1. Things To Consider
    1. Trying Ubuntu
    2. Installing Ubuntu
    3. Planning
  2. Differences between Ubuntu and Windows
    1. Ubuntu Runs Linux Applications
    2. There's More than One Way to Do Things
    3. Installing Applications
    4. Where To Put Your Files
    5. Hardware support
    6. Permissions and privileges
    7. CDs, USB sticks, DVDs , and Other Removable media
    8. Security
    9. The Terminal
    10. Case sensitivity and spaces
  3. Transferring your files and settings from Windows
    1. Migrating data from common applications
    2. Playing Your Audio and Video Files
    3. Copying files onto a removable disk
    4. Accessing Ubuntu files from Windows on the same computer
    5. Accessing Windows files from Ubuntu over a network
  4. Making Ubuntu feel more like Windows
    1. Ubuntu-specific
    2. Kubuntu-specific
    3. Fonts from Windows
    4. Making Firefox Autoselect Text in the Address Bar
    5. Running Windows applications in Ubuntu
  5. You are Involved!
  6. Additional Information
  7. Discovering things
  8. Additional Guides and Resources

If you are considering trying Ubuntu, or if you have already made up your mind to switch, welcome! This page is here to make the process as comfortable as possible. It describe differences in behavior between the two systems. When you decide to switch, you may like to read MigratingFromWindows to see how to transfer your data.

Things To Consider

It can be helpful to consider the following:

Trying Ubuntu

You can try Ubuntu without installing or modifying your computer in any way. Just download Ubuntu, pop the CD into your computer, and reboot (you may need to press a button to ensure your computer starts from the CD).

A working install of Ubuntu will run from the CD. Feel free to explore: nothing on your real system is being changed. Of course, installing Ubuntu onto your hard disk is much faster, and allows you to install many additional Linux applications.

Installing Ubuntu

Note: While every effort is made to ensure Ubuntu works well, it is highly recommended to back-up all of your data before making any major change to your computer. Before installing Ubuntu, be sure to make and test a set of back-ups 'just in case'.

The migration issues for an individual will obviously be very different from those of a company or organization. There is no 'right' way to migrate to Ubuntu - it is up to you to decide the best approach. However, almost everyone will benefit from running a test installation. This gives you a chance to get used to using and setting up Ubuntu, which will ultimately make your full migration a lot easier, and helps you to discover if Ubuntu is right for you.

There are a few ways of testing Ubuntu:

Note that apart from installing alongside your existing operating system, these options will not give you the full experience of running Ubuntu. For example, a virtual machine or older hardware will be slower than your current setup, and your friends install of Ubuntu may be different from yours in both setup and hardware.


You may find that creating a step-by-step plan simplifies your migration. Below is an example for a home user:

  1. Download and run Ubuntu Live CD

  2. Check the hardware support for my printer, scanner, broadband modem and webcam

  3. Check if there are any good astronomy programs available

  4. Make a list of alternative programs I can install and use

  5. Check if my word processed document formats are supported

  6. Save all of my web bookmarks and e-mails

  7. Get together all of the files I want to keep in one folder

  8. Export all of my accounting files into a spreadsheet

  9. Copy all of my data (bookmarks, files, etc) onto a DVD

  10. Test the DVD to make sure everything was copied across

  11. Make a list and print out of all my mail and Internet connection settings, user accounts, and saved passwords

  12. Install Ubuntu from the Install CD

  13. Use System -> Preferences to set everything up how I like it based on my list of settings and account details

  14. Install everything I need from my list of available programs

  15. Copy all of my data across into my Home directory

  16. Import my e-mail into a mail client

Differences between Ubuntu and Windows

Ubuntu and Windows are very different in many ways. It is important to be aware of them.

Ubuntu Runs Linux Applications

In the same way that Windows only runs software designed for Windows, applications must be made for Linux to be able to run on Ubuntu. Rather than going into a store and buying a boxed version of software, as you are likely to have done with Windows, most Linux software is delivered via the Internet.

By default, Ubuntu comes with a lot of useful software:

There are thousands upon thousands of Linux applications available for you to use on Ubuntu. See InstallingSoftware for details on how to install new software. See the pages listed below for a small selection of popular applications:

Systems administrators may find CorporateUbuntu, Servers, and [WWW] Ubuntu Server Guide of help.

If you are unable to find a Linux alternative to an application you had on Windows, it may be possible to run the Windows application on Ubuntu by installing some extra tools. For more information, see the OSEmulation page.

