SATERN: Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network
Auxiliary Communications for The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services
SATERN Net Status: Int. SSB Net: DELTA I –– Int. Digtal Net: DELTA I

Linux For The Windows User

If you are a long-time Microsoft Windows user, and you are tired of the high cost of software, the constant barrage of viruses, and the heartbreak of freeze-ups and blue may be thinking about switching to Linux. You may have heard about it and wondered if it is right for you.  In this series we will look at the Linux Operating System from the prospective of the Windows User. Few things are presumed and the attempt is made to introduce Linux as a capable tool for the ham radio operator.

Users who are considering making a change from Windows to Linux or Linux to Windows commonly want to know the advantages and disadvantages of each of the operating systems. Below is a summary to help illustrate the major advantages and disadvantages of each of these operating systems.


The Linux kernel, and the GNU (see the definitions later) utilities and libraries which accompany it in most distributions, are entirely free and Open Source. You can download and install GNU/Linux distributions without the need to purchase anything. Some companies offer paid support for their Linux distributions, but the underlying software is still free to download and install.

Microsoft Windows 7, 8 or 10 can cost between $99.00 and $299.00 USD for each licensed copy -- depending on which version is chosen to purchase. However, Windows 10 was being offered as a free upgrade to current owners of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 if they upgraded before July 29, 2016. That offer has now expired so full prince is all that is available. In some cases (OEM or Educational versions) a discount is offered online.

Ease of Use

GNU / Linux operating systems may have a steeper learning curve for the average user. Some versions require a deeper understanding of the underlying system to perform day-to-day functions, and troubleshooting technical issues can be a more intimidating and complicated process than on Windows. However, some distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint are designed specifically to ease the transition from Windows to a Linux environment. [See our comments later in this series]

Windows is one of the easiest desktop operating systems to use, mainly because it is the only choice some users have had which breeds familiarity over the long term. Operational design is tightly controlled and jealously copyrighted by one company - Microsoft. The user interface has user-friendliness and simplicity of basic system tasks. This is considered a positive by users who want their system to “just work”, but more proficient users may be frustrated by oversimplification of system tasks at the expense of fine-grained control over the system itself.


Linux has, by reputation, and by demonstration, lengthy evidence to being reliable and secure. It has a strong focus on process management, system security, and up-time (i.e. time between needed re-boots).

Although Microsoft Windows has made great improvements in reliability in recent years, it is still considerably less reliable than Linux. Many of the sacrifices it makes in the name of user-friendliness have led to security vulnerabilities and system instability. Then of course there are those pesky issues like “The Blue Screen of Death” and system lock-ups which have not gone resolved even in later versions.

Software Availability

Linux supports a wider array of free software than Windows. There are thousands of programs available for Linux, and many are available as easy-to-install software packages — all for free. Some software vendors have provided programs that are platform-independent. One of the first was Sun Microsystems who created the Open Source application known as A follow-on initiative by the Open Document Foundation, produced LibreOffice. Both these very capable application suites that can read and write files created by the Windows-only Microsoft Office applications. Distributions of Linux often include one of these as part of their standard package. There is a whole community of designers and programmers dedicated to vertical software development. Software included in common distributions include games, office software, scientific, business, special interest software(e.g. ham radio). Also, many Windows programs can be run on Linux using compatibility layers such as WINE. 

Windows commands the highest number of desktop users, and therefore the largest selection of commercial software. It also has the largest selection of video games, although Linux has made significant gains on this front — especially with the continued development of Linux-compatible gaming platforms such as Steam and real-time platforms like LinuxRT and embedded systems known to run on even the simplest platform like Raspberry Pi.

Costs of Software

Many of the available software programs, utilities, and games available on Linux are free and Open Source. Even complex applications such as GIMP, Inkscape, OpenOffice, StarOffice, LibreOffice, Octave (a MathLab equivalent), and many more are available for free.

There are many free Windows programs, utilities, and games. However, the majority of the programs are commercial and are available in price ranges from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars ($ USD).

Hardware Requirements

Windows has a massive user base, so it would be madness for a consumer hardware manufacturer not to support Windows. As a Windows user, you can rest assured that your operating system is compatible with any hardware you might buy and most legacy hardware.

Fifteen years ago, Linux struggled to support new hardware. Manufacturers often considered Linux support a secondary concern (if they considered supporting it at all), and device drivers were created only by enthusiasts who devoted their own time and resources to making Linux compatible with new hardware. Since then, the Linux user base has grown exponentially.

Today, the majority of hardware manufacturers give Linux support the same priority as Microsoft Windows. Different Linux derivations deal with the hardware issue differently. Red Hat, for instance, may not supply drivers for your particular hardware combination in their standard distribution package where as Ubuntu (or its close sibling Linux Mint) my include the drivers otherwise needed under Red Hat. The reverse is also true. We discuss how to find this out later in this series.

