I know this has been covered at length, but none of the reviews that I’ve read thus far were terribly helpful to me. I’ve written my own page, based on my own experiences, with specific recommendations for longtime Windows users who are contemplating the switch to Linux.
Switching From Windows to Linux
2003-06-17 Linux 39 Comments
Enough with the desktop computers. Could somebody please write up an article about servers for a while. For example, a good topic to tackle, would be “Migrating from Windows NT/2000 to a Linux powered Samba Domain Controller(s)”. Giving real hints, what should administrator think before doing so, which is the most compatitible hardware and maybe even suggest a distribution and so forth.
Sit down and write it. We will publish it, I promise.
The fact that there are so many desktop articles is because there are more desktop-oriented people than server-oriented ones. You can’t beat the masses.
Well, it’s an interesting read, that’s for sure. At least it’s in depth, and the guy is frank about his opinions. Unfortunately it advertises Mandrake too heavily. This guy is clearly strongly biased towards KDE. That’s fine, but the reasons given seem a bit vague. No context sensitive help in GNOME? I must be imagining all these Help buttons then.
Maybe he means the little ? mark tool, that has piss poor usability because nobody ever fully documents their dialogs so most of the time, you get useless or duplicated tooltips. But whatever.
I personally would start any Linux newbie with Red Hat. The latest version is solid (if you ignore this doglike disk scheduler that appears to hit some people). Gnome 2.2 is a quality desktop, with things layed out in an intuitive fashion.
The idea that a free software purist would “scold” KDE users is, well, I don’t know where he got that idea from. Stallman is just fine with KDE, in fact he’s used it with no problems whatsoever. I’ve become somewhat of a hardliner lately (not to the extent of stallman though), and I don’t care whether people use KDE or not. This guy is basically smearing those who advocate free-as-in-licensing software. It makes me unhappy, as I’m sure I’d be classified in that category. The rather derogatory tone makes it sound like this guy, despite protests to the contrary in the opening paragraphs, he just likes being given free stuff and has no understanding of how it really started (the fact that he thinks it started due to a bunch of friends swapping patches shows this fact up).
The ridiculous part is “KDE is the best and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”. I know several newbies (well, have encountered) in the past couple of months alone who expressly stated a preference for gnome, having tried both gnome and kde. So, to paint it as black and white is misleading. They are so easy to try, might as well play with both.
He also talks about naming. Interestingly, this is not a problem on Red Hat, because they name the menu entries after what the programs do. In his haste to trash the most popular distro out there, he appears to have overlooked this fact. It’s also somewhat contradictory, as earlier he said having large menus with lots of duplication wasn’t a problem.
Judging popularity by ratings on CNET, as opposed to user base, seems a tad silly also.
The rest seems solid enough advice.
I don’t understand the difference … if you were to take an existing Javs application writing using Swing, then compiled and ran it on java 1.4.1 would it run using Native Widget set?
see: http://java.sun.com/jfc for screen shots
to see what I am talking about.
OK, I’ll write up that article, because I’m making a “Ditch” campaign at our lab in the following weeks anyways.
The whole thing should be ready by the end of July. Just because I want to do enough background research and not just to stick my finger in the fan. And of course, because I want to enjoy the quite short summer we have here in Finland, although now the days are almost “infinite” bacause it’s the midsummer
Obviously the author hasn’t seen Ximian’s XDE2 or the Vera Bitstream Fonts under GNOME…
…he started out on a Timex/Sinclair 1000, just like me! 🙂 (Well, actually mine was an “original” ZX81 – and I did play around with a TRS-80 Model III beforehand, but the Sinclair was MINE!!)
He is using Mandrake, the most buggy distro out of here ! He is not even capable to install a decent distro like Redhat, my mom did it last night.
Man, you are pityful…
>> I don’t understand the difference … if you were to take an existing Javs application writing using Swing, then compiled and ran it on java 1.4.1 would it run using Native Widget set?
Simple. Swing is the graphical components
If you notice http://java.sun.com/jfc you’ll notice that JFC is a collection of various related API’s
Anyway… This is a lot out of topic.
The key word is Switch not Swing…
>> He is using Mandrake, the most buggy distro out of here ! He is not even capable to install a decent distro like Redhat, my mom did it last night.
I agree with you on this.
I’ve used Mandrake some years ago (just for the fun) and was bugs all over the place.
Today i’m using it because i’ve got to used because needed to install Oracle and RH9 doesn’t support it (yet) and my RH8 CD’s where scrached. Have to use the only thing I had at hand (feel free to be sorry about me too because I am).
