The biggest challenge for Windows XP users switching to Linux Mint is having to change the programs you've known and used for years. Fortunately, some programs are available on both Linux and Windows. In addition, there are Linux programs that duplicate the functionality of your favorite Windows programs.
I'm not going to lie and tell you that all your programs are available on native Linux. They're not.
Now, there are ways to run Windows applications on Linux. Indeed, you can run Windows itself on Linux. But I'll take up those methods in my next XP to Mint story. For today, I'm going to focus on native Linux and Web-based programs that you can use to duplicate your Windows XP software functionality.
E-Mail: I've never liked Outlook, but if you're wedded to Exchange and Outlook, you can use Evolution groupware instead. Evolution has been my favorite e-mail client for years and, yes, you can use it with Exchange.
You can, of course, also use any Web-mail client with Linux.
Finances: There's no real equivalent to Quicken on Linux. GnuCash, which is very good, is more like QuickBooks than Quicken. So what I've started doing is using Mint.com — no relation to Mint Linux! — for personal finances. It's free and, unlike Quicken, doesn't demand that you pay for an update every three years.
Gaming: Almost none of your games will run natively on Linux. Again there are ways and means to get them to run on Linux, but that's a story for the next chapter. However, many of Valve Software's Steam-based games are now running on Linux. In fact, Valve CEO Gabe Newell thinks that Linux, and not Windows, is the future for PC gaming.
To run Steam-based games on Mint, your hardware has to be fairly powerful by XP standards. You'll need a 64-bit processor, 4GBs of RAM, and an AMD, Intel, or NVIDIA graphics card. If you have the gear, you'll need to run Steam-Launcher from Mint's Software Manager. After that, just follow the Steam client's instructions and you'll soon be playing your game.
Linux also has quite a few native games. For a good selection, visit the site LinuxGames. Many of these will be available via the Software Manager.
Graphics. Linux has a great photograph editor, GIMP. That's the good news. The bad news is it doesn't work anything like Adobe Photoshop.
If you're willing to learn a new program, GIMP's worth the effort. But if you make your living from Photoshop and require a half-dozen different Photoshop add-on programs, you're going to need to run XP and Photoshop in a virtual machine; I'll describe that in the next chapter.
Instant Messaging/VoIP: For instant messaging (IM) I use Pidgin. With it, I can connect to most IM services including AIM, Google Talk, and MSN.
For Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) I can use Skype. Yes, there is an official Microsoft Skype program for Linux. You can also use Google Voice for VoIP and all the rest of your home or business uses as my colleague David Gewirtz explains in his comprehensive Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide.
When it comes to video-calling and conferencing, my favorite, on any platform, is Google+ Hangouts. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Office Suite: You can't run Microsoft Office natively on a Linux desktop. You can, however, use LibreOffice instead. I've been using it since it split off from OpenOffice and it works enough like Microsoft Office that I can go back and forth between them and never even notice which one I'm using. If you know how to use Microsoft Office, you already know how to use LibreOffice.
In addition, the newest version of LibreOffice, LibreOfice 4.2, does an excellent job of saving files to Microsoft's own file formats. My one caveat is that if your job involves creating elaborate spreadsheets you will not be happy with LibreOffice Calc. Instead, you'll need to use one of the ways I describe to run Excel on Linux in the next part of this series.
Web browser: Mint comes with Firefox by default, but I'm not a big Firefox fan these days. Instead, I use Chrome.
To get Chrome for Linux Mint, download the 32-bit Debian/Ubuntu version if you're running a 32-bit system. If you have a 64-bit box download, naturally, download the Debian/Ubuntu 64-bit version. Once downloaded, left-click on the downloaded file and choose to open it. This will bring up the Package Installer program. Then all you need do is click on Install Package and in less than a minute you'll be running Chrome.
Put it all together and you'll see that you can pretty much do everything you ever did on your XP PC on a Mint Linux computer. It won't be exactly the same, but I think you'll find that the lower price, faster speed, and improved security makes the jump worthwhile.