goes Linux according to an article I read today and hundreds of articles before that. Conversion is possible and is common. Why do people change? What makes the change easy? What makes the change successful? Do you save any money changing from Windows to Linux?
Europe and China converted
People used to convert from Linux one at a time. Now whole countries convert. Well, governments in Europe have announced conversions and some of those conversions have started in specific government departments. China has an official Linux distribution.
The success of OpenOffice is a bigger factor than Linux versus Windows. The rate of conversion from Windows to Linux in Europe is in almost direct proportion to their conversions to OpenOffice.
Its only the desktop
We choose the operating system for our desktop and notebook computers. The operating system in the billions of computer appliances, including routers and GPS navigation systems, is chosen by the manufacturer. Server operating systems are usually decided by the application the server serves.
Unix is the big loser
The current market share for operating systems we choose is Windows a steady 85 percent, Linux a steady 5 percent, Mac OSX (a Unix) is already at 5 percent and growing, while Unix has most of the rest and is rapidly shrinking. Solaris and some other operating systems have almost disappeared, consumed by Linux and OSX.
The main reason for OSX currently expanding faster than Linux is the popularity of the iPhone. The iPad did not take off to the same extent. Almost every new device uses Android and Android is Linux, suggesting Linux will be back to expanding as fast as OSX by the end of 2011.
People rarely change the operating system on hand held devices. They choose the hand held device to match the brand they buy for their computer. Conversions are still limited to notebooks and desktops where people are prepared to experiment, often because the purchase of a new computer gives them a spare for experiments.
From my observations, only one in a hundred convert each year and that has occurred at a steady rate for the last five years, or from about the time Ubuntu and Mandriva Linux became easy to use, stable, and useful.
Windows is practically free when you buy a new machine. There is no immediate cost difference. A Windows update is a couple of hundred dollars. The equivalent update for Linux is a download of 700 MegaBytes, dirt cheap in the city areas of Australia when you use broadband, but expensive on dialup in some countries. For an individual, the total cash outlay comparison depends on your cost of data download. For a community or company, Linux is cheaper because you download once then hand the CD around for everyone else.
You still have the cost of continually downloaded updates. Both Windows and Linux need updates. I have two Linux computers in front of me, a desktop and a netbook. Both have exactly the same software and configuration. Both had zero updates downloaded for several days. This morning the desktop downloaded over 100 MegaBytes of updates for Firefox and LibreOffice. The downloads cost nothing on my cable broadband connection. On mobile broadband, the 100 MB download would cost from $1.50 up to $8.00 depending on the service. I have automatic updates switched off on the netbook so I can apply those big updates through the cheap cable broadband.
Linux is so open that a community or company could establish their own update server to reduce download costs. Again Linux is cheaper for multiple users but may not be a clear cost reduction for single users.
After Linux is established in your organisation
The article I read today about a Windows user converting to Linux was written by a Windows user in an organisation that already has many Linux users. There is no download cost. There is no support cost. The comparison on cost is almost a
no brainer after you get the initial core of Linux users working in your organisation.
There is a serious cost in people time for the initial conversion. An organisation with a thousand people might not notice a dozen people meeting for a few hours each week to pilot the conversion. The same project would be expensive in an organisation with only ten people. The same project would be expensive in an organisation of one hundred people if everyone had to travel in from remote sites.
Look at the applications
If you want serious articles about why you should change, or not change, look for articles where the writer is a traditional Windows user and has to pioneer the change. Look for someone who uses the same applications as you. Do you use Microsoft Exchange? What else? What problems are created by those applications? What is the cost of converting, including your time, those applications and their files? You may have to read several conversion articles to cover all the applications you use.
In my case I can afford multiple computers and have more licensed copies of Windows than computers. My choice is based on ease of use, not cost. Linux includes RAID while Windows has RAID only in the server version. Ubuntu Linux updates work most of the time, 99% of the time, and Linux is still usable when an update fails. Microsoft Windows updates frequently fail and some of the failures require a complicated time wasting repair. Linux updates have not cost me time. Windows updates cost a day or two or three every year.
While Linux is more reliable than Windows after installation, many of the Linux applications are not as reliable. A small range of Linux applications are as reliable as their Windows equivalents and you might not have problems. A large range of Linux applications are less developed and less tested compared to their Windows equivalents. Some Linux applications are not catching up to their Windows equivalents while others are progressing faster. You need extensive testing of all the prospective applications before deciding.
