Good question. The short answer is "Yes"; the longer answer is "It depends...".
It is important to remember that Linux and Windows are both operating systems and, as such, don't actually provide any significant functionality of themselves. Rather they provide an environment in which applications, that provide the functionality you require, can run. So the question to consider is does the operating system you are considering support the applications that you need? In general, most of the Linux distributions will support applications that provide equivalent functionality to their Windows counterparts. But mostly they are not the same applications, so there will be a learning curve.
One exception is today's advanced Windows based games, very few have been ported to Linux, so if you are a heavy gamer, then Linux probably isn't for you. But let's assume you are not.
One other area that often presents a stumbling block, is the use of Windows specific applications, such as, for example, Microsoft Office. If you make heavy use of macro facilities, in say Word or Excel, you will have difficulty migrating them to Linux. There are many better word processing and spreadsheet solutions available for Linux but none of them fully implement the Office macro capabilities. It's not just Microsoft, there is no Linux version of Quicktime yet, though Apple is working on one. There are ways around this, such as Wine or Crossover Office, that will allow you to run your Windows applications on Linux but that will bring the usual Microsoft baggage with it.
A brief personal opinion on Vista. It is very unlikely that an existing laptop will have a configuration that will support the advanced features of Vista, such as the Aero glass interface. Take that away and it's hard to see that Vista is anything more than a worked over XP. Also, new operating systems tend to have a number of "teething troubles", so I'd be inclined to ignore Vista at least until SP1, unless you are buying a new PC. As I said, a personal opinion, your mileage may vary.
So, should you stick with XP or migrate to Linux? Linux is a very flexible operating system, built on the principle that one size definitely doesn't fit all. Depending on a user's level of expertise and requirements, the whole gamut of options is available, from run straight out of the box to customizing and recompiling the kernel. From your question, I'm guessing you are presently closer to the first of these.
There are many Linux distributions, some better suited to beginners, others to advanced users but with all of them, you can choose how much or how little you want to include. I'll ignore the enterprise systems here and concentrate on the consumer versions. One thing you might like to do and I would recommend it, is to try out one or two of the Live CD versions. Ubuntu, the distribution you mention, has a Live CD version, as does SuSE Linux and Knoppix was developed primarily as a Live CD, though it can be installed on your hard disk. My personal preference is Knoppix but again, it's a subjective choice. And, of course, one advantage of Linux is that it won't cost you anything to try them! You can download them from the web or, if you have a slow internet connection, you can have the CD mailed for the cost of shipping. These Live CDs come with a selection of applications, an Office equivalent, an email client, a web browser and the equivalent of the Windows accessories.
Essentially, you boot your machine from the CD and it will load a single user version of Linux. No permanent modifications are made to your machine, and when you are through, you just boot from your hard disk and no trace of Linux remains. The Live CDs do find your hard disk partitions but mount them all read only - if you want to write to them, you need to change the read/write status - right click the disk icon and change the properties in the drop down menu. Some Live CDs cannot write to NTFS disks but some do. If you have your hard disk formatted as NTFS, you might want to check on the Live CD you choose. They are also very good at detecting your hardware, though some of the more esoteric devices might not work - my wireless card doesn't work with the version of Knoppix I have but my wired Ethernet port does. Oh, and modems can be a real pain - Winmodems, in general, don't work because part of their software is embedded in Windows. A full modem will work just fine, though. Don't expect sparkling performance running from a CD, of course, but you will get a sense of whether you like Linux or not.
A couple of things you will discover, Linux doesn't use drive letters, rather, it uses a name for the disk(s) that reflects its/their type(s) and positions on the channels. It isn't hard to adjust, it's just different. The other difference is that Linux doesn't use file extensions to determine the filetype, instead, it bases the type on the file content - far more sensible but again, different. You will get a flavour of all this and the directory structures from the Live CDs and perhaps be surprised just how easy it is to adjust.
Let's assume you've tried a Live CD and you like it enough to go further. You now need to choose a distribution to install on your hard disk. This is a bit more significant a choice because it's more effort to change your mind later. If you do decide to try a few different distributions, try to settle on one before you start heavy personalization. I'm sure everybody who contributes will have their own preference - mine is SuSE (or I suppose strictly now OpenSuSE) from Novell. You can download the complete system if you have a broadband internet link (5 CDs) or you can buy a packaged system with a manual from your local friendly computer store.
An alternative s RedHat but I'm not sure what the status of Fedora (the consumer distribution) is these days, doubtless someone will clarify. These are regarded as the higher end of the market and are perhaps more suited to someone with a little experience of real operating systems.
The Debian distribution is generally considered to be the best enthusiast's system, very flexible but needing a bit more than basic knowledge to get the best out of it.