In recent times, Linux has gained a major foothold in Internet Server applications. Both hardware and software scalability are common in the online world. A few years ago a major university put together a massively scaled computer array of 256 common CPU boards all working as one. They were running a plain vanilla version of one Linux distribution. Today, it is not uncommon to see multi-CPU servers running Linux as an Internet Web Server. Most server farms and Internet host providers, offer both Windows Server and Linux server systems, but Linux far outnumbers Windows in these environments for the reasons listed here. Across the Web, Linux and Unix dominates as Web site servers and mail servers.

For the experimenter / ham radio operator, Linux can run on machines that are several generations old with as little as 1 Gb ram. But for adequate performance the more modern and relatively cheaper machines are much preferred. 


This is a term loosely defined by each individual computer user. Generally it means does the software supplier (Microsoft, Red Hat, Ubuntu, etc.) provide technical assistance with installation and technical issues.

There is a massive amount of online support available for Linux, including specialty sites for particular distribution packages. Linux Mint for instance, devotes a majority of it’s site to frequently asked questions (FAQ) and Community support.

Microsoft as a company offers integrated and online help systems through Microsoft Technical Support (online and direct through Microsoft Partners). And there are thousands of informative books about Windows available for every skill level. They have come under intense criticism lately for out-sourcing the technical support to foreign companies whose employees could not speak English, French, or German fluently enough for customers to be comfortable with their level of assistance.

User Base

Linux is used by corporate, scientific, and academic organizations of every size. It’s used to power the development machines and servers at Google, Facebook, Twitter, NASA, and the New York Stock Exchange, just to name a few. On the desktop, it is used by technically proficient users who prioritize system security and reliability, and by enthusiasts who want to learn more about computers and how they work. It’s also used to give new life to older hardware, enable low-budget computing projects to succeed, and serve as the operating system on ARM-based computers such as the Raspberry Pi.

Microsoft Windows is usually the operating system of choice for gamers, novice users, and business users who rely on Microsoft software. It doesn’t run well on older hardware, however. Many Windows users are thrilled with the changes that Microsoft has introduced with Windows 10. More experienced users find many of the new "active" features (like Cortana), and “bells and whistles” just get in the way and slow the system significantly. They usually turn them off or render them unusable to regain system performance.

Expectations: Keeping it real.

The biggest hurdle for a new Linux user coming from Windows is unrealistic expectations. Linux is not a made-over Windows system. There will not be one-to-one equivalencies for each Windows feature you have used and rely on in every case. Terminologies will be different, menus will be different, icons will likely be different. In short, don't expect to have a Windows-like environment on Linux. Expect to learn new menus, terminologies, and iconic representations in the Linux window environment of your choosing.

Resist the temptation to skip over this material to read only what looks like what you want to know. If you have never seen, much less used Linux, there are a number of things you as a Windows user should be aware of. In this series of articles the attempt will be to outline for you what to expect and how to transition to Linux as painlessly as possible and possibly avoid a huge disappointment with Linux that would be undeserved.

The most obvious thing to consider is what the user interface will look like. That is a tough one. Tough because Linux gives you choices - Windows does not. Oh, sure you can change colors and icons and such, but you are stuck with the Microsoft Windows way of doing things. With Linux you get to choose the window environment you like. It is called a window "manager". Or, if you dislike windows, you can stay at a command line and use Linux natively (Windows only lets you do this from a window).

Linux window managers come in several varieties. Some are ultra smooth and simple. Others are as elaborate and ornate as Vista or Windows 7. Trying out all of the choices is fun but does not help with transition from Windows to Linux. To make the jump less painless, a limited number of candidates will be recommended as window manager on Linux. These, will be discussed in detail later. But for now the limitation is based on a minimal learning curve and fastest adaptation to the new environment.

If it is a matter of just having the windowing environment look like something familiar, almost all Linux window managers offer themes that simulate the Microsoft themes (mostly XP). This is a look and feel that gets you close to what you are used to with MSWindows. There are even theme add-ons for the internet browser FireFox (the default browser on almost all Linux window managers) that look and work very similar to IE7 / IE8 or Safari. Once again, this is a look to help with transition. It will not necessarily function the same as MSWindows. Many other attractive non-Windows themes are available that can also be used as well.

Still interested? Most Linux distributions come as a "Live" bootable DVD. The term "live" denotes the ability to have Linux boot on your machine without having to install it or disturb what is currently installed on your system. You can boot it up, try it out, and see just what all this is about...without the full commitment of installing a system you are not yet sure of.

Keep reading. We will explore more possibilities as we go along.