9 reasons to switch from Windows to Linux

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Before we start our journey to Linux land there is one question you need to ask yourself: why do YOU want to switch from Windows to Linux? What do you expect Linux to achieve? You don't want to spend the time and effort learning about Linux just to realize that changing your operating system to Linux does not solve the problem you have or does not deliver the benefits you expected.

I will list 9 of the most common reasons to switch from Windows to Linux and try to explain in which cases the switch to Linux has a good chance of delivering the expected benefits.

- Your computer is getting slower!

It is a known fact that the Windows operating system degrades over time (don't worry, I won't explain why to a poor beginner: let's just say it's technical). As a result a computer that seemed fast 3 years ago can now feel like a snail. Installing Linux will fix the problem permanently as Linux does not degrades over time like Windows. Note that you can also fix the problem for a few years by having Windows and all your applications reinstalled from scratch, so this is no in itself a reason to switch to Linux. The advantage of Linux over Windows here is that Linux fixes the problem permanently.

- You are fed up with viruses and spyware and you heard Linux does not have any!
This is one of the best reasons to switch from Windows to Linux! It is indeed more difficult to write viruses and spyware for Linux. This means that currently there are no Linux viruses out there and that an Antivirusis not required once you install Linux.

- Your old printer or scanner don't work with the latest version of Windows!
Windows Vista, which now comes with most PCs, does not work well with a lot of older peripherals such as printers or scanners. Linux usually works much better with old equipment and is compatible with more hardware than Windows Vista. We will show you in a future post how you can very easily check if all your equipment is Linux compatible. If some of your equipment does not work with Linux out of the box however, then Linux is maybe not for you right now. If you are in the market for a new computer and you know that your peripherals won't work with Windows Vista, this can be a good reason to buy a computer with Linux installed.

- You have a computer without Windows and don't want to buy Windows

One of the advantages of Linux over Windows is that Linux is free of charge, so you can install it without paying anything. This can be a good reason to choose Linux but you have to be aware that you will require a little bit of effort to adapt yourself to Linux at first, so don't expect to just get "Windows for free". Linux is more like : a bit of effort and then "Windows" for free.

- You want to run a Linux application.
It may sound strange but I think that this is not a very good reason to switch from Windows to Linux. Most programs available for Linux are also available for Windows. If it is not the case an alternative program can often be found on Windows.

- You want to (re)use an old computer.
If the original operating system of your computer is Windows XP, still fits your need, isn't full of viruses and has not degraded I would suggest keeping it as it is. If is an old operating system like Windows 2000 or Windows Me it probably does not support newer applications and peripherals. Also it will probably have degraded. In that case installing Linux can be a good solution to give the PC a second youth. Note however that if you have a very old Windows NT4 or Windows 98 machine it is probably better to replace the computer completely. Nowadays there are very cheap Netbooks that will work better than your old computer and will be more portable.

- You had problems with Windows activation.

One of the inconvenient of Windows (and some Windows software) is that it is linked to the physical components of your computer. If you had the computer repaired or upgraded you may have run into trouble with Windows activation. Even if the problems are usually solved with a phone call it is annoying and can undermine your confidence in the reliability of Windows. Since Linux does not require any for of activation this can be a good reason to switch from Windows to Linux.

- You do not like the new Vista interface of Windows.

With Linux you can choose what your computer desktop looks like to a much greater extent than with Windows, so this can be a good reason to switch. Be aware however that the interface is not exactly like Windows XP, even if it can be made to look and behave a lot like it.

- You are curious about Linux.

In my opinion this is one of the best reasons to try Linux. Since it is now possible to safely install Linux in addition of Windows why not try it just to see what it's like?

As you can see there are many reasons to switch from Windows to Linux, some good, some bad. What you need to realize is that a lot of things are better in Linux than Windows, but that better also means different. You should not expect Linux to be an exact copy of Windows. If you recognize yourself in some of the good reasons above I suggest that you continue reading this blog! Next week I will explain what is a Linux distribution, something you will want to know in order to get the right Linux for you. The week after I will present some of the disadvantages of Linux.

UPDATE: Brian Reich made a very complete reply regarding my 9 reasons to switch to Linux, and he raised some very good points. It is well worth a look, but be aware that the language is sometimes more technical than the one I use on this blog.

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Magice said...

You miss the most crucial reason to switch to GNU/Linux ever. Let's quote from distrowatch: Put the fun back into computing. Using GNU/Linux is 100 times more fun than using Windows, right?

Gustavo said...

Very good article! I like your reasons, but I think that you miss the visual effects you can have with gnome/kde/xfce... and the cool things you can do with compiz.
Also there are a lot of games for Linux, really cool, nice and also free!.

Justin said...

I don't agree with "This means that currently there are no Linux viruses out there and that an Antivirus is not required once you install Linux."

There are Unix and Linux virsues out there. You should state that it is much harder to infect a Linux box than it is a windows box due to user permissions. In Windows everything runs as an administrator (well everything that does something useful) where as in Linux the root user should only be used to install/configure and maintain the system.

boness said...

one more reason: once you do the switch you'll never go back

Chocolim said...

The reason that i have to stay with windows: Visual Studio 2008, Dreamweaver.
There isnt any open source alternative good enogth, try to use Dreamweaver with wine, but is not resposive. I want to work not to solve software problems. Never have a bsod or a virus in my windows xp box or the bootcamp that i use when i need to work, when work is done i boot on Osx

i have an imac for the record

(and yes, i am bad at english writing)

Erlik said...

