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Migrating From Windows to Linux For Smart People

Software Installation, User Security

January 8, 2009

Taking baby steps to become more familiar with a new operating system can be as simple as revamping the OS already in use on your computer. It begins with unlearning Windows-born behavior to free up your mind for a new way of doing things.

Here are some tips on utilizing different open source resources to make the goal of a full time switch over to Linux a lasting one:

Relearning software installation with Win-Get

For Windows users, software installation is nearly always accomplished from some sort of simple GUI installer. The idea is basically to keep pounding away on the "next" button until the installer alerts its user that the installation has completed.

Linux users, on the other hand, generally prefer the simplicity of installing software through a command line prompt. Different distributions have different means of making this happen, but generally the end goal is the same – install/remove/update some specific software package.

To become more familiar with this sort of behavior, I suggest getting your feet wet in the Windows world using a program called Win-Get. Based off of the same methodology of software installation for Debian Linux-based distributions, Win-Get allows its users to add and remove software via the command line using commands that are similar to what would be used in a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu.

Potential users should be aware that proprietary applications are included with open source software offerings through this program. Applications such as Adobe Reader, AVG anti-virus, Avast anti-virus are among a number of other closed source programs made available to those who opt to install Win-Get onto their Windows PCs.

While these applications are perfectly fine to use, I want to stress that not all applications offered in this way are of the open source variety.

Using a Live CD to learn Linux is simply not practical for someone interested in making a long-term switch over to desktop Linux.

Why? Being able to install and update software from the command line is going to make for a more effective Linux user in the long run. Yet at the same time, no one running a Live CD is going to fully grasp this without some previous experience.

Besides the familiarity issue, should a software installation go poorly, it will be the command line that will yield the most relevant information as to what might have taken place. So clearly, learning to become comfortable in this environment now has its merit.

Taking the keys away from the administrator with suDown

One of the first things Windows XP users complain about is the need to deal with a prompt every time they wish to install or remove some piece of software after trying to work with sudo user-enabled distributions such as Ubuntu.

While some of us might point out that this same user could very well take it upon themselves to simply becoming root, the obvious dangers of running as an administrator go without saying. Clearly, running as a limited user of sorts is an important part of a very basic level of desktop security.

As Windows XP is "wide open" due to its issuing administrator accounts without any real warning as to how dangerous this truly is, it makes Windows XP the perfect candidate for a fantastic tool known as SuRun.

Unlike other open source sudo user tools for Windows, SuRun works well with Vista's UAC in addition to enabling the XP user to become more familiar with the idea of dealing with a prompt to accomplish specific tasks.

What I find most valuable about using this software is that it illustrates how many programs need to be operated using elevated credentials -- as most programs in desktop Linux do not need this when operating as a standard, non-administrator user.

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