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2/9/07 Is the Linux operating system for me?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / February 8, 2007 3:14 AM PST

Question for the community: Given the mixed reviews for the new Windows Vista and the increasing popularity of open-source software, I started wondering about free operating systems. How realistic is it for the average Windows user to install and use a Linux-based OS such as Ubuntu? I bought a Toshiba Satellite laptop last fall, and I'm wondering if it's possible to use Ubuntu on that machine instead of Windows XP. If it is a good OS for those of us with no Linux experience, what are the pros and cons of such a system? And can I totally get rid of Windows XP? Thanks!

Submitted by: Patti H.



The first question to ask before getting new hardware or software is always "what are your needs?" Then what are your resources, and finally, what is available?

Most home users surf the Web, do e-mail, take and share digital pictures (well, you will), and trade and print documents with your friends. An open-source operating system does those things. It's safer on the Internet, because it doesn't get viruses.

There's one place open-source falls down, and that's running the very *cheapest* modems, printers, and cameras. If you've still got that ink-jet printer or all-in-one that came "free" with your mail-order Dell, chances are you'd have to replace it with a better model that has Linux device drivers. The same goes for most "software" modems, and Web cams. The good news is your Linux system will come with drivers for the mainstream and high-end devices. You should check one of the Linux compatibility sites or at least ask in a Linux forum before buying hardware that you expect to use with Linux. (,, and click on "800 cameras.") If that kind of thing is a show-stopper for you, you're stuck with Windows or Macintosh.

If you're not sure, buy a mail-order Knoppix "live Linux" CD and just try it. The going rate is about $5 with shipping on Ebay, or you can order from one of the vendors listed at
If Knoppix can't figure out and work your hardware automatically, you're going to have trouble using it with any Linux distribution.
(It may not be *impossible*, but trouble.)

Do you take work home? (I guess not, or you would have had to ditch Windows-98 by now.) Do you run specialized software for stock trading or architectural design? Chances are it only runs on Windows. Do you have a favorite video game? You probably need Windows to launch it.

What are your resources? Can you afford to put more memory in your PC? Replace your printer? Replace a worn out or too-slow CD drive? Can you take a year to make this transition or do you need to make a fully functional office workstation in the next half hour? If you've got a few months, follow my migration path, below. If I only had half an hour, I'd install Knoppix.

My advice is always "don't *switch* to Linux, *migrate* there."

Keep your Windows setup for whatever you need it for, and use the new Linux setup for only the things you've learned to do with it. That way there's no awful period when you're stuck with nothing until you figure out the new stuff. You'll do more and more with Linux and less and less with Windows, until you only boot Windows once a year to run Turbo Tax. And you'll have fun all along the way instead of being a nervous wreck because your computer isn't working yet.

And the most painless way to do that is with the aforementioned Knoppix CD and a USB flash drive. *Leave your old Windows system installation alone!* Run Knoppix off the CD, at first. Don't install it until you're good'n'ready. Knoppix will let you create a place it calls a "persistent home directory": a desktop and personal file system *on the USB drive*.

Use *that* for a while. Take your time. Relax. If you get a big USB drive (2 GB or more) you can copy the Knoppix CD to it, and run your system off that instead of the CD. It frees up the CD drive and keeps it from wearing out, and it runs faster. For some reason the site calls this option the "poor man's install." Copy of the CD plus personal desktop on your keyring, runs on just about anybody's PC, not just yours. So you can use *your* desktop at your friend's house, without her Windows system ever knowing you were there.
You could use Linux for years and never get around to *installing* it at all.

I would not advise a friend to go with Ubuntu right now. Ubuntu's underlying technology is the "unstable" branch of Debian GNU/Linux. "Unstable" changes all the time. There are lots of updates every night. Go there if you want to be one of the Debian or Ubuntu developers.

*After* you've used the live CD for a while and decide you like it, you might want to install on your hard drive a user-friendly distribution based on the "stable" branch of Debian. It's designed to be maintainable and upgradeable and trouble-free forever. The tradeoff is it takes longer to get that way. Your system will always be a year or two behind the "bleeding edge." I don't know about you, but that's the deal for me! I've got better things to do than cut myself on the "edge."

(Note. "Unstable" and "Stable" refer to how often the updates come out and features change, not how well they run. Even an "unstable" Debian system doesn't crash or get viruses.)

At, I found sixty-six operating system distributions based on Debian. Knoppix and Ubuntu are only the most famous two.
You might want to consider Linspire, Damn Small Linux, or Xandros.
They're actively developed and have a big enough user base that you won't be alone. Now this may be flame bait, but I would stick with the Debian based distributions. Read the Debian Social Contract. Companies like Red Hat and Novell may come and go (or get bought out), but Debian will always be here for you. And the maintenance is easier. People tend to switch from the Red Hat based distributions to Debian, fewer switch the other way.

