What’s easier? To completely move to a FOSS-compliant OS immediately, or to start the transition to FOSS world by using their apps on Windows? Sam Rawlins investigates.You may want to try the computer buzzword of the decade, Linux, for yourself, but you may not feel ready to try and back up your computer, abandon your $200 copy of Windows, and throw on the wild and unfamiliar Linux. One could compare this to changing cars from an automatic transmission to a stick shift without learning how to drive a stick shift. That can be scary. There are other, less potentially-catastophic alternatives to changing your operating system.
People are looking to move from the “bad” Microsoft and expensive software. For the average user, however, changing their operating system from the ever-popular and comfortable Windows to something that appears Greek is quite daunting. This is a much bigger step than changing office suites from Corel to Office. And for many people, they would be the first person they know to use Linux; not a lot of personal support. The alternatives that I have been trying are: Open Source. And I’ve never been happier.
Linux thrives off of Open-Source. So many of its best programs are Open-Source. Many of these programs, because of this, are available for both Linux and Windows platforms. Learning these applications before migrating to Linux can help the transition a lot. It gives Linux a more comfortable feeling when you recognize the programs and their layouts. My favorite Open-Source programs, the ones I am about to describe are: OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, gaim, 7-Zip, and PDFCreator.
When my computer was being eaten alive by a virus, i needed to reboot the whole thing with a new operating system. I chose Windows, for my family’s sake, and it loads like a charm. One thing that got lost in translation, however, was the très cher Microsoft Office. This was scary. You often don’t realize how great this suite is compared to say… Notepad. But I really didn’t feel like buying it all over again, so I found an amazing alternative: OpenOffice.org. There are very, very, very few differences, besides the key one that OpenOffice.org is free. The suites are almost identical, except for some details like the lack of the annoying paper clip in OpenOffice.org, and the ability to save a document as an Adobe Acrobat file (how incredible!). By the way, OpenOffice.org is very widely used in Linux these days, next to StarOffice, making it a good program to use in transition to Linux. Often it is the little things that make us uncomfortable in new environments, like the how the buttons look different in a program than in another. The toolbars and functions are slightly rearranged from Word. Getting used to these things before transitioning to Linux cand be very helpful.
Next came the browser. I was checking OSNews.com daily (and still do) around the time that Mozilla 1.0 came out. It made huge news, so I decided to try it. It is free, amazing, and so much better than Internet Explorer. There are several articles on OSNews.com and MozillaZine.org that praise Mozilla (which is actually a browser, mail manager, and newsgroup manager suite), and its stand-alone browser, Mozilla FireFox. The biggest features for me are the tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking. This program is also storming Linux systems with its beauty. This is one reason it is a good transition program: it definitely has a different look at feel from Internet Explorer’s. Surfing the Internet in this baby on Linux after you have surfed the Internet with Mozilla on Windows will be a comfortable, smooth transition.
There are other, smaller Open-Source programs in which I have been indulging, partly for the price tags, and partly for the fact that they are often simply better. One such program is gaim, an amazing alternative to AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, and IRC, all at the same time. I love it. Also is 7-Zip, an alternative to WinZip. WinZip just bugged me because it asked me to register every time it opened, and the website was ugly and never updated. Open-Source websites always feel more… comfortable. Anyways, 7-Zip can compress in its own format, with a better compression ratio than WinZip or WinRAR, but can also compress in those formats as well as others. And the last of my favorite Open-Source programs is PDFCreator, a brilliant idea for a program. Once installed, this program acts as a printer. In any program that prints using Windows printers, you can print to a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) file for a very professional look. I love this program.
The use of these programs before changing operating systems will certainly help the transition to Linux. After you have gotten used to interfaces other than those of Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word, getting used to a new operating system will not be as mind-blowing. Another suggestion for getting used to Linux is to try the new LIVE CDs that certain distrobutions are coming out with. These are operating systems that can be run from the CD, so you don’t need to remove Windows. They are purely for trial purposes, since you are certainly limited by the read-only functions of the CD.
The way that I actually migrated to Linux was more of a “flinging myself head first into Linux’s stomach.” I kept my current computer, but for just $200 and a donated monitor, I bought a Walmart Microtel computer with Lindows 1.0. Lindows wasn’t the same system it is today, and I ditched it pretty quickly for a purchased version of SuSE Linux 8.0, then a burned copy of Gentoo Linux. Gentoo was my favorite, but with any of them, I generally just messed around and played with my new toys. The Windows computer was still my primary computer. This is a pretty safe (though expensive) way to try Linux also. Any way you do it, a test run of Linux or Open-Source Software is a great way to transition into a new operating system.