15 Sept 2015

What you should not expect when switching to Linux

Linux is a great operating system. Nobody in the Linux camp will argue about that. There are many articles on the Internet convincing you to try and to switch to Linux. There are also many articles that attempt to show you why you should not switch.

Let's look at this question from a slightly different viewpoint today. Say, you are now convinced that you want to switch to Linux. What you should NOT expect from this switch?

1. Linux works much faster than Windows

This isn't too far from the truth. Generally speaking, Linux OS is less resource-hungry than Windows. However, it all depends on two factors:

  • Desktop environment

There are several desktop environments and window managers available for the Linux operating systems. Some of them specifically target low-end hardware, so they work much faster than the default Windows interface. LXDE, Xfce, Openbox are good examples here. On the other hand, some desktop environments don't put speed of operation as the top priority.

You may experience approximately the same speed of operation compared to Windows if you use the Unity, GNOME 3, or KDE 4 or 5 desktop environments.

  • Applications

Linux won't work wonders if you try to run many resource-hungry applications on a low-end hardware platform. Generally speaking, memory and CPU are managed very well by the Linux kernel, and resource use by the operating system itself is generally lower for Linux. But Linux cannot increase your physical memory size or reduce the amount of memory required by the application.

2. I will do everything from the graphical interface only

Again, this is not very far from the truth. Many desktop environments are now very well-designed. You won't need to enter the command line interface (CLI) to do most of the configuration or routine steps. However, there may be an occasion or two when you need to revert to CLI. Maybe because it is the only way to do something in your operating system. Maybe because it is quicker and easier to do something via CLI than via graphical interface.

Also, the entire CLI is unified across the Linux operating systems. It means that the same command is very likely to work the same way in many Linux distributions. That's why many how-to's refer to CLI when they describe system- or version-independent steps. Similarly, if you use Linux remotely, for example on VPS server from VPSServer.com, you are unlikely to use a graphical interface at all.

3. I will immediately start using Linux graphical interface like a Pro

Linux operating systems allow you to use many graphical interfaces, or Desktop Environments (DE). Many of them are so flexible that you won't be able to tell which DE it is when running the default set up of various distributions.

Some of the DEs are very similar to Windows, moreover they are aimed at Windows migrants:

  • GNOME 3 in Zorin OS is configured to look exactly like Windows 7 by default, but allows you to switch to other themes too.
  • Cinnamon and Plasma (KDE 4 or 5) interfaces are designed to be very similar to Windows 7.
  • Xfce and LXDE desktop environments have a default layout similar to Windows XP.

Other desktop environments have a very different concept of desktop organisation and use. You will inevitably have a learning curve when starting to use MATE, Unity or GNOME 3.

4. I will immediately have all the software I need

Although there is a way to run Windows applications in Linux, it is not a good idea to always follow that route. Additionally, not all the Windows software is possible to run this way.

However, have a look at alternatives. Do you really need Windows Media Player, Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop? Or would VLC, LibreOffice and GIMP do the job for you?

One good thing is that many of these free software tools are available as Windows applications too. You can install and try them on your Windows system even before you install Linux on your machine. You will dip your feet into the Open Source world, along with trying the features and interface of your future tools.

Also, not all the distributions have the same default set of applications. You may have to install something specific you need from the repositories. Different distributions have different approaches here. I would distinguish three of them:

  1. Barebones. You have the core system only, and then add the software yourself. Not very convenient for the beginning user, because you may not know the name of the application you need. Good examples here are Bodhi or SLAX.
  2. Full-blown. You have many applications for the same task. It is sometimes very confusing, but it allows you to try different applications before you make a choice. Also, this is good if your Internet connection is limited. Good examples here are Zorin OS Ultimate, Emmabuntus or Knoppix.
  3. Mid-range. Most of the distributions fit this category. You have default applications for most of the common tasks. If you don't like the default application, or something is missing, the repository is right at your fingertips.

All the above does not mean to stop you from switching to Linux. Just manage your expectations, and you'll be more ready to enjoy the new world!


  1. 1. I use Trinity and the difference in speed (especially responsiveness) is significant;
    2. I use the prompt on Windows as much as I do in Linux;
    3. I can't remember having too much trouble dealing with the DT;
    4. Only too true. I remember having ported about 80% of the needed functionality to Linux - but that was 2000, when applications were much less common.

  2. 1. Trinity is low-resource DE.
    2. You probably use CMD more often than most of other people.
    3. Trinity is Windows XP style, although it has much more configuration capabilities.

  3. "Linux cannot increase your physical memory size or reduce the amount of memory required by the application."

    That's not exactly true. I will never forget the first time I ran a bunch of students simultaneously on a single PC. Students had been using Lose '98 in 64MB RAM. It was slow. It crashed at the drop of a hat. The students and I built a GNU/Linux terminal server with a single core 1.8gHz CPU and 1500MB RAM. 30 students worked it hard with no swapping. One guy fell off his chair because he was used to waiting a minute or so for login and leaned back in his chair... The secret is that the few applications in use all shared the same set of libraries and umpteen processes only required one set of libraries in RAM. So, GNU/Linux can be much more efficient in use of RAM than That Other OS.

    These days the results may not be as spectacular as browsers, for instance, tie up ~1gB or more just displaying a few web-pages. It's data, not code, and many desktops run huge numbers of processes monitoring stuff. My students loved it though. They were used to losing data every class. With GNU/Linux resources were handled much more smoothly and no one lost anything running GNU/Linux in six months. Since then I've used GNU/Linux and That Other OS on identical hardware many times and GNU/Linux always used resources more wisely.