Five ways to ease migration from Windows to Linux

Jack Wallen
Oct 13, 2009
Updated • Dec 2, 2012

With the ever-maturation of the Linux operating system there are more and more people considering a migration from their operating system of choice to the flagship of the open source community. For many this migration is a strange, but simple adventure. For others, however, the task is very daunting and one challenge after another. What most people do not realize is that there are very simple ways to help ease this migration.

In this brief series (if two articles can be considered a series) I will help ease the migration from both Windows to Linux and Mac to Linux. Hopefully, upon reading these articles, you will have a good game plan so your migration (or your users migration) will be as seamless as possible.

Choose your distribution wisely

This is the real key for easy migration. There are a LOT of distributions out there, for just about every type of user and every type of use. There have been plenty of distributions that have attempted to mimic the look and feel of Windows as closely as possible (this was a very '90s tactic). But ultimately it boils down to which distribution you choose that will help to make your migration simple. Most Windows users are going to want to stick to one of the major distributions (Ubuntu, Red Hat, SuSE) if for only one reason: support. With the major distributions you can actually have a phone number to call when you have a problem. Outside of that you are going to want to look for a distribution who's goal is simplicity. One advantage that Ubuntu has over the other major is that it takes the root user out of the picture with the help of sudo.

Start using similar software before you migrate

Let's face it, you spend a vast majority of your time working with applications, not operating systems. Because of that you can make the job of migration much, much easier by employing the applications you will use with the Linux operating system while you are working with Windows. You can install Firefox, OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Scribus, The GIMP, and many other applications on Windows and get used to using them in a more familiar environment. By doing this you are removing one obstacle out of your way when the migration actually happens.

Check your hardware

One of the biggest issues that many people have had in the past is hardware incompatibility. Although this is slowly becoming an issue of the past, there are instances where a specific piece of hardware is supported. When you install the operating system, and find a particular piece of hardware is not supported your computing life has become infinitely more difficult. Before you actually do the migration make sure the hardware you plan to use will function as you expect. What you want to pay particular attention to are: Networking cards, video cards, sound cards. One of the best places to check is the Linux Drivers site.

Software installation

With the Windows operating system, installation is always nothing more than a double click of a file and then what sometimes seems like an endless amount of clicking the Next button. In Linux the process of installing software is more centralized. You often read in my articles about opening the Add/Remove Software tool. This is a fundamental change to the philosophy of Windows. Think of the Add/Remove Software tool as more a shopping center for software instead of a location to manage software already installed. Once you get beyond the Windows Add/Remove Software philosophy, installing software in Linux is a snap.

More than one way to...

One of the philosophies that originally drew me to Linux was that there is almost always more than one way to take care of a task in Linux. This is something that many Windows users struggle with at the beginning. With Windows there is generally one way to handle a task - the Windows way. With Linux there is always multiple ways to do something. This is often very confusing to the new user. This is especially made true when that new user goes to a mailing list for help and gets five different replies with five different ways to solve a single problem. Is everyone wrong? Is everyone right? In that situation the best thing to do would be read everyone's solution and decide which one sounds like it would be the easiest for you to re-create. To this end, when going to a mailing list for Linux help, it is always best to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying "How do I do A?" you might say "How do I do A using a graphical tool in GNOME?" or "What is the easiest way to do A in KDE?"

Final thoughts

You might think these very generic lessons for migration, but to the new-to-Linux user they are lessons that can save a lot of time and a lot of headache. Do you have any migration tips for Windows-to-Linux users? If so, share them with your fellow Ghacks readers.


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  1. Product Designer said on May 24, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I run a product design consultancy, and I am really stuck with Windows as I am an expert with SolidWorks software. This is Windows only!!

    I have been experimenting with vitualising my whole Windows desktop and using either VMWare or VirtualBox to virtualise and run in Linux.

    My main problem is that the 3D CAD requires Direct X and fast 3D using the graphics card. Also multi core hyperthreading is useful if I have FEA to do, or complex engineering tasks.

    I have found VMWare to be superior to VirtualBox currently to migrate to Linux and my exisiting engineering software. But I feel that as things stand, it is not quite ready to make the full leap to opensource. Any comments would be helpful?

  2. Rajandran R said on October 10, 2010 at 7:45 am

    I had migrated recently from windows7 to Windows XP due to slower Application and consumption of higher physical memory. I think i should plan for exit from windows and have to completely migrate to linux soon

  3. sfsfgsgdsgdsghdsg said on October 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Mono Tools for Visual Studio suck.

    MS is using Novell to sponsor and develop a second class citizen.
    Mono is having troubles keeping pace with .NET and reported to be slightly incompatible with it. There are now two versions of Mono or .net (don’t know which one). An ecma version and a version with all the stuff that make windows apps work, winforms, wpf, etc…
    There are good reasons for avoiding .NET:
    Native C++ code is much, much better (faster, portable).
    (Because .NET is a virtual machine.)
    If you need cross-platform distributing one-package.
    use Java, or another language that has it’s own package-format and binary format or source (scripting languages e.g. python).
    Or what about using some other toolkit for UI and stuff e.g. Qt with Qt designer.
    There are other IDE’s than Visual Studio, e.g. Eclipse, Netbeans, Code::Blocks.
    And other compilers: GCC, intel linux compiler, Virtual Machine for languages such as Java.

    Checking if stuff works on Linux before installing it is a crucial thing for Linux adoption. And is very useful, please keep up the attention for this good way of thinking(testing before deploying).
    Also something for administrators in business and for developers.

