Linux provides the freedom to choose

Making the case for the non-techie to jump into Linux

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Are you an XP user looking for a similar alternative? Is your PC aging but you don't care for the Windows 8 Metro interface?

I suggest you take a look at Linux. Why? Because Linux can serve your basic computing needs well enough that the experience is comparable to your previous operating system of choice.

Let's take a look at some of these basic computing needs in more detail. Below is a list of computing tasks users commonly perform on their PCs. This is a list I've compiled based on my own experience and research.  

Research Web surfing
Office Revising and creating documents
Performing calculations on a spreadsheet
Creating and revising presentations
Revising and creating images.
Creating 2d images in vector format
Creating 3d images in vector format
Edit videos
Checking and sending emails from multiple email accounts
Reading and collecting RSS newsfeeds
Syncing calendar with on-line calendars (I.e. Google Calendar) and mobile devices
Syncing files with Cloud storage providers
Backup OS
Entertainment Reading eBooks (Kindle)
Maintaining, organizing and playing music collection
Syncing music and video files with mobile devices
Play Movie and Video Files
Play Music Files
Play Video Games
Communication Social Networking
Video Chatting (Conferencing)
Making Webcam videos


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Notice how these tasks are grouped together by "Type" of task. Do you realize that subsets of these tasks are performed by mobile devices? For example, tasks classified as "Entertainment" are primarily performed on a tablet whereas "Communication" type tasks are performed on smartphones.

This is why the consumer PC market has shrunk dramatically. When people are using computing devices at home or for personal use, they are primarily executing "Entertainment" and "Communication" tasks. This leaves the "Production" tasks which require heavy processing power to be executed by the PC. The question then becomes, how many people need to do "Production" tasks at home? After all, if they work for a company usually the company supplies them with a work PC and more than likely that work PC is a "Windows PC". So, the question now becomes if you already have Windows PC that you have to use for work, why does your home PC need to be a Windows PC? If I can show you that Linux can do every task you perform on a Windows PC, why should you settle for a Windows PC interface that doesn't appeal to you?

When you stop to consider how software providers today are distributing their applications, you'll come to the realization that platform doesn't matter. With the evolution of software vendors shifting from distributing their software via storage media (i.e. Discs) in retail outlets to downloads and Software as a Service apps from the clouds, does platform really matter anymore. In my opinion, no. What matters more is whether the browser you are using can execute the tasks from apps on-line.

Therefore, if you are in the market for a new PC, chances are high that you are purchasing it for production-related tasks. If you are using it for work, the transition to Linux may be a bit more challenging than if you are using it for home use but it's not impossible to overcome.

Corporate or enterprise use

If you work at a company that relies heavily on Microsoft products like Outlook, Sharepoint, and MS Office, obviously you will have to stay with a Windows PC. Platform matters more for those using specialized software and those entrenched with Microsoft products in the Enterprise. However, if your company gives you the option to use your personal PC to remotely connect to your Windows PC at work, you don't necessarily have to have a Windows PC at home. There are free and commercial programs which allow you to connect to your Windows PC at work from home using a VPN program. You can find out from your company's IT staff whether you can use their VPN program on your Linux PC. If you own a small business and frequently use your computers at work, you can install a VNC Server on both the Windows PC at work you are connecting to and the Linux PC at home. This will enable you to work on your Windows PC from home using your Linux PC. Since Microsoft is trying to emulate Google's Cloud services model, you should also be able to use Office 365 to perform tasks using MS Office on your Linux PC if you are a subscriber to Microsoft products.

For personal or home use

If you are using a PC for home, you need to ask yourself the following questions before migrating to Linux:

  1. Is there any application or task that you absolutely must have a Windows PC to use?  If so, how often do you perform this task?
  2. Do you have an old Windows PC that you can perform those important tasks on?

If your answer to the #1 was yes and it's a task you perform often, you might want to keep a spare old Windows PC just in case. That's what I did because I was paranoid about encountering "what if" scenarios which would require a Windows PC. I kept that spare laptop with Windows 7 on it for 9 months until I realized it was gathering dust sitting idle so I converted it eventually to Linux.

