If Windows is no longer running: How to switch to Linux

The product policy of Microsoft and Apple repeatedly tempts to flirt with Linux. The free operating system has long been ready for the desktop, but the variety poses problems for those interested.

If, in the near future, many PCs will not get Windows 11 because they do not have the TPM 2.0 chip that is now required by Microsoft, and if support for Windows 10 is gradually running out, a lot of relatively new and usable hardware will again become completely unnecessary electronic waste. For these and similar reasons, many people are looking for alternatives and come across Linux. Unfortunately, many abandon their project after a short time because, given the numerous Linux variants, they do not know where to start and are like the ox in front of the mountain.

There are just too many different Linux distributions because anyone who wants to can publish their own – Linux is free software, after all. What is an advantage, because the many niche distributions also cover many special needs, becomes a disadvantage for beginners who simply do not know which to choose. The many YouTube videos that are always the same, in which new distributions are often introduced and discussed shortly after they appear, are of little help, except to get an impression of what the desktop looks like.

If you ask friends and acquaintances, you seldom see more clearly afterwards. Three Linux users have four opinions as to which distributions are best. I hate flamewars and I think people should just work with the system that is best for them to do their job – and yes, the answer can very often simply be “Windows”. In Linux debates, personal design preferences and highly political decisions about which package manager and which init system to use overshadow the question: What would those who want to switch easily cope with? Which Linux distributions just work?

Linux on the desktop is way better than its reputation

Linux actually does better than its reputation here. Standard applications such as browsers, spreadsheets, e-mail and so on are available. For the vast majority of people who have the usual mix of office tasks, online shopping and Netflix, any Linux distribution should work more than sufficiently well. The large user interfaces Gnome and KDE are easy to use, so that those who switch to Windows and Mac will get along well. I even claim that Windows has long been more confusing and cumbersome to use than a well-equipped, up-to-date Linux desktop.

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In this regard, all Linux distributions are so similar that there are other things to look out for when looking for the right distribution for beginners. Is there good support, regular updates and a large, ideally friendly and not too elitist community that helps you with problems? Is the distribution widespread enough? Can I find solutions easily on the internet?

The second criterion is your own hardware. The hardware worries of the past are over: now almost everything runs flawlessly under Linux – unfortunately not always with all distributions. For example, I have a printer / scanner combo that has Linux drivers in two formats: Deb and RPM. And my point of view is that I don’t want to buy a new printer for a Linux distribution. This means that distributions that prefer other software formats, such as Arch and Solus, are out of the question for me. Yes, I know that there are ways and means to install Deb or RPM packages under an Arch Linux, but we remember: The criterion is “just works” and not “my Linux is my new model railway”.

Confusing multitude of distributions

This is where beginners face a big problem. To put it somewhat exaggeratedly, you have to learn by heart a whole family tree of Linux distributions and first of all know that Linux Mint and Pop OS are both Ubuntu descendants and thus indirectly Debian descendants or that SuSE Linux is not a Red- Has descendant, but can still use RPM packages. At this point, most of them drop out, and it’s hard to blame them for that.

People who use Linux are often professionals. This means that they use distributions selected according to professional criteria. They often do not understand that their criteria are of little relevance to most people who switch. Fedora has an excellent reputation in the communities and is widely used in professional environments – and allegedly also by Linux founder Linus Torvalds. But anyone who has ever tried to get an Nvidia graphics card to work with the original drivers from Nvidia knows that Fedora is everything but not a “just runs” distribution.

It looks very similar with Debian, which is recommended again and again by purists. Debian is a rock-solid distribution, but it is no coincidence that the raison d’être of countless Linux distributions is simply to make something easy to use based on Debian. And no, the old saying “Linux is user-friendly, but it just chooses who its friends are” is not funny, but rather arrogant and off-putting for those who are interested in Open Source.

Red Hat, Debian oder Arch?

