Migrating to Ubuntu from other operating systems


Getting people to migrate to Ubuntu is a three-stage process. First, make it easy for people experienced with other OSes to use Ubuntu by providing help and training. Second, make it easy to migrate by providing software to transfer documents and settings from existing OS installations. Third, once the path is ready, encourage people to walk it.


The more market share Ubuntu has, the easier it will be for support companies and derivative distributions to build on it. Most potential Ubuntu users alive today, however, are already using some other operating system, so they must be enticed to migrate. People already using another operating system have built up experience, documents, and settings in that operating system, and these need to be transferred to Ubuntu to allow migration with a minimum of effort.

Use cases

  • Violet, 17, is the unpaid tech support for her parents running Windows 98SE. She has successfully converted them to Firefox and OpenOffice, but Thunderbird is not an option -- her father insists on using Microsoft Outlook because of its calendar and polished interface, despite its vulnerability to viruses. Violet is tired of being called in weekly to update virus definitions and check for spyware, so she wants to get her parents using a more secure operating system. But this would require copying their documents, bookmarks, passwords, address book, and calendar to to get them working in the new system. The computer doesn't have a CD burner, and Violet has neither the time nor the energy to copy the files a few at a time using floppy disks or Gmail.

  • Tollef, 36, is a businessman, classical music aficionado, and fan of Homestar Runner. Until Ubuntu can play Flash animations and his WMA collection "out of the box", he will be dual-booting between Windows XP and Ubuntu frequently, and he wants to be able to share his documents and bookmarks between operating systems.
  • Elika, 21, is a student who currently uses Gentoo but wants to switch to Ubuntu for its easier configuration. She wants to keep her /home partition, and her existing collection of fonts so her university assignments look the same, while replacing everything else on her hard disk.

  • Linda, 64, has only ever used Windows 2000. As far as she is concerned, Windows is the computer. Lately Windows has been running more and more slowly, and popping up advertisements at random times; she thinks the computer must be wearing out and maybe she should get a new one. She has heard about this "Ubuntu" thing on public radio, but she's doubtful as to what it's for.

  • Tim uses Solaris at work and Mac OS X at home. He would like to use a more Solaris-like OS on his G4, and in the absence of Solaris for PPC, he is considering using Ubuntu. He loves his iPod.

The plan

Encouraging people to migrate to Ubuntu, only for them to discover that migrating is too difficult or that Ubuntu is not ready for them, would be counter-productive in the long term. Such people would not only be turned off Ubuntu for years to come, they would tell friends and colleagues that it's too hard as well. So for best results, we should approach things in reverse order: first make Ubuntu easy for people who've migrated, then make it easy to migrate, then encourage people to migrate.

Stage 1: Helping people who've migrated

To help people become familiar with Ubuntu, we should provide HelpfulHelp tailored to their experience with other operating systems. The page that first appears when you choose "Help" from the panel should contain a topic "If you're new to Ubuntu 5.10" (or whatever the current version is). This topic should contain at least the subtopics "If you've been using Microsoft Windows" and "If you've been using Mac OS X" (and perhaps "If you've been using CDE on Solaris").

The help should describe Ubuntu equivalents to things like the Start button, the Dock, My Documents, System Preferences, the Recycle Bin, My Computer, Microsoft Word, and iTunes.

See also TrainingLiveCd.

Stage 2: Helping people migrate

Transferring data

People migrating from another operating system have many things they want to keep and use in Ubuntu. In approximate order of importance, these include:

  1. documents
  2. photos
  3. e-mail messages
  4. address book
  5. desktop background
  6. music
  8. passwords and cookies
  9. fonts
  10. login accounts (though these may not be set up properly in Windows anyway)
  11. IM settings (screen name, Yahoo ID, etc)
  12. printer setup
  13. multiple monitor setup
  14. applications that have no linux equivalent and that wine can run.

Adding to the fun, people who dual-boot between Ubuntu and their current operating system may want these items to continue being shared between the two systems. And even people who don't want to dual-boot may find it too difficult to transfer the items manually, given that they do not have a CD burner or external hard drive, and that they may not even know where the items are stored.

To solve this problem, software should be developed to make your existing documents and settings accessible from Ubuntu.

  • If you're dual-booting, it should ask you whether you want to share your stuff between your current OS and Ubuntu. If so, it should set up a partition both OSes know how to read from and write to (in the case of Microsoft Windows, a FAT partition), move the items there, and change any necessary registry settings and/or preference files so that programs on your current OS still know where to find the items.
  • If you're replacing your current OS, it should ask whether you want to copy your documents and settings to Ubuntu. If so, it should copy the items to CD or any other available storage device. (If you don't have another available storage device, it could offer to store the items on a password-protected remote server, perhaps as a paid service.)

This is quite a complicated task, but the software could initially copy the most important items listed above, gradually working towards the more obscure items. For each item, it is important for the software to show a sample of what is being transferred, to reassure people that it is being retrieved correctly.

OpenMoveOver copies many of the items listed above from Windows to "Linux". To begin with, we may want to just package this and integrate it into the installer (as done with gparted for a GraphicalPartitioningTool).


The main Apple "Switch" site used to include how-to instructions (now only found in the Latin America sub-site); it now promotes Move2Mac software instead.


The Ubuntu installer should also be improved so that:

  • its default choice of timezone is the same as the timezone setting in your current OS;
  • its default choice of language is the same as, or as similar as possible to, the language setting in your current OS;
  • if you're using Ubuntu to replace some other Linux-based OS, the installer offers to keep your existing /home partition.

Installer guide

Finally, a one-page PDF should be produced that answers the most common questions about using the Ubuntu installer. This should be placed at the top level of the Ubuntu CDs so that people can find it and print it before starting installation. (During installation people will not have access to anything else on their computer, let alone the Internet.)

Stage 3: Encouraging people to migrate

When geeks offer marketing advice, don't listen. However, some ideas include:

  • tweaking the home pages of the Live CD versions of Firefox and Thunderbird for Windows, to say "On Ubuntu, everything is this safe";
  • an "Escape" campaign, with a slogan that talks about upgrading your computer without paying anything;
  • campaigning against RestrictedFormats, thereby simultaneously raising Ubuntu's profile and working to eliminate a barrier to entry for people using it.

Implementation plan

For Breezy:

Packages affected

  • ubuntu-docs
  • debian-installer
  • Firefox
  • Evolution
  • Gnome and KDE in general

Michael10: Another way to encourage people to migrate (specifically from Windows) is to create an installation system that users can start by double-clicking a program in Windows, just like installing AIM or Winzip. https://wiki.ubuntu.com/InstallUbuntuFromWindows?action=show shows how this system might work.

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UbuntuDownUnder/BOFs/MigratingToUbuntu (last edited 2008-08-06 16:38:41 by localhost)