To be completely fair, Mandrake today (9.1), is not that buggy as it used to be but i’ll stick with RH (as soon as I can do it) as a Server/Desktop solution.
Even so he managed to switch.
He deserves a applause…
How did he manage to install Mandrake and write about and not(!) understand frozen bubble???
See….GNU/Linux is ready for almost everyone 🙂
He mentions that he’s never even used Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Apparently, because he doesn’t agree with product activation (which is only in place to stem piracy, despite what the tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists may spout).
I took this with a grain of salt. Talk about comparing apples and oranges. XP and 98 are _LIGHT YEARS_ different, in every respect.
When i recomend, to Windows users. who ask me about what to use this or that kind of stuff, i general tell them these things.
For a distro: use Redhat or Suse, Redhat would be a little better for the fact more ppl use it. not becuase one is or is not better then the other.
For a desktop enviroment: I have them try BOTH Gnome and KDE, I was a long time Gnome user. And i am NOW a very die hard KDE fan. but i dont want them to use KDE becuase i say so. so i have them try both. and i explain both desktops to them, and that I have put both desktops thru what i call the
I have kids, and I can not have them use Gnome in any fashion. Gnome just dies a horrible death, but they have been on KDE for over 6 months and no problems…….
I also try and explian some good Gnome points, most ppl come to there senses and choose KDE (hehe)
i also give them instructions for using apt4rpm, for installing software. and keeping your system upto date.
at this point, most ppl are pretty happy……
My roommate in college was convinced that the word “weird” is spelled “wierd.” I’ve tried to correct him many times and even showed him the dictionary. To this day, he still spells it with the “i” before the “e.”
I hope this article doesn’t reinforce certain people’s belief that “weird” is spelled “wierd.”
By the way, to those who don’t know, it’s “Redmond” and not “Redmon.”
The author makes a good point by stating that not many people appreciate the hardwork that is put into OSS. Many users moan, complain, and plain out b*tch about OSS. I’m glad to see someone who actually is greatful that developers spend their free time programming, designing, and even documenting their software, instead of spending their time in a more gratifying fashion( IE: women, booze, …. etc ).
Greatful. Happy now?
ps: Feel free to mod me down.
Mr. Aldolf stop trollin’ and get a freakin’ life don’t bash other people.
back to topic, great article which i think covers many important aspect. Although it have been said before it advertises Mandrake too heavily.
Both SuSE and RedHat are excellent I agree.
I think for newbies my suggestions would be the following:
Then install Ximian Red Carpet
Then install Ximian XD2 using Red Carpet
I don’t mean to be advertising for Ximian…but the resultant interface is very intuitive.
“I personally would start any Linux newbie with Red Hat. The latest version is solid (if you ignore this doglike disk scheduler that appears to hit some people). Gnome 2.2 is a quality desktop, with things layed out in an intuitive fashion.”
I thought I might install Red Hat on an old machine I have lying around here, which has 128 Megs of RAM and a 1.25 Gig drive.
No dice. The install script gets totally confused by a drive that size.
So what distro will happily install on an old computer? Ideally, it ought to work well in 64 Megs of RAM. This has real implications for old computers given to schools, shipped out to under developed countries, and so on.
There seems to be a lot of bloat in Linux.
>>So what distro will happily install on an old computer? Ideally, it ought to work well in 64 Megs of RAM. <<
Hmh, Debian certainly can do this, for very old stuff use Potato. But i doubt that you can run KDE or GNOME on such a computer. XFce or one of the *box WMs might do it.
Probably would still install on a 386 with 8 MB of RAM and 40~80 GB drive. But if you want all the latest office suites, a/v ripping software and media players you’ll need a modern computer. You can run all that software on a 486 class system but it will run VERY slowly. Once you use up all available RAM the system will attempt to use your swap space. So once you have X windows and GNOME running as soon as you start OOo in less than 128 MB of RAM you’ll start running apps out of swap space, so your system will only be as fast as your harddrive.
But Linux won’t crash. Even without any swap it’ll continue crunching along, hoping to free up that extra bit of memory to complete the next instruction, etc. Your office suite might appear to freeze when you click on something, but it’ll respond within a few minutes. Give it time.
One of the things us UNIX users learn early on is it doesn’t really matter how fast your CPU is, it only matters if you have enough RAM to run your applications. A 200 Mhz CPU is still very usable today. But 64 MB of RAM is pushing it. I couldn’t imagine trying to run with 8 MB again. I don’t think anything but Linux would work under those conditions, for me.
