Whenever I pontificate to non-technical people about digital freedom and boycotting proprietary systems, there's usually an elephant in the room: Windows (or Mac). This is the single most important proprietary system in an average person's life (as far as software goes, at least) and the most important to get rid of - but also the hardest.
First, let me shoot down some oft-echoed but ill-informed reasons not to use Linux:
Compatibility / program availability
Yes, Windows programs don't work on Linux out of the box. But!
- Whatever Windows program you think you need, there's a 90% chance that a simple web search will turn up a free and Linux-compatible alternative.
- There is a compatibility program called Wine that lets you run Windows programs on Linux. It's kinda hit and miss, but my experience is that it can run about half of "Windows-only" programs out of the box, and many more can be made to work with some troubleshooting.
"It's for smart people" or "It's all terminal commands"
Nope. There are user-friendly Linux distributions that come with a guided installer (similar to the installers you see in Windows programs) and a desktop environment similar to Windows, such as Linux Mint and Pop!_OS. You can use Linux without ever opening a terminal. Some of my friends do!
With that out of the way: no, I'm not going to bullshit you, switching to Linux is extremely tricky for a non-technical user. That's why I'm here, not just to impress upon you the importance, but to make it easier.
I think the aspect that most desperately needs better guides is how to actually *install* Linux. Because while it's possible to buy a computer that comes with it installed (like Minifree computers), I would be loathe to suggest that people should buy new computers just for this; and installing it yourself is really easy to botch and end up with a computer you can't boot and don't know how to fix (though I guarantee it is fixable). If you're ready to install Linux on your computer, *make a backup of everything before you start*.
The install process generally goes like this:
- Download an installer image (usually a file ending in .iso) from the website of your chosen Linux distribution.
- Write it to a USB drive. This part stings because it's dead easy on Linux but on Windows it's confusing and difficult to do! This is *not* the same as storing the .iso file on the USB drive as you might store pictures on it, you want to "burn" it to the USB drive (which will overwrite anything else on it). I recommend using a program like Rufus which is meant for doing this; it has served me well in the past.
- Plug the USB drive into the computer you want to install it on and reboot it. Depending on the computer, it might boot from the USB drive automatically, or you might have to press some key (like F2) while it's starting to enter a boot menu and select the USB drive.
- This will load your chosen Linux distribution from the USB drive. It usually comes in the form of a temporary Linux environment that you can try out and install it permanently when you're ready by following the instructions either on-screen or on the distribution's website.
And did you know you can install Linux without removing Windows? You can have them both on the same hard drive, although switching between them requires rebooting. It's called dual booting and it's really useful but unfortunately this is the real tricky part. Not every guided installer supports this, and even if it does, it won't be the default and you will lose your Windows installation if you select the wrong options.
Another obstacle to dual booting is that you might have to first shrink the Windows partition to make room for Linux. You can do this from within Windows, and there are decent guides on the internet, but again, you can royally botch this and you should always make a backup first.
Again, learning to use a terminal/command-line is optional, but I do recommend it because it will help you get a deeper understanding of computers, and is also just more efficient. The website for Ubuntu (a beginner-friendly Linux distribution) has a good tutorial on how to use the terminal.
Ubuntu terminal tutorial
My guide "Learn programming for good instead of profit" also has a lot of information about terminal use and how Linux works in general, so if you choose to switch to Linux, you might benefit from looking through it, even if you don't plan to become a programmer.
Learn programming for good instead of profit
The last thing I'm going to do to make it easier for people to switch to Linux is to offer free support. I can be reached by email or matrix or on the fediverse and would love to help introduce someone to Linux. There are also lots of forums and mailing lists for getting help, and a valuable (but harsh) read on how to ask questions effectively:
How To Ask Questions The Smart Way (read the disclaimer on it first)