Switching From Windows To Linux In 3 Easy Steps

In my ongoing quest to take over the world with Linux as my OS of choice, I've noticed that simply handing someone an install CD doesn't really do the trick. I've also noticed that formatting their Windows 95 install with a fresh version of Linux tends to make angry faces as well. The more tech savvy the user is, the more resistant to change they tend to be. As with most worthwhile endeavors, it takes time and patience for a person to learn to love Linux.

The problem is that hating Windows isn't enough. Most people hate Windows, but feel trapped into using it. That's where my 3 step approach comes in.

Step 1: Open Source Windows Apps

It's painless for a person to try open source applications in Windows. The beauty is that open source apps speak for themselves, and tend to work amazingly well, "selling" themselves without much convincing required. Some prime examples of open source inroads:

  • Firefox: Lots of folks are already using this one
  • OpenOffice: If you haven't tried a recent version -- holy cow is OpenOffice getting awesome
  • Abiword: Just a word processor, and sometimes that all a person really needs
  • VLC: It's just like Windows Media Player, except it actually plays videos and stuff. ;o)
  • Pidgin: Awesome instant messaging app
  • Stellarium: Planetarium on your desktop
  • Songbird: It's new and a little buggy, but a cross platform iTunes replacement

There are also many other programs that are cross platform, and if not open source, at least free. Off the top of my head, there's Skype, OpenArena, SuperTux, Frozen Bubble, Blender, Thunderbird, Inkscape, Audacity... Feel free to leave more ideas in the comment section.

Anyway, the idea is to get people hooked on software that is both awesome, and available in Linux. Again, all this free software speaks for itself, so getting people to try something that is free and doesn't disrupt their computer is pretty easy. That leads us to step two.

Step 2: Dual Boot

Almost every distribution has pretty painless dual-booting installers. In the case of Ubuntu, the Wubi program allows for a really slick "no partition" method for installing Linux. My advice here is not to give 'em a CD and run. Walk through the process, get the familiar programs running, and show them how cool and shiny Linux can be. The interface change might be scary -- but their trusty applications will all be there to ease the pain. This is a great time to show off a few applications that are either Linux-only, or that work better under Linux. A few examples might be:

  • The Gimp: This really depends on the user, it might be too intimidating
  • Frozen Bubble: Yes, it works under Windows, but not as nicely as under Linux
  • Compiz: It's like Aero, but actually cool.

The types of Linux-specific things you show off will largely depend on the user. If gaming is important to the user, there are lots of really cool open source games. Even 3D games are widely available. (Run a search on the Linux Journal website, and you'll find countless articles regarding Linux gaming -- even a few I've written myself)

With the safety net of rebooting into Windows, users are usually much more willing to play with Linux. Eventually, the user might get to the last step.

Step 3: Out The Window With Windows

Some people never get to this step. I guess that's OK. Ultimately, as Linux supporters, we're very much concerned with choice. If a person chooses to keep both Linux and Windows, well, that is certainly their right to do so. At the end of the day, I'd much rather have a person love Linux, and still have a Windows partition than to abandon Linux altogether due to a fear of being Windows-less.

BONUS TIP: If you are a computer user that works on several different computers throughout the day, you most likely already solved problems like roaming email, roaming bookmarks, and remote document retrieval. If you can teach your potential convert the beauty of web-based email, and the joy of a Firefox extension like "foxmarks" -- it will make the back and forth period of conversion much easier.


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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tuba büyüküstün's picture

thanks you and applications that are either Linux-only, or that work better under Linux.

Yes Good

Pascale's picture

i'm agree with you !!
i love the blog.

Changing internet connection from Windows to Linux

Peter's picture

Hi guys,

I'm fed up with Windows having access to my PC and want to change to Ubuntu (I have the CD)
Whwn I mentioned to my ISP that I was going to get a new PC and install Ubuntu right from the start, he got all techie and started talking about PPPOE connections.
He then suggested that I google what I wanted to do, which seems ridiculous to me, lote of people must have switched their internet connection from Windows to Linux.
He just didn't seem to know, and for sure I don't.

Anyone out there got a "Switch internet connection from Windows to linux for Dummies" set of instructions?


Peter Phillips

If your internet comes on a

Anonymous's picture

If your internet comes on a ethernet wire, you shouldn't have to do anything special. Just boot Linux and it will automatically find it.
If you have wireless, I agree with him, google it.

And how do you introduce Linux to your whole town?

Joe Average's picture

Our local governments (state, city, county, and schools) are all moaning about needing new taxes.

Would like to introduce a movement to help at least the town and schools to examine Linux as an alternative to proprietary software fees.

Any guidance on this?

