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Switch to Linux part 2 – install Linux

Learn the right way to install Linux and how to get the most out of it

Part one of this tutorial deals with preparing your PC and backing up your files.

Once you’ve got your Linux Mint image downloaded (or other distro if you fancy using a different one), you’ll need to burn it to a spare DVD or temporarily create a bootable USB stick with it. We recommend doing the latter by using the UNetbootin software and a spare USB stick that’s at least 2GB in size. Be sure to back up any files on the USB stick before using the software though, as it will delete them otherwise.

Once that’s all been dealt with, simply reboot your computer with the disc in the tray or USB stick still attached and look out for the ‘boot menu’ key when your computer first turns back on – this will probably be something like F12 or another function key.

A quick aside…

If you want to have Linux Mint work alongside Windows XP, you’ll need to create some space on your hard drive: we always recommend at least 20GB free. This means reclaiming space from Windows, which can be a little dangerous due to file fragmentation.

Basically, Windows likes to split up and spread files around the hard drive while creating, editing or saving them. If you delete space where these files exist you may end up corrupting some files or even break Windows beyond repair. Use the defragmentation software that’s included with Windows or UltraDefrag to deal with this first.

Next, you’ll need to use GParted, included on the Linux Mint USB or DVD you created. From there you can edit the ‘partition’ Windows lives on and decrease its size by 20GB.

Back to installing…

Step 01 Hard drive

Click on Install Linux Mint and follow the installation instructions on the screen. Here you can choose whether or not to keep XP by installing alongside, however if you want to remove XP you can just select Erase Windows XP before hitting Continue.

Hard drive options
Hard drive options

Step 02 Username

You’ll need to set a username and password for your computer. Don’t worry about the name of the install – keep it simple. Before clicking Next you can choose between automatic login or putting in a password manually – think about where your PC will be and choose accordingly.

Step 03 Let it install

Once you’ve chosen what to do with the hard drive, Linux Mint will start the install process so you can save some time. The installation itself won’t take long, depending on the speed of your system, and it also won’t require multiple restarts like when installing Windows.

Learn your way around

Find out what’s what in your brand new operating system with our guided tour.

Click for larger version.
Click for larger version.

Restore your data

Step 01 Restore files

Instead of My Documents, Linux Mint has a Home folder. Here you’ll find folders that you can put your files into straight from your USB storage; plug it in and it will pop up on the side of the file window, and you can copy and paste files directly into the Home folder.

Step 02 Restore your app settings

If you used Firefox or Thunderbird before the switch, you can use the profiles you saved or the sync you set up to get your bookmarks, accounts, etc restored with little hassle to the apps already on Linux Mint. Other software like Chrome will also sync if you install it to Mint.

Restore settings
Restore settings

Step 03 Restore quick launch

Linux Mint’s Cinnamon desktop will allow you to put quick links to essential apps on the program bar at the bottom. Click the Menu button and search for the app; once you’ve found what you want, either drag and drop it onto the Quick Launch icons, or right-click and Add to Panel.

Replacement apps

Use these apps that are already installed or available from the Software Manager.


One of the most important choices when moving over to Linux is making sure that you know which office suite to use. In our case, LibreOffice is already installed on Linux Mint and is the perfect replacement for Microsoft Office. It’s completely compatible with the different file types from all versions of Microsoft Office and can easily be set to save to them as default. It’s also regularly updated and a mobile version is on its way very soon, so you can take your files with you.


Alternatives: OpenOffice, Calligra Suite

Web browserFirefox

Firefox, the open source multi-platform browser, is one of the most popular alternatives to Internet Explorer on all operating systems. Its tabbed approach to browsing was revolutionary at the time and ported into Internet Explorer, and inspired open source rival Google Chrome as well. Linux Mint has this by default and will also accept profile data and synced bookmarks via Firefox Sync, making your migration super easy.

Alternatives: Chromium, Midori

Email clientThunderbird

While Outlook is part of the Microsoft Office bundle, LibreOffice does not have an email equivalent it can use. This is where Mozilla Thunderbird comes in as a sister app to the web browser Firefox; it retains the same functions as Microsoft Outlook but is more customisable and quicker. It integrates well with the Linux Mint desktop, giving you notifications when emails or feed items come in that fit in better with the OS.

Alternatives: Claws Mail, Gmail


Unfortunately there’s no iTunes on Linux, but we’ll wax lyrical about Apple another time. What we do have is the excellent Clementine music player: a full-featured music player and media manager that allows you to organise playlists, create smart playlists, play web radio, stream online music and much more. It also hooks into Cinnamon and lets you use any keyboard shortcuts you have for media as well as the notification area for control.

Clementine audio player
Clementine audio player

Alternatives: Rhythmbox, Audacious


This one is also regularly found on Windows, yet VLC is a lot more at home on Linux. Not requiring any extra media or codec packs, VLC is the best way to watch all of your existing video files and any others that might be invented in the near future. It also works great as a DVD player and won’t complain about region encoding on your DVDs either. You’ll find it in the Software Manager by searching for VLC.

Alternatives: MPlayer, Kaffeine


Fear not, your expansive Steam account that’s been overfilled from summer and winter sales will not go to waste. Steam for Linux is very much a thing and games from the back catalogue are being ported all the time, with newer games releasing on the system as well. It’s a major part of SteamOS and Steam Machines, which can be easily installed onto your Linux Mint machine. You’ll need to find the Steam repository to install from but once you do you’ll get all the updates.

Alternatives: Humble Bundle