Linux's Tux penguin mascot on a Windows 7 desktop background.
Larry Ewing

If you’re still using Windows 7 because you just don’t like Windows 10, that’s understandable. But there’s an alternative upgrade path: You can install Linux on your PC for free, and you’ll have a supported operating system that’s still getting updates.

This is easier than you might think. You can try Linux on your PC before installing it, and you can even install it alongside Windows 7 when you make the leap. Here’s what you need to know.

A Real Alternative to Windows 7

The Nautilus file manager on an Ubuntu Linux desktop.

In 2020, Linux works a lot better than you might think. Especially if you have an older PC that ran Windows 7, your hardware would be well-supported and “just work” without any extra fiddling. You may have to install hardware drivers for maximum gaming performance, but that’s usually it.

Once you’ve got Linux installed, you can install your preferred web browser: Most Linux distributions come with Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome is also available. You have full access to the web, including streaming websites like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+.

Linux distributions are free and open-source. They’re supported with automatic security updates, and you don’t need antivirus software—just be careful not to download and run strange software or run strange commands, as you would on any other operating system.

RELATED: Windows 7 Dies Today: Here's What You Need to Know

You Can Dual Boot and Leave Windows 7 Installed

Even if you’re installing Linux, you don’t have to leave Windows 7 behind. You could install Linux in a dual-boot configuration. When you start your PC, you can choose which operating system you want to boot. If you ever need to get back to Windows 7—for example, to play a game that doesn’t work on Linux—you can reboot back into Windows 7.

It’s an easy way to dip your toe into the Linux waters. You get a secure Linux operating system, and you can always boot back into Windows 7 for the occasional task that requires Windows.

Pick a Linux Distro and Create Media

A list of the default installed apps on an Ubuntu desktop.

Before you get started with Linux, you’ll need to pick a Linux distribution. We looked at the best Linux distributions for beginners a few years ago, and the landscape is pretty similar today. Ubuntu is still a solid, well-supported choice. Many people recommend Linux Mint instead. Mint is based on Ubuntu—you can’t go wrong with either of them. We’re showing screenshots of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS here.

Once you’ve chosen your Linux distribution, download it, and create live media. We recommend using a USB drive, but you can also burn your distribution of choice to a disc.

Before booting into Linux and installing it, you’ll probably want to back up your files first. It’s always a good idea to have backups of your crucial files, anyway.

RELATED: The Best Linux Distributions for Beginners

Boot the Media and Try It Before Installing It

The "Try Ubuntu or Install Ubuntu" screen that appears when you boot up the live environment.

With your media created, you can now reboot your Windows 7 PC, choose the media you created as your boot device, and start using Linux. After booting, you can use Linux without installing it. It runs entirely from the USB drive or disc you created. Linux isn’t actually installed on your PC until you click the “Install” option and go through the installation wizard.

This is also a great way to ensure all your hardware works properly on Linux without any configuration. For example, you can verify your Wi-Fi is working correctly. If everything looks in order, you know your hardware will work without any messing around after you install Linux on your PC.

If you use a newer PC that originally came with Windows 8 or 10, you may have to adjust Secure Boot settings to boot your Linux distribution. However, PCs from the Windows 7 era will boot Linux just fine with no extra configuration.

Installing Linux on Your PC

An Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS desktop.

If you’d like to install Linux, you can select the installation option in the live Linux environment to install it on your PC. For example, on Ubuntu, you’ll see an “Install Ubuntu” icon on the desktop. Double-click it, and you’ll get an installation wizard.

Everything here will be pretty straightforward. When you’re going through the wizard, you can choose to install your Linux system alongside Windows 7 or erase your Windows 7 system and install Linux over it.

You’ll need some free space to install Linux alongside Windows unless you have a second hard drive. Reboot into Windows 7 and delete some files if you need more space.

Choosing to install Ubuntu alongside Windows 7 instead of erasing the disk.

If you install Windows 7 and Linux alongside each other, you can choose an operating system each time you boot your PC.

Warning: If you choose to erase your hard drive, all the files and applications on your Windows 7 partition will also be erased.

Installing Software on Linux

The Ubuntu Software Center application.

Linux works a little differently from Windows, but not that differently. If all you need is a modern web browser and a few essential utilities like a video player, image editor, and even the open-source LibreOffice office suite, everything you need may already be installed out of the box.

For other software, you’ll want to check out the package manager application on your Linux distribution. On Ubuntu, that’s the Ubuntu Software Center. Think of it like a one-stop “app store” for your Linux PC, except it contains free, open-source software. Applications you install from here will be automatically updated along with your Linux distribution’s base software.

There are also applications you can get from outside the package manager. For example, you might want to download applications like Google Chrome, Dropbox, Skype, Steam, Spotify, Slack, and Minecraft from their official websites. However, most applications you’ll use are open-source software from the package manager.

RELATED: Beginner Geek: How to Install Software on Linux

There’s a lot more to Linux than that, but the basics are pretty simple. The terminal is powerful, but you don’t have to use it.

In 2020, a stable, secure operating system with a modern web browser and some useful utilities is all many people need. Linux offers that out of the box without any extra tweaking. It’s a great alternative to Windows 7.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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