Ubuntu, which has some historical links to Debian, is very popular for beginners and is somewhat lighter on resource demands than the other distributions. Some experienced users find it frustrating, in that the Root account (Windows Administrator) is locked and administrative tasks are performed with sudo (super user privileges). I've not personally used it but friends who have say it is very intuitive.
Another alternative you might want to investigate is Linspire or Freespire - same system but Linspire includes technical support for a fee. This system was designed from the ground up as a desktop Linux system. The intention was to develop a system that was easier to set up and use than Windows - yes, easier and guess what - they succeeded! Once you've downloaded the distribution (or you can have Linspire shipped on CDs), the installation process is very simple - answer a few questions and 15 minutes later, you have a fully functional Linux system with a selection of common applications. One of the criticisms sometimes raised against Linux is that some applications are a bit laborious to install, some needing to be installed from source. Once learned, it is a straightforward process but again, it is different to Windows "slam in a CD and let it do its thing" approach. Linspire and Freespire have addressed this criticism with their trademarked "Click and Run" warehouse. The basic version is free, or there is a premium version that includes some commercial products. The principle is the same - you logon to the warehouse catalogue, select the application you want, click it and it downloads and installs automatically. What could be easier? Actually, even if you don't choose Linspire or Freespire, all is not lost - they just announced the availability of the click and run warehouse for some other distributions with more to come - check Linspire.com for availability.
OK, enough about distributions. One decision you do need to make is how to install it on your system. If your hard disk is big enough, I'd recommend partitioning it and running a dual boot system. Linux doesn't boot directly but rather uses a boot loader, LILO and Grub are two common ones. When you install a Linux system it will ask you where you want to put the boot loader. While you are evaluating Linux to see whether it's for you, you might want to use the technique I used when I first tried it. If your machine has a bootable floppy disk drive, install the boot loader on to it and your Linux system on your hard disk partition. Then when you want to boot Linux, boot off the floppy - it will offer the option to boot Windows as well - but when you want to boot Windows, just boot from the hard disk. The advantage is that if you decide Linux isn't for you, you can just delete your Linux partition and throw the floppy away. If you decide to keep it, you can re-install the boot loader on your hard disk, when it will offer you the choice of booting any of the systems it detects.
There are two main desktop environments for Linux, Gnome and KDE. Try them both and see what suits you best. I prefer KDE but that's a personal choice again. There is a project under way to combine the best of each of these two environments into a single universal version.
As far as applications go, you'll need an office system - OpenOffice.org is probably closest to the Microsoft Office you are used to (except for the macros) but there are others. I like KOffice but I got into it before OpenOffice.org was available. All the Linux distributions provide a web browser - Konqueror is quite close to Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer - or you can use any of the open source browsers, Firefox, Opera, Netscape, etc. Kmail is a lightweight email client but again, any of your preferred open source clients have Linux equivalents, Thunderbird, Opera mail, etc. If you work with a lot of digital images, you will want to get to know The GIMP - it has all the functionality of Adobe's Photoshop without the hundreds of dollars price tag! Like Photoshop, it isn't the most user friendly application but as you learn to use its power, that's a small penalty to pay
Security on Linux systems is in a different league to Windows - it was always designed as a multi-user networked system, unlike Windows single user standalone desktop origins. All Linux systems have an inbuilt two way firewall that you can configure to your own specific requirements. There have been very few viruses targeting Linux but as its popularity increases, that will undoubtedly grow, though that said, it is much harder to break Linux security. Whether you should include an anti-virus application is a matter of heated debate (which I won't encourage here) but what harm can it do?
The beauty of Linux is that you can start simply, use the GUI, never even see a command line unless you want to. But as you get to know it and grow with it, you can branch out into the more powerful features as you need them.
Should you get rid of Windows XP altogether? My advice would be no, at least to begin with. As you explore Linux, you may come across an application you use that you can't find a Linux equivalent for, so having a Windows system to revert to is a good safety net. You have a licence for it anyway, so apart from the disk space, it's no loss to keep it until you have stopped using it altogether. I still use both for client compatibility, which is another reason you might want to keep XP,
I hope that's given you a few ideas to think about - you've nothing to lose - it's almost all free - as the SuSE Linux installer used to say - Have fun! Good luck.
Submitted by: Sav. M. of the United Kingdom
I have been running one form of Linux or another full time for about 10 years. In the beginning it was an interesting nerd system but would have been a real challenge for any typical Windows user. As Windows has improved over the years, Linux has improved far faster, to the point now where Windows is better in some areas but Linux (particularly Ubuntu, which I have run since 2003) is actually better, friendlier, etc. in other areas.
