Installation, software and support
Still with us? Good; now we move on to looking at installation. Again, this differs a little from Windows methods, as well as varying between distros.
A common feature of Linux OS’ is the ability to ‘live’ boot them – that is, booting from a DVD or USB image without having to actually install the OS on your machine. This can be a great way to quickly test out if you like a distro without having to commit to it.
The distro can then be installed from within the live-booted OS, or simply run live for as long as you need. However, while more polished distros such as Ubuntu are a doddle to set up, some of the less user-friendly examples require a great deal more technical know-how to get up and running.
Windows installations, by contrast, while more lengthy and time consuming, are a lot simpler, requiring a minimum of user input compared to many distros.
Software and compatibility
The vast majority of programs are written predominantly for Windows. While there are many that also have Linux-compatible versions, the sad fact is that a lot of popular Windows software simply isn’t available on Linux.
There are always ways around this, however. The open source community has created free alternatives to basically every program you could wish for, and has devised workarounds, such as emulating them in virtual machines, for the few that it can’t recreate.
Still, these replacements are often homebrewed, and feel like poor relations in comparison to the originals. If your business depends on specialist software, we’d strongly advise checking that this software either supports Linux or has an adequate substitute before making the jump.
Another key difference from Windows is the method of installation. Rather than downloading a nice, neat .exe file, most Linux programs install from within your distro’s software repositories.
These can be installed from the command line using the apt-get command, but the majority of distros will have a package manager built in. This acts as a nice graphical front-end that does the same job, but functions much in the same way as an app store, making the process a lot easier to understand.
Some software, of course, will not be in your distro’s repository, and will need to be downloaded from the source. This is usually for non-open source variants of proprietary software such as Skype or Steam.
In this case, the installation becomes more like that of Windows software. Simply download the relevant package for your distro from the company’s site, and the inbuilt package installer will handle all of the heavy lifting.
The big advantage that Windows has over Linux in the software stakes is that virtually every program is designed from the ground-up with Windows support in mind. Compatibility worries, in general, do not affect Windows users. As mentioned above, set-up is also often a much simpler affair.
As it’s created and maintained by a community of passionate fans, Linux has a huge wealth of information to fall back on, in the form of tips, tricks, forums and tutorials from other users and developers.
However, it’s somewhat fragmented and disarrayed, with little in the way of a comprehensive, cohesive support structure for many distros. Instead, anyone with a problem often has to brave the wilderness of Google to find another user with the answer.
Microsoft is much better at collating its resources. Though it doesn’t have quite the amount of raw information that’s available regarding Linux, it’s made sure that the help documents it does have are relatively clear and easy to access.
There’s also a similar network of Windows forums and tutorials if the official assistance doesn't help you.
Next: design, security and performance.