Desktop Linux As An Alternative To Windows?

Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X (now macOS) are the other two main popular operating systems for personal computers that most of us have heard of. Linux is an alternative computer operating system* to those, that can run on the same PC hardware.

Many people have probably unwittingly come onto contact with Linux already, through the Android operating system on smartphones and tablets. Android is based upon a Linux foundation. 

In this post, though, I am talking about Linux being used as a desktop (or laptop) operating system. Can (or should) regular folks consider using Linux as an alternative to (say) Windows XP?

I am a bit geeky, and I would generally say that - unless you have some specific needs - "Yes, you can!"; but let me play devil's advocate for a bit.

Let's ask first "Why would I want to use Linux in the first place?". Well, if you have a Windows XP - or even (gasp) a Windows Vista - computer, it could be a way to continue using the computer safely by removing the old Windows and installing a modern version of Linux. Or you might just want to use something else other than Windows for a change!

One of the first hurdles I see for most "ordinary folk" contemplating moving to a Linux operating system is the fact that most of us have never installed an operating system (OS) of any kind.

When you purchase a Windows or Mac PC, the OS is already there for you. Regardless of the fact that most current versions of Linux have a straightforward installation process, it's still a cause for concern for many users.

Hey, at a pinch go grab a friendly 14-year old, they should be able to install it for you - kids today have no fear of such things.

Another issue when coming from the Windows or Mac world, is that Linux has a potentially bewildering number of different versions or "distros" (distributions). This is something that is applauded by Linux lovers, but it can be a complicated-sounding world to "outsiders". 

For example, there are several main "flavors" of Linux, such as Debian and RedHat, and from those many other distros are built - Mint, CentOS, Zorin, Ubuntu, and so on. There are also different desktop environments within distros which can further muddy the waters.

This alphabet soup is confusing to former Windows or Mac users, although many articles can recommend good "Windows-like" or "newbie friendly" Linux distros.

That said, I submit Windows 8 is more different from Window XP or Windows 7 that something like Linux Mint or Zorin OS appears to be. My friend Bill, who owns a computer repair shop, put a Linux distro on his Mom's computer and blithely told her it was "the new version of Windows" and she has used it happily since...

Lastly, the software is different; you can't take your Windows programs and just install them onto a Linux PC. While you can often run Windows software on Linux via some special methods such as the Wine app, not all Windows software will work, or work well enough to be useful.

While there are Linux alternatives to most Windows software (some very good, and they are often available for no money), it's not a one-to-one match. Think of trying to run an old DOS game like Monkey Island on Windows 10, and you may get the idea; you may be able to do it, but it may not be worth the effort.

This last point may be a deal breaker for some people, but my positive spin is that most computer users use web-based email, watch YouTube and use Twitter and Facebook, and you can do all of these painlessly with Linux on your computer.

With specific regard to computer gaming, there are now substantial numbers of quality games available via the "Steam" distribution system for Linux.

*Linux is strictly the "kernel" upon which the operating system is built, but many refer to the resulting operating system as Linux.

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