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Ubuntu is a good operating system, depending on what you are wanting to do with your computer... and there is a way to try it without making any changes to your computer!

Hi, Leo. Can you please advise? I'm thinking of replacing my Windows 7 with Ubuntu Linux? What do you think?

In this excerpt from Answercast #27, I discuss Ubuntu, how it differs from Windows, and a way to try it with no risk.


Well, the short answer is that it really depends on exactly what you do with your computer everyday.

I happen to have both: I use Ubuntu for a couple of things here at home.

  • The important thing to realize is that almost all of the applications that you run under Windows will not run in Ubuntu... period.

There is something called WINE which is the Windows under Linux library. I've used it once or twice; the problem is that it is extremely slow, at least in my experience.

You'll end up looking for applications that have alternative versions that will run under Linux. Many applications don't: anything from Microsoft, you won't find under Linux.

Open source software

On the other hand, there are what are called "open source alternatives." I'll point you to a site called OSALT which is actually for Open Source Alternatives.

What you'll find there are listings of programs, such as Open Office, an equivalent for Microsoft Office, or Libre Office, another version of the same. You'll find various media players, editing programs, and so forth that are available under Ubuntu.

Ubuntu will be a change

Ubuntu works slightly differently than Windows. If you're uncomfortable making the XP to Windows 7 change, you're probably going to be more uncomfortable making the Windows to Linux change.

They are the same, but different. They are similar, but they are not the same. It's really difficult to express in words.

There's been a lot of changes made to the UI as you move from Windows XP to Windows 7. If that's the kind of thing that has you uncomfortable, then I'm pretty certain that the changes you're going to encounter as you move from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux (or any Linux) are going to make you as uncomfortable.

Ubuntu's a great operating system

That being said, if you're up to learning a new user interface, Ubuntu's a great operating system.

  • It is free.
  • It does update regularly.

In fact, I would claim that I get updates more frequently for Ubuntu Linux than I do for Windows itself.

The applications themselves run the range:

  • From being truly and fully supported applications, like you might find on Windows (things like Open Office or Libre Office are well supported and documented.)
  • To the unfortunately common scenario in open source where a program will work most of the time or support might be minimal.

It really varies; it varies a great deal more under Linux than it does under Windows.

Give Ubuntu a try

But, like I said, it's a fine thing to try.

What I would suggest you do to begin with (to understand whether the user interface is going to be something that you care for) is grab a copy of the Ubuntu Linux live CD.

  • It's a CD that you can download and burn.

Then, simply boot from that CD without making any changes to your machine. You can actually run Ubuntu Linux without having done anything to your machine just to see how it feels and find out whether or not it's going to be something you're interested in learning to use.

It will be a little bit slower from the CD, which is fine. You'll at least get a sense for the user interface and for the programs that come installed with Ubuntu Linux by default.

Once you've decided that you want to go for it, then naturally, I'm going to strongly suggest you backup your Windows machine and then install it and see what happens.

Article C5472 - June 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

June 16, 2012 10:07 PM

I haven't used Ubuntu for a while now. The last thing I heard was that it had become a little bloated. Having said that, I keep a couple of bootable Linux Puppy CDs, and I have bootable Linux Mint partitions on both external hard drives. These make excellent data recovery options for situations where Windows has become inoperable. Linux Mint interface is the easiest to adapt to for most Windows users.

Rahul Mehta
June 17, 2012 8:25 AM

I transferred to Ubuntu about 5 years ago and have never looked back. I took the same steps that Leo recommends. Live CD - Dual boot - and then complete transfer.

These steps are necessary to get used to the new system and software. You will find free software for almost everything that you want to do. I use wine very rarely when I want to try out some specific software that does not have a linux version. Functionality wise - I have found everything there in open-source.

My two peeves with Ubuntu is more updates than I care for. The updates mostly affect how we use the system and I hate having to relearn the same thing every six months just because someone decided to change it just so they can come up with a release.

The second peeve is mostly with Linux and not Ubuntu per se. Device drivers for many peripherals may not be available under Linux leaving you with limited choice. Try asking a sales person if the new printer he is excited about works under Linux. You will get a stare of disbelief and a total blank face or a fake answer depending on how experienced the person is.

You can find a work around from the rich Linux community but need some patience and little geekiness to use it effectively.

All in all I am happy with Ubuntu and Linux. And Leo has recommended the perfect graduated path that works.

June 19, 2012 8:28 AM

I like Ubuntu, and run it on a VMware virtual machine. However, Windows 7 is still my mainstay, and will stay that way. I live in MS Office, especially Outlook and Excel. Linux has nothing that will allow you to interact with others who are indepth users of MS Office.

Charles Baumann
June 19, 2012 8:33 AM

I use Zorin 5 on my bedside laptop, put it to sleep at night and awaken it.... fast... Zorin has what I need on all fronts for my nightly surfing, web-mail, office, team-viewering to friends and family, pdf'ing, you-tubing etc etc etc,,,, on and on... highly recommend it.. Dual boot means I retain my orig OS! ZORIN USES UBUNTU AS IT'S CORE OS... Signed, Fixing computers since 1974,,, CDC, Hazeltine, DG, DEC, SUN,and many more..... now an Avaya PBX admin for company that has 45,000 phones....
Chassmann check it out...