I recently got my mother to use my debian box to browse the internet instead of win98 (which is on the same computer) and she had no problems with it at all. She was using mozilla and was printing stuff off. She was kinda confused because she thought that Linux would be totally different from windows and un user-friendly.
That said, there’s no way she’d be able to install debian, but she wouldn’t have been able to install win98 either.
Linux with KDE is easier to use, maintain (espeaially with apt) and looks nicer than windows.
Was it such a good idea to slander his great aunt Maude in the first place ?
>> One of the things us UNIX users learn early on is it doesn’t really matter how fast your CPU is, it only matters if you have enough RAM to run your applications. A 200 Mhz CPU is still very usable today. But 64 MB of RAM is pushing it. I couldn’t imagine trying to run with 8 MB again. I don’t think anything but Linux would work under those conditions, for me.
My old PIII 500Mhz box used to be slow (but not much) with heavy applications like StarOffice and Mozilla when I used only 64MB of RAM.
I have noticed that it was hitting swap too often (even using WindowMaker) when running those two applications.
So I bought more 500MB. With a total of 570MB of RAM, the system runs more smoothly than the box at work (PIII 933Mhz/256Mb).
I began to work more at home, doing Java/Database programming, with all tiers (Client/Web/Database) in the same machine with no hassle.
For Java only, using an Java based IDE with 128Mb (or less) is a joke both in Windows and Linux as the system gets stalling every minute or so.
IMHO the “bloat” of Linux has to do with two things
– Developer’s prefer to add features instead optimizing programs.
– More libraries and wrappers for similar functions. Windows, for instance, shares a huge program text between programs making them more tiny (although, this is questinable). In this case, the more you add specific modules (dll, ocx, etc) the more is likely that you’re program’s overall performance decays.
– Module isolation, in Linux (an Unix for that matter) modules communicate with each other through well defined interfaces/protocols (think about a X server/client communication or app/kernel interaction). This isolation comes with a cost and that’s why Windows 9x is faster in old machines that Windows 2000/XP.
– Tricky “memory management”. Linux doesn’t play tricks (unless you want to) with Open/StarOffice by preloading it on memory as Windows do with Office and other components, so there’s a “noticeable performance” loss here but it does cache of the programs text so subsequent loads are noticeble faster.
– Scheduler. Windows boosts the application with the foreground Window (if it is interactive) by default (yes, you can chage this) so it seems more responsive. Linux kernel developers are learning from M$ by trying to use a similar scheme for a more enjoying desktop experience…
It is a PIII 500Mhz(512MB RAM+64MB=570MB installed).
Sorry for the confusion.
Rockwell, a lot of people who don’t wear tinfoil hats or steal software dislike product activation. Intuit was forced to remove it from Turbo Tax after sales took a nosedive. Besides, it hasn’t slowed down piracy one bit.
Boy! Don’t ask me if I had a bad day…
if you try and install a FULL distro, with all the trimmings yes you need 2gb+
you CAN get a Linux install, on some very small drives but you
will have to NOT install gnome and KDE, and either run in shell mode or use a *box window manager.
ALL, Linux is really is just the kernel, so there are floppy distros, that run of a floppy. so yes, a 1.25GB drive you CAN install it, you just have to know how.
JUST like a win2k machine….
on a 1.25 drive a win2k install, with all the trimming is more then this….
I really like this article. the writer is honest with the readers, and introduces them to difficulties (while migrating from windows) and advantages, which some don’t know enough about.
yes, mandrake and kde are emphesised, but imho, for a good reason, since newbies need recommendations. the choices will get clearer if they stay in the path. newbies need someone to guide them “use this, don’t do that, expect these”. clear recommendation is VERY important for newbies imho.
bottom line, again, a really good article imho.
First time I’ve ever submitted an article link here, and the responses have been interesting, to say the least. The first impression, upon reading them, is that some of the respondents obviously didn’t read the article. At best, they barely scanned through it, saw where I recommended Mandrake and KDE, and then began firing.
I had to keep the article short; it was too long already. But I still managed to cram a complete section comparing Red Hat 8.0 and Mandrake 9.0, side by side, point by point, explaining WHY I recommended it long-time Windows users who were trying Linux for the first time. Point by point, with specific examples.
For example, the fact that Red Hat 8.0 did NOT automatically mount and make my Windows partition available was a big annoyance. Sure, I know enough now to do it manually after installation. But some poor Windows user who doesn’t know an “ls” from a “hdparm” would be lost. “Where’d my Windows stuff go?!? How do I find it?!?”
If you don’t believe me, hand a Windows user a set of RH Cds and then STAND BACK. Don’t say a WORD to them. See how they make out completely on their own. I have, and there’s no comparison to the results with Mandrake.
