A home user’s successful migration strategy from Windows to Ubuntu

As a Ubuntu Forums member trying to help new users out for the past two years, I’ve seen it happen too many times: A long-time Windows user hears about how great Ubuntu is, downloads the ISO, burns it to CD (or “burns” it to USB), installs Ubuntu, tries to use it, finds the hardware isn’t configured properly and the applications she needs don’t work on Ubuntu. She gives up and leaves (or attacks Ubuntu as being “not ready for the desktop” then gives up and leaves).

Were she and Ubuntu just never meant to be together? Possibly. But at least one problem may have been the migration strategy she and hundreds (if not thousands) of frustrated potential users have—dive right in!

While I acknowledge that the dive-right-in strategy may work for some people, I don’t think it’s the best one for most potential Ubuntu users (potential ex-Windows users) to adopt. Here’s another approach:

How to migrate from Windows to Ubuntu

  • Examine your motives. Ask yourself why you want to migrate. Is it out of curiosity? Do you want a free version of Windows? Do you want to try something different? Generally, the most successful migrations usually do not expect Ubuntu to be a drop-in Windows replacement and recognize that a little bit of culture shock and learning may occur during the transition.
  • Take it slow. It’s quite possible that you may migrate slowly over a few months or even years and then regret taking it slow (If only I’d just installed Ubuntu and started using it right away…), but, really, what’s so bad about that? It’s a lot worse to accidentally delete your Windows installation, realize Ubuntu’s programs don’t suit your computing needs, and wish you’d just stayed with Windows.
  • Start with open source Windows applications. As a practical extension of the take-it-slow philosophy, don’t even bother with Ubuntu just yet. Ubuntu won’t run all Windows software, and so you’d better see if you like the kind of software that is made with the same Free/open source philosophy that Ubuntu is made with. Switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox. Try OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. Use GIMP instead of Photoshop. Test out Audacity, Inkscape, and Frostwire. You can find a more complete list of open source Windows applications at www.opensourcewindows.org .
  • Get to know the live CD. Once you’ve gotten used to using open source applications in Windows (and supposing you have 256 MB of RAM or more—I’d recommend 512 MB), download and “burn” Ubuntu to a USB stick and play around with the live USB (if you have an older computer that won’t boot from USB, you can also do a traditional burn of the Ubuntu CD). The live USB/CD allows you to use a fully functional Ubuntu operating system without affecting your hard drive (it works off the USB/CD itself and your computer’s memory). The live USB/CD has two major benefits for you at this point. It allows you to try out Ubuntu in a noncommital way, and it allows you to get a preview of any hardware recognition problems you might run into (and have to fix) should you later decide to install Ubuntu. I’d say you should play around with the live CD for two to four weeks, if not longer.
  • Consider Waiting to Purchase New Hardware. If you have a difficult ATI card, Broadcom wifi, and a Lexmark printer, your Ubuntu experience may not be that pleasant. You’ll have to spend a lot of time working the command-line to get certain hardware components working properly. You may decide you want to roll up your sleeves and go for it. But I think it’d be best to stay with Windows, and if you are still interested in Ubuntu in a few years, buy Linux-compatible hardware or buy a Ubuntu-preinstalled computer.
  • Set up a dual-boot. If you don’t want to wait on getting compatible hardware or if you aleady have compatible hardware, go ahead and set up a dual-boot with Windows. That way, you’ll be able to customize Ubuntu (the live CD settings don’t get saved) and run it at native speeds (the live CD runs more slowly than a full installation), but you’ll also have access to Windows if you need to run back to the safety of familiarity. The Ubuntu installer is fairly user-friendly, but if you’re still scared of messing around with partitions and boot loaders, there’s a project called Wubi that allows you to install Ubuntu from within Windows. It sets up Ubuntu as a removable application in Windows and uses Windows’ boot loader to pick which operating system to boot into.
  • Set aside some time. If you’re one of those “time is money” people who would rather pay for a translator than learn a new language and would rather eat out than cook yourself, then don’t bother migrating. Even if you buy Ubuntu preinstalled, the Linux desktop experience is so radically different from Windows that there will necessarily be a learning curve (yes, even if you don’t have to configure hardware and even if you don’t have to use the terminal). Software installation is different (some would argue that it’s better). Theming is different. Updates operate differently. The user interface is different. The culture of the community (if you choose to get involved with it) is different.
  • Enjoy the move. If you’ve gone through all these steps in this order, you’re likely going to end up a happy Ubuntu user. If you got stopped at one step along the way, at least you didn’t invest too much time in a futile (and failed) migration.


