Where to start? Well so many of my friends complain about Windows. Let’s just consider a few of the problems:
People tell me their computers slow down over time. There is no reason this should happen, but Windows does a lot of stuff behind your back, which includes running background programs that you don’t need. Some of these programs may be viruses which can cause damage to other programs on your computer, or rootkits, which can send reports over the internet to the “bad guys” which may include your passwords etc. What makes this worse is that most computers are sold with a cut-price version of Windows (known as an OEM version) which is licensed only to that computer. The cost is, in part, paid for by advertising, the most insidious of which are “3-month trial versions” of Anti-Virus and Firewall software, usually by Norton or MacAfee. They have a significant affect on the speed at which the computer runs, and if you don’t keep your virus image files up to date (needing the paid subscription after 3 months), they are useless. There are better alternatives including some which are free for private users.
There is a lot of paranoia about viruses, but most require some form of human intervention, downloading executable files from dodgy sites, or opening attachments with emails. Many of the executable files are downloaded because you see a link on facebook leading to a salubrious video, and you need to log in and download something in order to play it. A lot of the email attachments, in part, read your contacts list and send emails to your friends without you knowing. If the language in an email looks a bit strange, don’t open it just because it came from your friend.
You rarely need a firewall for a home computer, because your ADSL modem includes one. However with a laptop/netbook running Windows, you might, because if you log into public networks, “the bad guy” might be logged in to the same network, inside the firewall.
What Can Linux Do?
Linux is an operating system, like Windows. However, it is different in many ways. Programs that run on Windows do not run on Linux. Some programs are designed to run on either, but the executable files are different. For example Mozilla Firefox, the Web browser runs on both, but the Linux version would not work on Windows. There are different versions. So what can you do with Linux?
Office suite / word processor: Libre Office is used instead of Microsoft Office. If you want a word processor only, there’s also Abiword.
Internet Browsing: Linux builds are available for Google Chrome, Chromium, Firefox, PaleMoon and Opera among others. There are also a few Linux-only browsers, Konqueror (similar to Safari for Mac) and Rekonq are two fine browsers, one heavyweight, one lightweight.
Online Chat: Programs such as Pidgin (you can try this in Windows too), Kopete, and Jitsi can be used to connect to nearly all types of chat, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ etc. Despite it now being owned by Microsoft, Skype is available for Linux, too, as is Google Hangouts.
E-mail: You can use Thunderbird, or get your Email on line. There are plenty of other programs too.
Graphics/Publishing: GIMP is a complex and powerful image editor, not the easiest to master but then neither is Photoshop. A simpler program for indexing photos and imaging, simple cropping, colour-balancing and red-eye removal, etc, is DigiKam. Vector Images can be edited with Inkscape, and in Scribus (which you can also get for Windows now, though it started as Linux Only), you have a fantastic Desktop Publisher which really does everything you need.
Other Stuff: KMyMoney and GNUcash are replacements for Quicken Home, VLC is a great media player and there are many others. For a sound-only jukebok program there is the all-powerful AmaroK, and for those whose needs are less complex, there’s Clementine. K3B is a fully featured disk burner, like Nero, whereas Brasero is useful for those occasions when you don’t need all the features and want something simple. There are also programs for editing your own videos…
There are lots of simple games. A small number of commercial games now run on Linux, but for stuff like Chess, MahJong, etc, there are great programs. Actually you install an “engine” which has all the intelligence for Chess (eg Gnuchess), and then you can install a simple Chess graphics program or something prettier which uses the engine, or an internet opponent.
And the wonderful thing about all these Linux Programs, including the system itself, they are all FREE.
Problems with Linux
Installing Linux is not always easy, though it’s easier than windows, but you get a computer with Windows already on it. Some commercial games don’t have Linux versions. There are a few rare specialist areas where there aren’t sufficiently developed programs. There are one or two printers and scanners that don’t run under Linux though most do these days. Information is available on the internet. I use PCLinuxOS because I think it’s easier to install, maintain and use than Ubuntu or Mint and I seem to have fewer problems with it.
My experience is that outside of young gamers, most people use a computer for internet browsing, e-mail, reading and writing documents, and storing photos and music/video media.
Linux can run off a memory stick or a DVD/CD. This is called Live Media. You can test whether your printer and scanner will work and install only when you confirm it does! Generally it will install alongside Windows so that when you switch on your computer you have a choice.
If you must have Windows
My recommendation for Anti Virus software is Avast. For a fixed home computer, test your firewall by going to Steve Gibson’s site. If it fails, install a software Firewall. For a computer used outside of the home on public networks, then also do the same as the “bad guy” might be inside the network. The last one I used was Zone Alarm Free. I think it’s still going.
Best of Luck!
I will try to flesh this out with links and screenshots, and maybe suggest different versions of Linux according to the power (processor speed and memory) of your computer. Hope there’s enough info here in the meantime to get you thinking.