Best of luck and don't forget to write.

Submitted by: Cameron S. of San Jose, California
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by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / February 8, 2007 3:15 AM PST

Hi Patti,

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 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 - 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 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



Hi Patti,

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.



Dear Patti,

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 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.



Hi Patti,

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.



Hi Patti,

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 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 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 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 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 ( (a free variant of Linspire) and Xandros ( ). 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 - 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.
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Additional advice from our members
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / February 8, 2007 3:15 AM PST

I wondered the same thing not to long ago. So I downloaded Ubuntu (Edgy Eft) and partitioned my hard drive into three parts so I could share the files between XP and Ubuntu. I really liked it because how fast it was compared to XP and seemed to be more robust. I really like the GUI which I was able to tweak in many different ways. But there is a very steep learning curve involved and a lot of compatibility issues. You can get around in Ubuntu alright without knowing to much about computer or code but if you really want to get something done in it you have to use the terminal. Once you learn the language it is very useful and very powerful but most people are not willing to put in enough time. There are also the issues with mp3's, flash and java. So to sum things up I would wait a while until open source is able to clean up the compatibility issues and make it just a little more home user friendly. It shouldn't be too much longer.

Submitted by: Brenan S.



Having successfully run both Windows XP and Ubuntu on my Gateway laptop, I can speak from experience on this. I never recommend anyone to just completely dump Windows, but to instead set up your computer as a dual-boot machine. You can order a CD from Ubuntu to install on your computer. Several things first.:

1) Defrag your hard drive.
2) Make sure you have ample disk space. My laptop is 4 years old and only has a 30G hard drive, so this was important for me, but you probably have a much larger hard drive. You can also run a program such as CCleaner to get rid of junk you didn't know was there.

Insert the Ubuntu CD and reboot your computer. It will walk you through the process of installing it as a dual boot, including adding a new partition for Ubuntu to sit on. If, after a time, you find that you really like it, you could potentially eventually dump Windows, but there are still some programs that you will not be able to use or have access to.

Pros) Always kept updated. Fast, secure, reliable. Built on open-source, so has a good developer community.
Cons) No Internet Explorer. Sad to say, but there are still developers and companies who continue to develop for IE only. May have problems with WMV files as well. No ITunes either.

Something you could try to see if you want to switch is to set up a Virtual Machine first to play around with it. has a free client and the Virtual Machine for Ubuntu to try out. Check it out first to see if you would like to make the switch.

Submitted by: Chris C.



Any windows system, because of its popularity, is going to be prone to attack against adware, spyware, hackers and viruses. The vista system has proven to be quite a disappointment in this area, so additional security is a necessity. Linux systems and MAC systems do not suffer the degree of attacks against security as windows because they are less known and popular. This does not mean that you are secure.

Anytime you access the internet you are opening your identity to those who are far more familiar with operating systems and whose intent is to rob or use you in some manner.

The belief that other operating systems are more secure is although true, the truth is short term. Their are some 19 million hackers in the world and 70+% of them have criminal intent. Couple this with the other known internet attacks on your security and the obvious becomes even more apparent. Take no chances. Protect you individual, family and/or business assets. Remember the old addage about an ounce of prevention.

In this day and age we need a bit more than an ounce provides. Their are many PC security systems that are either not updated often enough or just not up to speed. So when you go in search of a security system identify exactly what security level you require.

How is your quality of life going to be affected should your identity be accessed?
What type of Identity theft protection do you have?
Will you need an Attorney to represent you against creditors that you did not know you had?
Do you have thousands to tens of thousands of dollars getting you good name rerstored?
Finally, would it be worth it to you, your family and your business to invest in the best possible protection?

Decide when you need a PC Security Solution that provides Identity Theft Protection in addition to providing corporate computer level security, no matter what operating system you use.

I chose to get protected because the cost of correction far outweighed the cost of prevention. Especially considering the likelihood of my business and personal reputation, finances and peace of mind being threatened. When it is costing an estimated $1000.00 per year for every man, women and child in the U.S. today as a result of internet theft.

There are advantages to Linux and MAC but, no matter what the operating system you use is you will need solutions to a problem that is not going to go away.

Submitted by: Ed C.