Even worse, they’ll probably be burned away from Linux, refusing to try it again in the future. “Aw, I tried it and didn’t like it.”
THAT’S what breaks my heart, because in spite of bugs, the need to tweak and other problems, it’s a GREAT user environment.
I also specifically named several video cards, described which I’d had the least trouble with, etc., etc. I went into quite some detail on the hardware, and warned people that the Hardware lists at the distro Web sites are misleading (and they ARE). That one warning alone could possibly save someone a good bit of grief.
Finally, on the context-sensitive help: I should have said, “context-sensitive, hyperlinked and cross-referenced.” I did say that it should be searchable.
With Windows (even as far back 3.1), you can enter generic terms like “dial up” and get dozens of helpful topics. You can zero in on a topic, then click a hyperlink to go for more info on something else.
Neither KDE or Gnome has anything like this. Sure, there are help buttons, but they basically display pages of TEXT. That’s not really context-sensitive help.
The “?” icon under KDE comes the closest; you get a little tooltip-style box precisely identifying what a particular control does, instead of page covering the entire dialog (and not always doing a very good job of that).
Incidentally, I’ve tried yelp, and it’s a step in the right direction. But there’s still a LOT to be done on the help system for KDE and Gnome. As I get time, I’m gonna put my fingers where my big mouth is, too: I’m going to pitch in and help.
But thanks for the comments, and Eugenia, thanks for posting the link.
Thanks for your excellent article Stephen. Your experience is far beyond mine but some of the particulars are similar. I have run Mandrake 8.1 , 9.0 and 9.1 on my old Dell Demension T600r but I am presently running Red Hat 9.0, which has performed quite well actually–far better than RHL7.3 and 8.0.
Virtually everything else you mention is exactly to the point.
You’re probably right: Linux may not ever appeal to the mainline Windows user, but it can readily perform virtually all the typical functions that most computer users expect. I still dual-boot but RHL9.0 is my default OS–I rarely (if ever) boot into Windows XP anymore.
Good article but the bit about wrapper applications being bad is complete bullshit. Thats the great part about linux and one of the major advantages for me. If I ssh into my computer over a dialup connection I can still do all the tasks I would normally be able to do because almost everything is accessible from the command line. In windows I need a broadband connection and a vnc server to do the same.
Ie, I can control xmms (basically winamp for linux) from the command line. So I can just bind extra keys on my keyboard to simple commands instead of trying to program application hooks or something crazy like you’d have to do in windows.
Same with your cd burning example. If I’m restricted to the command line, I still have the full power of a cdburning program available to me. In windows I couldn’t do anything because the cdburning programs are all GUI only.
“If I’m restricted to the command line, I still have the full power of a cdburning program available to me”
this is a VERY good example for things that linux newbies will NEVER do. we’re in the desktop era. newbies certainly need everything accessible from the desktop.
while i consider cli interface very powerfull, i still prefer doing most of my tasks with a GUI, and for that wrappers are good imho. wrappers are also good for the modularity of the software, where the core application can be more portable more easily and less cluttered than when the gui is embedded.
i’m also the lead developer of a multimedia app, which is a cli app. other contributors have written wrappers gui for it, and the core app itself is very portable, and it shows.
i think that cli+wrappers is a good combo if:
1. such combo does exist.
2. the wrapper is of high quality and the cli app has enough options to be finely controlled from a wrapper.
Tell me why you can’t have BOTH? Just because cdrecord is ported to a native KDE or Gnome application doesn’t mean that the original command line tool is going away, does it? You could still use it.
The problem with wrappers is that, generally speaking, they’re UGLY. They don’t integrate well with the desktop. And like I said in the article, there will be cases where the wrapper just doesn’t quite work right (speaking from experience).
The whole point of open source is that you have the source; right? Why not just take the latest release of cdrecord and simply slot the code into an auto-generated KDevelop or Glade thingie and create a true 100% native app?
The thing that’s so striking to me, and the reason I used cdrecord as a specific example, is that there are so MANY wrappers for it! Why? Do we need more than one?
It’s this kind of “I like the command-line and that’s it” thinking that’s holding Linux back. Hey, I’m an old DOS hacker; I love the command prompt. But there is no reason why you can’t have BOTH. We do under Windoze .. ..
“The problem with wrappers is that, generally speaking, they’re UGLY. They don’t integrate well with the desktop. And like I said in the article, there will be cases where the wrapper just doesn’t quite work right (speaking from experience).”