  1. I have used Ubuntu, the wubi version for Windows, running on a Windows XP laptop for quite some time now. At first, I had given the CD version a try, and worked quite well, running form a CD. So, decided to install the Ubuntu Windows version of Ubuntu wubi.

    From that point on, I have had very little, IF ANY problems with Ubuntu wubi, and HAVE enjoyed what it can do. Ubuntu wubi may not have a Windows XP look or feel to it, BUT, it DOES work really well, for the type of OS it is. And it does most everything that I usually do in Windows XP.

    I have suggested to my brother on a number occasions, and have sent him a copy of the regular Ubuntu Linux, and wubi installation on a DVD disk. And also have told him, that it WON’T screw up your Windows XP installation. Also, have told him, that the Ubuntu wubi is a far, FAR lot better then Microsoft’s Windows 8.

    Still to no avail, my brother refuses to install, or, at least try to run Ubuntu wubi from the DVD that I had sent him.

    I know that he likes his Windows XP, and so do I, BUT, he would be running Ubuntu wubi from his Windows XP installation.

    Maybe, just MAYBE, he will someday, for now, I am more then happy to be running Ubuntu wubi from my Windows XP installation. and IFm I have to do ANY form of maintenance work on it, of defragging for example,I first do it, from Windows XP, and once done, I re-boot into Ubuntu.

    Hey guys, thank you for a great Ubuntu, wubi installation of Linux. Keep up the great job, and keep them Ubuntu products rolling out. Because, Microsoft Windows 8, is NOT, the Windows OS, that it used to be, not any MORE. That is WHY, I am keeping my Windows XP, and my Windows 7 Home Basic Edition on my Windows 7 laptop.

    Neill Johnston

    1. I changed from windows 10 to mint 19.3 and except for forgetting my pw it has been a pleasant experience. My dell laptp is eight years old and mint has sped it up and retrieved quite a bit of my hard drive. Will never go back

  2. Wish I had found your site earlier its great practical advice.

    Though I would share my approach as it be of some help in the journey. I use windows normally as it just works, however with Ubuntu I consider myself a newbie and am diving in again to use Ubuntu on a NAS I am setting up.

    I always hope for the best and plan for the worst, and from many years of pain learning systems I do my usual and play until I break something and then just reinstall the system – takes the worry out.

    However this time it is easier as I have dedicated an older too small spare drive (70 Gb)in my PC and am using the whole drive for Ubuntu. When I am happy this will be replaced by a SSD.


    – I put Ubuntu /home area in its own partition – this in itself required a few install cycles to learn how to optimize the drive partition and understand what Ubuntu is doing on an install. This is invaluable learning without too much risk either to to the Ubuntu files I am creating to record what I have leaned to date or to any existing windows data on other drives. Then when I reinstall you don’t loose all the Ubuntu files.

    – I keep a record in the Ubuntu /home partition of what has worked so you can repeat it on the next install cycle

    – I have also found that it is also easier to change the drive boot order when restarting the PC than risking dual booting (which uses grub rather that the windows boot loader) or the pain of removing Ubuntu and interfering with windows booting etc

    – I also try not to forget to backup the Firefox bookmarks to /home as well before reinstalling so I don’t loose the web findings etc

    I suspect I am my 6th 0r 7th reinstall so far in the last week, but am enjoying the ride and am happy with the results. Th NAS is fast.

  3. Just in case a search engine finds this… there’s one primary reason I switched to Ubuntu – PERFORMANCE.

    I am a heavy user of the MySQL Workbench, NetBeans, and when forced to have worked with Ruby [on Rails]. I frequently have at least three different browsers running, with a dozen or so tabs in each, so I can test pages in different environments. I’ve been using Windoze since version 1.0 (the one that only offered tiled windows, still have a copy on 5 1/4 disk…) and got more and more fed up with the constantly degrading performance unless you continually upgraded RAM / CPU / disk / revenue stream. I’m using a Dell Optiplex as I write this, and trying to run WorkBench or NetBeans on this system (Pentium 4 @ 3GhZ, 4 GB RAM) was awful, and if I had a bunch of other stuff loading, forget it.

    With Ubuntu (or more recently Lubuntu) this thing Flies!