Don't need any more taxes to pay for slopping spending by the gov't.

LINUX will never take over the home market

Anonymous's picture

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but LINUX will NEVER take over the home market. Everyone has to keep in mind, that IT DOES NOT MATTER IF LINUX IS BETTER TECHNICALLY. Wasn't Beta better than VHS? The same applies here. Bill Gates is a better businessman than any Linux vendor.

The server/business market is different, but in general tut even there, I don't think it will drive MS out of business. I agree with Microsoft, when you factor in the costs of support, open source is not cheaper.

Support cost

xim010's picture

I have been using Linux in one way, shape, or form since 1999 and have yet to pay one cent for support. That is one of the great things about Linux, there are enough people out there willing to help and (if all else fails) at least document and post their solutions so you can find them if you dig deep enough. There are also countless IRC channels and forums to at least get you pointed in the right direction. I have NEVER encountered things like that with M$. I have been using computers since 1984. There is NO reason someone starting out in computers couldn't learn to love linux right out of the gate and power users should recognize the unbelievable power you have to customize Linux applications.

nuf sed

Support is easy with MS also

Anonymous's picture

I've used Windows for 10 years and only had to pay for support once. And that was for obscure problem with Visual Studio. So I have to disagree on your comment about forum support for MS products. Newsgroups and documentation for MS products are widely available & easy to find. 90+% of the time I find the answer to my question within 15 minutes.

Just my opinion, but if my business was on the line I'd rather depend upon a company I know will be around for while rather than "some guy in a newsgroup".

I've just started working with Linux and I confess that I'm underwhelmed. The inability of xorg to support my specific nVidia graphics card is really annoying. Then there is the other problem with many distro's not being able to see my hard drive. Though I admit this may be more Dell's fault. So far I'm most impressed with Mandriva. The live CD can see my hard drive (with hidden partitions) and distributes the nVidia propriatary driver.

I don't mean to be a total pessimist, I do like the CLI.

dont forget VMPlayer

tlhingan's picture

I cloned my wifes WinBox into a VM which I then ported to my LinBox... Now I'm slowly fixing her linux desktop to look and behave exactly as her windows desktop should. She was already using Oo and Firefox (a bitter pill i forced her to take, but which she does not regret) and she's not into gaming, so it was THAT much easier. Soon I snatch the crutch from under her like taking off a bandage... or something like that :)

Visio Replacement

David Lane's picture

The ONLY (well, OK, there are a couple of custom programs I use) program I keep Windows around for is Visio. I have yet to find a suitable replacement for this program. Suggestions?

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Replacements for it

astinsan's picture


Dia is sorta like it.

Here is a great site for getting OS alternatives: http://www.osalt.com/visio

You can also run most software with wine. No need for the ms. Using programs that help you get all the support libs and fonts working with wine. Two that I use are: playonlinux and wine doors. Check those out if you absolutely have to have visio.


Hope for Amarok and K3b

kostasan's picture

The logical steps for the transition. I really hope that Amarok and K3b are ported soon to windows, so the transition to Linux will be not just easier, but automatic and complete! If someone ends up using only open-source programs, why remain to windows and miss those kick ass compiz-fusion effects??

bit shallow the 2nd step

maeghith's picture

I'll drop Bender and Inkscape from step 1 to step 2, and get thunderbird instead of stellarium. OOo doesn't include an email program, most ex-office users will want their 'w00tlook' if they aren't using some form of webmail, and there are more email users than astronomy aficionados.


If gaming is important to the user, there are lots of really cool open source games.


It's sad to say but, if gaming is important to the user, the user will want to run the games he is already having fun with, even if some of the new games get him hooked on the new system. So setting up wine or some emulation capabilities (or both) would be required between steps 2 and 3 (and make sure it works).

Celestia + Dia

Adam R's picture

A good replacement for Visio is Dia, the only problem is it can't open Visio files if you need to be able to.

As well as Stellarium you should also check out Celestia, it's pretty awesome.


Shawn Powers's picture

But blender and inkscape *aren't* Linux only -- that was the point of step 2. Amarok and k3b (as kostasan mentions) would be good additions to the "only under Linux" bunch of programs. Also -- I have Thunderbird in step one already...

Stellarium could turn a person into an astronomy aficionado. It's sooooo cool. :D



Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

I don't like to be nitpicky but...

maeghith's picture


Linux only -- that was the point of step 2.



applications that are either Linux-only, or that work better under Linux.


Emphasis added. I think it applies to Inkscape and blender, no only to Gimp, or Frozen bubble. :)


Shawn Powers's picture

Fair enough. I bequeath upon you the stick of correctness. :D

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.