Since you are currently using XP, I would have to say there is no good reason for you to change to any type of Linux. Ubuntu would most likely run on your laptop with very little problems, as Linux does a relatively good job of running on most systems. The facts, however, must first be weighed. If you were to switch to Linux, you would be completely re-learning computers. Linux has its own positives as well as negatives. One thing that makes Linux favorable for me is the fact that I need not worry at all about Viruses and Spyware...ever! Linux is said to be more stable but I would say that through my experience with it and my IT friends experience, it is just left alone in general by the things that trouble Windows (spyware, malware, viruses, netbots, etc). Linux generally has better coding for the OS, which adds to the stability as well. The knock on using any type of Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora Core, SUSE, FreeBSD etc.) is that it is not nearly as user friendly as Windows. Driver support can be a major hassle if Linux does not have the driver already (though it has most drivers), and getting the simple things such as DVDs, USB Drives, and even server connections to work consistently have been problems I have noticed. I would say that you should stick with Windows, especially XP for now unless you want to spend a lot of time setting up and learning an entirely new walk with Linux. Don't worry about Vista for now, let everyone else work the bugs out of it and in 6 months or so it will be fine. So, to answer your question exactly, how realistic is it for the average Windows user to install and use Linux? Not very, unless you have a friend or family member that is very familiar with Linux right there to show you what to do most of the time. Save yourself the incredible burden of having to spend a lot of time learning something new and just stick with XP.

Hope this helps.

Submitted by: Nathan W.



I have used both Windows and Linux for several years, and each has their advantages. Linux has come a long way in the last few years, but is still not yet suitable for the average user. It has some good-looking user interfaces, and comes with "OpenOffice", which is a free substitute for the applications found in Microsoft Office, i.e., a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application, etc. There is a free, powerful image editing software package called "Gimp" that rivals Photoshop in its raw feature set. There are really cool "OpenGL" screensavers you can get for Linux, too.

The problem is that you have to constantly tinker to make things work right. I have spent hours and hours on at least a dozen occasions getting the wireless networking to work on my Linux laptop, for example, whereas it just worked under Windows. Sometimes we would joke "The cool thing about Linux is that you can write your own wireless driver. The bad thing is that you have to." While OpenOffice and Gimp and other such utilities are free and have many of the features of the professional software packages, none of them have polished feel of the professional ones. Lots of people contribute features to an open-source project, but there usually isn't a team of full-time employees whose job it is to make the user interface consistent and to do rigorous testing. The result is often an application with lots of cool features but a generally clunky feel. Also, while OpenOffice claims to be compatible with Microsoft Office, my experience has been that interchanging documents doesn't work all that well so far, so you'll have to live with being a bit incompatible with the rest of the world.

Installing software is typically more painful as well. You often have to download the file, open a command-line window and type a bunch of commands, and sometimes modify an environment variable or something odd to get things configured right. Living in Linux would be pretty tough until you learn some Unix basics (ls, cd, grep, etc.).

On the positive side, Linux tends to be pretty stable, and is great at running multiple processes in the background, networking with other Linux machines, and so on, so we use it almost exclusively in our business. But I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who doesn't want to spend quite a bit of time tinkering with their system and learning a lot about how their system works.

Submitted by: Randy W.



Hi Patti,

I also have a Toshiba Satellite laptop. I installed SuSe10.0 as a dual boot with XP Home. I did this so that I can learn about a Linux OS, while still having an familiar OS handy.

The installation of SuSe10.0 was easy and flawless. There were no conflicts between the laptop and the Linux OS. The Linux OS had all the drivers necessary to run everything in the laptop.

I have had this set up for almost one year without a hicup from the laptop. The security of an Linux OS allows me to go on the net without worry of invading virus, trojans or spyware.

This particular Linux distro is easy to learn and use. I would recommend that you try SuSe or Ubuntu. These Linux operating systems are free! You can download them and burn them to a CD.

Submitted by: John M.



Hi Patti,

I have come to the same conclusion as you are likely to reach. The most common Linux implementations (SUSE being one and Ubuntu being another) are now so well implemented that from all I read they are easy to install, manage and use.

I have decided that 2007 is the year when I implement Linux as my main operating system, but will retain my Windows licence for XP so that I can run (from Linux) using the Windows emulation option any software that is not available under Linux ? such as Turbocad

I suggest you do some research and buy a book which I think highly of ? ?Beginning SUSE Linux? 2nd edition editor Keir Thomas. Pub: A Press ISBN 978-1-59059-674-6

In the UK it costs around
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Re migration to Linux OS
by Gerry / February 8, 2007 8:04 PM PST

Thank you Cameron S.
I am a Mac user and am not thinking of changing to Linux. However, I found your reply extremely interesting and easy to understand; along with good, practical advice. Congratulations.

Gerry U.

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Unix virus-free?
by jdh02472 / February 8, 2007 8:38 PM PST

For someone who is utterly new to Unix, but reasonably familiar with Windows, can you explain why using Unix means no virus threat?

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by Dawnshadow / February 8, 2007 10:19 PM PST
In reply to: Unix virus-free?

