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Microsoft has always been, let’s say, “bold” with their privacy decisions. From entertaining the US Government’s secret requests for user data 7-10 times a day (which they only spoke up against in 2021), to actually screen-capturing your passwords, they do it all. Everything you do on Windows 11 is up for sell as data points to the any interested parties, and there’s no escaping the incessant advertisements. Recently, my most tech agnostic family member specifically asked me to help her switch from Window to Linux, so naturally, I thought “the year of the Linux desktop” is upon us; as such, it might be time for a blog post to help someone else make the switch from Window to Linux a bit easier.

Okay, so what is Linux?

Linux is an operating system. Imagine Window, but without all the advertisements, spying, and the cost. For your computer to run, you can either use Window (still the most dominent OS in the world), MacOS (which runs only on MacBooks these days), ChromeOS (which is heavily modified Linux in itself, and runs only on ChromeBooks for now), or Linux (which runs on everything, even your smart fridge). There are a few other operating systems other than these big four, but that’s not important right now.

If your computer supports Windows, barring few very rare exceptions (few Surface Pros, few Surface Books, etc.), it also supports Linux.

When shall I NOT switch to Linux?

There are only about three ways you might be stuck with Windows.

  1. You play a lot of competitive games online: This is still very debatable. A vast majority of the Windows native games can now be played using Proton on Linux. You can check your game compatibility on ProtonDB, anything with Native, Platinum, or Gold status on there can be played on Linux with almost zero additional work. But even after that, your anti-cheat software for online mode might not allow you to play with friends on Linux, even if the games use Easy Anti-Cheat or BattlEye, both of which are natively supported on Linux. You can check anti-cheat compatibility here.
  2. You are stuck on the Adobe ecosystem: Well, sorry, yeah, Adobe intentionally doesn’t make their software compatible with Linux. If you want to move everything to Canva though, that works on Linux, but if you’re stuck with Adobe, sorry then.
  3. You use very specific scientific hardware: Most lab grade scientific device manufacturers only make their drivers available for Windows. Unless you know for a fact that the scientific hardware you use is compatible with Linux, you are stuck with Windows.

Personally, I can’t think of any other reasons that might force you to be stuck with WIndows, but feel free to let me know in the comments.

So, how can I switch to Linux?

First, make backups of your data! After that, confirm that your workflow does not include Fortnite, Adobe, or very specific hardware. Only after that, once you make sure that you have everything ready to switch to Linux, i.e. you have a spare USB drive, and that your computer supports Linux (although unless you use first-party Microsoft devices like Surface Pro or Surface Book, that’s a non-issue), it is time to choose which Linux distribution (or distro) you want to rock.

Choosing the “right” distro:

Linux is not like Windows. With Windows, you get one single way of doing things, but with Linux, you get choices. There are many different “flavors” (or distros) of Linux, each with a slightly different tool set that ultimately allows you to do the same thing. This is as much a blessing as it is a curse. Choices can be overwhelming for newcomers. If you are ever curious, with Linux, you get these many choices.

Don’t worry though, we’ll look at only five different distros that I think are perfect for a new Windows convert. This might also be a good time to remind you that this is an opinionated blog post, so what I personally think to be good distros might not match with someone else’s opinion.

Kubuntu:

Kubuntu is the KDE spin on Ubuntu, one of the most popular distro choices amongst new Linux users. If you ever need help, you’ll always find a (K)Ubuntu tutorial for your problem somewhere on the internet. KDE, a desktop environment (DE), also makes Windows converts feel right at home with a taskbar and a system tray. The KDE Foundation maintains an amazing set of installation instructions. If you have an Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA 4000 series GPU, you can start using your machine right after installation. If you have an NVIDIA 2000/3000 series GPU, you’ll need to change one kernel parameter after installation (explained later). And if you have an NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, or you use CUDA, you’ll need to install NVIDIA proprietary drivers separately after installing Kubuntu. It is not advisable to keep secure boot enabled if you need to install NVIDIA proprietary driver, but you can check out one of my older blog posts to use it again. I myself started with Kubuntu back in 2013.

Linux Mint:

Linux Mint is another popular choice amongst new Linux users. It is based on the Ubuntu LTS releases (although Debian based Linux Mint, LMDE, also exists), and comes with all the advantages of Ubuntu (like excellent community support), but without a lot of the controversial decisions taken by Canonical, the organization behind Ubuntu. Linux Mint team maintains an amazing set of installation instructions. I highly recommend using the Cinnamon (Edge ISO), because it supports newer hardware much more quickly than the regular Linux Mint. By default, Mint comes with the Cinnamon desktop environment, another DE that should make Windows converts feel right at home with a taskbar and a system tray. As before, if you have an Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA 4000 series GPU, you can start using your machine right after installation. If you have an NVIDIA 2000/3000 series GPU, you’ll need to change one kernel parameter after installation (explained later). And if you have an NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, or you use CUDA, you’ll need to install NVIDIA proprietary drivers separately after your initial Linux Mint installation. It is not advisable to keep secure boot enabled if you need to install NVIDIA proprietary driver, but you can check out one of my older blog posts to use it again.