Some Linux purists swear by Arch. This is a Linux that is very complex to install. His whole philosophy and raison d’etre is that you are in touch with every bit and want to adjust every screw yourself. So the exact opposite of “just works”. There are a few Linux distributions that offer entry-level, largely preconfigured Arch systems, which seems a bit absurd given the original Arch Linux idea. Manjaro and Endeavor OS are the best-known representatives of this genre, which unfortunately I have a bit of the impression that a lot of people only use them so that they can show off that they have something Arch-based on their computer.

One of the most important tips for beginners is to ignore the website Distrowatch.com! There you can find out about new versions of Linux distributions quite well if you are in on the topic, but the rankings there tempt you to simply use the Linux distribution that is the most popular there. These rankings are window dressing because they count page visits that only provide information about what the page visitors are interested in, but not which Linux distribution they are actually using. In fact, there is only one distribution in the top five of the ranking, which I can recommend with a clear conscience to beginners and those switching.

People have different tastes and get along differently with different user interfaces. Some don’t care if their desktop looks like a mix of Windows 98 and the Star Trek design of the late 1980s, others want a sleek desktop that they enjoy looking at. These wishes are fulfilled by various distributions that are otherwise very similar in terms of their substructure. Often the tip is heard that it doesn’t matter which distribution you choose, because basically any graphical user interface such as Gnome, KDE or Xfce can be installed on all of them. I think that’s nonsense. A graphical interface that is not part of the distribution is actually always ugly and not sufficiently well preconfigured. It also contradicts the “just runs” premise. If that means that some people opt for graphically very sophisticated distributions such as Feren OS, Zorin OS or Elementary OS, then one should not turn up one’s nose – as unfortunately often happens in the communities – but be happy that they Distributions the number of Linux users is increasing.

Rolling release – yes or no?

Some distributions seem carelessly knocked together and some are little divas who want their extra sausages. So Pop OS is a good distribution in many ways, but unnecessarily throws obstacles in the way of those changingwhich is particularly annoying with a distro whose goal is to get close to the “just runs” ideal.

A final point in the search for the right distribution is the question of the rolling release. New versions of the various Linux distributions are usually released every few months or years. Some distributors have simply stopped doing this, only distributing updates and calling the rolling release. The promise is to always have the latest software on your computer. This occasionally also means that the all-new software is a little less tested and less stable. If you decide against a distribution with a rolling release, you won’t miss a lot: Even then, the latest Firefox or Chromium version is regularly available via automatic update.

A number of Linux distributions advertise that they require very little memory and computing power. For the vast majority of people, they are unnecessary. The current standard distributions run cleanly and with good fluctuation even on ten-year-old computers. The particularly economical desktops such as Xfce & Co are often rather spartan and not particularly well preconfigured. Almost all distributions with Xfce fail to deal with laptops with an external monitor that you want to close or open the laptop lid during operation. The computer then goes out completely or the system gets mixed up and no longer displays windows and menus correctly. It quickly becomes apparent that many smaller distributions have not been carefully tested and are only suitable for standard desktop configurations. With the big distributions and Gnome or KDE you usually don’t have these problems.

A simple strategy for making the switch

If you summarize all of this, the answer to the question of the right distribution for migrants for most people is probably Ubuntu. So there is a good chance that things will just work. And if not, solutions can be found quickly. If you don’t like the look of Ubuntu and are looking for a distribution that is a bit fresher or is more based on Windows or macOS, the best thing to do is to look at the Ubuntu descendants Elementary OS, Feren OS, Linux Mint, and Zorin OS. They probably come closest to the various aesthetic tastes and the “just runs” ideal, while at the same time almost all problem solutions for Ubuntu that can be found on the Internet still work with these distributions.

As a strategy for a switch, this was still not good advice. Because if you have made your way to a distribution and installed it, you will find 1,000 small details that are different than in the past under Windows or macOS. Sophisticated workflows and ingrained habits have to be replaced and relearned, which can cost a lot of time, energy and nerves, especially when working under stress. This is often underestimated. It is therefore best to replace the operating system last and, first of all, gradually replace each program used with an open source variant under Windows or macOS. If that is successful after a while, you will quickly find your way around after switching to Linux and you will not miss anything. This strategy is particularly useful under Windows will always be easier in the future.

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