Among the challenges for both (Vista versus Edgy Eft, the latest Ubuntu) are some re-learning for a traditional Windows user. There are also issues with getting things to work. For example, I have a fairly-new Windows Media Center edition of Windows XP, and discovered to my dismay that it comes without the ability to play a number of audio and video files via my browser. I use Firefox, but then tried both IE6 and IE7 with the same results. I spent half a day reading tekkie offerings on the web before I found the (complex) instructions on how to install some missing dll's. It turns out Microsoft deliberately omitted those files from the Media Center Edition.
At about the same time, I installed Edgy Eft from the "Live CD", on one machine, meaning it was not an upgrade, but rather was completely new.
Given my prior experience with Ubuntu, I found it much easier to add to Ubuntu the applications (all of which are also free) than it was to fix my missing dlls in Windows. However, for a person with NO Linux experience (do you have any?) I would say it would have been considerably more difficult. Below, I will give you some pointers, but first are three "conditional" paragraphs that may make you decide Ubuntu is not for you.
I believe there are two keys to an Ubuntu/Windows decision. The first of these is just how proficient a Windows user are you, and the second is exactly what do you use your computer for. Can you run Windows Explorer (NOT NOT NOT Internet Explorer) and understand what you can do with it? Can you install a new application if the CD fails to autostart when you insert it? If you can do neither of these things, I would have difficulty recommending you move over to Ubuntu. You no longer have to be at the sysAdmin level to be a success with Ubuntu, but if you really don't know the difference between your browser and the web, stay with Windows. If you are reasonably proficient at using the web search engines, that is helpful in Windows. It is critical for Ubuntu.
Second are the issues of what you use your computer for. List COMPLETELY the applications that you currently use and that you would sorely miss if they were not there. The biggest single drawback to any Linux, in my opinion, are that some applications just aren't available on Linux, nor are there suitable alternatives available. A couple of biggies for me are TurboTax and PC Study Bible, so I will keep a Windows machine (or a Windows virtual machine under VMWare) around for several more years. On the other hand, the Microsoft office suite does have a suitable alternative in Open Office, which is largely what I use these days. If you are an "expert" at any of the individual office applications, you may have a significant learning curve to get the more-obscure bells and whistles to work right, but for an average Office user (me) they work so much the same that I forget which one I am using sometimes. Open Office applications open much more slowly than their Microsoft counterparts, but with a reasonably-modern machine, you will see four-six seconds to open, versus perhaps two seconds for the Microsoft version. To me, that's a small penalty compared to an hour or more spent working in the app after it is open, and Open Office is free.
So, if you are still reading, you will have some homework to do to decide whether your applications needs can be met. If that looks good, download the Edgy Live CD and run it on your computer. Although slow (running off a CD) it will allow you to try a number of simple and not-so-simple actions without any permanent effect on your computer.
If you have reached this point and are still interested, spend a day or so reading what you can find on the Synaptic Package Manager, such as this tutorial:
If you understand first that a "package" for Ubuntu may be an application, a utility that helps you work better, or perhaps sets of fonts to your taste, then you can see you will have a much more robust Ubuntu experience if you learn how to use the (very simple) synaptic package manager. It allows you, by clicking (and a little waiting) to download hundreds or maybe thousands of packages at no cost.
Second, spend some time on the ubuntu forums, especially the wiki. I have found it quite helpful.
Third, note this site:
which is not part of Ubuntu but can be quite helpful. It calls itself a "starter guide" but goes beyond that.
Finally, before you install Ubuntu, spend a couple of hours on a search engine (and the Wikipedia) reading about Automatix. In the case of the Wikipedia, it's Automatix(tool) You absolutely will be glad you learned about Automatix if you do decide to go with Ubuntu.
Submitted by: Lynn W.
Your question is bound to spark a long debate of Windows vs. Linux, but I'm going to try to just stay out of the extremes and just be as objective as possible. Both systems have their advantages and problems but I'll try not to make things more complicated than what they really are. There are arguments saying that Linux is safer, or that is more stable but all those things really depends on how do you use you PC.
It is a very realistic possibility for the average user to switch from Windows to Linux. Linux is advancing at a very fast pace and the day when it was only a tool for experts is now long gone. Nowadays many Linux distributions come with a very easy to use installation interface and once it is installed the desktop environment is easy to use. As always, when starting with a new thing, it requires patience since what you used to know in windows might not be the same in Linux.
The great advantage of Linux is that it is based on people's frustrations of how existing software doesn't do the job properly or simply is not just personalised enough. So you are bound to find lots of people that have been to whatever problem you are facing and get help from them.