If it's not a task performed often, you may want to consider dual booting Windows and Linux. The only time I ran into a situation where I needed to use a Windows PC was filling out an on-line survey for a job. However, I managed to work around the situation by first installing Playonlinux on Ubuntu 12.04. Then I used Playonlinux to install the latest Firefox browser on the Windows virtual directory created by Playonlinux. I had no problems successfully completing the survey as the on-line survey thought my OS was Windows 7 with the latest Firefox browser. Problem solved!

If your answer to #1 was no, you are a prime candidate for migrating to Linux. After all, if you are using your mobile devices for most of your computing tasks why not try something different for your Production PC when you're not tied down to any one vendor's ecosystem of applications. With Linux, you won't have to defrag your PC nor install an Anti-Virus software annually. Nor will you have to deal with a Blue Screen of Death although you may encounter your Window freezing on you occasionally if dealing with Graphics intensive processing. With Linux you'll have less system maintenance over time which means your PC will last longer.

Areas where you may require additional assistance may include connecting the PC to older Printer devices, Voice Recorder devices, smartphones, tablets and iPods. There are resources to help you install and configure extra packages to make these devices work with your Linux PC. However, on the first go round you're probably better off having a Linux expert walk you through these installations.

After you get over hurdles like above you'll find it interesting and exciting to use your new Linux OS. With Linux, you can install any program that appeals to you or appears to meet your specific demands. You'll be happy to know that these programs are free. For some distributions, there are some programs which are already pre-installed with their OS, ready for you to start using such as LibreOffice. You'll be amazed to find how much LibreOffice can do as compared with MS Office. For a comprehensive list of recommended applications for basic computing tasks, check out this link.

Your options for trying out Linux are the following:

  1. You can run a live USB or DVD plugged into your PC to do a test drive of a distribution before you install it. For those of you who are new to Linux, Linux has many distributions (distros) to choose from tailored to specific types of users. For example, Elementary OS is targeted to people who want a simplistic OS.
  2. You can dual boot Windows with Linux easily on PC's which don't have UEFI on them.  Usually, this will be Windows 7 PC's or earlier.
  3. You can buy a new Windows 8 PC and replace Windows 8 with Ubuntu, Fedora or OpenSuse. (These are the only distros which can be installed on UEFI PC's without too much hassle. It is recommended to have a Linux expert execute this task for you.)
  4. You can buy a new Linux PC from Linux Friendly vendors.
  5. You can buy a bare install PC and install Linux yourself.

For anyone trying out Linux for the first time, whether techie or non-techie I suggest you execute option #1 first and take your distro of choice for a test drive. Once you've settled on a distro that appeals to you, determine how you are going to handle your old documents, music and video files. Are you going to use a different application or service to handle your Library? For example, are you going to move your music collection from iTunes to Amazon Cloud Player. If so, then you should make sure every file in your Library is converted to a format that is compatible with your new Linux distro.

If you don't have a Linux techie friend to help you out, you are better off with option #4, buying a new Linux PC from Linux Friendly vendors. Linux PC's do cost a little bit more than a Windows PC. However, over time when you factor in not having to purchase an annual Anti-Virus subscription, MS Office or commercial applications, you will find your TCO (total cost of ownership) will be less than purchasing a Windows PC.

More importantly, you won't be locked into buying applications from any one Vendor. You will also become more knowledgeable about a technology which helps power the majority of websites, enterprise applications, databases, supercomputers, embedded systems, routers and the Android OS. Whatever distro you choose will also enable you to participate in the community supporting that distro. This means you will be able to help shape future designs and functionalities of your distro besides getting technical help from the community.

If you're an artist, this can really stir your creative juices because you can submit artwork for icons or background images which can showcase your work. If you're looking toward a career in business or are already in a business career, the probability is very high that Linux is already impacting your life. So, even if you're not a geek, learning Linux will put you at an advantage over other people making business decisions about technology because Linux gives you more "freedom of choice."

Written for's Beginners in Open Source Week. Also posted at My Linux Adventure.


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About the author

Maricelle Thomas - Maricelle Thomas has a MBA with a background in Engineering and IT. She started out as an Industrial Engineer and later moved into supporting and implementing ERP systems and Web Applications. A strong interest in the Arts and Creative fields led to her current gig as a Tech Blogger. Her deep experience in Business Analysis and various technologies enable her to provide her readers with a rich perspective on how technology can improve their daily lives. Check out her videos on YouTube or read...