Switching from Windows to Linux: A New User’s Experience

By: Benji Tham, Free Geek Toronto volunteer
Switching to Linux

Growing up, I’ve used all sorts of Windows OS, from 95 to Me, then XP and Vista, and finally 7 and 10. The interface was comfortable, perhaps even intuitive, after struggling with MS-DOS, and I wasn’t one of those who grumbled about stability issues and bugs. Each iteration was good enough. 

I was properly introduced to Linux Mint when volunteering at Free Geek Toronto and got some experience installing it on upcycled PCs and laptops. It reminded me of an exchange student (and friend) from about ten years ago, who used Linux on his laptop and carried around an e-reader. I’d heard about Linux before, but wasn’t that a difficult-to-use hipster OS that needed lots of commands in a terminal? That turned out to be only half-true: yes, lots of terminal commands are possible and sometimes needed, but it’s pretty easy to use. 

First forays 

Visiting the parents, I dug out a long-abandoned laptop that had been effectively non-functional since the switch to Windows 10. Booting was slower than I could tolerate, taking 10 to 20 minutes depending on luck. Simply surfing the net was just as ponderous, let alone watching anything on YouTube or Netflix. It was time to experiment.

I installed Linux Mint following the instructions on their website (https://linuxmint-installation-guide.readthedocs.io/en/latest/). Everything installed quickly and smoothly, and immediately I knew things were different. Booting up took less than a minute, signing in took seconds, and within minutes I had installed Chromium and started watching things online. After running updates and installing LibreOffice, I passed the laptop to my parents, who are still using it a couple of years later.

It didn’t require any terminal commands. Maintenance has been minimal, just installing updates occasionally and perhaps new software if needed. Finding out “how to do X” was something my occasionally-savvy parents could do themselves with Google… though it’s mostly them following my instructions over the phone after I search it on Google.

Longer-term experience 

With the successful trial on a battered old laptop, I felt more confident installing and using Linux on my work desktop. Work policies strongly discouraged the use of Windows for privacy and security reasons, and I thought Linux was worth a shot. All it required was a quick transfer of data onto a portable hard drive, and putting that back once Linux was installed.

I’ve not once regretted the switch. 

Everything runs much faster, the user interface for Linux Mint is close enough to Windows that it’s comfortable, and everything I need for work (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom) runs fine. Even Microsoft Office files open fine with LibreOffice, albeit sometimes with odd formatting. 

Perhaps not everyone will have the same flexibility of trying an alternative OS at work, but at home and for most users today, Linux should be a serious consideration.

Do I recommend it?

My experience is limited to Linux Mint specifically, and switching from Windows rather than from MacOS, but I think it’s any indication of what potential Linux convertees can expect. 

What I like: 

  • Speed. No unnecessary processes slow it down. I love being able to get to exactly what I want as quickly as possible.
  • Open source and free. In a world where it costs so much to access basic needs, it matters that to me I’m not supporting status quo corporate giants. I’m doing it legally without paying a dollar.
  • Privacy. Even if I can’t quite extract myself from the Google ecosystem, I like reclaiming some privacy from Microsoft by hopping to Linux.
  • Tinkering. When I face an issue or want to do something, a quick Google search usually points me to several methods, provided by the large, helpful online community. 

Why you might not want to switch:

  • Reliance on certain software. LibreOffice and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides cover all I need from standard work documents, but others may specifically need Microsoft Office at work. I myself rely heavily on Adobe software on my home laptop. Those aren’t officially supported in Linux, though workarounds and alternatives do exist.
  • Gaming. Though lots of video games are developed to also run on Linux, not all are, and a quick browse through my Steam library gives me the impression that the newest triple-A games aren’t available in Linux. These games would require the same workarounds as other software.

Overall, I do recommend switching or at least considering it. Maybe try installing it on an old laptop or try someone else’s installation. My friend would be pleased to find out that I’m now very comfortable with Linux and an ardent evangelist for e-readers. I personally look forward to migrating completely to Linux on my home laptop… perhaps that switch isn’t too far in the future.

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