In reality, Linux is very easy to use, but is different from Windows. So you have to realise that you will be needing to learn new tricks, same as you have done for Windows over the past years. Once you have used Linux for a while you will realise that it has much potential. But is up to you to make the most out of it. If you are a person that likes to get 100% out of the computer and are willing to change to increase productivity, then switching to Linux is a good idea. But if you rather prefer just to use your laptop to surf the net, get emails and write a letter every once in a while, you won't be seeing much difference between the two systems.
If you want to try Linux, it is very easy to install. You don't need to get rid of Windows in case you want to go back at any time. You are only required to partition the disk, that is decide how much space do you want to leave for each system. This is an important step because you are dividing you hard drive into two different sections and formats. You can do this from Windows using an utility such as PartitionMagic. You can do it from the Linux installer if you choose a recent distribution (eg. Ubuntu, Suse, etc.) Check their websites and decide which one you prefer. I recommend Suse and Ubuntu since are the one I use the most and found very easy to use:
You can download .iso images to burn on CD's or DVD's or you can install over the network. If you are not sure you want to install Linux, you can always run it from the CD and check it out. Obviously is going to be slower since is always reading from the CD but it will give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of look and feel. Ubuntu runs from the CD and there is a good distribution called Knoppix which was designed to run live without the need for installation:
Once you have decided and downloaded the distribution, just start you laptop with the CD in and you should get the Linux welcome message. If not, you probably need to change the BIOS setup to make sure that it will try to start first from the CD. This depends on you computer but you should be able to see a message saying something on the lines of 'Press <key> to enter setup'. Press the key required and look for Boot options. Make sure the CD is before hard drive. After that, the wizard installation makes everything pretty much straight forward.
The main disadvantage of Linux from my point of view is the hardware. Many companies do not release the software required by programmers to create the drivers to communicate with that specific software and they only offer Windows drivers. Although the list of difficult hardware is getting smaller and smaller, you should check that you won't encounter any big problem.
Check this website http://www.linux-on-laptops.com/toshiba.html and see if you can find your laptop model. You will find information on how people have already installed several distributions, and what are the major problems if any.
One thing will be very different from what you are probably used from Windows, and that is the fact that now you are going to have a long, long list of software available to install. And all for free! Typical basic installation will have what you would expect, OpenOffice, Mozilla, Acrobat etc. but if you have a look, you can find an amazing amount of software to download. The way to access this list depends on the distribution, but again, it is very well documenter on their websites.
My suggestion is that you give it a try. Some people like it some people don't. It pretty much depends on what do you want to do. I have been using Linux for some years now and although I still have Windows and Linux on my laptop, I find Linux much more easy and friendly to use because I like to personlise things. I want a software that can do what I want it to do and not something that tell me what can I do.
In the end if you like Linux, you can get rid Windows, if you don't you can just stick with Windows. And don't be discouraged if you run into trouble, google is the best tool to find how many people around the world have had the same problem, and you will be able to fix it very quickly.
Submitted by: Juan U.
Why not try a test drive first to see if you like it? With Ubuntu, you can download a ?live CD? version, boot from that and experience Ubuntu without needing to wipe and install.
I installed it on an older Presario laptop that I had available, and it was mostly painless. There were some issues with the Sound Card, not uncommon on older laptops. A bit of digging on the internet and Ubuntu forums and I was able to solve the problem.
I actually have this on an older, 300mhz (really) K7 laptop and after the initial load times, it runs great considering the low-end (now) hardware. I have 802.11g wireless with plug and play setup, using OpenOffice there?s no barrier to accessing files created on the other operating system. Internet browsing is very stable (and all things considered, responsive), and with Firefox / Thunderbird / OpenOffice everything I need is there.
My experience so far has been pretty positive, and other than the gamist aspects of running Linux vs. Windows, I?m pleased with the stability and usability of the OS.
As for getting rid of Windows completely, if you want to play games you really need to consider dual boot, with XP and Linux both on the machine. Very likely on my machines, the next refresh install of XP will be to make the machines dual-boot XP and Ubuntu (or other Linux flavors) and default to the Linux OS.
The biggest CONs that I can think of against using Linux are gaming, and the lack of local wizards ? but the internet is your friend! I was able to overcome the sound card issue (that I could not solve in Fedora or a few other Linux flavors) via the forums and postings from other Ubuntu users.
Submitted by: Coyt W.
I will start by saying that Linux (open source) is becoming more popular, but there are reasons why it is still on the fringes and has not started to challenge Microsoft. There is plenty of debate about why this is, but when you consider the fact that at least 90% of the worlds computers run Windows, they must be doing at least something right.
