Over the years there have been no shortage of articles where people try switching to Ubuntu (or other distro) for some period of time, to see if they can use it as a replacement for Windows. Some are happy with the results, but many have a hard time with the move. One thing I’ve noticed, as have many commentators on each article, is that many of the problems are due to faulty perceptions or assumptions, not faulty software.
So if you or anybody else is thinking about giving Ubuntu a try, please keep the following things in mind:
1) You probably didn’t install Windows
Whatever hardware you chose to run your experiment on most likely came with Windows on it. But it didn’t just come with Windows, it came with drivers direct from the device manufacturers for that specific version of Windows, and codec libraries and licenses purchased for you (did you know it costs money to *play* an MP3?) by the OEM, and 3rd party software like Adobe’s Flash purchased and pre-installed (you can’t re-distribute Flash for free). In short, it came with something quite different from the Windows you can buy in a store. If you buy Ubuntu pre-installed, you get those things too, but they aren’t on the CD. Thankfully most modern distros make it trivially easy to install these, even for free, but keep in mind that for them to be pre-installed means you would have had to pay for it.
2) You’re not just switching OS, you’re switching ecosystems
You don’t just use Windows, you’re using an entire ecosystem of software (and sometimes hardware) that is built on top of Windows. You’re not using Quicken, you’re using “Quicken for Windows”. So don’t be surprised when “Quicken for Windows” doesn’t work without Windows. If you use Open Source apps like Firefox or LibreOffice, most of them were smart enough to put a layer of separation between their app and Windows, which makes it easier for them to run without it. But for decades now, Microsoft has been convincing developers to lock their code into depending on Windows, and if you depend on those apps then Microsoft has you locked in too. If you want to break free and be able to switch to a different OS, you need to start thinking about the portability of your choice in applications.
3) The Anthropic principle
By definition, everything you currently do in Windows works in Windows, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to do it. That doesn’t mean that Windows does everything you might want it to do. In fact, if you really paid attention, you’d be aware of all of the things you wanted to do in Windows but couldn’t. So the setup you have now isn’t necessarily the setup you want, it’s just the one you settled for. Since you’re trying a switch to a different platform, now is the perfect time to question whether or not it’s really what you want, or if you can do something better. Don’t get stuck trying to re-create a solution you used in Windows to a problem that doesn’t actually exist on Linux. You have a whole world of new possibilities in front of you now, take advantage of that and question your old habits.
4) Look before you install
Despite all the pre-installed apps (good or bad) mentioned in consideration #1, Windows users still have a habit of approaching a new installation with the desire to install more stuff. Mostly this is due to Window’s lack of pretty basic and popular applications. Linux distros are different, and most will come with a very large selection of useful apps already installed. So before you go off looking for an installer for Office, AIM or WinZip, look at what you already have because there’s a good chance something’s already there (LibreOffice, Empathy, File Roller).
5) Google isn’t an app store
Step away from the browser. If, after following consideration #4, you didn’t find what you needed, you should not go running off to Google. Yes, yes, I know that’s how you do it in Windows, you search for “Cool App” and install whatever you find on “www.questionablewarez.co.zx” because it was the top result. That’s why you have viruses. In the Linux ecosystems, we do things a little (ok a lot) smarter. Instead of each user scouring the internet for themself, distros do that for you. All you need to do is open the package manager or software store (e.g. Ubuntu Software Center) and tell it what you’re looking for. It will show you what is available for your OS, and let you download and install it right from there. It will even keep it updated with bug and security fixes automatically. Some, like Ubuntu, even provide comments and ratings by other users. Best of all, each download is specially signed to give you the peace of mind that nobody has secretly injected a virus into it.
Did I forget any? I’m sure I did. Add your own considerations to the comments below!