SICK TO DEATH My MS Windows PCs run like dogs, can Linux help, if so how?
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“Linux” is not shareware. It is the kernel of the “GNU/Linux” operating system, most of which is either Free Software or Open Source.
Both tend to give rights to people regarding what they want to do with this software, something much less common with Windows than it is with Linux.
As for your question, almost any distribution of Linux will do. A distribution is the basic GNU/Linux OS along with what this distribution's creators want to bundle to make it more efficient, or faster, or easier to use, or easier to configure… such as a control panel, or binary (proprietary software) drivers for graphics or wifi chipsets, or better configuration files…
The right distribution for you will be the one you'll get help with. If you have a friend that can help you with Linux, use the distribution that your friend suggests to you. Else use a beginner-friendly distribution, such as (from what I've read): Ubuntu, Mandriva, Suse. Personally, I only know Mandriva of those three, which I chose because of its extensive graphical control panel.
Now Excel and Word… Do you really need those (and do you really own those? Sorry, I had to ask), or do you only need software that can read and write MS Office documents?
At home and at work (where most people use MS Office), I only use OpenOffice, which is free and works good, even when sharing documents.
But if you really need MS Office and nothing else, then I suggest you buy a copy of Codeweavers' CrossOver, a tool by which MS Office is made to run much better inside Linux. It costs little and works great.
I think for home users Mandriva n Fedora is better choice. additionally you need Wine software for MS-Office to work; but you can use Openoffice for working on MS-Office files(Mostly, but not full features of MS-Office).
if you need more help, Linux gurus will help u Soon!
That license covers "Linux" as in "the linux kernel". Other programs included on each Linux distribution will have different licenses, according to the wishes of their respective authors. A big amount of them are also GPL'ed, but not all of them.
But, I guess that you truly meant free as in beer (gratuitous software, zero cost) most Linux distros are that way. Which one to use you will have to find by yourself. Some popular distributions amongst newcomers are Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE or Mandriva, in no special order. There are lots more, you can just download a livecd so you can get a taste of them before installing one into your hard drive.
The performance will depend on many things, however, most of them will perform ok on actual hardware, and some of them will perform very well even in old hardware. However, Linux is not magic. How it performs will depend on the software you use and what do you do.
& still use Excel, Word etc.?
You can use openoffice instead. If you are going to continue using windows programs there's no point in migrating to linux. However, if you really want to use linux and you need to use a single windows app for some reason, you can try to use wine, which is a reimplementation of the Windows API from the ground under linux. It can run some windows programs in Linux, but don't expect miracles. Linux is essentially incompatible with Windows at binary level. So, as a rule of thumb always assume that Windows application will not run under Linux. Some of them might work under wine, but don't hold your breath about that.
In that regard, all the distros are the same. It's the wine version which counts, the rest is irrelevant.
Which shareware version of linux can I use to ditch Windows
Almost any of them. It's a good idea to go here http://distrowatch.com/ scroll down to "Page hit ranking" and choose any distro in the top 10. Download it & burn it to a CD.
Ubuntu and kubuntu (same, but with KDE, a different window-manager) can be run (slowly) "live" from the CD so you can get a taste for them before you install.
BACKUP your important windows files (Ie your personal files, the OS can always be reinstalled). Defragment your disk. Usually things go "right", but I'd hate to feel responsible if you chose the wrong option and hosed all your windows data.
Plug in and turn on everything (Internet connection, printer, wireless, bluetooth etc).
Boot from your new linux CD. There'll be an option to "Shrink the windows partition to create space for linux". Choose this.
...& still use Excel, Word etc.?
Linux doesn't use "Excel" or "Word". Most users use Openoffice, which is capable of reading and saving *.doc and *.xls files. Generally this works fine, sometimes there are minor problems.
i92guboj is right about using a LiveCD. That way, you can try without even installing, AND then install if you like it (keep in mind, though, that running the system from the CD is slower than from the hard disk).
With Mandriva, the LiveCD has even become the prefered and simpler way of installing to disk!
Some version of Microsoft Office can run using emulation, like wine, or made run virtually within VMware, VirtualBox, QEMU and alike (these would actually need a virtual Windows system as well). Usually OpenOffice is enough to replace Microsoft Office by opening/saving Word and Excel files. PowerPoint can be a little tricky, but also works to some extent.
Replacing Windows by Linux depends on what you want to use it for. If your work or hobby depends on Windows-specific functionality and tools, then you will not be happy on Linux. There's a good chance that adding additional RAM to your PC will pep your Windows system enough.
As a matter of fact, dogs can run extremely fast, so the term "run like dogs" could also mean that your PC is way too fast :-)
I would start by wondering WHY your PC runs so poorly on Windows.. I've worked on several PC's recently that had Windows XP and 512MB of RAM by default. They all "ran like 3 legged dogs" The issue was once the machine was started up Windows is using pretty much ALL the RAM for the OS leaving none for the applications. Now the PC has to swap out to the hard drive constantly which is a performance killer. Not having enough RAM will affect Linux just like it does windows.
Upgrading the RAM on these machines and dropping McAfee AV or Symantic AV (Very Heavy AV that kills performance on most machines) in favor of AVAST or AVG (Free Anti-Virus that works as well as the big guys but doesn't bog your machine nearly as much) greatly improved the performannce of those machines. If you were to just wipe Windows and install Linux on the PC without addressing hardware shortcommings, if any, then Linux may not perform much better.
My suggestion would be for you to post your PC's specs so an educated assessment of your best course of action can be presented.
Many thanks to everyone for your responses.
I'll provide spec's for all our pc's inc. anti-virus details, etc. so that you can comment on what might be appropriate.
Accepting the comment that some dogs are quite fast I was of course referring to geriatric, three legged dogs pulling something heavy!