Upgrading from Windows XP to a Linux desktop

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According to Walter Mossberg over at the Wall Street Journal, the best way to upgrade from Microsoft Windows XP to Windows 7 is to backup your data, wipe your machine, and then reinstall your data.

But how will Windows users transition their current computers to the new Windows 7? While this latest operating system stresses simplicity, the upgrade process will be anything but simple for the huge base of average consumers still using XP, who likely outnumber Vista users. It will be frustrating, tedious and labor-intensive.

According to Mossberg, Microsoft is suggesting that you might just want to go ahead and buy a new computer with Windows 7 preinstalled.

First, you should always have your files backed up somewhere, either to an external hard drive or via software like JungleDisk that uses Amazon’s S3 service. You should do this whether or not you are doing an upgrade. No one is going to cry for you if you lose months or years of documents, photos, or music if you chose not to save them off your computer’s hard disk. Go and do it now, I’ll wait …

Join the Linux Foundation

If you are going to wipe your hard drive, but before you pay a dime for Windows 7, try a Linux desktop distribution. If you don’t like it, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? You spent no money other than for a burnable CD or DVD, a little time, and you just have to wipe your disk again before installing Windows 7.

Here are some resources:

Linux Distributions

There are even more if you want to do the research and find the perfect one for you.

“Getting Started” Information


  • If you are thinking you might get off Windows, start using the Firefox browser today. If you do move to Windows 7, you might even stay on Firefox.
  • Use the Firefox XMarks extension to save your bookmarks off your computer. It makes restoring your browsing environment a lot easier.
  • You are not going to hurt your computer hardware by trying some Linux distributions.


  • There is no iTunes for Linux, though there are other options for playing your music. Now is a great time to make sure you have your music in MP3 format. Make sure it is backed up.
  • If wifi is important to you, make sure it works with the Linux distro(s) you try.
  • Make sure you can print to your printer.
  • If you have “interesting” hardware attached to your pc, make sure it works with your chosen Linux distribution. For that matter, make sure there is a Windows 7 driver for it before investing in that operating system.


  1. “According to Mossberg, Microsoft is suggesting that you might just want to go ahead and buy a new computer with Windows 7 preinstalled.”

    Actually John Dvorak has always recommended this for people wanting to upgrade their M$ OS.

  2. Anyone going the “Do not put new wine in old skins” route might want to look at http://pages.ebay.com/rethink/ , where some businesses (including IBM but not including Microsoft) are attempting to establish a market in “pre-owned” personal computers and other consumer electronics.

    It happens with automobiles; a thriving second-hand market props up the “new” market. No reason it shouldn’t happen with PCs too.

  3. Great ideas, Bob. Why NOT try Linux between now and October? If nothing else, users can see what some of us have come to love. Two of the easiest tips that reduce cognitive friction among OSes is to start using cross-platform software (namely, the open source varieties like OpenOffice, Firefox, FileZilla, etc.) and by taking advantage of cloud apps right now, such as Zoho Office or Google Docs/Calendar, etc.

    They can always virtualize a copy of Windows if they need it later. But I suspect they’ll wean themselves from it over time.

  4. Yes people! Definitely try Linux. I’ve been using Ubuntu since 2004, and haven’t used Windows since 2005. I don’t work in the so-called “real world” (I’m a business school professor) but I do get all my work done using Ubuntu – everything from bibliographies to twitter!

    Its amazing how easy it gets once perceptions and attitudes change.

  5. Having had some experience in the last 14 years of trying to give Linux away, I think y’all are going to be disappointed. Seriously.

    Getting people to try Linux is the highest hurdle. The vast majority of people I have suggested Linux to react as if I’ve offered them a plate of slugs.

    They’re happy to try FireFox. Somewhat OK to try OpenOffice, if they decide to believe me that it will read and wright existing MS-Office files. But even a liveCD of Linux is treated like I’m trying to slip an angry asp down their shirt.

    The argument “Microsoft wants you to just buy new hardware” is useful, since there are going to be scads of used supercomputers on the market, an opportunity for those of us who use systems that are more efficient with hardware than Windows is turning out to be.

    Articles as reasonable and decent as this one might even get a few people to try Linux. That’s nice, good luck.

  6. Bob:

    You overlooked mentioning that most modern flavors of linux offer the option to ‘test drive’ by means of a bootable liveCD that can be run without changing anything at all on your computer. This gives the opportunity to try out the look and feel of the OS and test hardware compatibility. If you like what you see, most simply have a ‘click here to install to Hard Disk’ feature.

  7. Here’s another idea: buy a new hard drive, swap it out, and then load Linux. If you don’t like Linux, you can always swap back. New hard drive are cheap. And it’s never a bad idea to have an extra.

  8. I am sure many will give Linux a try and few might have minor issues with it. But before you give up, get free help on IRC and on many of the various forums where you will find many Linux savvy users who will be more than happy to help you solve any issues.

    By all means, do a Google search first for whatever issue you might encounter. I am sure you will find many posts that helped someone else who encountered similar issue.

    I have been using Linux for over 10 yrs and I still learn quite a bit from solutions posted on the Internet.

    If this tells us something, it shows how powerful and extensive Linux is.

  9. I don’t have these kind of problems. I stopped using Windows 1½ year ago and moved to Linux. I haven’t regreted it during these 18 months – not in a single day.

    My one suggest for those who like to try Linux – LINUX MINT 7 GLORIA. It’s a very, very good one for newcomers.

  10. I took the step to Linux when Microsoft dropped the support for 9X…one of the best moves I’ve ever done. And no, I’ve never used XP…had no use for that. And no again, I won’t buy Win 7…no need for that either. I’m completely satisfied with Linux Mint.

  11. I would highly recommend linux mint for noobs, as it already has the most popular multimedia codecs preinstalled. I moved to linux over 5 years ago and have never looked back. Best computing decision I have ever made. The wife also refuses to go back and will have nothing but ubuntu on her machine.

    Scott M.

  12. I’ll second Matias on Linux Mint. If you like Ubuntu, you’ll LOVE Linux Mint. It’s basically Ubuntu with all of the proprietary codecs, drivers, and plugins already installed. Flash, Java, Nvidia/ATI drivers, and all the Compiz goodness ready to go without you having to configure anything.

  13. Tried Linux, couldn’t handle it, so went back to Vista, found that it would not run my old apps so here I am going back to Linux………………….Mint. See you on the helpline!


  14. I explored Linux via Ubuntu a while back. What many pro Linux people forget to mention is the inability Linux still has operating with third party software e.g. Intuit/Quicken. And have any of you tried to get a dial up modem to work with Linux? I did, eventually, but not without several frustrating hours spent at various forums. I know, I know cries will go up that there’s always an equivalent software, but this is not always true. So please, when speaking to a Linux noob please temper your enthusiasm for your chosen OS & remember it’s not just about the OS.

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