This is my quick introductory guide to Linux for Windows users. I got tired of typing it up every time somebody asked, so I put it in a stickynote file. I might upgrade it into a publishable article in the future, I dunno. You can write me at vandammes at gmail dot com. Links are at the bottom.

Jim's Guide to converting to Linux (Bonus: intro to dual booting)

Go to Distrowatch, hit Search button in the top, and type in the search box whatever preferences you have (like, old computer, scientific, multimedia, educational, etc).  Check out some of the resulting distros and see which best suits your situation. Ubuntu is a good start but has a wierd menu (Unity) that is a little like Windows 8; some people hate it, others love it. Otherwise you can install the gnome3 desktop, which is more normal. Ubuntu has lots of good documentation, tutorials, and forums (which mostly works for Mint too). Zorin mimics the look of Windows XP, 7,8, or Mac, if you prefer. Puppy runs off a CD; you don't even need a hard drive, and it runs on those ten year old PCs that people throw away.

Go to the distro's website, download the ISO and burn to a disk or flash drive. ("Burn ISO to disk", not just copy the files. You need an ISO burner, which most burning software will do. Get one from Gismo's. http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-cd-dvd-burning-software.htm). For a USB flash drive burner on windows, use LiLi.

Back up your data files on the cloud, external hard drive, flash drive, or DVDs. I'd make 2 copies of really important stuff. It's handy to use Dropbox, Copy.com or UbuntuOne because they all have client apps for both Windows and Linux that integrate into your file managers.

If you are going to dual boot with Windows, run a defrag, clean up your files with CCleaner or equivalent, take out the trash you don't need, uninstall all the crapware and apps you never use. Search for "dual boot tutorial" and read a few of them, too long to put here. There are some great YouTube videos. (If you are erasing Windows, never mind the dual boot stuff; installing one OS is way simpler.)

Boot off the disk and see if the Linux distro runs great on your machine, and sees all your hardware, like camera, sound, wifi, etc. Then hit the "Install" button on your desktop. You'll need to make up a username and password, answer a couple questions about your time zone and keyboard.

If you are dual booting, you need to "install alongside Windows", as per the tutorials. You have to decide how big a partition you want for Linux versus Windows. You tell the installer which partition you are going to use for Linux by labeling it with a slash (/). That will be where all your Linux files get installed, and your Home directory will be there with all your data. If you think you'll want to use Windows a lot (every new Linux user thinks that, at first) you can use your Windows partition to keep your data in. It's more difficult to use the Linux partition for data, because windows is too stupid to read Linux files without a special program, which might not work.

If you're not dual booting, choose "replace Windows".  Then about 20 or so minutes later, depending on how big the distro is and whether you're using a flash drive or disk, you'll be ready to get back to work after you copy all your data files back in. You'll probably have all the programs you need to get going (like LibreOffice, browser, viewers and editors), but you can fool with it later and install all kinds of special stuff.

You will then be free to move about. No windows, no gates, no barbed wire malware. Huzzah!

Linux links

Why Linux is better  A great intro to choosing Linux vs. Windows

Zorin   Nice Windows-looking distro, for those who want the same look

Linux Mint My favorite, has everything I need and a couple nice desktop choices (I like Cinnamon)

http://www.ubuntu.com/  Best for beginners, but the menu system takes some getting used to (I like Gnome3 better than Unity)

Makeuseof's Best Linux Distributions  A great review of all the top Linux distros, to make choosing easier

http://www.distrowatch.com/   Reviews, links, news about all 300 or so Linux distros (plus other FOSS OS)

Rescatux  A nice small rescue CD. Reset Windows passwords, test hardware etc. Has a minimalist Linux OS.

Gismo's freeware Good place to look for Linux apps

Copyright 2013 James M. Van Damme