Switch To Linux At Your Small Business

switch to linux at your small business

Lots of small business problems can be solved by ditching Windows and making the switch to Linux. "But I'm happy with Windows," you say. Really? Read on…

November 7, 2017

Why Should You Switch To Linux?

My first response when people ask me why I made the switch to Linux goes something like “Linux does what I tell it to do, and pretty much when I say to do it. If it breaks, it’s probably my fault.” I can’t say the same for Windows. I never became an advanced Windows user, which could very well be my problem. But I’ve met more than a few Windows techs who still throw their hands up and just do a clean install when things are too screwed up. I prefer to be the problem if something is going to break, and enjoy being able to trust my operating system to behave on a day to day basis.


1. It’s FREE!

Linux usually costs nothing, the most popular distributions don’t anyway. RedHat, which many people have heard of, does come at a price. Over the years, other Linux distributions have come with a fee. That was generally to cover the cost of support and development. The more popular ones now (Mint, Ubuntu, and Fedora last I knew) are free.


2. Most of the software is free too

Anything I’ve ever run across that came with a fresh Linux install was free. And nearly all of the things you can grab from your software repository is as well. Yes, you can run “non-free” and proprietary software. Believe it or not, you can even run Windows in Linux if you want, once you’ve got some sort of virtual machine software running. I was designing kitchens for a little while with 2020 Design, running Windows 7 on a virtual machine inside of Linux Mint.

Most of the distributions come with everything you need installed already. If you want an office suite, you’ve probably got LibreOffice. Need something for editing images? GIMP is most likely sitting there waiting for you. Web browser? Firefox is almost certainly sitting there.

Each distribution has it’s own version of a “Software Center,” and they each have their own name for it. You’ll just need to find it in the Linux version you’re using, and browse away for software.

Here are some of my personal favorites…

Warzone 2100: it’s a RTS kind of like Command and Conquer.
VLC: This comes by default in some distros, but not the ones I use. It plays all manner of media files, from movies to music. There’s a Windows port too, if you want to try it before you switch to Linux.
Geany: This is the text editor I’ve gotten most used to over the last couple of years. Again, there’s a Windows port, so I can feel at home if I have to use a Windows machine for any length of time.


3. The community is great

People are generally really friendly in the community. There are mailing lists, but I lean toward a distro’s message board. If I still can’t find an answer, I head for an IRC chat room. Someone in there will have an answer. Keep in mind that a lot of them want you to research problems at least a little before you come busting into a chat room with questions.


Practical Steps After a Switch To Linux

1. Get Familiar With the Filesystem

Here’s a diagram showing a rough idea of what the Linux and Windows equivalents are, at least as far as filesystem layout goes.

switch to Linux: Windows and Linux File System Comparison

You’re used to Windows

In Windows, the hard drive is generally called C:\, and this is also the root of the filesystem. Back in the day, my 3 1/2″ floppy drive was A:\, my 5 1/4″ floppy was B:\, and when I finally got a CDROM, it was D:\. Windows itself resides in C:\Windows\, all of the software you install sits (mostly) in C:\Program Files\. If your name is Amanda (my wife’s is), then your user profile is C:\Users\Amanda\. All of your files and software profiles (things like browser cookies, saved program preferences, etc) go somewhere in there. Desktop, Documents, Pictures, Music, and Downloads are where you can find nearly all of your stuff. When I’m working on someone’s crashed Windows PC, step 1 for me is usually grabbing a copy of their entire C:\Windows\Amanda directory before I touch anything else.

The Linux layout

In Linux, the root of the drive is called root, and is indicated with a forward slash (/). All of the devices have a place in dev, so a hard drive might be /dev/sda, while a thumb drive might be /dev/sdc/. All of the users get their own directory in home, so Amanda’s stuff is going to get stored in /home/amanda/. The equivalents of what’s in Windows — Documents, Downloads, Pictures, and so on — sit In that directory.

Configurations for programs generally land in etc. Other things (like executables — .exe files in Windows) that you’d normally find in Program Files have Linux homes in bin and sbin.

2. Update it

In Debian based distros (Ubuntu, Mint) you’re going to want to run an apt-get update, followed by an apt-get upgrade. This will bring all the software you’ve got installed up to date as far as the distro’s package maintainers are concerned.

In RedHat variants (CentOS, Fedora) use rpm files to install software. CendOS and RedHat are currently using the command yum -y upgrade to get everything up to date, while Fedora uses dnf upgrade. RH and Cent will eventually implement dnf.

3. Customize the GUI

Coming from Windows, you may be best off sticking with something familiar. In Linux, you can pick from a plethora of graphical desktop environments. In Windows, as you know, you’re pretty much stuck with what Microsoft gives you. Classic Shell is an open source add on you can download to make Windows 8 and 10 act more like XP and 7, but that’s a different story.

Let’s say you download Fedora. It comes by default with a DE (Desktop Environment) called GNOME3. But, if you don’t like that, you’re free to go grab whatever toots your horn. Cinnamon is a variant of GNOME3, and looks a lot like older Windows. XFCE is the same deal, but there are some differences. I’m always flipping back and forth between which of these two to grab. I liked GNOME2, and those two DEs are closest to it. But there’s KDE, LXDE, Fluxbox… There’s a pile of them. The underlying operating system (Fedora) is the same, but you can change how you interact with it graphically.

And then when you get the DE you feel pretty comfortable with, there’s all sorts of tweaking you can do. It might be a little daunting at first, having all those choices, but it’s really nice once you get get used to it. After you’ve made the switch to Linux, you may find yourself getting angry when you sit down at one of those constrictive Windows boxes again, so beware.


A Switch To Linux Over The Long Term

1. Maybe keep windows around for a while

Whether you use it or not, you may feel a bit more comfortable during your switch to Linux if you can go use a Windows machine when you feel the need. There may be some applications that you run that just don’t have Linux equivalents. Ernie Ball ran into the same thing (I mention it in my Switching to Linux post — there’s a link to his story there if you want to read the whole thing) when that company made the switch. But Linux will do the vast majority of what you need done, and I encourage you to give it an honest try.

2. Install whatever else you’ll need

I don’t know what you’ll need specifically (everyone will be different) but check out the software repositories. Each DE has some sort of “software store,” kind of the like the App Store for iPhones, and the Play Store for Android, where you can browse by category to find what you need. If you want a more artsy program, GIMP may not do it for you; Krita might be the answer. Maybe you need some sort of accounting program. Gnucash might do it, or PostBooks if you need something heavier. The software you need for a complete switch to Linux is probably there for the grabbing

3. Find a buddy who’s already made the switch to Linux

I kind of had a buddy by default. A couple years after I started my tentative nosing around in Linux, I went to school. The fellow that taught the class and I communicated for a while after it was over (it was a year long Solaris/Linux college type class) and then dropped off as we each moved along in life. I’ve got some other buddies now, people who look at operating systems the same way I do. I’m actually real friendly with the local Windows guy. While we each have our own forte, we’ve both been able to bounce stuff off each other over the last (man, I can’t believe it’s been this long) TEN years or so. We also have the same values in the Customer Service department, so I’m very comfortable sending Windows customers to him.



The most important thing to keep in mind is why you want to switch to Linux in the first place. There may be a time or two where you’re not sure this is such a good idea. Just remember why you’re doing it, and you’ll be fine. And in the not too distant future, if you’re like me, you’ll shake your head and be reminded every time you sit down at Windows why you decided to switch to Linux.

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