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Windows XP is dead: So now’s the ideal time to switch to Linux

If you're one of the few hundred million people that are still using Windows XP, I have a suggestion for you: It's time to make the switch to Linux. With the official retirement of Windows XP, the release of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, and surprisingly healthy software and gaming ecosystems (yay, Steam!), there has never been a better time to switch to Linux.

Linux will also run very well on any old, Windows XP-era hardware that you might still be using, too – and if you're anxious that you'll be filled with switcher's remorse after nuking your Windows installation, don't worry: Dual-booting is a cinch as well.

Why switch to Linux?

As you've no doubt heard over the years from writers and enthusiasts far beardier than I, there are all sorts of reasons for switching to Linux, from financial to ideological to functional, and everything in between. For some tasks, Linux is far superior to Windows. More importantly, though, there are many tasks where Windows isn't significantly better than Linux – such as surfing the web (Chrome for Ubuntu is the same as Chrome for Windows or OS X). Even for gaming, Linux is definitely catching up with Windows, thanks to Steam and the Source engine. (The big exception is big-budget FPS games, where Linux definitely falls flat).

Really, a better question to ask is why shouldn't I switch to Linux? If you need to use Microsoft Office, or one of Adobe's multimedia apps, you should stick with Windows or OS X. If need a very Windows-specific tool, like Visual Studio, then Linux isn't for you. If you want to play the latest and greatest PC games on release day, then you really need to use Windows.

For most everyday tasks, thanks to advanced browsers like Chrome and Firefox, and the maturity of web apps like Gmail and Google Docs, you may be surprised by how proficient a modern Linux distro is.

How do you switch to Linux?

Most modern Linux distributions make it fairly easy to switch from Windows. Wubi lets you install Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration from Windows. For most other distros, such as Linux Mint or Debian, it's mostly a matter of grabbing the correct 32-bit or 64-bit ISO, burning it to a CD or USB stick, and rebooting your PC. (How to do that is beyond the scope of this story, but Google will give you a dozen easy-to-follow guides).

To begin with, make sure you install Linux in a dual-boot configuration. That way, if you're struck by switcher's remorse, or you suddenly remember that you need to use an app that's only available in Windows, you can simply reboot.

Unfortunately, the only real way to find out if Linux has any issues with your computer is to install it (most distros install fairly quickly, though).

Fortunately, if you are having issues with a device after installing Linux, you can normally find very good support online. Linux support isn't quite at the same omg-500-search-results-for-a-really-obscure-bug level as Windows, but it's pretty good.

What should you do after installing Linux?

I won't lie: Switching to Linux from Windows XP (or indeed any other operating system) will be a fairly harsh experience. Modern Linux distros are much better than they used to be, but there are still a lot of rough edges that you won't notice until they've stabbed you in the ankle. In my opinion, the best thing you can do after installing Linux is to use it. Don't fall for the usual trap: Don't run back to Windows with your tail between your legs the first time Linux throws an error in your face. Stick with Linux, and you might just find that you like it.

Here are a few more tips for making the switch to Linux:

  • Install Steam, and then buy some Linux games. You will be surprised at the number of good and half-decent games that are now available for Linux through Steam, including FTL: Faster than Light, Dota 2, Europa Universalis IV, and all the usual Source engine games. Through Wine and Cygwin emulation, other older Windows games are available to you as well.
  • Read an Ubuntu guide. One of the biggest issues with switching to Linux is not knowing how to perform basic tasks, such as watching a video. The Getting Started guide, produced by the Ubuntu Manual team, is pretty good (you don't need to read the whole thing, but the table of contents makes for a useful reference). Always remember that googling for "how do you do X in Ubuntu" will usually turn up a ton of results.
  • Finally learn to use the command line. Linux, at its heart, is a command-line based operating system. The Linux command line is incredibly powerful; there's almost nothing you can't do, and in many cases it's the best or fastest way to do something. Ubuntu's official Using The Terminal guide is a pretty good starting point. You will love apt-get.

If you have your own tips for switching to Linux from Windows, be sure to share them in the comments. Alternatively, if you think that Linux still isn't ready for an influx of ex-Windows XP users, be sure to let us know as well.