As I understand it-- and I'm something of a newbie myself-- there's a few reasons why viruses don't go far on Linux.

First, users are very strongly discouraged to run as root, which is the Linux/Unix equivalent of administrator, unless it's absolutely necessicary. Because most system files are protected when not running as root, it's very difficult for a virus to screw them up.

Secondly, for the most part every Linux setup is different-- there are literally dozens of distributions, or different versions or flavors of Linux, and each one has its own variations and quirks. Getting a virus to bypass the system protections on every variant would be a Herculean task.

A third argument might be 'security through obscurity'-- there's just not enough Linux machines to bother-- but a lot of web servers run on Linux. Attaching those would take down a lot of websites. Also, no one has ever written a successful wild Linux virus. The first person to do so would get a great deal of bragging rights.

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security architected in, not patched on
by clsgis / February 9, 2007 5:42 AM PST
In reply to: Unix virus-free?

Unix is a multi-user operating system. Normally, users can't wreck each other's files or modify other people's programs and their config files. (That takes a severe security bug.) File ownership and permission is built right into the file system and enforced by the kernel.

MS-Windows doesn't really have the concept of "users." Most popular MS-Windows programs were not designed to run without administrator privilege. They need to do privileged things like overwrite themselves and scribble on the Registry. So most user programs have permission to wreck any file they want! The normal operating condition of MS-Windows would be considered a serious security bug on unix.

Malware ("viruses" and similar threats) work by fooling a user program into doing something bad. On MS-Windows, that's all it takes for a virus to propagate. On unix, a compromised user program can do things like send email. On a poorly adminstered unix system, it can create files which might be programs to do bad things. But it still can't wreck user programs.

That's why we get compromised PHP programs on Linux web servers all the time, but no viruses. A compromised user program on unix has to find a programming error in the kernel or in one of the few programs that run with administrator privilege, and use that bug to "escalate" itself to administrator privilege where it can do damage. That's a lot harder than just having a user program overwrite itself the way they can on MS-Windows.

That's why nobody has been able in fifteen years of trying to write a Linux virus that actually succeeds in the wild. Or if they have, it's been so stealthy that nobody's detected it yet.

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It's safer on the Internet, because it doesn't get viruses.
by dronl / February 8, 2007 8:55 PM PST

Very dangerous statement to make, especially to someone who might not know any better. Viruses have been written for Linux and as it's popularity increases it will surely attract more.

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Unsuccessful viruses
by clsgis / February 9, 2007 5:54 AM PST

"Viruses have been written for Linux"

That's true, in a trivial kind of way. "Proof of concept" virus code has been written for Linux. We get a breathless announcement of "The first Linux virus!" every few months. There have been worms which exploit a particular security bug. When that bug gets fixed, the worm dies.

The "Linux viruses" I know about need help to propagate. Either they have to convince a user to type his root (administrator) password and *give them permission* to do something bad, or they have to exploit a security bug in a program that runs with root privilege. They do not succeed in the wild.

That's why there are lots of "linux viruses" which are actually worms that attack some particular PHP application. PHP-Nuke and Squirrel Mail and phpBB have had worms. They do their work with the files the PHP application is able to write. They get around by searching for the same version of the same program on other hosts.

In normal use, a Linux workstation isn't running a Web server. So those PHP worms can't touch it.

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Members Question Of The Week
by Stu Lewis / February 8, 2007 9:24 PM PST

The answer regarding using Linux recommended going to the Knoppix site and getting the CD.

Not sure how to do this since the site is written in German. The Links were even German. I would like to get the CD.


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Knoppix Site Info
by shleebo / February 8, 2007 10:37 PM PST

If you use the link shown in Cameron's answer,, you can click the little flag that is half of a US flag and half of a UK flag on the upper left side of the web site for the English translation. In addition, you can also go to this link, It's in English and provides additional information on Knoppix - documentation, books, forum, etc.

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by wolf1930 / February 9, 2007 7:18 AM PST

If Stu Lewis would like an english copy of the latest version of Knoppix as provided in the latest issue of Linux Format, I would be happy to send him one.
Stan Lawson

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Which Linux & Should one?
by Wederik / February 8, 2007 9:39 PM PST

I have been at Linux for 9 months now and try every Free
Distro I get inside Linux Magazine, Linux Format (UK) and
local magazines.

I run 4 distro's in a home network. SuSe10.2, Fedora C6,
Xbuntu and Debian Sarge.

For anyone coming from WinXP I would recommend Webmin 1.320.

Aslo look at Clyde Boom's I learn Linux.'s RHEL CD's
and Evi Nemeth et al System Administration 2e & Roderick
Smith's books on LPI Certification.

