Tip

Migrating your XP desktop to Linux

In this tip, Brenno de Winter explains how to move beyond Microsoft Windows XP and migrate completely to Linux.

Finding a distribution

Let's say that you want to ditch Microsoft Windows XP Home and use Linux. The first step is to select from the broad ranges of suppliers of the GNU/Linux operating system. A relatively complete list is available at

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Distrowatch, giving you a chance to select a distribution that matches your specific wishes.

If you have hard time deciding which distribution to use, you could select a software package that only aims at the desktop use, such as Xandros which delivers a nice desktop and a broad set of products from which to choose. One, for example, Linspire, which aims for full desktop functionality, including telephony. Linspire's friendly interface makes Windows users feel at home rapidly. Another option would be the free software on a single CD called Knoppix.

Migrating the data
After you choose a distribution, you can begin the migration to Linux. The most ideal situation would be to have a second hard disk in your computer upon which install Linux, so you won't have to touch the Windows installation. Both Knoppix and Lindows will enable you to easily get to your data off your old disk. However, if you haven't got this luxury, we're off to a re-installation on the same disk. The biggest problem is then saving your data. This is anything but trivial, since your entire working history will be on that machine. So this is the point where backups come in handy, since you want to reuse your computer. You should also make a backup, no matter what scenario you choose. Even when you're not planning a migration, you still ought to back up your data!

Decide what information you want to migrate. Don't forget about your e-mail, which has been become the biggest archive of computer users nowadays. If you save all your e-mails on the server (for instance by using the IMAP-standard) there is no work to be done. If that isn't the case, you have to export your e-mails. I don't know if IncrediMail can do this, since it is non-Linux software. You'll want to check their Web site for more information.

When the data is ready for backup, you can save it in a safe location. When the total data fits under 650Mb it could be handy to burn a CD with all your crucial data:

  1. Save all the relevant data to your CD and burn a CD;
  2. Verify that the data is really on your CD. Check, check, double-check;
  3. If that has been done I find it good practice to burn a second CD with the data, so that Murphy will not spoil your day corrupting one CD (two CDs is possible but that chance would be very small);
  4. Check again that no data is lost.
When you're sure that all data is saved, you can start installing Linux on the PC. This process can take from seven minutes to an hour depending on the selected distribution and the configuration of your PC. After installation, you can retrieve your data by entering the backup CD or by copying your files from the old disk.

Working with e-mail
Now on to the e-mail. The bad news is that "IncrediMail" is an e-mail client that only runs on the Microsoft Windows operating system. However, there a ways to make the software work under GNU/Linux. The Wine project is a good example of a MS/Windows emulator that could help you do the job. But the question is whether this is the road you should follow. Making the software is quite complex, while there are good alternatives of native GNU/Linux-compatible e-mail clients. For instance there is the open source Mozilla project that not only delivers Mozilla the Web browser with e-mail functionality, but also the mail client Thunderbird that is a very nice and robust e-mail client. A good alternative is also Evolution. This client has a very complete MS-Outlook-like functionality including optional support Microsoft Exchange for corporate Windows networks. Of course the functionality will always differ somewhat, but the important thing is to look at functionality and less at a product itself. You will notice more differences, like whether OpenOffice.org or StarOffice replaces the Microsoft Office functionality.

Getting rid of the $2,000 suppliers
Maybe this seems like a painful way to migrate and you feel very locked in by the suppliers that charge US$2,000 or more and leave your valid questions unanswered. At that point, the right decision is to move on. A Dutch saying: "Being a good entrepreneur is also taking your loss." So if you want totally installed Linux system ready to run, take for instance a look at some suppliers: Sub 300 sells computers for under US$300, Koobox has a $449 computer ($279 without monitor), or you can check out some inexpensive computers at Wal-Mart. Your backups can easily be read onto the machine. One thing is for sure: No matter what Linux solution you choose, there is a community waiting to help you answer any further questions you may have!

This was first published in October 2004

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