A few individuals make the change for no more reason than curiosity and the change is made really tempting by the Linux live CDs that let you experiment with Linux on your own computer. For the rest of us success usually comes from some pioneers trying everything and supporting us through a change.
In my case Windows was not the first operating system I used so another conversion was easy. I also use Linux and Unix servers, making the Linux operating system and the file system familiar. If you have not switched operating systems before, you will be constantly frustrated by what look like stupid incompatibilities and will need someone to hold your hand.
What is usually involved is a technical supporter and an end user supporter. The technical pioneers solve the occasional serious technical problems and are often bad at communicating solutions. The user supporters are people who help you with the million minor annoyances and can explain things in your language.
You need management support to let people take the time to learn a new operating system. Many Linux bigots over simplify the conversion. They may pretend their conversion occurred in 20 minutes and forget to tell you they used Linux for a few years at college.
In the article I read today, the convert called the conversion successful after using just one application on Linux. That is hardly a valid comparison. You probably use from 20 up to 100 applications on your computer. The one that does not convert might be application 99. In my case I use between 30 and 60 applications every day plus there are many more I use as little as once per month. I use two applications that do not have a Linux equivalent. One application is used once per week. The other may be unused for months then used continuously for days.
Hardware is cheap
Hardware is so cheap, I can keep the once per week application on a spare computer. You can maintain old machines while people convert. You might keep one machine in the office for Microsoft Project and some other applications where conversion and relearning is not easy.
File sharing is no easy
My other Windows application is a big problem. I may have to keep the application on a separate Windows computer and make a mass of files visible to the Windows machine through network shares. Imagine a person with little knowledge of computers trying to cope with two different incompatible computers and weird file sharing arrangements.
Maintaining an old Windows computer for some difficult applications works best when you do not have many files to share. You would not load your thousands of photographs onto a Windows machine for RAW processing then share them to Linux for editing in Gimp while continuing to manage them in ACDSee.
The easiest changeover occurs for people who only browse the Web, read email, and use simple word processing. All those applications were switched over a long time ago. Switching from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Firefox should be easy because everyone should be testing their Web sites using Firefox. OpenOffice and LibreOffice replaced Microsoft Word for simple word processing some time ago. Thunderbird is a well tested replacement for Microsoft Ooutlook and Microsoft's cheap trash Outlook Express.
There is not much else that is an easy replacement. Everything else depends on the exact options you use and your access to someone who has completed the change before you.
Gimp is a Linux based image editor that can easily replace Photoshop for 8 bit images but not for direct processing of raw images with higher colour resolution. Many people edit images but most would not understand the technical differences between Gimp and other image editors.
The good news is you can use Gimp on Windows and learn about Gimp before switching to Linux. There are many Linux applications that work on Windows. You can start switching to Linux applications before you switch to Linux. If you have converted all your applications to Linux compatible applications, there is little left to convert by the time you switch to Linux.
Easy conversions start with some obvious applications switched to Linux compatible applications and proceed with the help of Linux users who used the same applications as you.
Why do people change?
People change because they are attracted to the new or dissatisfied with the old. Windows Vista created immense dissatisfaction with the old. Outside of Vista, the most prominent dissatisfaction is the cost of an upgrade when the upgrade is seen as doing little more than fixing a whole lot of errors.
Dissatisfaction with Windows upgrades increases when they are seen as not being upgrades. Existing errors often remain. New problems are introduced. A common comment is
they should fix all the errors before creating a new version. Many people decided Vista was a downgrade, not an upgrade, and reverted to Windows XP. This also produced the biggest wave of conversions to Linux.
Some colleges make their students use Linux instead of Windows. When the students graduate and start work, Windows is unfamiliar and every problem is immediately blamed on Windows. Some of those Linux biases spread through an organisation as rumours that Linux will solve every problem and has none of the problems you get with windows. Other people are sucked in and are attracted Linux. When enough people are attracted, groups of people start to change and brag about their change.
The truth is the out of the box Linux installation only recently reached the same standard as the professional version of Linux. Mandriva Linux then Ubuntu pushed Linux toward easy installation and only achieved easy installation about the time Vista was upsetting Windows users. The Linux Ext3 file system was better than the Windows FAT file system but no professionals used FAT, they used NTFS and Linux only passed NTFS when Linux switched to Ext4.
Back in the days when Windows XP was first released, Linux was struggling to compete out of the box and required complicated configuration to match the professional version of XP. Today Windows 7 and Linux slug it out as almost equals on the desktop, with individual preferences producing a bias one way or the other. I like Linux because it includes RAID on the desktop but Ubuntu, the world's most popular Linux, does not include RAID in the desktop version.
