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How to migrate from Windows to Linux

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Where's My Favorite Windows App?

If you've read the Linux Home page, then hopefully you can see that Linux offers, for an incredible price even if you buy a version, a lot of valuable features.

As a person who's worked as a computer scientist for most of his career, I can tell you that I see Linux as a superior architecture.

But moving from one operating system to another, even for free, is a daunting challenge. The first thing most users of Windows suffer is loss of their favorite utilities and programs.

So what's one to do?

One good way to start is to get a copy of Linux for Beginners: An Introduction to the Linux Operating System and Command Line, and get started learning Linux. Then, get Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration and see how to move from Windows to Linux.

As it happens, there are a number of other things you can do, depending upon your needs and your existing computer assets. In fact, you may find that you'll be able to make effective use of more than one of the suggestions that follow.



Solution One, Switch To Native Linux Apps

Most of the time you can migrate to native Linux apps to accomplish the functions you used to get out of Windows apps. It takes awhile to find out what they are, but for the most common processes computer users engage in, Linux likely has a highly functional match.

For example, most Windows users make considerable use of Microsoft Office and the wide range of utilities therein.

Linux has many products that fulfill all or most of these functions. What follows is a partial list of the most often used Linux applications that are similar in function to Microsoft Office:

Popular Linux Office Apps

OpenOffice

Complete office suite with word processing, presentation, database, and spreadsheet. Can make Microsoft compatible files, also available for Windows.

Koffice

Complete office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, presenter, flowcharting, and data management. Growing compatibility with Microsoft files. Part of the KDE project.

abiword

GUI word processor with some Microsoft file compatibility. Part of the GNOME project.

gnumeric

GUI spreadsheet with some Microsoft file compatibility. Part of the GNOME project.

Of course, if you're reading this web page, then you are using a browser. Linux definitely has you covered there, with many popular options. Note that this list is from from exhaustive, but lists some of the more popular browsers.

Popular Linux Web Browsers

firefox

Firefox is becoming the most downloaded browser ever. For Licensing reasons, Debian uses the firefox engine by a different name: iceweasel.

epiphany

A firefox lookalike based on the gecko engine, designed for the GNOME project.

konqueror

An integrated file manager and browser designed for the KDE project.

galeon

A capable but lighter duty gecko-based browser for the GNOME project.

opera

A freely available, very standards adherent browser that can be obtained for Linux and Windows.

Another popular software area in Windows is graphics. For that, some use the supplied paint program, others use more aggressive products such as those from adobe or paint shop pro.

Linux has you covered. The following chart shows some of the common graphics utilities available in Linux.


Popular Linux Graphics Apps

xpaint

Easy to use paint program, similar to, but better I think, than Windows paint. Imports and exports virtually every mainstream graphic file format.

gimp

Full featured graphic and rendering program. Allows users to work in graphic layers, can use nearly any mainstream graphic file format. Also freely available, by-the-way, for Windows.

Imagemagick

A package containing many graphic manipulation programs that can work with over 90 major graphic formats, including: convert, identify, composite, montage, display, animate, import, and conjure applications.

Of course, a very popular Windows function is multimedia utilities. Believe it or not, Linux also has respectable support for displaying many of the popular multimedia formats. Sometimes you need to hunt down a codec for a specific file type, but generally that's available.

Popular Linux Multimedia Apps

totem

GNOME-desktop movie player

gxine

A GTK/GNOME GUI front end to the xine video player

mplayer

Another movie player for Linux

xcdroast

A full X-based CD-writer program.

k3b

Another GUI based CD burner.

Note that this list is far from all-inclusive. These are some of the more popular Linux apps for these specific functions. I use the Debian flavor of Linux, the base drawn upon most for many other distributions, including Mepis, Knoppix, Ubuntu, and several others.

This impressive list of office, graphics, and multimedia utilities were all included in my Debian Etch install. All of the browsers except opera were also included in my Debian distribution.

