Taking the good stuff when trading Windows for Linux

Here's how to take your documents, bookmarks, preferences and system settings along when you switch from Windows to Linux. Also, tips on how to choose replacement applications.

Migrating your stuff from Windows to Linux

Every now and then you're likely to run into an application for which there is simply no suitable Linux or open-source replacement. In such cases, you have two options. One is to continue to run Windows itself, either as a dual-boot configuration or in a virtual machine (e.g., VMware or VirtualBox for Linux), until you can find something that'll do the job. The other is to try and run the Windows application directly in Linux using Wine.

Wine is free, open-source software that makes it possible to run the vast majority of Windows apps in Linux, but it's not always possible to predict how a given Windows application will behave. The newsgroup comp.emulators.ms-windows.wine (rather ironically named since Wine's not an emulator, strictly speaking) may have notes from others users about the very application you're trying to run.

It's also possible to migrate Windows applications settings stored in the registry over to applications running under Wine. You first need to know which registry keys contain the settings you want to migrate.

With that in hand, you can then use REGEDIT in Windows to export the relevant key data, copy the exported data to Linux, then use Wine's own regedit application to re-import the same data. (The syntax for doing this with Wine's regedit is fairly simple: wine regedit regfile.reg, where regfile.reg is the registry data exported from Windows.)

Another thing to consider is finding replacements for system-level functions -- music players, desktop search and so on -- that come bundled with Windows. A typical Linux distribution will usually offer several possible replacements for a given Windows system function.

In Ubuntu, for example, there's a native desktop-search utility available in the software repository (based on the Beagle search system), but it's also possible to install Google Desktop Search for Linux if you used that tool on Windows and want to stick with it.


Even though many people who migrate from Windows to Linux do so with the intention of staying, it's always important to remember how you got there. If you have backups of all your original documents and user settings -- whether on your original Windows installation or in another form somewhere -- you'll always have something to fall back on as you get settled into Linux and make it your new home, hopefully for a long time to come.

Serdar Yegulalp writes about Windows and related technologies for a number of publications, including his own Windows Insight blog.

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