Monday 26 September 2016

Using Linux Beside Windows - It's Not Scary

Last week I decided to take another look at running Linux on my laptop. It's been many years since I ran Linux, and I'm happy to say it's improved incredibly.

Why did I want to try running Linux? There are a LOT of very powerful free programs available in Linux, and as operating systems go it's much faster than Windows.

In fact it's so much faster booting up and running programs that I also installed it on an old laptop that I had previously retired because it was slow under Windows 10. It hums along just fine using Ubuntu and now I have another workstation if I need it.

For this trial I downloaded Ubuntu Linux to a bootable USB drive. This approach has the advantage of letting you run Linux directly from the USB to see if you like it before installing anything on your laptop.

Years ago installing Linux to dual boot between Windows and Linux was a complex process requiring some command-line skills. I'm happy to say the process is much more user-friendly these days.

When booting up from the USB key you just choose the "Install Ubuntu" option. Ubuntu will detect that you already have Windows installed and ask if you want to install beside Windows or overwrite the current operating system.

Choose "Install beside". Be very careful not to choose the overwrite option or you will blow away your current Windows instance.

At this point you are presented with a sliding scale that lets you drag to add more or less space from your hard drive for Linux to use. In my case I gave Linux 30GB of space.

Most of my media & documents are either cloud-based, stored on my network, or on my local Windows partition so I just needed space for the operating system and a few apps. (Linux can see your Windows directories and open/edit files from there if you wish) So far 30GB seems to have been around the right amount for my purposes.

The installer takes care of changing the hard drive partitions for you, the process gives you the option of installing all updates as you install the operating system (Something I wish Windows did to avoid the usual half-hour of updating after you turn on the machine) and that's really all there is to it.

Not long after you're taken in to the Ubuntu desktop. Unlike Windows your default taskbar is on the left side of the screen, but you can easily move it to the bottom to feel more like Windows if you wish.

Ubuntu comes with some great software pre-installed, including a full Office productivity suite that looks and feels a lot like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

These programs can open existing MS-Office files, and can save in MS-Office format, so you can still exchange information easily with non-Linux users. All these apps are free, as opposed to the $600+ pricetag from Microsoft.

 Instead of a "Start" button you have the "Search Your Computer" button. You can use this to find and launch apps quickly just by starting to type their name. I suggest pinning frequently used programs to your taskbar or putting them on your desktop.

The taskbar includes quick access to your system settings via the gear & wrench icon.  For web browsers Ubuntu comes with Firefox, but you can add Chromium, Opera, and a bunch of others, all free.

Speaking of free, most software you'd pay for in Windows has a free counterpart in Linux. I was able to easily find a project management app that is a great replacement for Microsoft Project, the icons and functions are quite similar so the learning curve is minimal. All this without the steep pricetag of $929 for a current copy of Project!

Using the Ubuntu Software button (It looks like an orange suitcase with the letter "A" on it) I've been able to find free programs to do pretty much everything I do with Windows. The big difference is in the savings. Just between Office and Project I would have to spend about $1,500 for software that is free in Linux.

I was easily able to find and install the program that lets me use my fingerprint reader to log in and unlock my laptop, so I haven't sacrificed any functionality vs Windows.

But Homegeek, what if you want to go back to using Windows? 
No problem, when I reboot my laptop a menu pops up asking which operating system I want to use. I just use the arrow keys to switch between the selections and press "Enter" to load that operating system.

As operating systems go Linux tends to be a lot more secure than Windows. Because it's open-source that means many thousands of people are reviewing the code constantly. Bugs and exploits are usually found a lot faster, in many cases before being released. If an exploit does make it to a release copy the update to take care of it usually is released faster than you'd find under Windows.

I've been running Ubuntu exclusively for a few days now and have done almost everything I've done under widows using it. (Including this blog post.) Since I use Office365 I still have access to native Microsoft apps online while using Linux.

As an added bonus if my Windows operating system ever got corrupted I can use Linux to access it and try to fix it.

If you're getting fed up with your Windows system or just generally curious I'd suggest giving Ubuntu a whirl. This way you can have the best of both worlds.

If your computer is on the older side this is a great way to breathe new life in to your hardware!

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

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