Linux is fun if you can get the big picture. For that you need
Webmin. (Ubuntu users a tip: First install Lib-SSleay-Perl then the tarball).

Good Luck
W den Dulk
Alphen aan den RIjn
The Netherlands

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Linspire, hands down.
by Nargg / February 8, 2007 9:54 PM PST

If you are a Windows user, definately try Linspire. It's much more "windows like" in usability and layout. They have a Freespire version with a live CD so it's as easy to try as any of the others. If serious though, I'd also fully recommend the purchased version of Linspire. Free is nice, but it only takes you so far if you are not an uber geek like most Linux pushers. I mostly like Linspire because I find the CNR software distribution method much easier than the other Linux types. I've also found Linspire/Freespire's hardware compatibility much higher than other distros. Especially for laptops.

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you could do all of the above OR....
by EquiPro1 / February 8, 2007 10:11 PM PST could just buy a new Mac. The Mac OS (Tiger and above) is build on Unix and is incredibly stable. From what I have been able to read so far, it is almost as if Vista was yet another attempt by MS to catch up to Mac.

I have always used PC. I finally got sick of dealing with all of the problems, from viruses to software loops to disk failure. Last Dec, I purchased a brand new iMac. I have kept my PC (I am writing this on it as we speak), but am slowly switching over to Mac. I hope to have the iMac as my primary system by the end of the year. So far, it seems to take care of every complaint that I have had with my PCs over the years.

So, don't make things so complicated. Go buy a brand new iMac, give yourself some time to switch over, and leave it at that!

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Mac... why not?
by runlevel0 / February 9, 2007 4:36 AM PST

LOL, I was just thinking the same...

OK, Linux is a cheaper option, but if you need to get a new machine anyway I would at least give Mac a try.

I love Linux, I have been using it from 1995, but I am more a Free Software advocate, moderate, as I don?t say no to Windows XP either, it?s just that if I have to choose I would opt for the Free/Libre application first.

In Mac you have just this, the best of both worlds: All the bells and whistles of a real nice desktop system, where you can actually feel that there was a whole crowd of real smart people dedicated exclusively to design a desktop that is not just "easy" or "friendly" but ergonomic and... you can open up a terminal and take a look at the beast within: The *BSD based core of Mac OS X with all these things that makes a geek feel like at home. You can of course happily ignore the geeky part and just work, play and enjoy using the graphical environment...

You can even install Linux if you want Wink

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You're forgetting about one thing...
by froasier / February 9, 2007 12:27 PM PST

New Mac: $599 to $4,000 or more
Linux: Free or less than $50

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throwing money at the problem
by clsgis / February 11, 2007 3:00 AM PST

The advice to "just get a mac" is valid, for people willing to spend the money and retire the computers they have now. The advice to install MS-Windows on it, in my opinion, is mistaken. If you run MS-Windows on your macintosh hardware, you defeat all the security you bought the mac for. Malware on MS-Windows has complete control over the unix system sleeping on the other partition, should it know enough to look for it.

A customer of mine bought an iMac when Mac OS X came out. It never occurred to her to reboot it; she just suspended and resumed for six years, and never did any OS updates. When she asked me to bring it up to date, I ran file system check and found one inconsistency, which the BSD fsck(8) that came with the OS repaired automatically. Six years uptime. That's a great OS.

I wouldn't recommend repeating the stunt. All operating systems have bugs and need updates to fix them.

Incidently, she wanted the system updated because Microsoft had abandoned its support of the Internet Explorer that came with it, and no other graphical web browsers were available for Mac OS 10.0. One of the advantages of free and open source software is the really popular titles are never abandoned.

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by Robocoastie / February 8, 2007 10:19 PM PST

As a long time *nix user (I started with Slackware 7, not any of the easy set-it up for you distros) I agree with some of the others here. Linux is something to "ease" into. Fortunately that "ease" is much easier today thanks to ubuntu and its derivatives (SimplyMepis, and now Linspire). As others have pointed out Vista is basically a very expensive service pack when you take away Aero as you'll likely have to do on a laptop.

That said though, Linux doesn't always play nice on laptops either IF you want the 3d features of your video chip. Hibernate and suspend still don't work on most laptops that have the proprietary 3d driver running. YMMV. To be fair here though many laptop video card chips (such as the NVidia FX Go 5200) don't have Vista drivers either and you'll be stuck with the XP ones and no Aero interface. So now that Windows has caught up with Linux, and BSD/MacOS it is no longer immune to having to make sacrifices to have cool desktop effects.

