How-to switch from Windows to Linux.

Linux

Switching from Windows to Linux can seem a daunting task. Hell switching from any OS to any OS can seem daunting and invoke fear and frustration into anyone. This post is my attempt to minimize both the fear and frustration.

There are several things you will need to do in order to make a smooth transition from Windows to Linux. Many of these steps are equally important and of course importance changes based on individual taste / needs, so the order of steps presented here are simply my recomendation.

Step 1: Choose a Linux Distribution

Linux comes in many flavors because there are very few restrictions with open source software. Most Open Source Licenses allow the creation and distrubution of derivitive works. This is a good thing, but it can be very confusing for those just making the switch. If you are an artist, there are distributions just for artist. If you want to create music, there are distributions just for music creation. If you just want to use your computer as a Personal Video Recorder there are specialized distributions for that as well. One of the most important decisions in choosing a distribution is the default desktop. In Linux the desktop runs as a seperate layer on top of the OS. This means that should the desktop (graphics layer) lockup, you can restart it without rebooting the computer in most situations. This also means that in Linux you can install more than one desktop. But for the sake of simplicity you should choose a distribution that comes with the desktop you want installed by default.

For Windows users I highly recomend the KDE 3.5 desktop. KDE 3.5 is very similar to the Windows Desktop you are familiar with and will greatly reduce the learning curve.The latest version of KDE (KDE4) is still a work in progress and although arguably more asthetically pleasing still has some kinks to get worked out.

Note: Which desktop is the best is a topic of heated debate amongst Linux users.
I am simply recommending the desktop that I think will make the transition from Windows to Linux as simple as possible.
Feel free to try different distros and different desktops. You may find that just because Windows did it this way you in fact prefer something entirely different.

For an up to date list of Linux distributions as well as descriptions and rankings, see: http://distrowatch.com/ On the right hand side towards the bottom of the page you will see a Page Hit Ranking Box which gives a pretty good indication of distro popularity.

Personally for Windows users I recommend the following:

  • Kubuntu (http://www.kubuntu.org)
    Kubuntu is Ubuntu with KDE as the default desktop. Ubuntu is a Debian based disto wich is extremely popular and has very good user forums due to a thriving comunity of users.
  • PC Linux 2007 (http://www.pclinuxos.com)
    PC Linux is a very user friendly Mandriva based distro. PC Linux comes with KDE by default and includes very easy to use custom administration screens. Installing Windows wireless drivers via NDISwrapper is extremely easy in PCLinux2007 unlike most other distros.
    PCLinux also has a very cool feature that allows you to easilly make a custom ISO that includes all of your applications, settings and documents.
  • Fedora (http://fedoraproject.org)
    Fedora is a general purposed RPM(Red Hat Package Manager) based distro.
  • Mandriva (http://www.mandriva.com)
    Mandriva is another good distro that features several tools to ease migration woes such as transfugdrake, a tool designed for easy migration of documents and settings from Microsoft Windows to Mandriva Linux.
Note: For the rest of this Article I am going to Assume you are installing Kubuntu.
I will write similar articles for each Distro as soon as I can find the time.

 

Step 2. Download the ISO

First make sure you download the poper ISO. In most cases you want to get the Live CD ISO and in most cases you will want the i386 version. If you have a 64 bit processor you can download a 64 bit version, but some binaries and applications might not have 64 bit versions such as Adobe Flash and Skype. You can still install 32 bit software in a 64 bit distribution, but in most cases it involves non-trivial hacks such as creating a 32 bit chroot environment so I highly recommend getting the 32 (i386) version. Several distros also have DVD versions which contain more software. All of the software on the DVD version can be downloaded using the CD version so to keep this fast, cheap and simple I reccomend getting the CD version first.
Keep in mind that you can download and try as many version as you want.

 

Step 3. Burn the ISO to CD

After downloading the .iso file to disk you need to burn it to cd.
An ISO contains a CD image, so burning an ISO is different than simply creating a data cd. If you create a data CD containing the .iso file, the CD will only have a single file on it and will not be bootable. Most CD-rom burning applications will load up and do the right thing if you simply double click on the .iso file you downloaded. If your CD burning software doesn't  do this, look for an option that says burn CD image, Burn Disk image, Burn ISO or something to that effect. If you choose the right option, the next step would be to choose the .iso file in which case you selected the right option.
If you do not have a CD burning application, or if your CD burning application does not have the option to burn .iso files,
you can download a free utility here: http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm
Just install the application, and then right click on the .iso file you downloaded and select the new burn image to CD option from the task menu.

Note: You might also consider making a small donation since this free application allows you to try all the Linux distros you want for free,
but you will be able to do that as soon as you have Linux running anyway.

 

Step 4. Insert the CD and Reboot

Yep, if you downloaded a Live CD, then you will be able to boot Linux directly from the CD without even having to install it. This is a great way to test drive a distribution to see if you might want to install it for real.

Note: You will not be able to install or save files while running a live CD. Actually you can, but it involves mounting drives and this is a simple How-To for new users so mounting drives isn't something we want to go into. Plus, you haven't backed up Windows yet so it is probably a bad idea to go messing with the hard disk at this point.

When you install the CD and reboot, you should see an option come up that ask if you want to boot from CD. Usually this says "Hit enter to boot from CD" so hit enter if you see this.
If you do not see any such message and the computer boots back into windows, then you will need to adjust the boot order in your Bios Settings. This can be tricky because all Bios Settings are different.
Just getting into your bios settings can be tricky. On some computers you have to press [delete] while the Bios Loading (The screen that comes up while your computer is booting up) screen is visible. Some times it is [Esc] or [F1] or [F12] or [Delete]. Usually you will see a message appear breifly while the computer is loading that says "Press [?] to enter settings" or "Press [?] to enter Bios" or "Press [?] to enter setup, something to that effect.