Sorry i don’t agree with that statement . K3b is very weel integrated into the KDE desktop, actually i would claim K3b is easier than any other Windows applications. But then agian it is just a matter of taste
btw : are they not called “frontends” instead of “wrappers”?? or is it just me??
Superb article, well written, well ordered and good advice (for the most part). It was good that you started with thanks, mostly because newbies often don’t get the idea of where the software comes from. Of course as usual I can’t remember what else I liked about it (there was plenty I assure you!) and can only remember the bad points 😉 here we go:
There’s zealots for Windows, I came across hundreds before I switched to Linux. But the ratio is higher for FOSS systems. A warning will suffice, an attack is a little unfair isn’t it? I don’t think it’s necessary to say things like “bullcrap adobe is just plain better”, I’ve never met a zealot who’d attack me for using adobe over ghostscript, by saying these things you taint people like me who quite like helping out people on forums and on irc. Also people who know no better might think that everyone’s like that.
It is a problem that app names aren’t very appropriate. But accusing the authors of being silly isn’t very nice. Why aren’t they allowed to have some fun? Anyway naming things is hard, it’s much easier to have several words that describe the app and have an acronym, like “big set of image tools” going to BSIT. Appealing to the readers is a good idea though, so I suppose it’s a balance. Of course you’re absolutely right that the names of the programs are often useless.
The help issue is correct, although frankly Google is far better than windows help. apropros is a handy command line tool to discover what command line tools to use to do things incidently.
And in response to the wrapper discussion; wrappers don’t have to be ugly, it depends on who made them, a well designed wrapper will look just as good as a native GUI app. Wrappers are good. It is also not a good idea to take the CLI code and put it in your GUI app as that means you have to update it when the cli app is updated, and since this is the open source world that will happen often. Well written wrappers are not slower, will contain less bugs, and will take less time to write. The only bad point is that sometimes errors will not be shown to the user well. But this can be the case with ANY software not just wrappers. Stephen you owe it to your newbie readers to update that section. Also, CLI apps cannot be compared to DOS apps, DOS apps were bad because DOS had a fraction of the tools a bash/gnu system does, DOS was 16bit, there are more reasons, Mike Hearn’ll know, he’s the man. 😉
The thing that’s so striking to me, and the reason I used cdrecord as a specific example, is that there are so MANY wrappers for it! Why? Do we need more than one?
One minute you say it’s a good thing there is lots of choice and the next you say it’s a bad thing?! Competition is a good thing, and because people write what they want. If I wanted to write a wrapper I wouldn’t care if there was already 10,000. Old argument I know, but it’s old because it’s the answer!
This document could be perfect – in a few revisions. You could do with some more people working on it too, and then it would fit into the linux documentation project just fine (if you wanted to submit it). Sorry this was so long, but I wanted to help out really.
“The thing that’s so striking to me, and the reason I used cdrecord as a specific example, is that there are so MANY wrappers for it! Why? Do we need more than one? ”
That’s nothing to do with wrappers. If all CD writing apps didn’t wrap cdrecord…there’d still be lots of CD writing apps. Heck, there’s lots of CD writing apps in Windows. I don’t see what the fact that they’re all wrappers for cdrecord has to do with the fact that there are lots of them.
Congratulations !! This article is what I should’ve read fourteen installations ago. As a Windows sysadmin / trainer, I came to the same conclusions as you did just last month. I had to go through Suse, Solaris, various iterations of BSD, and TurboLinux to discover that Mandrake provides the most straight-forward transition point from the Windows Desktop to Linux. I now have a machine stricly dedicated to Mandrake, and I find myself using it more and more for daily surfing.
The two most cogent points to make about the transition are the fact that programs have confusing, terse naming conventions (very desktop user unfriendly) and no simple process of installing programs. I want to be able to double-click an icon and have the program install. Everytime a user is forced back to the command prompt, they sit back, and won’t even touch they keyboard, but they look up at me, waiting for instruction on what to do next.
This article makes solid suggestions, and recommendations that Windows transitioners NEED. Thank-you for helping Windows users migrate to Linux….
Thanks again for your excellent article. I should have mentioned in my prior comment about all this presenting a potentially wonderful opportunity for Apple. I have a friend who owns an iMac and they absolutely love it. The main problem for Apple though was covered in an op/ed piece last week in OS News about the new G5 about to be unveiled: Apple needs to announce a new manufacturing process that will enable them to lower the price of their products–not necessarily a new product. With all the obviously dissatisfied Windows users, Apple could easily increase their market share by offering some more competitively priced computers. Imagine the pleasures of dual-booting OSX and Yellow Dog Linux!