But to answer your question, whether it is "possible" to completely get rid of your Windows XP will depend on your personal situation. If you primarily only use your machine to surf the web, do basic office tasks (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), and things of that nature, then it probably would be possible to get rid of Windows. There are a lot of open source programs that are direct replacement for Microsoft products. There are, however, a LOT of programs out there that don't have Linux versions. The reason for this, is because the market is still relatively small, and companies are not going to invest in developing products for such a limited market. So if there are software packages that you really like to use, or you are required to use with work, then I would check to see if there is a Linux version/equivalent available. Also keep in mind that most games will not run on Linux and a lot of new gadgets that come out are not Linux compatible. If you have MP3 players or other gadgets you will want to check and see if they are compatible with Linux.
I do not know the exact specs of your laptop (printers and other peripherals included), and I am not that familiar with Ubuntu specifically, but you would want to do a search first and be sure it supports your particular hardware. Linux has got a lot better over the last couple of years for providing drivers and hardware compatibility has become less of an issue. The typical Linux install in my opinion is a little more complicated then Windows, but this is something that has got better over the years as well. If you are going to wipe your hard drive and install Linux over your XP your going to have come up with a solution to backup your personal files and find a way to import them into Linux. Depending on the file types this can be difficult (or impossible) to over come.
Once you get over the initial setup, and compatibility issues, the Linux desktop is pretty easy to pick up for most Windows users. It has become more and more like Windows with its layout and it is pretty easy to navigate and find most of the features you are looking for. As I stated earlier, if this is as far as you need to take your machine it would probably work great for you. But if you have to start updating/installing things or do more complex tasks, it is not as easy and straight forward as a Windows machine. Windows is made for the masses, and thus for ease of use, which is why some people, especially a lot of Linux users, don't like it. While Linux has got easier to use, it is still used more by advanced users (geek types) then your typical home user. If something goes wrong it can be more difficult to get support for the problem, and you can probably forget getting any help from Toshiba if you remove XP and put Linux on it.
With all that said, I think it is really hard to say for sure if it is possible or even a good idea for you to consider open source right now. It all boils down to how you use your machine, and whether Linux supports these functions. You did not really indicate why you are thinking of switching to open source. If XP is doing what you need it to, I would stick with it. There is no reason to jump up to Vista at this point. But just because you don't go to Vista doesn't mean you need to throw XP away and go open source. Ideally, if I were you, I would make sure I spent some time using Linux, before I took that plunge. Perhaps if you are technically inclined (or know someone who is) you could setup a dual boot with Windows and Linux and you will have both options while you are trying to learn Linux, and you will still have your Windows if you find you need to fall back.
I am not pro Microsoft or anti Linux, personally I enjoy using both. But from experience I have seen the pitfalls of open source for the average user. I tend to believe that Linux is not quite polished enough yet and when combined with the compatibility and software availability issues, it is not ready to be a direct Windows replacement for most people. But I do think it is getting closer.
Submitted by: Josh R. of Great Falls, Montana
Dear Patti H:
As a new to Linux and Ubuntu User myself, I can give you my input to assist you in making this very important decision.
I had decided well over a year before I changed over, based solely on the Ubuntu Mission statement- and def of Ubuntu as mission- People Helping people, (generically), and have the following comments to make:
I believe that Canonical Inc is working hard to become the number one Linux system for home/professional users worldwide. Why do I believe this? I believe this because of their commit to customer service and the many ways they do this, the many types of help available on all their web forums, the in depth tutorials broken down to help folks, (providing a person is willing to self teach), and resources in general for the Unix/Linux communities worldwide online.
All this said, understand something very important:
You get to learn how to use the tools. All of them, and for me, it has been, and is at times, a real steep learning curve- which I enjoy actually. Keeps me motivated to learn 'how to do it right'...
For example- since you'd like some- There are a variety of tools used to install new software... some software already come with the distribution- "distro", and can be added by the tool add/delete software tool. Others may be added from repositories maintained from Ubuntu/Canonical, or from third parties.
I have had problems after downloading software to get it installed because I did not know what to do next, and because of my ignorance- did not know how to use the correct method to do so- I am now a bit more educated on how this works...
In other words to make this a bit easier to understand, if you are a self teaching type of person, and have lots of patience and are willing to use the forums and self help texts available, and any online support tools, communities, local to you forums, groups etc., then you'll do fine over time.
If you want your life to be a quick fix, want it done for you or are any kind of drama person, I would say- this is Not For You because your patience will be taxed. Count it as part of the school of life- "Learning is Forever" and make no mistake.
Submitted by: William P. of Albuquerque, New Mexico
XP has been a proven and well supported operating system for many years now and vista is supposed to make the users experience even easier and more enjoyable.
Linux has great reviews if you listen to linux users because it is not so resource hungry and yet powerful, with the added bonus of most of the software coming for free.