If you do make the jump to *nix, I'm not a fan of dual booting because you'll find yourself relying on your Windows partition too much instead of learning Linux. Consider a virtual machine like Win4Lin, or Parallels to use if you have some Windows apps that you just can't live without (like iTunes). While I'm a fan of Ubuntu and it's derivites Suse is also an excellent business one you may want to consider, try the free trial version of SLED 10.1, your system's hibernate, suspend & 3d might actually work with it.

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After a Year on Linux
by capt36 / February 9, 2007 5:32 AM PST
In reply to: gradual

I've been moving to Linux over the last year, having used Win2000Pro and refusing to pay for XP.
I wish I could say it was an easy switch, but it has been trying. Not impossible, just trying.
We currently use CentOS, and I like it. In today's world, the progress of development on most distro's has made most of them straight-forward and Win-like in install and ops.
The remaining problem, and it is greatly significant, is the availability of usable documentation. When I have had a question, it has been nearly impossible to quickly find a solution. I know, all the old hands at Linux tout how well they work together as a community. To be honest, they do. But for the most part, none of them have demonstrated a very good grasp on the English language; and end up providing sentences that can be interpreted umpteen different ways. This usually causes more confusion than solutions. I know I'm going to get a flood of anger with that statement, but the truth is the truth. I've spent many a night toiling through scenario work-through after scenario work-through simply trying to find an option that matches the directions I was given by a well-intended but grammatically-handicapped Linux veteran.
I know why it's happening: Every developer wants to get their work-product out into the wild, but doesn't want to spend the time on docs. What they don't understand is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. I would bet a lunch that had they simply taken the time over the years to work on the documentations, Linux would today have an implementation equal to Windows.

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Documentation + Linux = Windows?
by btberlin / February 9, 2007 6:14 AM PST
In reply to: After a Year on Linux

The lack of documentation alone does not account for the problems people have with Linux. It's so much more. Getting audio to work is difficult. Streaming video is a challenge. This is not a documentation issue. Remember that Linux's origins were not commercial, but academic - it was not originally intended to meet the needs of the average PC user, and for most of its life, it hasn't done so. OTOH, for a work environment it offers a lot - and IT people deploying it for company use either as workstations or servers, have a network of friends and users who have figured out how stuff works - documentation is secondary to its virtues - stability, usefulness, freedom from attack, and providing tools such as file services and web services. AS I recall, the original "business model" for Linux was - the software is free - but support costs money. For windows it seems to be "the software is expensive, and support and maintenance is even more expensive." A few more Linux manuals wouldn't make the two equal.

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You're entitled to your opinion
by capt36 / February 9, 2007 11:53 AM PST

But it appears you are arguing for both sides of the issue.
In addition, we are talking about 'now', not back when it all began. Lacking documentation is a separate subject from what you brought to the discussion. I prefer to keep a topic on-topic, not add other subjects and attempt to dilute a discussion.
Documentation + Linux certainly has nothing to do with windows. I don't see the link.
I suggest Documentation + Linux = A Great Solution; one that, as I stated, could possibly move more people to Linux than would stay on Windows.
How about one topic per conversation? (Has something to do with composition, another part of the English language.)

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Richard is right, it's a real problem
by clsgis / February 9, 2007 6:23 AM PST
In reply to: After a Year on Linux

Thank you Richard. It's true. Most free software documentation is obsolete, missing, or just really obscure. IMO it's been *the biggest* impediment to the free software movement. Few programmers enjoy writing. Many of them just don't have the skill, even in their first language. And nobody else has the information to write it for them. It's much more fun to just add features than to write them up. When there's a great reference manual, there's often no tutorial introduction for users unfamiliar with the product, and the product is too complex to pick it up from the reference.

There are exceptions. The manuals for Apache, PostgreSQL, and some of the other flagship products are awesome. Most of the GNU (Free Software Foundation) products are very well documented.

But there are large areas where the documentation just isn't there at all. Sound is still a *mess*, after all this time. The wireless documentation I see the experts sending the newbies to *predates 802.11a/b/g*. Most of the HOWTOs in the Linux Documentation Project are abandoned and obsolete, and you'll do better just developing your skill at composing search patterns for Google. This problem is so bad that the volunteers who answer questions in those famous forums (I'm in debian-users) are overwhelmed and most newbie questions go unanswered.

I've often said a gazillionaire who wants to give free software a push would to best to spend his money hiring technical writers and software quality assurance people to contribute to existing projects, not starting a new distro. Do you hear me Mark Shuttleworth? Where are you Larry Ellison?

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Linux distros
by wolf1930 / February 10, 2007 10:12 AM PST

Are you an expert on Linux?
Obsolete?, you must be joking, or were you reffering to MS?
If you have not used Linux for a reasonable time, do not show your ignorance by rubbishing the OS!.
Vista has taking so long to appear it is obsolete already!.
Linux has a dedicated band of developers worldwide and does not depend on highly paid individuals to produce an operating system that requires continuous fixes!.
Linux distros are upgraded at frequent intervals, not because they have problems, but to keep up with the latest technologies.
Why has it taken FIVE YEARS to produce Vista?.

