How to Adopt GNU/Linux?

Posted on 7th June 2020

You cannot evolve unless you are willing to change.
— Leon Brown

You may have noticed that as part of my recommendations for increasing digital privacy and safety, I recommend you to switch from a proprietary operating system (OS) to GNU/Linux.

For people who are tech enthusiasts or have a technical academic background, it may seem simple to migrate over to GNU/Linux, but if you are someone who...

You may benefit from this guide. You may not even know how to start moving to GNU/Linux. Not only you have to consider which distribution (a.k.a. distro or variant) you should choose, but you also need to know which software is available to you and, in case some of them aren't, which software alternative to pick to not affect your workflow.

Although I'm not covering the installation process on this post, I hope this could be a good place for you to start your journey towards more private, secure, and free computing. Anyway, let's jump right in...

Disclaimer: I understand the difference between GNU, Linux, and GNU/Linux but I'll be using those terms interchangeably. If you're curious, feel free to read more about it.

1. Choose a GNU/Linux distribution.

The fact that GNU/Linux is open source and built by the people for the people, it gives them the freedom to create new variants tailored to specific niches. So many options may feel overwhelming at first and, you probably want something beginner-friendly and with a nice user interface.

If you're coming from Microsoft Windows, my recommendations for you would be Linux Lite, Linux Mint, or Trisquel GNU/Linux, they're very easy to use and light on processing power. If you have enough processing power for a more modern-looking distro, you could try Pop_OS! or PureOS. On the other hand, if you're coming from macOS, you're probably better off with elementary OS.

Of course, you also have the option to dive into the vast universe of GNU/Linux distributions by checking out DistroWatch which is probably the largest database of available GNU/Linux and BSD variants. Another way of choosing a distribution tailored to your needs is to use services such as Distrochooser or Try Linux.

2. Review the Software You Use.

This is probably the most laborious step of your migration journey. Not only you have quite a few software to evaluate, but also you most likely need to be very careful not to disrupt your workflow neither spoil your experience on a Linux-based OS. Therefore, I'd further divide this step into three sub-steps:

2.1 Find out which software has a native GNU/Linux version.

There's not much to do here, you can find all available versions of specific software on their respective websites. Some of the recommended distributions on step 1 already have a dedicated Software Center (a.k.a. App Store) with a wide range of software ready to install.

2.2 Look for alternatives for softwares not available for GNU/Linux.

This is probably the step where you should be the most careful, I'm sure you want to keep a good workflow with software alternatives and have the best experience you can. In this case, you can try services such as AlternativeTo, Free Software Directory, and The Linux Alternative Project to look for alternatives.

2.3 Use a compatibility layer or emulator.

In the case that you need very specific software that does not have a version for Linux and none of the alternatives are good enough for you, you can try software that acts as compatibility layers or emulators to install and run Windows or macOS software inside your Linux machine.

I want you to use this as a last resort for two reasons: (1) To break free from proprietary non-Linux-compatible software and, (2) to ensure that you won't be affected by the chance that any of the emulators won't be able to run that specific software.

In this case, I recommend you to take a look at WineHQ, CrossOver, PlayOnLinux, and Lutris; the last two are tailored for games.

3. Don't be ashamed of asking for help.

I know that the Internet is full of stupid people who don't understand that different people have different struggles, but I can guarantee you that there are far more people willing to help others.

Most of the Linux distros have a dedicated forum, but you can also find forums for Linux-based OS in general around the internet where you can look for help. You can also find chat groups on Telegram, Matrix, or XMPP/Jabber.


This post is inspired on a keynote I gave back in 2011 and I hope this can help you on your journey away from proprietary operating systems.

This may not be a detailed step-by-step where every need is considered but I believe it is a good framework to help you get started with Linux.

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