Linux. No, it’s not a character from Peanuts. It sort of sounds like a sneeze when pronounced forcefully and quickly. Whatever your ideas about it, it’s probably not what you think.
For many years, Linux has been the computer operating system most associated with the nerd culture. Since 2000, Linux has run a distant third behind Windows and Mac OS. No one really wanted to mess with it for several reasons, like:
- I don’t understand it.
- It’s too hard to use with all that command line stuff.
- I don’t know how to install it.
- I don’t even know where to get it.
- I don’t know which one to get.
- I don’t want to loose my software.
- Why? What I have works fine.
For the most part, all of these would have been valid arguments. I would argue that they are valid no longer. As time marches on, the open source community of Linux programmers have done a valiant job of making Linux approachable by the common man. Not only approachable, but easy to use and fun. After a small learning curve, I would argue that Linux is just as good as any other operating system, and better in some cases. Let me address some of the complaints listed above.
I don’t understand it and – It’s too hard to use with all that command line stuff
In the early days of Linux, graphical interfaces were rare. When they were available, they were clunky and limited. Sort of like Windows 95. Linux was the province of coders, and as such, everything was command line based and required a knowledge of the Linux language. That was fun for some, but it took out the casual user.
Today, the command line option is still available for die-hards, but there are many flavors of very nice graphical interfaces. For the most part, you can make your Linux installation look, feel and act like a Mac or a Windows box. It’s very familiar territory for anyone who’s used a computer in the past decade.
I don’t know how to install it
Again, this has gotten very easy. It’s as simple as downloading the software, burning it to a CD and booting your target computer from that CD. Almost every distribution of Linux will give you options when you do this. You can install Linux as the main operating system and erase everything on the computer… start from scratch. You can create a second boot option so that every time you turn on your computer, you have the choice of using Linux or whatever is already installed, be it Windows, Mac or something else. Or, you can choose to use the CD as your hard drive and boot Linux from the CD as you would a CD-ROM game. This won’t effect your hard drive at all and it’s a good way to try out Linux and see what you think without any serious commitment.
I don’t know which one to get
Yes, this can be a little confusing. While there is only one version of the Mac OS and one version of Windows (well, one current version), there are multiple versions of Linux. These are known as distributions, or distros. Each one has different strengths and a slightly different focus. You can even get them tailored for specific functions, such as a DVR box distro. While it is Linux, it is designed to work best as a standalone DVR for your cable or digital TV. The examples of task-specific distros are wide and varied.
Don’t let that throw you off. There are several distros that are designed to be used as a generic computer, providing everything you would get with Windows or Mac. For beginners, I would suggest a distro called Ubuntu. I’ve used it on several computers and I really like it. Each distro has dedicated followers and they will probably comment below to let you know their choice. To name other popular distros, consider Mint, Mageia, Fedora, Knoppix (for live-boot CD’s), and Debian. There are many more. Note: this was written in December of 2012. If you are reading this later, you might check out distrowatch.com for new releases and updates.
I don’t want to loose my software
Short answer: Pretty much everything you use on your Windows or Mac box is also available for Linux. It’s usually called something else and may work slightly differently, but it’s out there. The majority of them are free.
Why? What I have works fine
If that’s the case, wonderful! Keep on trucking. Eventually, that Windows box is going to to start slowing down with code bloat or viruses. You may not have the money for a new computer. A free Linux install suddenly becomes a good option.
Speaking of viruses, that will be a thing of the past on a Linux box. There are a few Linux viruses out there, but they are extremely rare. There’s no profit it in for the virus coders. They prefer old Windows boxes with no protection. And quite often, it’s the Linux guys who are writing the Windows viruses.
Maybe you need a second (or third?) computer for the house… something anyone can hop on to check out something on the Internet. Do you have an older computer that’s just sitting in the garage? Dust it off and install Linux and see what happens. That’s exactly what I did with an old Dell 286 recently. Yes, a 286. It’s slow, but it runs Ubuntu just fine.
What about Grandma? Does she need a goof-proof computer? A slightly older box running Linux is a great option. There are any number of reasons you should try it out, and the reasons you shouldn’t are quickly disappearing. Will I switch over to Linux only anytime soon? No, probably not. I am a Mac guy through and through. But I can see the value in Linux for appropriate situations.
One bit of advice though: when you give it a try, give it a fair shot. It is a bit different and there is a slight learning curve. Give it a week of good use. Don’t try it for 2 hours and run away. Once you’ve got the hang of it (which will come pretty quickly), you’ll like it. I promise.
Oh, and one more thing. You may already be using the most popular distribution of Linux out there… that would be Android.
Have you already tried Linux? What’s your favorite distro and why? Sound off!