For those of you considering a migration from Windows to Linux, I have a very simple piece of advice that will make the migration much easier. That advice: Choose the right distribution.
Let me begin at the beginning, or at least the best starting point. The Linux operating system is built with a number pieces. The most underlying piece is the kernel - that is the heart of Linux. On top of the kernel rests a ton of libraries, drivers, and system applications. Overlaying that is user-space console applications. The next layer is the X Windows system. X Windows is the piece that gives Linux a graphical environment. The final layer is the desktop.
Linux is separated into distributions. A distribution is, for all intents and purposes, a "brand" of Linux. There are many distributions: Ubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat, Mandriva, PC/OS, gOS, SuSE, etc (hundreds of them in fact). Each distribution is based on a different base. There are five main bases: Debian, Slackware, BSD, RPM, and Gentoo. Each "base" is formed around a package-manager (a package manager is a system for installing, removing, and managing the software that is on the system.)
How a distribution puts together its version of Linux defines their audience. Some distributions are better suited for new users. These are:
Some distributions are better suited for mid-level experience users:
And some distributions are better suited for advanced users:
NOTE: As gHacks user MrBuddha has already pointed out, BSD is not actually a Linux distribution but a variant of the BSD operating system. I do generally lump BSD in with Linux because they are both UNIX-derived operating systems and share a number of similarities.The lumping in of BSD is two-fold: 1) simplicity and 2) applications created for Linux generally can be used on BSD.
If you are a new user your choice of distribution should be limited to the top four listed. That will make your learning curve far more shallow. Distributions such as Ubuntu have done everything they can to make using Linux simple. From the installation to the desktop, you will find these distributions to be the easiest operating systems you have ever used.
But what makes them easier?
Let's take a look at the Linspire distribution. The Linspire mission has always been to make Linux the easiest operating system available. And many of the easier-to-use distributions are following suit. Linspire and Ubuntu can be found on many pre-installed computers. One of the aspects that makes these distributions so much easier is package management. Each of the easiest distributions have a centralized location for software installation. If you want to install something, you fire up Synaptic (or whatever opens when you click Add/Remove Software) and search for a package to install. It's simple. But don't think, for a second, that you'll have your operating system up and running and have to install a bunch of software. A Linux operating system usually comes complete with everything you need. You could effectively install the operating system and never have to install another piece of software again.
Another piece of the puzzle that makes one distribution easier than another is choice of desktop. There are some Linux desktops that make the migration from Windows a no-brainer. Both KDE and GNOME can be made to mimic the look and feel of Windows so well some users wouldn't know they are using Linux.
Freedom of Choice
Ultimately the choice is yours. Do you select a distribution that targets new users or do you go for a more advanced Linux? Don't fret. Most modern Linux distributions offer Live versions of their operating systems. This means you can boot from the LiveCD and run the operating system without making any change to your computer. This allows you to test-drive Linux. Do this with the easiest distributions and I bet you'll find one that meets your needs.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.