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Yes, obsolete
by capt36 / February 11, 2007 12:15 AM PST
In reply to: Linux distros

Why is it when a forum like this comes along, requesting objective comments, pro and con, as soon as someone makes a comment about an inadequacy or shortcoming (which is what the forum is half about), people start jumping all over the commentor?
Nothing is perfect in this world. To find out shortcomings is to find improvements. Yet, invariably we get 'argumentative' types like the one I'm responding to.

Yes, the person you are jumping all over is right! Many of the OS' and apps are obsolete. More accurately, they never were current becuase no one finished the docs.

Take your pick; they are all that way! Yesterday alone I was trying to get some answers on a php-based form generator. I spent hours on sourceforge trying to find an app that I could find that would meet certain needs. Didn't happen. I gave up after three hours. There were apps with no docs, no help sections, and forums last posted to in 2004. Even when I went to the website for each app, no help.

Back to the last commentor: By posting our comments we are not "rubbishing" anything. (BTW, "rubbish" is a noun, not a verb; you can't "rubbish" anything.) What we are doing is bringing up points that need attention. In doing so, those who contribute code to the distros (which not all of us have those skills and talents) will become aware of what we, the users, find; and they can then review our input and decide if they can and want to improve their work in those areas.

But instead of a civil discussion, you come in, slaming other's comments and contributions. You aren't understanding that a huge percentage of us LEFT MS products and MOVED TO LINUX out of choice. WE ACTUALLY LIKE IT!!! We are not slamming it. We are pointing out areas we find improvable; which is not unlike posting bugfixes.

So quit being so short-sighted and stay on topic.

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left MSFT and moved to Linux?
by clsgis / February 17, 2007 5:08 AM PST
In reply to: Yes, obsolete

Not all of us. I got started on Exec8, VMS, a little RT/11, and CP/M. I used various commercial unixes through the 1980s and '90s. Ran SCO on my home PC until Linux came along and immediately blew SCO's doors off. Now and then some workplace situation called for using or troubleshooting some MSFT product. But for the most part I've been using computers since 1972 and Microsoft-free the whole time.

Unix isn't just a kernel or a set of utilities. It's a culture and a philosophy. It's about freedom and self determination, in all the ways the MSFT thing is about regimentation and elite control. "The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom..." That's why its primary user interface is a programming language: programming them is how users control computers, and it never occurred to unix' authors that any computer user wouldn't want control over her situation.

But that means it's not for everyone. Most people don't *want* freedom. They trade it for comfort and convenience every chance they get. They don't mind monopolies, they even invent ideologies which deny that monopolies occur naturally in the marketplace. They're the people who are glad they took the blue pill. I'm not interested in offering those people freedom they don't want. There's no more point in that than in explaining the Chomsky-Herman Propaganda Model to people who get all their news from Fox and Clearchannel. I only offer the red pill to people who really don't like what the blue one does.

(Missed the literary reference? Dave explains.

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don't oversell it, obsolete DOCUMENTATION
by clsgis / February 11, 2007 3:54 AM PST
In reply to: Linux distros

"Are you an expert on Linux? If you have not used Linux for a reasonable time, do not show your ignorance by rubbishing the OS!."

You be the judge. I've been using no OS except Linux at home since '93. Linux has been my principal OS at work since '95. (I also used ARIX, CTIX, HP-UX and Solaris.) I wrote the original Linux Loader tutorial in 1993 (Lilo Mini-HOWTO) because it's not *reasonable* to ask newcomers to use the sixty page Lilo reference manual. The first (Linux) kernel I compiled was 0.12. I patched bugs in the early 3c509.c driver and my code is still in the kernel today. I've introduced dozens of people to Linux and other FLOSS and given away hundreds of copies of Knoppix and Ubuntu. I've installed and experimented with at least twenty distros: Softlanding through Kbuntu. I built a customized Knoppix in 2004. I've been using Openoffice since it was Staroffice and Applixware before that. I still prefer LaTeX for complex documents. I debug my friends' CGI programs. Am I an expert?

"Obsolete?, you must be joking,"

Perhaps you misread what I wrote. Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is usually near the state of the art. My favorite example is PostgreSQL. It's always been the leading edge of its field, *and* rock-solid *and* the documentation is excellent. It's only competition is Oracle; all the rest are pale imitations. The same can be said of Apache.

Type "about:config" into the address bar on Firefox or Seamonkey. Now tell me where I can find all of those features documented. Firefox and Seamonkey on Linux have memory leaks and eventually crash. Sometimes they leave a lockfile behind, which the user must remove before the browser can be started properly. Where is that lockfile documented? How is she to know that's the problem?