Linux is free to try. Microsoft occasionally produce a free trial but not often and not long enough. Their small business server was available for a 120 day free trial and it often required longer than 120 days to set up all the features in a useful way. You can use Linux free for 120 days then go on using free until it is completely set up. That lack of a time limit takes the stress out of trying Linux.
Companies used to build their computer systems out from a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet. Now they build out from a Web site and the Web site is built on Linux. Why would you buy expensive Windows when 99 percent of your staff need only a Web browser?
New companies and organisations have little incentive to use Windows or Linux for compatibility. They could exist with most people using a Web browser on a cheap Dell tablet computer or a Samsung mobile phone using the Android operating system.
Android is based on Linux but the people using Android do not see or learn Linux. Android reduces our use of our netbook or notebook but does not lead to people replacing Windows with Linux.
Before you look at conversions between operating systems, look at conversions for applications. Your applications will be the limitation, not the operating system. Think of Linux and Windows as currently equal and your applications as ten tines more important.
Some applications have close matches across operating systems. You make the switch and learn a few different keyboard shortcuts. A user with thousands of existing files might find the Linux equivalent to a Windows program might not convert existing files. You read an article about how easy the conversion is but the writer does not tell you she/he tested only one small file. You test a large file and find it takes an hour per file to convert.
A Web browser is the most important application on your computer. Firefox is an easy replacement for Internet Explorer. You can add Firefox to your Windows machine as a first step towards the freedom to choose any operating system. I have not found anyone who needs Internet Explorer on Windows for anything other than the Microsoft update service.
Email is the next most important application. Microsoft sell Microsoft Outlook and include the completely unrelated Outlook Express for free. If you use Outlook Express, you should upgrade to something else, anything else. Outlook users can convert to Thunderbird as another step towards freedom. There is more work involved if your Outlook connects to Microsoft Exchange. The conversion is worth the work. After converting your email application and Web browser, many people are ready to convert to Linux because email and Web browsing are the only things they need every day.
Microsoft Office is the next most significant application and converts to OpenOffice. LibreOffice is also available and is a new branch of OpenOffice. There used to be reasons why I stayed with Microsoft Office for big publishing projects. Today I use LibreOffice for most things and Abiword when I want a fast loading word processor for quick notes. OpenOffice and LibreOffice both load a mass of Java and themselves for every job, making them slow compared to Microsoft Office. The initial load time is slow on my fast desktop and is not a problem after that. The initial load time is painfully slow on my netbook plus the total memory usage is sometimes too much on my netbook, which has only one gigabyte, and I have to avoid OpenOffice when I want to use a lot of other applications. If the OpenOffice/LibreOffice/Java combination could fix the load size and initial load time problems, I and many other people would use LibreOffice for everything everywhere including small and slow netbooks.
Photo editing is the next big applications and Gimp is a good choice for most photo editing applications. When Gimp switch from an 8 bit colour depth to 16 bit for processing images from professional cameras, Gimp will replace ACDSee, PaintShop Pro, and Photoshop/Elements on Windows for many people, giving them the freedom to switch to any operating system. If your camera does not produce RAW images, try Gimp along side your current application.
At this point we should be able to convert hundreds of millions of Windows users to Linux. The remaining Windows users use a wide range of applications too varied to cover in one article. In many cases the applications are being replaced by web based applications and the move to the Web will give you the freedom to choose any operating system. Feel free to add comments listing the applications you cannot convert.
I use a Windows machine for some Web development because the permission system on Linux and some other differences in Linux make the conversion of existing projects slow. Running two computers side by side costs me nothing because I already have the hardware. If I had to squeeze both operating systems on the one computer using VM, I would convert every Web project to Linux and throw out Windows.
I have two Windows based applications that do not run on Linux and have no direct equivalent. One of the applications is open source and the developers are talking about a conversion to Linux compatible code. I have a spare computer for Windows and can wait until the application is converted. What will be really frustrating is the day when I have just one application left on Windows, an application I use as little as once per month, and have to maintain a Windows machine for that one trivial task.
Conversions work when a group of people convert together. Applications are more important than the operating system. Articles about conversions are useless if the converter is not using the same applications as you. The main Linux applications are open source and can run on Windows, giving you the option to convert your critical applications before trying the conversion to Linux. There are still some Windows applications with no equivalent on Linux and some people will not be able to convert this year.