The world of Linux is ready to welcome you, with a shower of free open-source software you can use on any PC: hundreds of active Linux distributions, and dozens of different desktop environments you could run on them. It's a far cry from the one-size-fits-all, this-is-just-what-comes-with-your-PC vision of Windows.
Everything from software installation to hardware drivers works differently on Linux, though, which can be daunting. Take heart — you don't even need to install Linux on your PC to get started. Here's everything you need to know.
Choose and download a Linux distro
The first step is choosing the Linux distribution you'll want to use.
Unlike Windows, there's no single version of Linux. Linux distributions take the Linux kernel and combine it with other software like the GNU core utilities, X.org graphical server, a desktop environment, web browser, and more. Each distribution unites some combination of these elements into a single operating system you can install.
DistroWatch offers a good, in-depth summary of all the major Linux distributions you might want to try. Ubuntu is a fine place to start for former (or curious) Windows users. Ubuntu strives to eliminate many of Linux's rougher edges. Many Linux users now prefer Linux Mint, which ships with either the Cinnamon or MATE desktops — both are a bit more traditional than Ubuntu's Unity desktop.
Choosing the single best isn't your first priority, though. Just choose a fairly popular one like Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, or openSUSE. Head to the Linux distribution's website and download the ISO disc image you'll need. Yes, it's free.
You can now either burn that ISO image to a DVD, or use a tool like the Universal USB Installer to copy that Linux system to a USB drive. Placing it on a USB drive is a better idea, if possible — the live system will boot and run faster. But if you plan on installing it immediately, a disc is also fine.
We'll do it live!
Now you'll need to boot that Linux system. Restart your computer with the disc or USB drive inserted and it should automatically boot. If it doesn't, you may need to change your BIOS or UEFI firmware boot order, or select a boot device during the boot process.
On modern Windows PCs that came with Windows 8, you may have to disable Secure Boot before booting Linux. Some Linux distributions will boot normally with Secure Boot enabled, while some won't. Most of the larger distributions will.
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