  4. Jose_X said on October 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Most people have a spare PC or could find one very cheaply if they really want to and look around. Having access to a PC to play with that has Linux installed is a great way to get used to Linux on your terms. If you don’t play, you won’t know where Linux fits in. Also, let others play because you never know what they might like (people’s tastes differ). And an inexpensive graphic card put into an older PC that doesn’t have one can really add power to it.

    It’s more efficient and good for FOSS if people spend their time improving Linux instead of wasting time porting so as to add value to monopoly platforms where the apps do not lie on solid open fair ground.

  5. yo momma said on October 15, 2009 at 8:10 am
  6. the undude said on October 14, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    If you want to move Windows applications to Linux, you may want to investigate Mono Tools for Visual Studio.

    Mono Tools for Visual Studio will help you port your .NET applications to Linux without leaving Visual Studio.

    More here:


  7. Andrew said on October 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Linux Live CD’s such as offered by openSUSE and ubuntu allow one to do a real hardware compatibility test before trying to migrate. So you’ll know in advance if that printer will work, or your graphics card will support certain features.

    Linux keeps getting better.

  8. Marko said on October 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

    The next part needs to address the firewall and antivirus programs and their use in Linux to protect your WIndows files (since a new user will likely work on a dual boot system and even if Linux doesn’t require firewall and antivirus programs, the Windows files are still very vulnerable).

    I might try migrating again if I found good GUI-based firewall (and antivirus) programs that work like the counterparts in Windows world (asking permissions for programs to connect online when the programs first try to do that).

  9. Mike Smith said on October 14, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Ahh, the old saw: Migrating from WIndows to Linux.
    Cant really be done completely. The unfortunate reality is that you will have some old important piece of software you forgot about but has to run on windows. Some stupid old legacy app, or piece of hardware that is no longer in production but still functions fine. And now you just wasted a buch of time and resources and you have to put it back the way it was.

    That makes you look bad and makes Linux look like it cant work.

    Pick your windows to linux battles carefully. Aim for a few servers, and maybe some workstations that have minimal needs and compatible hardware. Its important they see it as a simple solution and that it works right away – no fooling around. It’s funny, but people are fine with the flakiness of windows, but balk when something new comes along, even if it’s better. Little nagging windows annoyances, will become show stoppers on Linux. Change is bad…. Unless it’s really really good, right away.

    A kiosk at the reception desk is perfect. Load it with eye candy featuring your company’s logo everywhere. Need a presentation computer? Old laptop with Ubuntu and – because “OpenOffice is more compatible with Microsoft Office than Microsoft Office is.” Make sure they see it work – Just like windows, except cooler. And let them know it was free. say it plainly, no fan fare no geek details, just say “yeah, it’s open source, it will open all the microsoft formats plus some they forgot.”

    Saving money by moving to linux wont make you a hero if you have to reinvent some wheel that the company has been using successfully for years. Spending the savings in workarounds and consultant time will not be looked upon favorably.

    Also I would be very careful how you present Linux. Simply saying “we’ll save money” isn’t enough. Talking tech to the decision maker is also the wrong way to go. It will make non techies feel dumb and anything that makes them feel dumb will be killed of quickly.

    Instead take the seducer’s approach and drop little hints here and there. “Hmmm, Outlook’s acting strange again? Funny, my linux desktop doesn’t do that. Man it stinks having to pay all that money for buggy software. Let me see if there is a fix or patch from Microsoft.”

    Be smart and dumb down the tech and crank up the non-tech benefits. Word choice is critical. Use words like flexible, smoother, elegant – those type words, words that evoke good feelings. Words they wish were used to describe themselves.

    Moving to Linux is a years long project. It takes a long time to turn a big ship, and corporations aren’t any different.

    Read, learn, practice with virtual machines, and be ready to drive that Linux Wedge into the environment ONLY when it will be practical and ONLY when it will work as expected to fulfill a need.

    An example would be, when your client or boss wants to be able to share docs or share email with a partner company, or wants a separate email domain. You say “Well, we could do it with our current server, but we’ll have to add licenses and then it will take some extra config to make sure they cant see this or that…. Or I could throw up a webmail server and a web file server which would be totally separate… of course I’ll use some open source tools to do that so our initial costs are minimal. ” and then do scalix and alfresco.

    Once the boss starts to get his head around “open source” and starts to see the enterprise quality software it really is, he’ll be more open to it down the road. In fact you’ll start to hear things like, “Cant we do a linux thing for this project?”

    Note that they wont fully understand Linux or OSS, and don’t try to educate them. They need only know it works great and that it saves money and that they were smart for thinking of it.

    Unless you are Less Paul Guitars, don’t waste time on the Non-Microsoft shop dream. The reality is it wont happen. Less was an unusual case with a very driven man at the helm. You probably don’t have that, and you probably don’t have Less Paul’s budget.

    You can hope for a lot of linux. Use caution and use it, only where it works and makes sense. Otherwise you make Linux look bad, and you make yourself look bad.

  10. Earl said on October 14, 2009 at 4:08 am

    I’m looking for an article that explains how to migrate from Linux to Windows. I am using Ubuntu 8.04 and Mandriva 2009. It has been suggested I work on Windows Vista and Windows 7. I have trouble getting Windows XP to work already.


  11. paulus said on October 14, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Your best article ever. Cant wait to read the second part.

  12. Engineeer Head said on October 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    No Doubt, a good guidline for whom thinking to Migrate

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