For many users, getting started with Linux is surprisingly easy. New, friendlier versions of the free operating system, such as Fedora and Ubuntu, feature straightforward menus and automated installations that make switching from Windows to Linux a relatively simple process.
But a lot of people who try Linux dump it and switch back to Windows the instant they want to get some work done, mostly because they don't know which Linux programs to use in lieu of their old Windows standbys. Fortunately, such confusion need last only a moment.
Linux offers equivalents to many Windows applications that are often as good as--or even better than--the programs you're used to. In some cases the apps are also available in Windows and Mac OS versions, allowing dual-booters to stay with the same set of free programs regardless of the operating system in use.
For your convenience, we've provided download links to as many of these applications as possible. The majority of them, however, come preinstalled in the most popular Linux distributions, or are available through online software installers such as Fedora's YUM or Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager. Installing new software through your Linux distribution's package management system is generally better than installing programs manually, so check your OS's software repositories before downloading any of the apps from our links.
If you like Microsoft Office, try OpenOffice.org. Microsoft's flagship product is feature-rich and friendly, but it's expensive and it doesn't run natively under Linux. Though Microsoft doesn't sell a Linux version of Office, most Linux distributions come with a variety of free office suites, as well as individual productivity applications such as KOffice's KWrite word processor and Gnumeric spreadsheet.
Nothing comes closer to matching Microsoft's suite than OpenOffice.org 2.3, which includes the Write word processor, Calc spreadsheet, Impress presentation software, Base database designer, Draw vector-graphics program, and Math formula editor. All of the apps can import and export files in native Microsoft Office formats, or be configured to use them by default. Windows and Mac OS X versions are also available.