Jim de Graff
June 19, 2012 9:19 AM

I run Windows 7. When I want to play with Linux I run it in a virtual machine. I've been tempted on a few occasions to switch to Linux as my main system, however, I keep running into the same brick wall. Whenever I have a question about how to do something in Linux, all of the answers I have been able to find (when I have been able to find them) assume knowledge that I do not have and cannot find. I am a computer professional of more than 35 years. Running a Linux system is like owning an motor boat or a Harley Davidson. Unless you are a mechanic or have access to one, stay away.

And above all else, don't lesnerize.

June 19, 2012 10:01 AM

Linux is FUN,, If your well backed up, or learning on a second used machine (best). The live CD is an option, but you can't give it a good try unless you can play for a while without fear of loosing stuff. The beauty of Ubuntu (Linux) is it will run on used, older systems reasonably well, for learning on.
I have XP, Vista, W7, and Ubuntu machines. I do daily chores on XP, teach/debug students on W7 (only because they buy PCs with 7).
And I play, watch movies, listen to music, write documents, doctor videos, and open suspicious E-mails all on my Ubuntu machine.
Notice I do nothing on my Vista !!!

Ron Marsh
June 19, 2012 11:51 AM

I agree with all the supportive comments on Ubuntu. I have it on an elderly desktop - it's easy to use but I've yet to have success in connecting a printer and scanner. If there's an answer, please let me know!

A Richter
June 19, 2012 12:03 PM

Switching straight to Ubuntu from W7 would not be the best idea for all the reasons mentioned. Having run Ubuntu in parallel with both XP and Vista, I can attest that it keeps improving continuously, and has always been an excellent operating system. So much so that ever since its 10.04 long-term support release, I have been tempted to drop Windows altogether. But there are still some quibbles, the most serious one concerning printer drivers. Even though Ubuntu may (more or less readily) provide one for your printer, it never is on a par with the driver developed for Windows and yielding truly comprehensive control to make full use of the facilities of the printer (invariably, Canon in my case). It is the main reason I have not found the courage to completely abandon Windows.

Kitty Hawk
June 19, 2012 12:34 PM

Try Wubi Ubuntu and it will install Ubuntu just like it was another program inside Windows. When you boot up you will be given a choice which OS you would like to use, Windows or Ubuntu. If you decide you do not like Ubuntu, you can delete it just like you would delete any other program inside Windows.

John H
June 19, 2012 12:35 PM

As soon as I find a usable Linux CAD program, I will switch all my computers over to Linux. I will always keep a legacy Microsoft Windows computer for taking care of loose ends. Just like I keep a legacy XP machine around to operate some old devices.

Gord Campbell
June 19, 2012 12:41 PM

I will second the idea that Linux Mint 13 with Cinnamon will be a much easier transition for Windows users, than Ubuntu. (Mint is based on Ubuntu, but Cinnamon is a more familiar user-interface.)

I have a Brother laser printer on my network, and it took me 20 seconds to install it in Mint or Ubuntu. No fumbling with driver CDs.

If I have an issue, I almost always find the solution through Google. And there's always the Ubuntu Forums. And Full Circle Magazine, which is a free download.

The biggest hassle: if you understand how Partitions work, it's much easier to install Mint or Ubuntu alongside Windows.

June 19, 2012 1:42 PM

I've never liked that your MBR is replaced with Grub when dual booting with Linux.Ubuntu 9.1 let you inside inside of windows which I thought was great.That idea of installing inside of windows has been kicked to the side.I find that unfortunate,it was a great idea for those not sure about doing an install of Ubuntu.Getting rid of Grub isn't easy and many of users have regetted going that route,when they find themseves unable to boot .

Ken Kopke
June 19, 2012 5:40 PM

I put Ubuntu on a memory stick and boot from there. And you can configue it so as to update as desired/necessary.

Swamy Manavalan
June 21, 2012 11:48 PM

Yes. Me too have installed Ubuntu recently along with Windows 7. However I am yet to start using it. In fact, Windows Media player version 7 does not help me to burn DVD disc and store it in my PC. I am advised to try the versions after 10. But I am unable to down load Windows 10 or its later versions. So I will now try for a media player through Ubuntu 9.1 I have.

Gord Campbell
June 22, 2012 11:57 AM

John H: you might consider Draftsight,

I am not competent to suggest whether it is "usable."

Byron Miller
June 26, 2012 9:13 AM

I have had problems with Windows Vista since the last update in June 2012. I keep getting an error message that an unauthorized change has been made to my license and I can not validate my product key. Many others are experiencing the same problems with Vista and Win 7. I have tried Linux Unbuntu on a partition and it works fine. It is a new experience since the menus are different and downloading and installing programs is different from windows. What I really dislike about MS Windows is that when a new version comes out they stop support for the previous versions. No updates are available. To me this is like holding the consumers hostage and forcing them to upgrade and/or purchase newer computers. My Dell Dimension C521 Win Vista is not even 4 yrs old. It is not compatible to run Win 8 due to the hard drive 80GB. Linux runs just fine on it even along side Win Vista which no longer works due to the update change of license. Even my restore points have been deleted so I can't go back. I have already done two clean installs and still get the error message from MS.

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