Migrating from Windows to Linux: Full Linux Install, Dual Boot or Test CD?

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Why do You Want to Migrate to Linux?

This is an important question that you should be asking yourself in order to avoid future disappointment. Is it the stability that you want? Or is it the security? Maybe checking out the latest hype? Trying something new?

If you want to change from Windows to Linux completely, think about all these. If you are really fed up with the shortcomings of Windows, then read on. If you just want to experiment a little bit or find out if it is some kind of hype, then I suggest you to download Knoppix and run it from your CD/DVD. If you are happy and want to go on, then you can go for a hard-disk install.

If you are stuck with some Windows-only programs or if you are a real gamer, think twice about a complete migration. Maybe it will be better to stay with Windows.

WUBI: An Intermediate Solution

WUBI is a nice program developed by the Ubuntu community. It allows you to run Ubuntu Linux from your computer. WUBI does not change the partitions on your hard disk, require you to run a different bootloader, or install any special drivers. It runs as a regular program that is inside Windows and gives you the option to boot into Ubuntu during boot time. Almost all the files are kept in one big folder, so if you are not happy with Linux, you can simply “uninstall” it. I especially wanted to tell you about WUBI since it is somewhere between running from CD/DVD and a complete, dedicated install.

A couple of notes about WUBI:

  • You can download the WUBI installer from the Internet, which is about 10 Megabytes. When run, it then downloads all the installation files (700 MB!). As an alternative, I suggest that you download the latest Ubuntu release, burn it to a CD and then pop it to your CD/DVD drive while Windows is running. (WUBI has been included on the Ubuntu Live CD since version 8.04).
  • Although the performance of WUBI is remarkably high, it is not the same as the dedicated install. When you install Ubuntu (or any other distribution for that matter) on the same hardware, your performance will be better.
  • Before going with the WUBI installation, run your tuning and defragmentation programs. If your Windows disks are too fragmented, WUBI will run significantly slower. [Ed. For optimum defragmentation and smart file placement in Windows, Bright Hub recommends Perfect Disk by Raxco Software.]

Leaving the Past Behind

Before leaving everything behind and deciding to change from Windows to Linux, make sure that:

  • You are psychologically ready to migrate. Don’t laugh - this is very important - as I’ll explain.
  • You are ready to explore, ready to read a lot of stuff, learn, tweak, and command your computer. Windows commands you; you command Linux.
  • You have searched and found every program that is the counterpart to the Windows applications that you’ve used. This is to ensure that you have a minimal warm-up period. For Office, it is fine to go with OpenOffice.org, for e-mail, calendar and task management, you can prefer Evolution, Kontact or Thunderbird with Sunbird. I recommend you to check out the table of equivalents/replacements/analogs of Windows software in Linux. If what you are doing is basic things such as office, calendar and tasks, e-mail, photo editing and the like, you can safely make the switch.
  • You have checked out your hardware and ensured that what you have at hand is compatible with Linux and/or drivers are available. You can go to your preferred search engine and search for your hardware + Linux to see if it is compatible or if you can get it working with some tweaks. Your keyboard, mouse, main board, processor, hard disk -the basics- will be compatible but your latest webcam/scanner/all-in-one photo printer might not be. Know what will you face in advance and make sure that you are not missing something.

Cut That Line!

Download and burn your preferred Linux distribution to a CD/DVD and verify the burning process. For the newcomers, I will recommend Linux Mint, Ubuntu or openSuSE distributions. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu so almost all of the information that you see on the Internet about Ubuntu can be applied to Linux Mint. Mint comes with all the audio and video codecs ready to use. In Ubuntu and openSuSE these codecs can easily be installed, so this won’t be a fundamental decision point.

Put the CD/DVD into your drive, go to your BIOS and select CD/DVD as the first boot device, sit back and follow the instructions to install.

The Long Road Lies Ahead…

Burn the bridge behind you and leave no retreat. Dedicate all of your hard disk to the Linux distribution and be ready to explore. Remember that I asked you if you are psychologically ready to migrate? The Linux way will be a little different for you at first. Linux is not difficult, but changing habits is. Even the new mouse pointer will be something to get used to at first. Don’t stop, don’t think about going back to the warm, engulfing, smothering folds of Windows XP or Vista. Using Linux, as I always say, is like climbing an icy mountain. You can always slip and fall and try and try again. When you reach the top, there is no turning back.