If you just want to use email and the internet with a a few office type applications (using the free Open Office software (Microsoft office file compatible)) then linux is great and it intrigues others who marvel that a desktop can look different to windows. However if you are a true "average" windows user I would avoid linux. The only way I would recommend anyone to convert is if they really want to learn the ins and outs of their computer and its operating system.
When converting to linux the problem Microsoft users experience starts straight away in that the hard drive format is completely different. You can use both operating systems on one hard drive if you use "grub loader" or similar boot software but the likelihood is that if its not researched and understood fully you will just wipe your hard drive and lose windows. Linux die hards will cheer you on but its no fun until its up and running, and there's your next problem. You need to be sure your hardware is supported by the base operating system or you will have to install drivers during or after the operating system is installed. This process is easy with windows, it tells you its found new hardware and searches disc drives etc for drivers. Linux often requires you to install from several files and you have to make sure you are logged on as a administrator to do so, the supporting documentation I found on ubunto told me how to log on but the system constantly denied me access. My copy of Red Hat didn't recognise my motherboards hardware, wouldn't let me add drivers and failed the install. The final downside to converting to linux is that linux and its many creators speak in foreign tongue. File extensions and program names are all different and will all have to be relearnt. If you never understood it in windows give up now!
I will bring this advice to a conclusion by saying as I did before. If you want a cheap system that works for internet, email and office by all means give linux a go, it can be great and better than that even if you are a pc geek or software nerd, BUT windows users beware, if your not computer minded (understand file formats and hardware configurations) and linux won't install because of your hardware then give it up and stick with what you know.
Submitted by: Daniel B.
There are a lot of things to think about when making a move to a linux system. The first is what linux system to switch to as there are probably over 100 different versions. In my opinion Ubuntu is a great choice to start with. At the moment you can request a CD or dvd from the Ubuntu project if downloading an iso image is beyond your computer expertise. Also, the more recent version, 6.06 LTS, has three years of customer and technical support which is sometimes hard to come by in a free version of linux. Also there is something called a live edition on the discs.
A live edition, in case you don't know is a version of the operating system that you can run right off the disc without actually installing the operating system. It is a nice option if you are thinking about switching to a Linux system because it does not take up any harddrive space. As some one who has used Ubuntu it is a good option for laptops and almost all drivers that I know of work for it. It runs without a lot of power consumption also.
There are other options for Linux, and which one is right for you is a matter of opinion. I feel that a great start to Linux is ubuntu but other options that I have tried out are Suse Linux and Slackware Linux.
Besides the distribution, the other thing to consider is the desktop environment. The desktop environment is the graphical user interface like windows xp or mac osx. The two that I see the most are kde or gnome, but there are others.
A good place to see what Linux is right for you is http://www.linux.org then click on distribution. It will ask you a few questions to narrow down Linux distributions and give you a description of that Linux version. Also on http://www.linux.org there are groups that you can ask questions. This is a big part of the Linux experience. Not all Linux distributions have support, so what you do is go to the community. Ask them questions and see what answers you can get. More than likely someone will know the answer and help you fix it. If you still have questions check out some of the Linux groups out there, there are a ton of them and most people in them are very admit about the use of Linux.
As far as software compatibility I would like to say that all your software is going to work but I don't know what is on your computer. For things like Office there is Open Office which will do all the things that Microsoft Office does and it does it for free. GIMP is a great Photoshop-like program that is free. GAIM is an instant messenger that works with all your favorite IM clients. The cost=free. Picasa 2 is out for Linux (free) - noticing a trend? If the software you have is not Linux compatible, there is more than likely a program that does the same thing (and more likely it is free).
Other than that I hope I have answered all your questions and might I say welcome to the world of Linux. I hope that you find what you are looking for out there.
P.S. I have been working with Vista and might I say it is like a bad version of Mac OSX and that 3D thing is a rip off of Suse 10.
Submitted by: Jan O.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to play with several of the varieties of packaged Linux distributions and of course all of the varieties of Windows since Windows 95. Many of the Linux distributions have gotten much better and user friendly but they are by no means equal in regards to what you are accustomed to when using Windows. While you can do just about anything on a computer running Linux that you can on a Windows PC you probably won?t be able to do it with programs you are familiar with. Since both are totally different types of operating systems programs written for one don?t work on the other, take Microsoft Office for instance it will not run natively on Linux, you can get it to work ?sometimes? with programs called emulators (like a program called wine which fools it into thinking it?s running on Windows) but it is by no means the same experience you are used to when running it on Windows. There are substitutes though Open Office and Star Office are a good example in fact http://www.openoffice.org you can download a Windows version for free to try it out and see if it meets your needs if it does then you may not miss Office. Also if you are not comfortable with program installation you might want to rethink switching, in most cases installing new programs requires more work, especially when installs don?t go as planned. There is a distribution called Linspire http://www.linspire.com that is unique in that it takes care if installations for you while you download the programs from their servers (for a fee of course), you can get the details from their website, I did use that one for awhile and found it to be the most user friendly if you are a casual user and not into hardcore OS operation.
