Sep
2

Why Users Switch Linux Distros + How to Plan for an OS Migration

Why Users Switch Linux Distros + How to Plan for an OS Migration

September 2
By

With Windows Server 2003 end-of-life having come and gone, countless IT teams are surely in the process of migrating from Microsoft’s latest ticking time bomb to something more reliable. The risks associated with running an abandoned operating system are very real, but expired EOL dates aren’t the only drivers behind OS migration projects. There comes a point when your existing system just isn’t cutting it anymore. For Linux users, the push to a new distro might be triggered by a number of factors.

Better User Experience and Easier Management

So you know your way around the dark, lonely environment that is the Linux shell. That may be the case, but even the most seasoned of IT professionals appreciate a hassle-free user experience – or something close to it. Although the open source community is admirable in the support department, the time spent chasing solutions in the forums is time that can be spent on production. An administrator catching the flux with Fedora would be justified in moving to a Linux flavor better known for ease of use.

Community Support Is Lacking

Sometimes the biggest difference between one distro and the next is the community behind it. For example, the Ubuntu troop is so large and active that you can literally take your pick of Linux resources when something goes awry. You might not be so lucky if you’re running an obscure distro like Mepis, which is pretty much maintained by a single developer. When the community around your system starts to resemble a ghost town, that’s a telltale sign that it’s time to move on.

Hardware Compatibility is an Issue

Linux has better hardware support than it’s usually given credit for. Your chances of successfully running something like LXLE on an older desktop are far greater than getting Windows 8 to act right on the same machine. Slowly but surely, manufacturers are stepping up to build hardware and retool drivers to better support Linux environments. A the same time, the compatibility problems with peripherals and certain graphics cards are well documented. Everything else could be running smoothly, but if hardware compatibility issues are cramping productivity, an OS migration only makes sense.

One Too Many Bugs

Linux is often praised for its out of the box security, flexibility, and stability. However, any administrator who has test driven a few distros may uncover an experience that isn’t necessarily as smooth and fluid as it was made out to be. Some will say that it’s not the Linux kernel, but flaws in the accompanying software that lead to stability issues within a given distribution package. Still, the fact remains that some variants have a buggy stigma they just can’t seem to shake. A Linux migration is warranted when developers are slow to address bugs, or there are just too many nasty bugs to begin with.

Still Looking

Maybe you’re running a distro that looks and feels nice, yet want to keep your options open . You like what you see, but haven’t found “the one”. Thanks to the open source nature of Linux, playing the distro field makes perfect sense for someone in this situation. Live CDs, DVDs, and USBs make it fairly easy to test drive CentOS and various other distros without fear of commitment. In researching this topic, I ran across accounts from several users who frequently change distributions just to see what’s out there.

Linux Migration Considerations

Regardless of what drives your desire to switch Linux distros, you can rest assured that there is no shortage of probable destinations. Whether you’re in search of something similar to your current installation or have mapped out a different direction, there are a broad range of options at your fingertips. Having said that, it should be noted that changing distros isn’t as simple as going from Google Search to Bing. From desktop controls to system utilities, the changes can be rather significant from one environment to the next.

The following considerations have been outlined for IT managers tasked with guiding an OS migration project between Linux distributions.

Picking the Right Distro

The importance of choosing the right distro is spelled out in the reasons Linux users move on from one particular environment or another. In order to ensure that your move isn’t short-lived, you’ll want to identify specifics such as:

  • What you need a distro to do
  • What you like about the current system
  • What you don’t like about the current system
  • Your desired ease of use
  • Community activity and support availability

Some users don’t mind aimlessly leaping across the vast pond of Linux pads. If consistency is imperative to your business, you’ll better appreciate the peace of mind that comes from having a stable relationship between your distro and IT infrastructure.

Backing Up the Essentials

IT managers should definitely backup all critical system data before setting up shop in a new environment. At the very least you will want to backup the folders that respectively house your root, user, and configuration files. Fully restoring the contents of these folders is something that may, or may not be required. Either way, having copies of them will make sure you can recover whatever needs to be restored, or find specific sets of data to satisfy compliance demands if necessary.

Transferring Folders and Files

Since all your important system files are backed up and easily accessible, setting up your old directories in the new environment is an option at your disposal. However, select files are specific to desktop environments and other distro components so the transfer process may be best approached on a case by case basis. Luckily the configurations for LibreOffice, GIMP, and other cross-distro applications can be easily copied over with a simple file management utility – or of course, in your trusty terminal. The same holds true for any individual documents, video, or audio files you want to port over.

Fall-back Cushion

Installing a new operating system is often like starting from scratch. For many users, it means wiping all data and applications clean from the existing machine and making a commitment to something else – but that doesn’t always have to be the case. In fact, it makes good IT sense to create a separate partition for the new distro while keeping  the partition that houses your existing installation intact. This way, you have something to fall back on in the event that you change your mind for one reason or another.

Assembling the Migration Team

An OS migration can be a complex and time-consuming undertaking. Whether it’s porting over the entire infrastructure or just a few core core apps, IT managers need a seamless and reliable way to move from one distro to another. This might be the perfect job to hand off to a third-party that specializes in assisting organizations with upgrading to the latest technology platforms.

Commonly offered by managed service providers, OS migration might include:

  • Backup of existing system and user data
  • Installation of chosen distro on designated hardware
  • Installation of applications on new distro
  • Restoration of user data and system settings on new distro
  • Training programs designed to familiarize end users new OS environment

Companies are forced to adapt as their system and application needs change. Perhaps you require a helping hand. Maybe you’re equipped with the resources to handle it all internally. In either case, a comprehensive plan is needed in order to ensure that your Linux migration project goes off without a hitch and has no impact on business performance.