There are thousands of other Linux packages that cover programming, mathematics, and other subjects, some of which are covered in other pages on this site.

But!

What if you just can't get what you need from a native Linux application?

Happily, there are options. These options depend upon your needs, preferences, and computer assets.

If you can an older system:

Consider the old reliable Dual Boot!

One sure way to be certain you can run those Windows applications that you still need is to set up a dual boot system. Linux has a couple of boot loaders that make it easy to support multiple operating systems on a single computer. At boot time, these loaders give the user the option to select any of the installed operating systems.

Each operating system must be installed on a separate partition of a sizable disk drive, or even on different disk drives.

One comment. Since Windows NT, Microsoft has made their operating systems rather unfriendly about being installed in multi-boot systems. The best way to go about the process is to install the Windows derivative first, then add the Linux system later.

The advantage of this approach is that a full Windows OS is running when booted, so all programs will work properly, and Windows will have access to all hardware.

The disadvantage of this approach is the inconvenience of having to exit Linux to boot to Windows, then exit Windows to reboot to Linux.

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How about a virtual machine?

If you have a newer computer, one that runs in the gigahertz and has a gigabyte or more of memory, consider running your Windows in a Linux window with a virtual machine.

There are a number of them around, but two quality ones (freely available) that I'm familiar with are VMware and VirtualBox.

VMware is primarily commercial, but does make a version of their server available for free.

VirtualBox is an open-source virtual machine.

Both of these products are mature and work very well. How do they work?

Virtual machines create an environment within a host operating system where another operating system can run as a guest. The guest sees an apparent hardware environment where the processor itself is actually simulated.

Certainly a simulated processor runs slower than a real one, but on gigahertz machines this is often barely noticeable.

The virtual machine allows the user to specify the amount of disk space and memory is to be available for the guest OS, then a virtual disk space is allocated and the guest OS installed. Other hardware can be selectively made available to the guest, such as Internet connection, USB support, additional disk partitions, etc.

To enter the guest OS, activate the virtual machine and select the guest OS you want to boot (you can have several). Then while in the virtual machine window you are communicating with the guest OS as if you'd booted it in the first place. You can install software, run programs, etc.

You can move from the virtual machine window to be back in the host OS, and re-enter the guest OS window at will.

This can be done either way, with a Windows OS as the host and Linux running in a virtual machine, or with Linux as host and Windows as the guest.

I recommend Linux as the host. Why? Because it is amazingly robust and resilient compared to Windows.

The Advantages of the virtual machine approach is that except for some programs that require certain extensive hardware control, your Windows applications are very likely to run quite nicely. You'll be able to move directly from the virtual machine to Linux applications without re-booting. You can even share the clipboard between the host and guest OS.

You're not limited to a single guest OS. I have 2 versions of Windows and freedos, each in their own virtual machine setup.

The disadvantages of the virtual machine approach are that you must boot the guest OS to use applications in it, and it takes some considerable resource to do that. Also, a virtual machine is definitely slower than a real machine. Finally, some types of hardware connections are not supported. For example, games that require 3D video card support can't currently be ran in virtual machines.

Can you run Windows apps directly in Linux?

The honest answer to that is Maybe.

There is an open-source product (included in Debian and many other Linux versions) called wine.

Wine is a package that consists of many support modules designed to perform the necessary support for Windows applications. Using wine, and user can launch a Windows app directly, like: wine notepad.exe.

There are reportedly thousands of Windows applications that run well in wine. But these are generally the most commonly used applications. If you have, as I do, some tailored Windows applications that talk to a calculator, PDA, or some other apparatus, then in all likelihood your application will not function properly.

Sometimes by messing with wine parameters you can get wine tuned to run a specific application. If you like to do this kind of work, then have at it.

You can check out the wine applications database at winehq to see if the applications you wish to run have been successfully used with wine.

There is a commercial version of wine available at Codeweavers. You'll likely have more luck with this commercial version if you wish to reliably run Windows applications directly in Linux.