You can also get some Linux distributions to run on the CD without changing your Windows installation to see in action how well it will work, you may find out that there are not drivers available to run your PC properly, this can be a big issue with Linux since many hardware manufacturers don?t fully support it, again sometimes there are workarounds but you have to be patient and willing to find them. Reading up on some of the programs that are available to substitute for what your needs is a good first step, try out the Windows versions if available to see them in action. If you have enough disk space you can dual boot both Windows and Linux and switch back and forth as needed if there is something that you absolutely cannot live without that requires Windows but on a laptop that might get tight if the hard disk space is at a minimum. Lastly check the support offerings and forums to see if they will meet your needs, there are a lot of folks out there willing to help when things don?t go as planned.
Submitted by: Jeff B.
OK, here's the problem, Any Linux distro is going to give any new user fits because of the environment. No matter how much it's watered down, dumbed down, stripped down, and massaged down to be more friendly to n00bs, there are still going to be problems. I am reasonably PC-savvy, and I really wanted to learn how to use Linux 'cause I am so SICK of Microsoft's OS offerings. First, drivers weren't there for some of my hardware. Second, the security learning curve scared me good, with the Root account being protected, and my account not being worth anything when I needed to install something, which leads to... Third, no one will figure out how to install anything when you've got RPMs, DEBs, BINs, YUMs, SLPs, and PKGs floating around, not to mention the totally confusing tar-ball packages. Typically though, the distro you choose will determine which one(s) of those you'll need to use. Installing from source is a confusing trial for someone who doesn't get it. Then you have to deal with dependencies. Think of these as DLL files that YOU must supply, even though you never even heard of them until your new app started whining like a child for them. I want to like Linux, I really do, but GNU/Linux must begin developing standards that all distros must adhere to take out some of the confusion. On top of that, documentation for some of this stuff is scarce at best. I've tried Linux five times in three years, and I always end up back at ye olde Windows. Hunting down dependencies was a chore, nightmare, and mentally exhausting. There WILL be times when one has to drop down to the command line to get things done, and the syntax can be . . . weird. Example: To properly run an RPM, you may have to use switches at the command line to make sure it extracts, checks for dependencies, and installs correctly! And that was a simple one. I am sticking with XP for now because its what I know, and am comfortable with. I beta-tested for Vista, and it was a an absolute horrific nightmare. I had to go back to XP to clean up all the problems we had. If one were curious, I'd recommend a dual-OS machine; Use Windows XP for working, and a Linux flavor for goofing off. Later, if/when you're more comfortable, you can then delete XP. But don't just do this. Back up your data first, then often after, if Linux does crash, it could take the distro with it. This happened to me, and I was out of two months worth of work. Last, if possible, don't try this experiment on your one good PC, try to do this on a PC you wouldn't worry too much about. I have my Windows PC, and a Linux box I use to mess around with. Just a suggestion tho. . .
Submitted by: Victor M.
Hello Patti H.,
I think that most "free" versions (aka "distributions") of Linux should be avoided by first time users unless there is a "live CD" version available or that it is known to be easily uninstallable. What do I mean by a "Live CD" version? Well, it is a version that can be booted right from the CD, so that you don't have to install anything to your hard drive in order to get a feel for the particular OS. Ubuntu offers a live version as do several others.
. Two others I'd suggest you try are Freespire (http://freespire.org/) (a free variant of Linspire) and Xandros (http://www.xandros.com ). The reason I mention those two is that they have both gained a reputation as being among the easiest to use for those coming from Windows. If you have a decent amount of free space on your hard disk (say about 5 gigaBytes) you can install any version of Linux to try right along with Windows XP - you get to choose which to load at boot time from a menu. If you find you don't like it, you can easily remove it. With those, unlike Ubuntu, you will end up having to pay some money either to continue to use the product or to add useful features - but still considerably less than buying any version of Windows. And with Ubuntu, you can get the same features but you will be spending your time instead of your money to get them...
. Both Freespire and Xandros include parts which are proprietary and thus offer functions that are unavailable in others without considerable effort on your part such as the ability to play DVD movies (Freespire/Linspire only). The important thing is that you know what you want to be able to do with your laptop both now and into the future. Then you can read up on the different "distributions" of Linux I've mentioned as well as Ubuntu to see which will most closely meet your needs.
. No matter how 'Win User friendly' they try to make them, there is no denying that Linux is NOT Windows, so there will be a learning curve. I think that the advantages in security and stability are worth the effort.