Fedora Kinoite:

Fedora Kinoite is a new style of “atomic” (or, immutable) distro based on the KDE Spin of Fedora Workstation. This is what I currently use as my daily driver. This is an excellent distro for new Linux users. Fedora Kinoite gives you the latest and greatest that Linux has to offer with the stability of ostree, a technology that essentially allows you to keep backups of your last few system configurations. So, even if an update somehow messes up your system (very rare chance of that happening in the first place), or you make a mistake while customizing your system to your liking, you can always rollback to the last working state. The whole system is updated in one go, and each update takes effect on the next reboot, so your system always remains consistent. This also uses KDE which should make Windows converts feel right at home with a taskbar and system tray. Fedora Project maintains a very detailed guide on how to install Fedora (make sure you choose Fedora Kinoite while downloading the ISO). The easiest way to create bootable USB drives is by using Fedora Media Writer, just make sure you choose Fedora Kinoite during image download. If you have an Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA 4000 series GPU, you can start using your machine right after installation, there’s no need to install separate drivers. If you have an NVIDIA 2000/3000 series GPU, you’ll need to change one kernel parameter after installation (explained later). If you have an NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, or you use CUDA, you’ll need to install NVIDIA proprietary drivers separately (scroll down to the section “Using NVIDIA drivers”). It is not advisable to keep secure boot enabled if you need to install NVIDIA proprietary drivers separately, but you can check out this program to use it again. With Fedora Kinoite, unless you have an NVIDIA GPU older than 4000 series, you’ll probably never need to touch the command line interface for your casual day to day work.

uBlue Aurora:

Aurora is another up and coming distro based on Fedora Kinoite. So, all the advantages of Fedora Kinoite are there (except for secure boot), on top of being extremely easy to get a fully optimized machine from the first boot. If you use any NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, and do not care about secure boot or gaming, I highly suggest you check Aurora out. Although you can enable secure boot on Aurora, it is not advisable to keep secure boot enabled if you have an NVIDIA GPU (but, you can still use this program if you are interested).

uBlue Bazzite:

Bazzite is another up and coming distro based on Fedora Kinoite, but focused on gaming. So, all the advantages of Fedora Kinoite are there (except for secure boot), on top of being extremely easy to get a fully optimized gaming machine from the first boot. If you game a lot, use any NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, and do not care about secure boot, I highly suggest you check Bazzite out. Although you can enable secure boot on Bazzite, it is not advisable to keep secure boot enabled if you have an NVIDIA GPU (but, you can still use this program if you are interested).

But which distro should I choose?

This is a difficult question to answer without my biases showing up, so instead, I will say why I made the choices I made. I currently do not use Kubuntu or Linux Mint because those do not come with the stability of ostree and atomic updates, which I appreciate a lot these days, but I have found more community support with those two distros in the past. I use Fedora Kinoite because Kinoite is like a blank slate, and gives me the most amount of freedom to do what I want on top of being extremely stable. I avoided the uBlue images like Aurora, or Bazzite because I did not want all the changes they made to the Kinoite image, wanted secure boot to be enabled without additional work, and since gaming was an afterthought in my mind. If you do not care about secure boot, and want a system that just works perfectly with full optimizations from the first boot, you can try out either Aurora or Bazzite.

Steps to install Linux

  1. Make backups of you data. This is very important, please don’t skip this step.
  2. Make a bootable USB drive of your favorite distro. (explained in the next section)
  3. Boot from the USB drive. (explained in the next section)
  4. In every distro, there is an installation button. Clicking that will start the installation process.
  5. Choose the drive/partition where you want to install Linux. (explained in the next section)
  6. Complete the installation process.
  7. Restore backed up data.
  8. If necessary, install NVIDIA drivers.

Tips and Tricks:

Bootable USB drive:

You’ll need to make bootable USB drives for every Linux installation. If you want to make a bootable drive for Fedora Kinoite, it’s as easy as installing Fedora Media Writer, choosing Download automatically as the image source, and selecting Fedora Kinoite from the drop down after choosing Atomic Desktops. If you want to make bootable drive for any other distro, you can till use Fedora Media Writer, just download the ISO file first, then run Fedora Media Writer, choose Select .iso file as the image source, and then select the .iso file from where you downloaded it. In either of these cases, make sure to choose the correct USB drive that you want to make bootable before clicking Write. Here’s the official guide maintained by the Fedora Project.

