Thinking about switching to Linux? 6 things you need to know

Now is the perfect time to migrate to Linux. Here's why.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Workspaces overview on the Pop!_OS Linux desktop

The Workspaces overview on the Pop!_OS Linux desktop gives you a good idea of how fantastic the Linux workflow can be.

Image: Jack Wallen

Linux might not be on the mind of every consumer that uses a PC, but it's certainly growing in popularity. The reason for this growth has to do with several factors, including how deeply embedded Linux is within the enterprise business space, how the web browser has become the primary tool for most users, the incredible evolution of Linux on the desktop, the cost-effectiveness of Linux (it's completely free), and how the open-source operating system can save you from having to throw out that aging computer

Add to those factors how user-friendly Linux has become and it's a perfect time for the masses to adopt Linux.

Also: Want to save your aging computer? Try these 5 Linux distributions

When I first started using Linux (back in '97), it was a challenge to not only install but to use. It seemed everything I needed to do required I read a considerably long manifesto as to why it had to be done a certain way, while at the same time offering a number of different ways to achieve the same thing. It was both confusing and freeing at the same time. Being thrown into that mix head-first forced me to learn fast. After about six months of using Linux as my only OS, I pretty much had it down.

But six months is a long time to take just so you know how to use an operating system on a computer.

Also: 8 things you can do with Linux that you can't do with MacOS or Windows

Fortunately, things have dramatically changed. Linux of yesterday would barely be recognizable in comparison to its modern equivalent. Now, Linux is as user-friendly as any OS on the market. If you're considering migrating from either Windows or macOS to Linux, here are some things you need to know.

1. It's easier than you think

The Linux desktop is so easy. It really is. Developers and designers of most distributions have gone out of their way to ensure the desktop operating system is as user-friendly as any operating system on the market. During those early years of using Linux, the command line was an absolute necessity. Today? Not so much. In fact, Linux has become so easy and user-friendly, that you could go your entire career on the desktop and never touch the terminal window.

Also: The best Linux distros for beginners: You can do this!

That's right, Linux of today is all about the graphical user interface (GUI) and the GUIs are good. If you can use macOS or Windows, you can use Linux. It doesn't matter how skilled you are with a computer, Linux is a viable option. In fact, I'd go so far to say that the less skill you have with a computer the better off you are with Linux. Why? Linux is far less "breakable" than Windows. You really need to know what you're doing to break a Linux system. 

2. Linux is not just a kernel

One very quick way to start an argument within the Linux community is to say Linux isn't just a kernel. In a similar vein, a very quick way to confuse a new user is to tell them that Linux is only the kernel. 

Also: How to choose the right Linux desktop distribution for you

Let me clear this up for you. Every version of the Linux operating system uses the Linux kernel. But as a new user, you don't care about that. Even talking about the Linux kernel is a way to completely confuse and turn off new users. Yes, Linux uses the Linux kernel. All operating systems have a kernel, but you don't ever hear Windows or macOS users talk about which kernel they use. 

In simplest terms, Linux is an operating system because, without the kernel, you won't have an operating system. So if anyone tries to confuse the issue, understand that Linux is both an operating system and a kernel and they are inextricably bound.

3. Distributions are just different "brands" of the Linux operating system

When you first dive into the Linux waters, you'll find there are a vast array of "brands" you can use. There's Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Pop!_OS, Fedora, Cutefish OS, Arch Linux, Feren OS, openSUSE, Mageia, Bohdi Linux, Deepin, Sabayon Linux, Peppermint Linux, MX Linux, EndeavorOS, Manjaro, Garuda, Debian, Zorin, elementary OS, PCLinuxOS…the list goes on and on. In fact, there are hundreds of Linux distributions.

Also: Ubuntu Lunar Lobster could be the surprise hit of 2023

What's important to understand is that each distribution is like a brand. Think about Linux distributions as shoes. If you're looking for a new running shoe, you might consider Brooks, Hoka, Nike, Alta, New Balance, or Addidas. They're all running shoes, they just offer a different variation on the theme. Each shoe might have different features, different heel-to-toe drops, different weights, different purposes, and different looks. However, in the end, they are all running shoes. 

Also: The 3 tiers of Linux distribution difficulty

Linux distributions can be viewed in the same way: Each offers different features, different GUI tools, different purposes, and different looks…but they are all operating systems. The important thing (which is similar to your choice of kicks) is to find the distribution that best matches your needs and wants.

4. There's so many choices

One thing that has always been true of Linux is that there's a vast amount of choices. Not only in distributions, but desktops, and installable software. One aspect that will help you narrow down your choice of distribution is what desktop you prefer. There's GNOME, KDE Plasma, Cinnamon, Mate, Enlightenment, Xfce, LXQt, Budgie, Pantheon, LXDE, Trinity Desktop, Sugar, and more. 

Also: How to replace Windows with Linux Mint on your PC

That level of choice trickles down to so much more. You have multiple web browsers, email clients, office suites, and image editors…you name it and there's a choice. The good thing is that most of those choices are really good options. However, at first blush, all of those choices might be a bit daunting. Because of that, the best approach for new users trying to decide which path to take is:

  1. Decide which desktop you like.

  2. Narrow down the distributions that use your desktop of choice.

  3. Weed out the distributions that don't include a simple-to-use app store.

  4. Weed out Arch-based distributions (for new users only).

  5. Install and enjoy.

5. You'll find help everywhere

Like anything these days, help is just a google search away. And you'll find plenty of sites dedicated to helping people with Linux (such as ZDNET). When you run into a problem (or something isn't quite as clear as you think it should be) just run a quick search and you'll find tons of solutions.

Also: The best desktop Linux for pros: Our top 5 choices

Speaking of which, with Linux, there isn't always one right answer for things. You might find there are numerous solutions for just about every task you need to complete. The important thing is to find the solution that best suits your skills and your needs.

6. Not all hardware will work (but most do)

I'll say this (and I stand by it): Ubuntu Linux probably has the best hardware detection and support of any operating system on the market. That doesn't mean it works with everything. 

Also: How to install Ubuntu Linux (It's easy!)

There are certain peripherals you might own that have trouble working with Linux. Two of the more problematic pieces of hardware are scanners and wireless chips. One thing I've often done (when I find a piece of hardware that isn't supported) is trying a different Linux distribution. For example, you might have a laptop and Ubuntu Linux can't detect the built-in wireless chipset. Maybe give Fedora Linux a try and it'll work (Fedora often ships with a newer kernel than Ubuntu Linux, which supports more modern hardware). 

One thing to keep in mind is most Linux distributions are offered as Live images, which means you can test drive them without making any changes to your hard drive. This is a great way to tell if a distribution will support all of the hardware you need to use.


Although this isn't an exhaustive list of things you should know before migrating to Linux, it should serve to ease some of your concerns and make you better prepared for what's in store. If you're tired of the headaches associated with Windows, and Apple products are too expensive, Linux is a great choice.

Editorial standards