Migrating from Windows to Linux

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by bledsoe on March 20, 2009

A couple of months ago I installed Ubuntu on my home desktop PC, configuring it with a dual-boot option so I can either boot my old Windows XP system or my new Ubuntu system.  I was impressed enough with it that I decided I wanted to also install it on my laptop PC, which is my primary work machine.

I have since done so, and Ubuntu is now my primary operating system environment.  I'd say I spend about 95% of my time on Ubuntu, and only about 5% of my time on Windows.  (I'd love to be able to avoid Windows altogether, but so far that's not possible.)

For those who might be considering such a move themselves, here's a brief rundown of the steps I went thru, including the few minor problems I encountered and how I solved them:

  1. Get a bootable Ubuntu DVD (a Live DVD) and try it out - This allows you to test drive Ubuntu on your current machine without installing it.  If you decide you don't like it, your hard drive hasn't been touched and you can just continue using your current OS as before.  (You can get Live DVDs of Ubuntu in a number of Linux magazines or books.)
  2. Defrag and backup your hard drive -  I didn't have to worry about this step when I installed Ubuntu on my home machine, as it had a separate physical hard drive onto which I installed Ubuntu, but since creating a dual-boot system on a machine with a single physical drive requires creating a separate hard drive partition for Ubuntu, it's a good idea to do a defrag and backup before you start the installation process.  (You can find the Windows XP defrag tool by right-clicking on My Computer and selecting Properties -> Tools.)
  3. Install Ubuntu, selecting the dual boot option - Your Ubuntu Live DVD will walk you thru the installation steps.  You'll have the option of transferring some of your Windows files and settings to Ubuntu.  I selected the following: Firefox, My Documents, My Music, and My Pictures.  It flawlessly transferred all my docs, music files, and pictures, but for some reason it didn't transfer any of my Firefox bookmarks or settings.  Though slightly annoying, this was a fairly minor issue as Firefox has an export/import option that is easy to use.  First export your browser settings in your Windows Firefox (Bookmarks -> Organize Bookmarks -> Import and Backup).  This creates a .json file which you import into your Ubuntu Firefox (File -> Import).
  4. Install Thunderbird - Ubuntu comes with a default email client, but I had started using Thunderbird a few years ago and wanted to keep it.  (Since Tbird has a Linux version, you just have to download and install it.)  The process of moving your Windows Thunderbird profile (including all your folders and saved emails) to Ubuntu is a little more involved than the simple export/import for Firefox, but once you figure it out, it's not hard.
  • Find your Windows Thunderbird profile.  (It'll be in a folder with a funny name like asdf345jkl.default.)
  • Copy and move this folder to the .mozilla-thunderbird folder in Ubuntu.
  • Edit your Ubuntu Thunderbird's profile.ini file to use this profile folder.  All your old emails and email folders should now appear in your Ubuntu Thunderbird installation.
  • Configure your email account settings so you can send and receive email using your new Ubuntu Thunderbird client.
  • Go back to Windows and turn off any automatic email download settings in your Windows Thunderbird.  (This isn't required, but it makes me feel better.)

Once my email client was configured, my new Ubuntu system was complete enough for me to start using it regularly.  I still had to install and configure a number of other apps (Tweetdeck, Skype, Filezilla, and a replacement for iTunes were the main ones) but I got that done with minimal hassle over the next few days.

BTW, for a good beginner book on Ubuntu, I recommend Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, by Rickford Grant.  Lots of really good info for Ubuntu newbies, along with a bunch of neat "projects" that help you learn your way around.  Includes a Live DVD of the latest version of Ubuntu.

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