Booting from USB drive:

Windows Central has a fantastic article for going into the UEFI Boot Menu and booting from a USB drive.

Drive Partitioning:

You’d need to select the drive/partition where you want to install the distro during installation. If you want to dual boot (keep both Windows and Linux on the same machine), I highly recommend you install Windows and Linux on separate drives. For a new Linux user, it is not advisable at all to use the same drive for both Windows and Linux, as a lot of things can go wrong. But, if you only have one drive in your machine, you can use the same drive, you’d just need to shrink the partition that’s being used by Windows, and use the newly unallocated space for Linux. Kubuntu and Linux Mint lets you do it automatically during install, but for Fedora Kinoite, you’d need to shrink your Windows partition manually before you start the installation process. Dual booting also breaks Bitlocker, so, make sure that you turn that off before proceeding with the installation (or be ready to write the recovery phrase every time you boot Windows). If you want to only use Linux on your machine, drive partitioning becomes much easier, and I always suggest sticking with the default/automatic partitioning during installation, unless you really know what you’re doing. Either way, make sure you have full backups of your data!

Full Disk Encryption:

If you want to fully encrypt your hard disk, you can only do so during installation. Each distro has a different way of doing things, but you can usually see it on or after you set the drive partition. If you have TPM, you can also automatically unlock (using clevis in Kubuntu/LinuxMint, or using systemd-cryptenroll in Fedora Kinoite) your drive as long as it passes a few checks.

NVIDIA Drivers:

NVIDIA GPUs work perfectly fine with Linux, but they may need additional driver installation (just like Windows) to use the entire potential of the GPUs. Not utilizing the full potential of your GPU will give you a functioning, but slower system. From Linux Kernel 6.7, the default Nouveau graphics driver can utilize any NVIDIA 4000 series GPU fully. So, if you have that, any of the five distros I mentioned above will work fully optimized right out of the box without separate NVIDIA proprietary driver. This support is still not enabled by default for NVIDIA 2000/3000 series card, but there is a patch on the way to do that. As long as that patch hasn’t been merged, we need to manually enable the support with a custom kernel parameter. If you have an NVIDIA GPU older than 2000 series, or you use CUDA (for video encoding, game design, etc.) on any series of NVIDIA GPU, you’ll need NVIDIA’s proprietary driver.

For 4000 series GPU:

Unless you use CUDA, you do not need to install the proprietary NVIDIA driver.

For 2000/3000 series GPU:

Unless you use CUDA, you do not need to install the proprietary NVIDIA driver, you’ll need to change one kernel parameter instead.

For Ubuntu based systems, like Kubuntu or Linux Mint, check out this guide on how to enable different kernel parameters needed. On the line starting with GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT, append

nouveau.config=NvGspRm=1

after splash, before the end quote. So, the whole line would be

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash nouveau.config=NvGspRm=1"

For Fedora based systems, like Fedora Kinoite, uBlue Aurora, or uBlue Bazzite, after installation, open terminal (Konsole) and run:

sudo grubby --args="nouveau.config=NvGspRm=1" --update-kernel=ALL

This particular piece of information would soon be obsolete as this will soon be the default for NVIDIA 2000/3000 GPUs.

For GPU older than 2000 series (or for using CUDA in any NVIDIA GPUs):

You need to install NVIDIA proprietary driver.

Kubuntu: Ubuntu Driver Manager
Linux Mint: Mint Driver Manager
Fedora (Kinoite/Aurora/Bazzite): RPM Fusion

Themes and Aesthetics:

Both Cinnamon and KDE are extremely customizable, although KDE undoubtedly takes the crown for customization. You can use themes to make it look just how you want to.

For example, I’m on KDE, and I currently have a fantastic Global Theme called “Utterly Nord”. I also use a different set of icons called “Tela Light”. On KDE, this is very easy to change. Just go to System Settings, and Colors & Themes. Click on Get New to download new Global Themes.

Everything you see on your desktop in KDE is customizable too, just right click on the “taskbar” (called Panel in KDE), and enter edit mode.

Here is a more detailed guide on KDE themes, just keep in mind that it was written for older Plasma 5 (applicable for Kubuntu), so some things have been moved around on Plasma 6 (applicable for Fedora). Here is a detailed guide for appearance customization for Cinnamon.

And voila! You now have a good looking Linux machine!

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Roy

An Indian expat learning to live 8000 miles away from home. Mechanical Engineer by degree, Market Analyst by profession.

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