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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