    I was actually surprised at how easy the *buntu desktop is, but my background includes rather more years than I’d like to think about using NCR Unix, HP/UX, AIX, Solaris, and a bunch of Linux distros (RedHat, CentOS, few others) so my learning curve was pretty much “I know how to do that from a # prompt, now how the heck do I do the same thing in the GUI…”

    One tip – I have a Toshiba Satellite laptop as a second PC. I put a small (160Gig) solid state drive in that to replace the OEM disk, and it’s a speed freak. Would do the same with this sytem, but from what I can see I’m mostly CPU bound, even with the improved OS. If you have a fast system and a free drive bay, the speed improvement by putting a SSD in as the primary boot partition is really cool.

    Another tip I’d definitely suggest – if you have a friend that’s replacing an older system because “it’s just too old and slow…”, after they get their new computer set up with Windoze 8 and have used it for a day or two, ask them if you can install Lubuntu on their old system. Then fire up a couple FireFox sessions, maybe start a video playing along side, open the Gimp and pop up a couple pictures and mess around with them while listening to some tunes, and watch your friend’s face melt…

  4. first and foremost. despite the age of the post , the advice is solid and in light of recent changes at the pc hardware level( uefi and secureboot). that advice is very pertinent indeed.
    second, as a consequence of the uefi/secureboot debackle,especially as it applies to wondows 8 and its successor. I beleive that there will be greater migration AWAY from windown( tiles??).

    The advice given applies to ANY Linux distribution, not just ubuntu. funny enough I think most serious computer users follow the gradual transition path naturally and will find the steps outlined in the post quite familiar to them.its certainly the path I have followed without having to refer to the article beforehand.

    I would also recommend potential users of Ubunto make extensive use of the Linux hcl as this is a usefull resource to turn to when deciding which hardware/software combination is most likely to work. as well as indicating any possible pitfalls to look out for.

  5. I’m a long time ubuntu user, but this time I seem to have crashed a brick wall. My dad’s old Acer aspire m3200 won’t boot from the disc or a stick.

    I don’t know what to do. Is there someone who could help me?


  6. I did my adoption of Ubuntu differently. While I started messing with FOSS software on Windows, I plunged into Linux by buying a Raspberry Pi and messing with Raspbian, a distro of Debian, on it. I also tried virtual machines. I got used to Linux, resulting me to try dual booting. Sadly, due to UEFI, I messed everything up, so I loaded a backup of Win 8. Months later, I got the live DVD working again, and played around with the disc for weeks. Then I installed it, ran boot repair, and then tried bcdedit on Win 8. Now I got Ubuntu on my system.

  7. I got onto Xubuntu through poverty/the high cost of Windows via an associate, but I learned to swim by throwing myself in at the deep end (ran out of patience with my wimp-outs at the shallow end) and pals fetch me things to repair that I’ve never seen before anyway; so I’m used to being at the sharp end whether or not I want to be. However, there ought to be a DOS and Windows user conversion intro tutorial, just as when you go from a Chipmunk to Concorde (although mine was a few words as the co-pilot’s seat swung back into position). Especially since Linux has its own jargon. The word ‘pseudo’ looks too much like ‘sudo’ so caused some initial concerns to me, for example. I still use DOS 4/6.22 on 2 old machines and it shares a lot with Linux, like having to type commands and know what they are beforehand and if you run a reduced boot-up POST (set-up in your BIOS), you can be in and have a letter half written before Windows has passed the POST! It has few jam-ups and other things to resolve, but once I get the hang of it I feel it is better than enriching the megalomaniac “Microbesoft” which is so open to attackers. Another problmem: on Windows Comodo Dragon is malware so do not try that in error for Comodo!

  8. PS: I’m not a feminist, nor left, I am Jewish and very probably to the right of Atilla the Hun. Like most engineers?

  9. I am truly delighted to read this web site posts which carries lots of useful data,
    thanks for providing these kinds of information.

  10. Great site! One suggestion for any newbie to Linux is to not make the mistake I did when I installed Ubuntu 12.04 with the Unity desktop. As a long time Windoze user this was almost too much to overcome. It set me back on learning Ubuntu several months and when I started using other distros I enjoyed learning Linux. That Unity desktop is maddening for some users to use and they give up. Start with an Ubuntu distribution that resembles Win. more closely. Linux Mint or Linux Lite or maybe even Zorin. http://www.distrowatch.com is a great site to download a Linux distro that will be just right for you. Have fun learning this great O.S. and don’t give up in despair – the time you spend learning Linux will pay big dividends and give you great satisfaction.

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