. If you have high speed Internet, you can download most of these in .ISO file (disk image) form and burn your own installation CDs. If you are on dial-up, you can order installation CDs for just about any free Linux distribution from many vendors. One of my favorites is http://www.BudgetLinuxCDs.com - Mark has just about every available distribution and every variant. If he doesn't have the one you want, just ask and he'll get it. He will also put several .ISOs on one DVD if you want from which you can burn your own installation CDs. He is in France, so it is wise to consider shipping costs when ordering.
Submitted by: Bill H. of Groton, New York
The question was how easy is if for the average Windows user to install Linux based OS.
My experience with Linux actually started with unix .. which is in my opinion the real foundation of DOS with the slant character used differently.
My modern experience is with Novell's SESU Linux & I think that someone that is patient enough to deal with the typical problems Windows XP presents would certainly be able to get a version of Linux up and running. I think the main issue with linux installs is the amount of choices presented to the user -- linux has a lot of great software routines and I have taken the approach of experimenting with various "packages". I'm probably on the tail of the bell curve when it comes to computer experimentation .. I have 6 different versions of SESU running .. but that way I can choose for myself what I like and then I'll settle on a configuration and standardize it for some of my science and amateur radio applications. Really what I'm trying to say is 'go for it' almost all linux can be downloaded free for just the cost of bandwidth. Do some reading of the doc files and give it a try. The other really nice part of experimenting with linux is trying the different apps and libraries .. you get to see everything load, unlike the stealth Windows .. so, you'll know if there is a problem.
The other really nice think about linux vs. Windows .. the linux can be tailored to run so much faster than the standard giant code of XP .. so, I have old machines that give up at Win98 that are running as fast as my XP machines!!!
Submitted by: Richard W.
Ubuntu is a wonderful operating system, and for nerds like myself learning the ins and outs of a new operating system is a fun challenge. I use Kubuntu Edgy, a distribution of Ubuntu Linux with a the KDE desktop environment. There are several built in tools to help make your life easier such as the package manager, an installer of sorts which downloads programs from open source repositories and installs them on your system. The security and ease of networking is wonderful as well. However, any distribution of Linux will be more minimalist than Windows, ie it needs more configuration, and a greater understanding of the system. You will spend more time learning how to use the system, and if you are at all afraid of editing computer code, you will not be able to use Linux to its full capacity. Although there are many web sites, wikis, and manuals to help you on your way to using Linux, to the average Windows user it would be hard. Then there is compatibility, although the free, open-source software is nice, many of the programs you use daily on your Windows machine won't work on Linux. Thanks to WINE, an interpreter of sorts, you can use a few Windows programs on Linux, but for the most part you'll still want to have a Windows partition handy to use the games and other software that is compatible only with Windows. If you still want to try Ubuntu on your laptop, I have found that I enjoy using both Windows and Linux. Windows for those games and programs that you still need and want to use, and Linux for the free software and great security. To try Ubuntu before installing, download one of their Live CDs, these CDs allow you to boot into Linux without touching your hard drive, then if you like, you can install Linux from the CD onto your hard drive. If you decide to do this, you will need to separate your laptop's hard drive into two partitions, one for Windows, and one for Linux. Partitioning a hard drive is tricky business, you can lose all of you data, so make sure you back it up first, and make sure that you have done the research. Microsoft's, and web site has many great articles describing how to partition your hard drive. You will also find good information at Ubuntu's web site.
Submitted by: Kyle G.
Hi Patti H.,
I am a Windows user from way back. Windows 3.1 for Workgroups and on thru the updates to Windows 2000 Pro. I have a son who is a Systems administrator in a government department who uses Unix at work and Linux at home. He has been keen to get me using Linux and for several years I have tried to convert. This goes back to several versions of Redhat and Mandrake to the 5.1 version of Ubuntu. I have given up, (and so has my son). Compatibility with my HaModem was a big issue. With the help of my son we had to compile a driver; which worked fine until the next Kernel update when the driver had to be compiled once again. As my son lives a 7 hour drive away I was left on my own and couldn't cope. This sort of issue was happening with all the versions of Linux from the start. I liked the idea that the Operating System was free and that here was a great variety of well written free software. The update system worked well but I found it hard to change from using Quicken, (financial control package) to any of the Linux alternatives. I used to tutor Windows Office products and found the alternatives hard to get used to. I am what is loosely called a senior citizen, (73 today) so I guess it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but at least I have given it a go. I think that if you are a young person who likes a challenge and doesn't mind the thought that you will probably have to do some command line work, give it a try. I would advise that you install a copy of the latest version of Ubuntu as a second Operating system and try it out.
Submitted by: Dennis K.