There's More than One Way to Do Things

Ubuntu offers you choice - if you do not like an application, why not install an alternative one? Colour scheme not to your liking? Change it! With Ubuntu, you are not restricted to one way of working.

An example: what is the simplest way to add a user account to your system? In Ubuntu, you can click System -> Administration -> Users and Groups.

But what if you want to set up 500 user accounts based on the contents of a spreadsheet? Someone with a Unix background can achieve that in about 5 text commands (the Ubuntu Community Documentation aims to provide both graphical and command line equivalents to most tasks).

You can use Ubuntu the way you want it; it is one of the most customizable Operating Systems around. So if you ask for help, you might be offered several different ways to achieve the same goal and you can choose which method you prefer.

Installing Applications

Windows comes with only a small selection of software which you might want to use on your computer. Ubuntu comes with a useful selection of applications by default, such as an office suite, web browser, multimedia applications and games.

However, you will probably still need to install additional software from time to time. Applications for Windows come as large installer files which you can find and download from a website or install from a CD, perhaps answering a series of questions before being able to use the software.

In Ubuntu, software comes in packages, which you can download from one of Ubuntu's software channels or from a third-party website. See InstallingSoftware for more information on how to do this.

For more information on installing new programs on Ubuntu, see InstallingSoftware.

Where To Put Your Files

In Windows, you were probably used to putting your files on a specific 'drive', like the 'C:' drive; your file might be stored in C:\My Documents\Work for example. Ubuntu has a different way of doing things - instead of having individual drives, everything is part of one big 'drive' called '/'. This might seem a little daunting at first - where can you find your CD drive, for instance?

Literally everything can be found under / (pronounced 'root'). Whether it is a CD drive, a USB stick or even a network share, they are all stored under the same main location. There are many reasons why this is 'better' than using drive letters, but you probably do not care too much about that. After all - where is your CD drive?

Well, if you're after a removable disk (like a floppy disk or a CD), click Places --> Computer on the menu bar at the top of the screen. All of the available drives are listed there, and all you have to do is click one to view its contents. When you clicked the Places menu, you may have noticed a few items above Computer - these are shortcuts to the exact same drives, and they are there for quick and easy access to your disks. Finally, when a disk is inserted into your drive, it should automatically appear on the desktop.

And where should you store your files? Each user has their very own 'Home' directory, where everything that belongs to them is stored. This means everything: documents, photos, music, settings, it is all there. You should never have to save a file anywhere else but in your Home directory (or a removable disk). Click Places --> Home Folder to view your Home directory. It may also be referred to as /home/your_user_name in some applications.

Store all of your personal files in your home directory. If you need to find or back up your files, they are all in one simple location. Also, most applications will store their settings in your Home directory and most system-configuration files are stored in the /etc directory, so backing-up an Ubuntu-based system is quite easy.

Finally, a handy shortcut - your home directory can also be referred to by the '~' (tilde) character. So /home/yourname/work is the same as ~/work.

Hardware support

Most people use Microsoft Windows, so pretty much all hardware vendors release drivers for Windows. Not as many people use Linux yet, so not every manufacturer will think to release Linux drivers too. This is slowly changing as more people use Linux, but there are still many devices that are unsupported by their manufacturers in Linux. Many of these devices have drivers created by volunteers instead, so they will work with Ubuntu, but not all are perfect. This leaves a few devices that just are not supported in any way.

On the whole:

The following types of device are the ones you're most likely to have problems with:

If you do get problems, what should you do? Well, you can try these:

  1. Check for your device in the Ubuntu [WWW] Hardware Support list

  2. Check to see if the device's manufacturer does provide a Linux driver

  3. Search for "<devicename> linux driver" on Google to see if someone knows how to get your device working

  4. Ask someone on the forums if they have any ideas - see GettingHelpInForums for more information

  5. File a bug requesting support for this device

  6. E-mail the manufacturer to ask for a Linux driver, or the source code of their Windows driver

  7. Create a driver for the device yourself

  8. Buy alternative, supported hardware from a manufacturer that supports Linux

  9. Use a 'dual-boot' set-up and switch between Windows and Ubuntu

If you get to number 6, it's very unlikely that you will get your device working, so it is normally best to skip to 8. We don't expect you to create your own driver! We wish we could support all the hardware in the world, but it just isn't possible, so if you do end up having to buy alternative hardware, consider telling your manufacturer they have lost a customer due to poor Linux support! That way, they just might change their attitude towards supporting Linux.