@ Magice & Gustavo
These are indeed very good reasons, however in the article I tend to focus on reasons that may push an average user to Linux, not reasons for geeks like us :-)
WE like to do a lot of cool things with our computer, but this post is aimed at people that just want a secure and easy computing environment, so for them these are not really important reasons.

@ Justin
Indeed there are viruses for Linux, but they are very rare. It is true that it is in part because popular distributions like Ubuntu don't let the user log on as root by default that Linux is more secure, but I try to keep the explanations very simple to avoid frightening the less technical users.

Jose said...

Chocolim, I'm glad I am not stuck on proprietary software. It stinks when they won't port software. [Maybe they will later.]

Traditionally, a lot of Linux users have been developers, so they like to build tools. What they have not generally (or initially) focused on is what less techy developers (eg, those that don't want to "solve software problems") might consider easy-to-use.

Fortunately, Linux keeps getting easier-to-use all-around and you can help decide how products turn out because the community is open and you are even allowed to dig in and make changes yourself (if you figure out how).

Erlik, not every FOSS app is supported well on Windows, eg, integrates easily on Windows, be updated or updateable on Windows at the same rate as on Linux, work efficiently on Windows, etc. I do think wanting to use a Linux app for the Linux and open experience you get from Linux is a very good reason at least to keep Linux nearby, if not move to it full-time. I say the same for Windows. Keep it around if you have an experience you think you can only get from it. Many people can afford to keep more than one system around. I expect this will be the case more in the future once more people get a taste of choice. Support for easily managing multiple Linux distros at once (including building your own flavor) is growing. .. Of course, some of these reasons might fall under "I'm curious about Linux".

doubleodiddles said...

I have way to much to say about this article to post my response here, so if you are interested in a couple of counter-points please read the rebuttle I posted on my own website:


Also, at the person who said everything on Windows runs as Administrator: 1998 called, and they want there operating system back! Even if the default configuration made your user account an administrator, the technology was in place for limited user accounts all the way back to Windows 2000. And in Windows Vista/Windows 7 NOTHING runs as Admin. When a program needs elevated credentials it will explicitly request them. I look at it as the Windows equivalent of "sudo"

Elder Geek said...

re: doubleodiddles

The company I work for is about 20 licenses deep into Quickbooks Pro 2005. That is a program that does NOT running on a limited account. I know I could spend 2 days running down and documenting all the registry keys and files that need to be repermissioned to get it to run right. But I could still miss some keys and have it come back and bite me in the butt later.

We really don't feel like spending $10,000 upgrading software. This is not 1998, this was from 2005.

The problem is for real businesses there is always some piece of software that will have to be replaced to run on Vista or Windows 7.

Elder Geek said...

Another good reason is DRM. I switched because what I saw from Windows was vendor lock in. Every version of Microsoft's software tries to lock you deeper into running only Microsoft software.

I moved over in 1999 so that the last 10 years of documents I have created are in open formats and look as good today as they did then. Try opening up a complex Office 97 Word document in Office 2007.

I wanted to make the move before Microsoft was able to find some way legally with DRM to lock all my data into their programs. It is my data and I wanted to keep it and do with it what I want. With Windows there is no guarantee that will always be true.

Part of the performance problem with Vista is the DRM on board to make sure you don't break any of the rules. 95% of us are not breaking those rules, and will never try to break those rules. But we all get hit with the 5% or 10% performance penalty for the DRM in Vista.

zalun said...

One thing which may be interesting for a "standard" user is free autmatic upgrades of the software. It does exist in Windows to some extent, but Linux is way better than XP (I haven't been working on Vista thought)

doubleodiddles said...

@Elder Geek :

Good points regarding QuickBooks. However between using "shims" such as modifying registry and file permissions or using the compatibility tab on my programs shortcuts I have had pretty good results with getting older applications to run. I'm not going to say that I can make "anything" work that way, but most software yes.

Two points on that topic:

1. That's Intuit's fault for writing user-level software that depends on administrator-level permissions. I simply don't understand why developers insist on writing to keys in the HKCU hive or to files in the \Windows directory, when there are perfectly good alternatives under the user's own profile.

2. Windows 7 virtualizes writes to these protected areas, making compatibility with older applications significantly better than Windows Vista, or even XP's.

Regarding DRM and Microsoft forcing you to use their software: I just don't see Microsoft holding a gun to anyone and forcing them to use their office suite, their browser, or anything else. The free market chose Microsoft Office a long time ago because it was the cheaper and more superior product. But there is nothing "crippling" Windows which prevents you from installing competing products, and on top of that you can download and install a free plug-in for Office that allows you to read and write OOXML formats.

As far as DRM goes, I think you're mistaking it for "vendor lock-in". I think Microsoft went a long way with Office 2007 to provide tools that allow content authors to SHARE or LOCK the content they produce in Office as they desire... but to say there is anything even remotely resembling DRM technology that locks it into only being used on Microsoft clients simply isn't true. There is DRM tech built into Windows Media Player and some other apps, and all I have to say to that is... if you are philosophically opposed to DRM, then don't use file formats that support it. For example, use OGG Vorbis instead of WMV. Not that difficult :)

God I'm starting to sound like a cheerleader for Microsoft... someone sput me out of my misery ;)

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