Part Two: Making The Switch
In part one of this series, I covered what Linux is not
I'll explain a little about what Linux is
and help you decide if switching to Linux is something you want to
do. Again, this is based on switching from Microsoft Windows to Linux because that is what I did, but I think
a lot of this will apply to users of other operating systems as well. Tom's Hardware has a good 2-part series about switching to linux: Part 1
and Part 2
is another good (if somewhat basic and brief) introduction to Linux from a Windows-users perspective.
The cold, hard truth: Linux is not Windows. This seems obvious, but understand that if you are considering trying Linux, all your "madd windoze skillz" are going to mean squat the second you insert that Linux installation disk. This concept is explained much better than I ever could on the Linux != Windows page. You will have to learn a new operating system. New terminology, new file structure, new commands, etc. You should expect some confusion and frustration.
The good news: If all you do with your computer is check email, chat with your friends, word processing, and browse the internet, you will find the transition to Linux very easy. I would suggest buying one of the more user-friendly distributions of Linux, one that includes manuals and tech support, and kissing your Windows installation goodbye. I would have no second thoughts about setting my Grandmother up with
Mandriva (formerly Mandrake, a notoriously user-friendly Linux distribution), spending an hour or so showing her how to use it, and leave feeling confidant she'll have no problem with it.
Things start to get fun (a pessimist might say "more difficult") if you are going to use your computer for web
development, software development, intense gaming, or you are a Windows "power user" who knows Windows like the back of your hand. Don't get me wrong, Linux supports all of those uses fantastically (often much better than Windows), but it is the people who do those kinds of things who will feel like a fish out of water when they are sitting in front of a Linux box for the first time. As I stated earlier, you'll swear at Linux for a while because it doesn't act like Windows, but eventually you'll come to adore Linux because it doesn't act like Windows.
Linux is free. I have more than one installation of SUSE that I use every day that I have not spent a dime
on (excluding hardware, which is anything but free). Linux is based on an opensource community that offers a staggering amount of software for free. I will occasionally donate money or otherwise support a project that I use a lot, but this is my choice. Donations or other forms of support are always appreciated by these projects, but not required.
For God's sake, make sure you're hardware is compatible before you try to install Linux. Each respectable distribution maintains a database of what hardware is compatible with their distro, find it and check your hardware (SUSE's is here). If you don't know what is inside your box, your computer is between 1 and 5 years old (brand new hardware may not be supported yet), and you don't have any crazy hardware (SCSI, RAID, SPARC, etc.; if you don't know what any of that junk is, then you have nothing to worry about) then you are likely OK. I would still suggest grabbing your nearest teenager and ask them if they'll help you look up your hardware to see if it is compatible. I would guess that about 85% of all hardware produced in the last 5 years is supported by most Linux distros.
Linux can be extremely stable and reliable. Stories abound of Linux machines running for years without being rebooted despite heavy use. Using only mature software on your Linux machine can ensure that your computer will be rock solid.
Part Three: Is SUSE the Right Distribution For Me?