Permissions and privileges

Most administrative tasks on the operating system, such as adding users or installing software requires 'superuser' (administrator, sometimes called 'root') access privileges. This is because if normal users are allowed to do these things, they could intentionally or accidentally cause damage to a system. Superuser is a special user account which has unlimited access to the system. If you are the administrator then you are also the superuser. You'll know when superuser privileges are required because Ubuntu will ask for the administrator password; for an example of this, click System --> Administration --> Synaptic Package Manager.

In Ubuntu, each file is owned by a user, normally the user who created it. The owner of a file has the right to read the file, run it if it is a program, and to change or delete the file.

Access permissions for a file are divided into three types:

You can change the permissions for a file by right-clicking the file, selecting Properties from the menu which appears, and clicking the Permissions tab.

CDs, USB sticks, DVDs , and Other Removable media

In Windows, you can hit the eject button to eject a CD - and Ubuntu is no different. Using a USB key in Windows there is a taskbar option involving stopping USB Mass Storage Devices - Ubuntu is a lot simpler:


A combination of the way that Linux is designed and the lower number of users to compare to Windows currently makes Ubuntu generally more secure. The chances of getting a virus, adware, spyware, or malware is greatly reduced, as existing Internet nasties tend to target Windows machines specifically. This does not mean we do not take security seriously though - the exact opposite, in fact. Ubuntu does everything it can to protect you and your computer from harm, and offers many useful security and privacy options by default.

The Terminal

A terminal (or terminal emulator) is just another way of using the computer. Instead of clicking icons using a mouse, you can type commands and have Ubuntu carry them out directly. Terminals are seen as an advanced way of operating a computer and tend to be used very rarely on Windows (where it is called the Command Prompt). However, Ubuntu's terminal is very powerful and can be used to accomplish many useful tasks. Click Applications --> Accessories --> Terminal to start it.

While beginners may want to steer clear of the Terminal altogether, it can be handy for users to have some basic knowledge of terminal commands. Often, help guides will ask you to type a command into a terminal, so it can be a useful tool even if you don't know how to use it properly. See BasicCommands for more information.

Case sensitivity and spaces

Filenames in Ubuntu are case-sensitive. This is mostly for historical reasons, and can be quite useful in some circumstances. But be aware that if you have to type a filename, fileabc is not the same as FileABC. You might like to name all of your files and folders in a consistent case where possible. I name all of mine in lower-case so I don't get them muddled up. It also saves me having to press the shift key when typing a file name.

Also, some characters are considered 'special' in filenames, so while you can use them, you may have to tell the computer how you want to use them. If you want to use one 'literally', put single quotes around the file name, or a '\' before each special character. Otherwise, the computer might use the character in a way you weren't expecting. The space is probably the most commonly used special character.

An example, saving a file in a folder called 'my work':

/home/username/my work/abc.file might be treated as two seperate things, /home/username/my and work/abc.file. It depends on the way the program you're using works.

'/home/username/my work/abc.file', however, can only be mean a single file. /home/username/my\ work/abc.file also works, but looks a little weird.

This only tends to be an issue in older programs, and most of Ubuntu will be happy to let you use spaces without quotes or '\'s. But if you do get some weird results, just think on that it might be a program which is still behaving like this for some reason. If you do use a program which has this problem, consider avoiding using spaces if possible, just in case. An underscore '_' character makes a good replacement.

Transferring your files and settings from Windows

Once you are ready for your migration, you will have to copy your files and settings from Windows to Ubuntu. There are many ways of doing this, and which method you use depends on how you've decided to migrate.

Migrating data from common applications

You will probably have a small selection of Windows applications which you use most often. You will want to make sure that the files and information which you've been using with these programs can still be used with Ubuntu, and you will need to copy it across when you're ready to migrate.

A guide to migrating data from common Windows applications can be found on the page MigratingFromWindows.

Playing Your Audio and Video Files

Ubuntu's media players can play most common sound and video files used in Windows, including

For more information, see RestrictedFormats.

Copying files onto a removable disk

Ubuntu will happily read from most types of CD, DVD and removable storage devices such as memory pens and external hard drives. You can easily copy all of your files onto such a disk using your existing Windows software, install Ubuntu onto the computer and then copy the files back onto your new Ubuntu installation, ready for use.

Important - always thoroughly test your backup files before you install Ubuntu over Windows. If something has unexpectedly gone wrong and files are missing or damaged, there's little you can do to get them back once you've gone through with the install.

