April 8th, 2014.  In addition to being my birthday, this is another historic day….Microsoft support for Windows XP comes to an end.  For years, Microsoft tried to upgrade XP users, ever since the ill-fated release of Vista.  When Seven came along, they tried to coax the XP crowd to the new OS by making new versions of Internet Explorer incompatible with XP.  Then Eight came along, and now the new Internet Explorer needed a minimum of Windows Seven to work.  Guess what…a lot of people didn’t take the bait, and continued to chug along with XP.

In a lot of ways, the death of XP is a shame, as there are still a lot of XP users out there, and for good reason.  XP was a great advancement over Windows 95/98/2000, was fairly light on resources, and after numerous improvements, was fairly robust.  I guess all good things must come to an end, right?  So the big question is, what are XP users to do?

Since I am a big fan of Linux operating systems, its no surprise that I’m going to suggest the XP users switch to the big penguin.  Now for some XP users, this isn’t a big deal; they’re computer savvy and stuck with XP out of choice.  For other users, this move isn’t so simple, as they don’t know the difference between NTFS and EXT4 file systems, have no idea what a gigabyte is, and are clueless as to how to load software onto their computer.  You know the type I’m talking about; the only thing they know how to do is use the applications they’ve been taught to run.  These are the people who will struggle.

One option for these people is to buy a new computer, but if they’re on a tight budget, this may not be possible.  Besides, if there is nothing wrong with the old computer, why scrap it?  Now, I’m sure that there are Windows fans out there shouting “just upgrade to Windows Eight!”  Granted, that is a viable option as well, at least on computers that meet Windows Eight specs.  But why not take the opportunity to try out Linux?

Since we are talking about the group that is mostly computer illiterate (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way), most likely they have a friend or family member who is tech support.  Perhaps this is you?  If so, you will undoubtedly be the person installing the new OS, because let’s face it, setting up a computer OS is far beyond the capabilities of our parent/child/best friend.  Of course, as the OS installer, you will have the fringe benefit of having at least some input on what OS to install, and this is where you can make life much easier on yourself.

Even if you you are a Linux whiz who runs a custom Arch setup that has been tweaked to the nth degree, it behooves you to pick a simple, easy to use, easy to maintain OS.  Look at it from a practical point of view; the more complex the system, the more time you will have to spend maintaining the computer.  And let’s not forget the time spent with instructions on how to use the system….many people are creatures of habit and will be totally lost if the user interface isn’t exactly the same as what they’re used to.

LINUX OS SUGGESTIONS

I’ve worked up a short list of easy to use Linux OS’s that I think would be great for users stepping over from Windows XP.  All are easy to learn to use and simple to maintain.

  • Elementary OS Luna  Based on Ubuntu 12.04, with a custom desktop environment (pantheon), some forked apps, all in a snappy, lightweight package.  I just installed this OS on my laptop, and I love it.  It is the first Linux OS I’ve used with no tweaks to the appearance…it’s that good. Watch for an upcoming review.
  • Zorin OS  Based on Ubuntu 13.10, Zorin is another lightweight OS.  Their claim to fame is a modified gnome desktop that’s been tweaked to look like Windows XP, Windows 7, or Gnome Classic (your choice).  There are some really nice Compiz effects added, as well as a nice selection of applications.  I used this as my laptop OS until I came across Elementary.
  • Q4OS  This is an OS based on Debian which uses the Trinity desktop.  The user interface has been tweaked to look like Windows 98/XP.  There is a nice selection of lightweight applications, and memory usage is very minimal.
  • Linux Lite  Another distribution based on Ubuntu 13.10, this OS uses the lightweight XFCE desktop.  While Linux Lite doesn’t try to mimic Windows XP like some of the other distributions listed, it is still easy to use along with great community support.
  • Ubuntu 12.04/14.04 LTS  While Ubuntu seems to be the favorite Linux distribution to hate, it has a lot going for it, especially for the non-tech savvy.  Version 12.04 has been around long enough that all of the bugs have been worked out, and the OS will have support for several years.  This means other than the occasional security update, you don’t need to tough the computer for years to come.  The upcoming 14.04 version will be in the same boat once it has been put through its paces for some time; I’ve been playing with the beta for the past few weeks, and even in pre-release state, it seems very stable.

I hope this list gives you some ideas for setting up a Linux distro for a new user.  Have a favorite OS you think should be added to the list?  Let everyone know about it in the comments below!

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