Tell me how a newcomer is supposed to figure out how to get Openoffice's ODBC running, or offer volume and printer shares on his office LAN with SAMBA, or get Skype and Real Player working simultaneously on GNOME or KDE or XFCE. (Or even get sound working well enough for Skype by itself.) Or connect his laptop to a WPA-encrypted hotspot. Those are all things computer users expect to "just work" these days, and they don't, and the *obviously available* documentation does not help. Yes it's documented. No the documentation is not usable by newcomers.

Randomly pick any ten HOWTOs at When were they last updated? How many have been abandoned? If TLDP itself is obsolete, what's its replacement? Don't tell me "Google"; that's the same as saying "I don't know."

The software's the best. The documentation needs a lot of work.

"were you reffering to MS?"

No. I don't use MSFT products except when someone asks me to fix them.

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Thank you!
by capt36 / February 12, 2007 1:54 AM PST

Thank you for assurance it's not just me.
Now on to a solution:
How do we get the docs written?
No disrespect intended, but developers are not necessarily the right people to write a how-to; and I think that's what needs to be done.

I would think we first (for any given app), we need to discover the outstanding problems. Is there a way we can poll all the discussion groups for the current version of any given app, for the most common problems, and do so efficiently?

That would give us a lead on content.
I see no reason we can't provide writing communities, similar to dev communities.

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how to get better docs
by clsgis / February 14, 2007 1:31 PM PST
In reply to: Thank you!

"Is there a way we can poll all the discussion groups for the current version of any given app, for the most common problems, and do so efficiently?"

You'd want to discover the *chronic* problems. These are revealed by recurring fuzzy problem statements. For many years it was *too* hard to generate a config file for XFree86. Newcomers to Linux more and more often were unable to use "the command line", and when X didn't work they were stuck. The complaint was "only geeks can use Linux."

"How do we get the docs written?"

When there's no volunteer, you have to hire someone. Maybe we need some grants writers first.

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Getting Writers
by capt36 / February 15, 2007 5:54 AM PST
In reply to: how to get better docs

Just thinking aloud, I think you want to follow the same model of the distros. That is the code is free but the support is fee-based.
Let's say that's the way to go. The writers would need to get a share of the cashflow from the services; since that is what the docs provide.
That would be near-impossible to do. What would NOT be difficult to do is for a writer who moderately understands a distro or an application, team up with a true god-like Lord of the Empire Technical Geek (I mean that lovingly), and the two do a book. That way they get compensated for theire time and effort. The writer does his/her part, the guru does her/his part. If they need the publishing thing handled, they can come to me. Marketing, (the most important part actually) could be done within the existing boards, chats, forums, communities, et al.
I think that could very well work.
Obvioulsy, we need a team for each distro or app; and they would have to commit to staying with it for a few revs. When they are ready to move on, they find their replacements.
Again, just thinking aloud.

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That's how it's always been done
by clsgis / February 22, 2007 3:31 AM PST
In reply to: Getting Writers

"What would NOT be difficult to do is for a writer who moderately understands a distro or an application, team up with a true god-like Lord of the Empire Technical Geek (I mean that lovingly), and the two do a book."

I've had to buy the book for most of the major FOSS applications I use. Metafont, TeX, LaTeX (three books), UUCP, Qmail, Postfix, PostgreSQL, Perl (three editions), BIND (three editions), Apache, Netfilter (three network security titles). I'll probably by an book. There are just too many things I haven't figured out how to make OOo do. (Current hangs, how to I adjust line spacing within and between paragraphs? How do I export a .DOC file without destroying the layout/formatting I used frames for? How do I get bullet lists to indent items properly?) All of these titles come out of some kind of collaboration between professional technical writers and the developers on the project. That's because I've learned (the hard way) to avoid the junk books cranked out by hack writers in a weekend. The right book will often have one of the developers as a co-author, or a preface or introduction by one of the developers. It's usually the O'Reilly Associates title, but No Starch Press and Apress are coming on strong. The Metafont-TeX-LaTeX books are on Addison-Wesley.

Unfortunately, the distributions are too big and move too fast for this kind of treatment to work very well. The books I've been happiest can be used first as a tutorial and later as a reference. They can do it because they are only treating one topic. Should a book about a distribution go into detail about how to set up one of its packages, say Postfix? Where should it stop and send you to the Postfix book? This is the problem the Linux Documentation Project HOWTO documents were supposed to address. Unfortunately TLDP chose a single-source authoring format (Docbook SGML) whose tools were so difficult to get working and learn that most of the authors bailed rather than adopt it.

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