Changing the bios settings of a computer is not for the faint of heart. If you mess it up your computer may not boot. You can still get back into bios to fix the problem, and most Bios feature a factury default option so you should be safe. Still if this makes you nervouse you might consider purchasing a computer with linux pre-installed from Dell.com or http://linpc.us.

If editing your Bios settings doesn't make you nervouse then Rock On, you should have been using Linux all along!

Once you are into your Bios Settings you want to find the "Boot Sequence", usually under "Boot Options" and make sure that the CD comes before the Hard Disk.  Some might simply have the option to enable / disable booting from CD, but usually the CD just needs to be the first device in the boot sequence. If the first device is currently you hard disk, remember what disk it is (write it down) because you will need to make that the second boot device. Once you are done save the settings. Usually [F10] for save and exit. And usually you use [Esc] to back out of a screen.

One you have your settings saved reboot and your computer should boot from CD, or give you the "Press enter to Boot from CD" option.

Linux Distros Vary, but most will come up with a menu with an option "Live CD". Do not select install because we aren't ready for that yet.

 

Step 5. Play around

Play around and see if you like it. Did it recognize your graphics card / audio card, etc. Currently you are running from a Live CD, so things will be much slower than they will be once you install Linux so for now you are just having a looksee. Can you find a text editor or Browse the internet? What is the default mail application? What office tools come pre-installed? Do you like the way it looks? Really at this point most of this isn't that important. It is just really nice to be able to boot completely off of a CD without installing anything. The live CD is a good way to see if this distro is for you, and Hey look you are running Linux. That wasn't so bad was it?

Now, from the start menu select Log-Out and then Shut-Down. Eject the CD-Rom and re-boot. Your system will now boot back up into Windows.

So you got your feet wet with Linux, and didn't have to install anything. This is actually a pretty huge deal. If Windows gets currupted and can not boot it will give you the option to revert to the last restore point. If that fails you have to boot of of your Windows Install Media (your computer came with that right?), hit F8 while windows is loading and select the restore option. This will basically give you a command prompt from which you can try to fix the problem. With Linux you can always boot entirely off of the Live CD. Once Linux loads you can mount the hard drive and fix the problem using any of the applications on the Live CD. There are a lot of Windows admins that keep Live Linux CD's handy so they can easily analyze and repair broken Windows installations.

Worst case scenario with Linux when your computer won't boot and you have a report due, just boot the Live CD, mount your drive, finish the report and fix the computer later.
That said, I think it takes me about 5 min to restore my system from backup thanks to the fact that Linux keeps system data and user data on seperate partitions.

 

Step 6. Simple Windows Install Method

If you are sure you want to switch and be rid of Windows ASAP then skip to step 7.
Kubuntu comes with a really simple to use Windows install method. Thi allows you to install Kubuntu just as you would any other Windows application. This method creates a virtual partition (just a specially formatted file) so it does not require partitioning you hard disk. This method is by far the easiest way to install Linux for Windows users, but it comes at a price. A virtual partition requires you to determine the size of the virtual partition ahead of time, and will not perform as fast as a real partition. If you are still on the fence howerver this is a very easy way to get up and running quickly. It will be a little trickier to install Linux for real later, but not much because of the way Linux seperates system, configuration and user data.

The fact that the Linux partition has to be predetermined is not that big a deal because you can still mount and read/write from your Windows partitions.

Just insert the Live CD you made while Windows is running. If you have insert-notification turned on for you Optical Drive you will get a dialog with several options. If this doesn't happen automatically, browse to the CD and click the autorun file. Select Install Kubuntu from the optionas and Kubuntu will install just like a normal windows app. Simply reboot and choose Kubuntu from the boot options. To uninstall, just uninstall it like you would any Windows Application.

Note: There are several other Linux applications that can be installed inside of Windows on your Kubuntu Live CD.

 

Step 7. Install Linux for Real

Before you install Linux for real you should back up your Windows system. There are several ways to install Linux side by side with Windows and most Linux installers will resize your Windows partition and make a new Linux partition without a hitch. Still I highly recommend backing up your Windows system. You will need to backup your boot sector as well, so make a full disk image backup. If you are not sure how to make a full disk-image backup, you might want to consider replacing the existing hardrive with a new one. The advantage to this is that there is no way you can mess up your current Windows drive, but you would not be able to dual boot or access your Windows hard-drive from Linux. Yet another option would be to just install another hard drive, but you will still need to backup your boot sector on your Windows drive and be very carefull that you select the correct drive when installing Linux.

Personally, I am comfortable letting Linux resize my Windows partition and create new Linux partitions using the free space, so if you are feeling really adventurous and don't mind taking the risk this is an option. Just be for-warned that this will update your boot partition. Simply removing the new Linux partitions with a partition tool would leave you with an un-bootble system. You would need to use a partitioning tool that can repair the boot sector to be able to boot into windows after deleting the Linux partitions.

Once you have your hard-drive backed up to either a DVD or external drive you are ready to install.

 

 

More to come soon. Currently the rest of this is  The installation portion has several options and I will try to walk you through all of them.
After installation there are several things we need to set up so you can be productive with your new OS and I will walk you through this as well.
Things like installing Windows codecs, firefox, flash and Open Office.

 

 


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