Accessing Ubuntu files from Windows on the same computer

If you install Ubuntu alongside an existing Windows installation, it is possible to access files from Windows from within Ubuntu. See MountingWindowsPartitions.

You can access files in Ubuntu from within Windows, using [WWW] FS-Driver.

Accessing Windows files from Ubuntu over a network

Ubuntu can connect to Windows network shares, so if you have installed Ubuntu onto a machine connected to a Windows network, it is possible to copy your files off another computer on the network and onto your Ubuntu computer.

For most Windows networks, all you have to do is ensure that you are connected to the network and click Places --> Network Servers and navigate to the computer on which the files are stored, entering your Windows username and password if prompted.

If you have a more advanced Windows network, see SettingUpSamba for more information on how to connect to it.

Making Ubuntu feel more like Windows

Ubuntu has its own style and its own way of working. But we appreciate that you might initially feel more comfortable in Windows, so there are a few ways of getting a Windows 'look and feel' from within Ubuntu.


These instructions apply specifically to the plain Ubuntu desktop version of Ubuntu, which uses the GNOME desktop environment.

Taskbar panel settings

You can set-up the desktop panels of Ubuntu in a similar way to the Windows taskbar.

There are panels at the top and bottom of the screen, which we can adjust so that they are similar to the default Windows layout.

  1. Click and hold on the bottom panel and move it to the right or left side of the screen.

  2. Click and hold on the top panel and move it to the bottom of the screen. (This is considered the main panel)

  3. You can now move the original bottom panel anywhere, or even delete it if you desire. Just right click on it and choose an option.

  4. The various utilities that live on the panel are called applets, and can be added by right clicking in an empty area of panel and choosing Add To Panel. You will be presented with several options, and ones which may interest Windows users are the Window List (a bar containing buttons for each open window, minimised or not), the Main Menu (which is like the default menu system, but combines Applications, Places and System into one button), the Notification Area (which is a system tray) and of course the Clock. To emulate a "quick launch area" you can simply drag applications from the Applications menu onto the panel. Changing applets (like moving them) is either done by right clicking on the applet, or an empty looking area to the left of the applet called it's handle, depending on which applet you want to mess with. Of course you can customize the panels any way you like, and even nest panels inside each other using the Drawer applet.

On the bottom desktop panel there are 4 small squares, called the Workspace Switcher. This is something new to Windows users but a very handy feature; each square button will open a different desktop with empty panel space (If you like the idea of Mac OS X's Spaces then you will be glad to know that Ubuntu and other Linux systems have been using them for years). This arrangement lets you manage several desktops (or 'workspaces') at once. For example, if you open graphics-related windows on one workspace and office-related windows on another, they are separated. You can work on each workspace without worrying about the applications from the other cluttering up the panel on that particular desktop. This way you can group applications and keep things out of the way while you're working on something else.

Desktop view

Ubuntu's desktop by default is empty, but if you want add items to it then you can drag and drop folders and application shortcuts onto it to quickly access them. To have desktop icons similar to your Windows environment, follow this procedure:

  1. Click Places on the top panel and drag the Computer icon into an empty space on the desktop. This is equivalent to the My Computer folder found on Windows, and can be used to access your storage devices.

  2. You can also drag the "Home" folder onto the desktop - this is equivalent to My Documents on Windows.

  3. The 'Recycle Bin' on Windows is equivalent to the 'Trash' or 'Wastebasket' folder on Ubuntu. There is a location on the original bottom panel where it is placed by default. If you prefer it on your desktop you can open the Configuration Editor which is in Applications->System Tools (if you cannot find it then it may need to be enabled in Applications->Accessories->Alacarte). In there look under apps then nautilus then desktop. There is an option in there which says trash_icon_visible and all you need to do is tick the box next to it. The changes are applied immediately so you can just quit the application.

Start menu

The Ubuntu logo on the main taskbar panel is similar to the Start button of your Windows environment. One noticeable difference is that Windows gives you just one button from which you must choose all options, whereas in Ubuntu there are three categories, called Applications, Places and System. Applications contains a categorized list of currently installed applications, Places contains links to common locations and recently used files and System contains preferences, help and power options.

If you would prefer to use something more like the Windows Start menu, install the gnome-main-menu package (available in the Ubuntu Edgy Eft/6.10 or later universe software channel). You can add the GNOME main menu by right-clicking the top desktop panel, selecting Add to Panel... and dragging Main Menu (the one with the computer icon) to a location on the panel.

