prefer the simplicity of installing software through a command line prompt. Different distributions have different means of making this happen, but generally the end goal is the same – install/remove/update some specific software package.

To become more familiar with this sort of behavior, I suggest getting your feet wet in the Windows world using a program called Win-Get. Based off of the same methodology of software installation for Debian Linux-based distributions, Win-Get allows its users to add and remove software via the command line using commands that are similar to what would be used in a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu.

Potential users should be aware that proprietary applications are included with open source software offerings through this program. Applications such as Adobe Reader, AVG anti-virus, Avast anti-virus are among a number of other closed source programs made available to those who opt to install Win-Get onto their Windows PCs.

While these applications are perfectly fine to use, I want to stress that not all applications offered in this way are of the open source variety.

Using a Live CD to learn Linux is simply not practical for someone interested in making a long-term switch over to desktop Linux.

Why? Being able to install and update software from the command line is going to make for a more effective Linux user in the long run. Yet at the same time, no one running a Live CD is going to fully grasp this without some previous experience.

Besides the familiarity issue, should a software installation go poorly, it will be the command line that will yield the most relevant information as to what might have taken place. So clearly, learning to become comfortable in this environment now has its merit.

Taking the keys away from the administrator with suDown

One of the first things Windows XP users complain about is the need to deal with a prompt every time they wish to install or remove some piece of software after trying to work with sudo user-enabled distributions such as Ubuntu.

While some of us might point out that this same user could very well take it upon themselves to simply becoming root, the obvious dangers of running as an administrator go without saying. Clearly, running as a limited user of sorts is an important part of a very basic level of desktop security.

As Windows XP is "wide open" due to its issuing administrator accounts without any real warning as to how dangerous this truly is, it makes Windows XP the perfect candidate for a fantastic tool known as SuRun.

Unlike other open source sudo user tools for Windows, SuRun works well with Vista's UAC in addition to enabling the XP user to become more familiar with the idea of dealing with a prompt to accomplish specific tasks.

What I find most valuable about using this software is that it illustrates how many programs need to be operated using elevated credentials -- as most programs in desktop Linux do not need this when operating as a standard, non-administrator user.

While I see no inherent security concerns myself, the biggest issue is a false sense of security, as no matter what band-aid solution one uses, Windows remains an inherently insecure operating system as it continues to insist on running users as administrators. Protection tools aside, it is insecure – period.

Realizing how desktop Linux distributions such as Ubuntu provide sudo level functionality by default provides some motivation behind moving beyond what this program can do and into an operating system that provides improved security out of the box.

Why install this yourself when you can simply choose a working Linux distribution that can do it for you out of the box?

Open source software in lieu to proprietary applications

Which applications are truly straight alternatives to those from the proprietary side of the fence?

The fact of the matter is no matter how badly a potential new Linux user might want to make the switch, not really understanding which software is the best replacement for what they used in Windows previously can soon become a real buzz kill to any Linux migration excitement.

Using the fantastic website known simply as Open Source As Alternative is perhaps the most straight forward means of discovering software that can help you to break free from your closed source masters.

I see nothing but good things coming from this. Open Source As Alternative helps Windows users becoming more familiar with software that they can then migrate over to Linux with. Gimp, Dia, Quanta Plus – the list just keeps growing thanks to this helpful resource.

I envision a clean migration when the user is ready to move over to the Linux platform. Because they are already used to using the various open source applications linked from the website, migration becomes less about trying to figure out which software replaces Windows apps and more about enjoying Linux.

Ext2 Installable File System For Windows

Despite Linux users enjoying the ability to mount and write to NTFS partitions for daily use with their preferred distro, there is still something to be said about Windows users having the ability to write to their Linux partitions from within Windows itself.

Once thought to be difficult at best, it turns out that with the use of a software program called < a href="">Ext2 IFS, desktop Linux users that installed their Linux distributions on Ext2 or 3 partitions will be able to write data to these partitions with relative ease.

Another bonus is that Vista users need not worry either, as Ext2 IFS also works very well with Vista installs in addition to other releases such as XP or other NT-based options.

Using Ext2 IFS translates into Windows users using Linux partitions to store their data. I see no potential for data loss by going in this direction and to be totally honest, I’d likely put more stock in the value of a well maintained Ext2 partition than trying to utilize an NTFS option any day of the week.

Ext2 IFS combined with the previously highlighted efforts in this article can empower otherwise hesitant Windows users to make the switch to desktop Linux for good.

Here’s the key I would like readers to take away from this:

Switching to a Linux distribution for good takes a lot more than finding a Linux distribution that makes using it easy. There is also the matter of becoming used to the general flow of using Linux and the applications native to its world. With any luck, this article will serve to inspire those interested in taking the leap and making it stick.

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