Part 1 of this two-part series discusses ways to transition into Linux without leaving Windows behind all at once.
Six months ago, I began a self-imposed experiment to see if I couldsurvive leaving Windows XP behind. After all, despite its flaws anddecade-old technology, the aging Microsoft OS had served me well. However,I decided to skip Windows 7 when it comes to town in October. Vistawas never worthy of my consideration, and I have too much cash and datainvested in my home office inventory of five X86-vintage computers toreplace them with Macs.
I finessed my way into regularly using Ubuntu Linux and Puppy Linux onall of my computers. I have not yet banished the Windows OS, but thatsoftware mostly sits idly on the various hard drives. Live CD or dualboot configurations let me gently move from the old to the new.Portable Ubuntu and virtualization within Microsoft Windows let me getfamiliar with the applications that came to replace my Windows favorites.
The strategies I used to nudge myself into becoming a regular Linux userare ideal for home consumers and business users alike. I learned thattransitioning into Linux by not quitting Windows cold turkey is a muchbetter approach.
I soon became enamored with Ubuntu Linux as a friendlyreplacement for Windows Land. Then I found Puppy Linux to offer moreflexibility. Regardless of which one I use, I can interchange datacreated or updated in applications from any Linux distribution orMicrosoft Windows version.
One of the best migration tools to ease the transition is the Webitself. So many applications, such as Web-based email, Google Apps andcloud computing did not exist a scant few years ago. Now, the OS isless important to any computing game plan.
An Ubuntu Alternative
I stumbled upon Puppy Linux while checking out my various Linux options. It was a very good find. This distro is specifically built to run in system RAM (random access memory), so it executes commands and loads program and data in a flash. Even if you boot the computer from the CD drive as a typical live CD, once loaded into RAM, Puppy Linux no longer needs to access the CD. So unlike a true Live CD boot, you can remove the Puppy Linux boot CD and do other things with the drive, such as access other CDs/DVDs or burn data and music to an optical disk.
Puppy Linux has several boot options, all ofwhich allow you to save configuration preferences. This compact speedster allows traditional installation to the hard drive as well. It will share OS partitions through a boot loader when the computer powers on. This is where the flexibility makes an ideal replacement for Microsoft Windows.
For instance, one of my laptops does not have the boot-from-USB-driveoption. So I leave a Puppy Linux boot CD in the optical drive. Afterpowering on the laptop, I can either go Linux or open the optical drive door to directthe computer to load Microsoft Windows XP, which is resident on thehard drive. A similar practice with my desktop system lets me dualboot into Windows XP or Puppy Linux without configuring a boot loaderconfiguration. I use the same approach on my netbook, which has UbuntuLinux installed on the hard drive. However, the netbook handles a USB driveboot, so I can load either Linux OS by simply inserting the USB driveor not.
The real beauty of this strategy is I have the ability to load theidentical operating system configuration on all of my computers. Plus,my existing Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux installations remain unfazed.
After getting used to the differences in Windows and Linux, I wasready to get to work. Computing tasks in either operating system arenot that different. For example, opening and closing files, using filemanagers and accessing the Internet to upload and download filesfollow the same procedures. Audio and video programs generallywork the same as well. All that is different is the look and sometimesthe feel.
I found early in my “living in Linux” experiment that the learning curvecan be reduced considerably by starting with programs in Windows thatare available in Linux. For instance, the Firefox Web browser looks andhandles identically in either platform. OpenOffice for Windowsand Linux is about 95 percent identical to Microsoft Office. Dittofor email clients.
The more comfortable I got using these cross-over applications, themore I could quickly adapt to other Linux tools. Programs that handlebasic computing tasks much like their Microsoft Windows include: Geany Text Editor, XPad Sticky Notes,Gxine Multimedia Player,Adobe Reader and xSane Image Scanner. The Seamonkey Web browser is a close cousin toFirefox. The Opera web browser is identical in either OS as well.
Dozens more work-alike applications can be used with Linux distributions.For must-have Windows programs that do not have suitable Linuxbrethren, I installed Wine to run actualMicrosoft programs in a simulated Microsoft environment within awindow on the Linux desktop.
Selective Moving Day
Armed with programs to do all of my everyday computingtasks, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work in Linux. I felt noseparation anxiety from Microsoft. If I really missed my used-to-becomputing pal, all I had to do was reboot the computer to load theawaiting MS operating system.
My first real test came with a new writing assignment. I designatedthis job as only Linux-accessible. Everything I did from research toplanning and actual writing took place in now-familiar Linux apps.
It did not matter whether I used Ubuntu or Puppy Linux. Theapplications in both were either the same or so similar that I barelylost step in my work routine. I maintained numerous other projects ina Microsoft environment.
However, I worked completely isolated from Windows XP for this project. IfI needed information from any of my regular data files, I could easilyaccess them from my bulk USB thumb drive, on-board hard drive orexternal hard drive. I could do the same to access information createdin the Linux OSes while I worked in the Windows platform.
Making Data Interchangeable
My interoperability needs may be a bit broader than othersingle-computer users. Even when using the Windows OS, I alwaystargeted a large capacity USB drive for my primary file storage. Atthe end of each computing session, I would use a back-up routine tosynchronize the new data with the last versions on the hard drive.
This way, all of my work and personal documents, graphics and otherfiles were replicated on each computer, and all new work sessionsloaded the files from the USB drive.
I set OpenOffice to always recognize .DOC files and always savefiles in .DOC format instead of .ODT. I did the same for spreadsheetfiles, so everything read and wrote as .XLS (for Excel format) insteadof OpenOffice’s resident .ODF format.
Making sure that each saved file has an extension such as .TXT or.JPEG is essential for easy cross-platform file access. Windows typicallyuses the dot-three character file extension. Without it, the OS failsto know which program created the file.
Linux, on the other hand, does not rely on a file extension in mostcases. The application senses the type of file format from within thefile saving/reading process. So always manually include the .TXT or.DOC when creating new file names.
These procedures ensure that no matter which platform I use –Microsoft Windows, Ubuntu Linux or Puppy Linux — all my data remainedsynchronized and readable regardless of which Windows program or Linuxapplication I use.
Lay of the Land
The only other familiarity needed to really maintain work speed inLinux is knowing the nomenclature. Storage media are not labeled assimply as in Windows.
The Linux OS uses a completely different scheme. For instance,depending on the Linux distribution and version, the hard drive islabeled with various letter and number sets. For example, in my Ubuntuconfiguration, the hard drive partitions are called “hda1” and “hda2,” not”C:” and “D:.”
Another difference in Linux for Windows users is how drives areaccessed. The Windows plug and play feature identifies a USB drive,for example, and automatically makes it readable. In Linux, the USBdrive icon appears on the desktop and is not usable until the MOUNTcommand is issued. There is no tray icon to click like in Windows tosafely remove the plugged-in drive. Instead, the Linux user has toissue the UNMOUNT command by right clicking and selecting a menuoption.
From my perspective, cozying up to Linux with a planned but gradualtransition from the Windows desktop is very effective and efficient. Iwas able to learn as I went. I moved at my own pace. I didn’t put worktasks at jeopardy by not having access to the old-familiar Windows XPor Windows Vista.
For the total cost of exactly nothing, I easily managed upgrading all fiveof my home office computers. All the migration to a better operatingsystem involved was knowing what I already learned in MicrosoftWindows about using various programs and working with different typesof files.
Everything worked — printers, scanners, WiFi, etc. I got theequivalent of five new computers without actually buying a thing. Mycollection of legacy and newer computers performed faster than theydid prior to loading Linux.