'Run' dialog

In Windows there is an option called 'Run...' on the Start menu, which allows you to run applications by typing their name. Ubuntu has a more powerful alternative, called the Run Application dialog. You can access this by pressing <Alt> and <F2> on your keyboard at the same time.


On the top panel, near to the main menus, there is space for a quick-launch section where there should already be several quick-launch links (called launchers) such as Firefox, Evolution mail and Help. You can add your favorite applications to this area by dragging their icons next to the current icons in that area, or by right-clicking a blank part of the top panel, selecting Add to panel... and clicking the Application Launcher... button.

Windows themes

Changing how your Ubuntu desktop looks is easy, and its possible to make it look pretty similar to Windows 95/98 with only the default packages installed:

  1. Click System --> Preferences --> Theme

  2. Press Theme Details

  3. In the Controls tab, select the Redmond theme

  4. In the Window Border tab, select the Glider theme

  5. Click Close. The new theme should already have been applied

If you would like a more accurate Windows theme, visit [WWW] http://art.gnome.org or [WWW] http://www.gnome-look.org where you will find a selection of Windows-like themes for everything from window borders to icons. You can make Ubuntu look practically identical to Windows with a little effort. Also, the gnome-art package in the Universe package repository will automatically connect to [WWW] http://art.gnome.org for you, allowing you to install themes with a few clicks.

If you would like to make Ubuntu look and act more like Windows XP, a project called XPde aims to create a Linux desktop environment which operates like XP, including the XP Start menu. The homepage for this project can be found at [WWW] http://www.xpde.com.

Of course, there are literally hundreds of different themes available, so why not experiment with something totally original?


These instructions apply specifically to the Kubuntu version of Ubuntu, which uses the KDE desktop environment.

/!\ Section stub - authors required. Please add any information relevant to this section.

Fonts from Windows

Windows includes a selection of proprietary fonts, which Ubuntu distributes Free, high-quality alternatives to. However, these alternatives are not identical so your existing documents may not look exactly the same under Ubuntu.

It is possible to download and install a selection of the most commonly-used proprietary Windows fonts at no cost:

  1. Enable the Ubuntu Multiverse package repository (see Repositories for instructions on how to do this)

  2. Click System --> Administration --> Synaptic Package Manager and enter your administrator password

  3. Search for the package msttcorefonts and select to install it

  4. Click the Apply button. The package will be installed

  5. The new fonts will be immediately available

Making Firefox Autoselect Text in the Address Bar

Under windows, clicking on the address bar in Firefox automatically selects the entire text. By default Firefox running under Ubuntu does not. To achieve the same functionality in Ubuntu follow these steps.

  1. In the address bar, type about:config <return>

  2. In the filter text field, type browser.urlbar.clickSelectsAll

  3. Set this value to, true

  4. Restart Firefox

Running Windows applications in Ubuntu

It is possible to run Windows applications on Ubuntu with the help of some additional software. There are two main approaches to this - installing a Windows compatibility-layer to run the programs from Ubuntu itself, or to install Windows on a virtual machine.

The compatibility-layer option is the simplest to set up, is completely open-source and allows easy access to your files in Ubuntu. However, not all Windows programs are supported and you may find that some applications are unstable with this method. This compatibility layer is called WINE and is available in Ubuntu as the wine package in the universe software channel. See Wine for more information.

Commercial extensions to WINE are available, such as CrossOver Office and Cedega, which make it possible to run some applications which don't run with WINE. CrossOver Office focuses on business applications and Cedega focuses on games.

The virtualization option requires a full installation of Windows to be made on a virtual machine, which requires a licensed Windows install CD. As such, this option is more costly, but will guarantee Windows compatibility for applications. VMWare offers a freely downloadable virtual machine product which you can use for this. See VMware for more information.

You are Involved!

Ubuntu is different to Windows in a very important way - we listen to and use our users' input to a massive extent. Remember that Ubuntu is a community project, you are part of the community and we want you to have your say.

When you first start using Ubuntu you can go online and find help from others. Later, you may feel like contributing back by helping others in Ubuntu chat rooms, editing wiki pages like this one (made by people just like you), contributing artwork, reporting bugs, or writing software for the next version of Ubuntu.

If something goes wrong, such as something not working, an unexpected error, weird behavior, some nonsensical text or just a missing feature, please file a bug report. You can find out how to do this on the ReportingBugs page.

Additional Information

Discovering things

We cannot possibly cover all of the differences you will encounter, so how can you go about finding out how things work for yourself? Here are a few tips:

Additional Guides and Resources


last edited 2007-02-11 17:54:21 by PaulBombach