Originally Published: Wednesday, 12 July 2000 Author: A.Sleep
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Replacing Windows: Part 1

Many articles and HOWTO documents have been written for system and network administrators on replacing Windows NT with GNU/Linux, but they are generally useless to the beginner and the average home user. In this article, we'll walk you through determining if you should use GNU/Linux as your primary OS, selecting software to replace current Windows software, and many other related topics.

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In this series, we will discuss how (and why) to replace Windows with GNU/Linux as your primary operating system (OS) on your home computer. Many articles and HOWTO documents have been written for system and network administrators on replacing Windows NT with GNU/Linux, but they are generally useless to the beginner and the average home user. In this article, we'll walk you through determining if you should use GNU/Linux as your primary OS, selecting software to replace current Windows software, and many other related topics. This installment will give you an general idea of what can be done if and when you switch over to GNU/Linux.

First things first: get together some information about what you actually do in Windows. If you are like most people, you have a lot of software, and probably don't even know what all of it is used for. The best way to figure out what you need Windows for is to write down everything you do in Windows for a week. At the end of the week, you will have an idea of what you really use your computer for. Remember to take note of the names of the programs you use, as we'll need that later.

Once you have your list, we can start to figure out if we can replace all the software you use in Windows with a GNU/Linux counterpart. Let's take a look at what is used in an average week for a power user (your list may be different):

Web Browser: Internet Explorer or Netscape E-mail: Outlook Express Web Multimedia/Real Audio: RealPlayer Web Multimedia/MP3: WinAmp Web Multimedia/Other: Windows Media Player Office Application: Word, Excel FTP Application: CuteFTP Communication: ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger Accounting: MS Money, Quicken

Now, this list just doesn't seem like much when you look at it. There may be many more items on your list, and that's OK. I bet we can replace most, if not all of your applications.

Next, we'll look at why we might want to use GNU/Linux. Most users would want to use GNU/Linux for added stability, faster PC performance, and more options for configuration/customization. The fact that most GNU/Linux software is free (yes, that's free) also makes users quite happy. Specifically, though, why do you want to use GNU/Linux? Are you a developer who wants to code in a top-notch development environment? Are you a business user who is tired of rebooting while your competition sends those important quotes? Or, are you a home user who is just fed up with the other operating systems? I know I fit at least two of those categories!

If you can validate your need for GNU/Linux to yourself, then you are ready. If you are hesitant about moving to GNU/Linux, wait -- there is nothing wrong with being cautious. Installing GNU/Linux usually means formatting and/or repartitioning your computer's hard drive, and sometimes when hardware doesn't work right, some time off-line fixing your setup. If you are not ready to take the plunge yet, don't fear and read on, as you may still have a chance to use GNU/Linux without the worry. Check out Linux-Mandrake. They have a version (or "distribution") of GNU/Linux that can be installed right onto your hard drive and used "from Windows."

Now, let's start looking at replacing those applications! We'll use the list we created above for this demonstration. Most software can be found by searching a few places: Freshmeat.net, Tucows Linux, and SourceForge. Let's take a look at this list:

Web Browser

For browsing the World Wide Web, we can use the ubiquitous Netscape Communicator, or the slim and sleek text-based browser, lynx. There is also a beta version (development version) of the Opera browser for GNU/Linux.

E-mail

For e-mail we have quite a few options. We can use the e-mail functionality of Netscape Communicator, or go the UNIX path and use Pine or Mutt (classic UNIX e-mail clients) with some other software called fetchmail. Fetchmail is a tool to download mail from your mail server. Almost daily, new e-mail programs are popping up. Check out CSCMail, gtkmail, Ishmail, and Mahogany, among many others. Like I said, there are many!

Web Multimedia

As a standard, RealPlayer G2 is available for GNU/Linux, as are other programs: XMMS (MP3 player similar to WinAmp), MpegOrion, aKtion, and others for viewing MPEG and other multimedia types. However, GNU/Linux does not have a replacement for the Windows Media Player. If you rely on this format, you are going to be waiting a bit for GNU/Linux software that can understand this elusive Microsoft format.

Office Applications

Recently bought by Sun Microsystems, StarOffice rivals Microsoft Office. The GNOME Desktop team is working hard on GNOME Office, and Applixware has been a UNIX/GNU/Linux standard for years. For those Windows purists out there, Corel has made available WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux.

FTP Applications

If command-line FTP isn't your bag, there are numerous GUI (Graphical User Interface) FTP clients out there. Searching Freshmeat.net for Tucows will lead you to an abundance of FTP goodness.

Communications Applications

With more then 10 different ICQ applications and just as many AOL Instant Messenger applications, you have more than enough choices to select from. With the advent of Everybuddy and open standards for the AIM, ICQ and MSN protocols, we can now use one client to communicate with all our friends. In case you're addicted to that Yahoo! messenger, no fear, we have those clients too.

Accounting Applications

In this area, we in the GNU/Linux realm are still playing catch-up. There are applications that work well, such as MoneyDance and GnuCash (downloads here). There are quite a few applications, but most are specialized rather than broad like QuickBooks.

Hopefully, you now have an idea of the many possibilities for replacing your Windows applications. Note that not all of the programs I mention above are distributed under the an open source license, but most, if not all, are available for free.

In our next installment, we'll look closer at if and why we should switch to GNU/Linux. Until then, have fun!





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