What is Linux, and why should you use it?

Posted: August 12, 2010 in Computers, How the world should work

I’ve been thinking of what to post next and this was the main thing I came up with. Technically Linux is a kernel (core of an operating system) used in place of the HURD kernel in the GNU operating system, hence the name GNU/Linux. Simply put, you can put a free, linux based OS called a distro on your computer as an alternate or replacement for MS Windows or Mac OS X. There are many reasons why linux is generally a superior choice to the alternatives. For instance, it is:

  1. More customizable than any other operating system known to man. (But I think the dolphins might have further developments on hurd…)
  2. More secure than a Mac or Windows computer, security patches issued daily.
  3. If there’s something you don’t like, you can just change it; everything about the OS is free, straight down to source code.
  4. Software is downloaded from a repository or compiled from source, viruses aren’t even feasible.
  5. Very gentle learning curve.
  6. Powerful console (terminal).
  7. Hundreds of thousands of free software packages availble.
  8. Almost every piece of software for linux is totally free.
  9. Though there are some hardware incompatibility issues, it is for all intents and purposes, the most portable OS on Earth. Portable in this context meaning availble for computer architectures.
  10. Choice; there isn’t one main linux distribution (distro), there are dozens. And if you don’t like the way your distro is going, you can just fork it (create project to develop OS the way you like it).
  11. Your computer actually belongs to you, you can use it whatever way you want to.

This is a bit hard to grasp for people who’ve never used it, but its become the norm for me and about 2% of all computer users: if there is any part, any single part of your operating system that you don’t like, you have the authority to change it. Anything you want. With windows or OSX, the operating system, and through extension, your computer, belongs to the company that makes the OS. With linux, once you get it, for all intents and purposes, it belongs to you, how you use it is your business. The main thing that you can’t do is close the source code or re-brand & sell it. Its supposed to be free for life. That is, even if you’re distributing it for free, the source code must be available for the end-user to tinker with.

As for adapting, it’s probably easier to swap from mac to linux than windows to linux but if you go with an open mind it shouldn’t be to difficult for either. The only things you really have to get used to (besides the insane degree of customization you’ll enjoy) are these:

  1. A lot of mainstream, non-free software isn’t available for linux. This is easy to deal with for productivity applications like web browsers or office software that’s not a must have, like using gimp instead of photoshop, but games will rarely have an alternative. Easier to deal with as a console gamer obviously.
  2. Different install structure; on windows you have to browse the internet to find some random executable installer, which is quite dangerous in my opinion, and is one of many reasons that viruses are more widespread on windows. On linux, you either download from a repository, basically like the iphone app store (but every-thing’s free) or compile from source, where, obviously you or someone else will be looking at the source code.

As for which distro to use, for most people I’d recommend ubuntu. It’s got an excellent community, is easy to use for beginners, good repository of 30,000 titles, and has the same classic linux customization ability. It’s quite easy to setup a dual boot from within windows using a program called wubi. Here’s an install guide from phsychocats.

Some people are under the impression that linux is more difficult to use than windows. This is not true now, the reputation was for the most part earned in linux’s first half-decade or so (1991-96). In fact, I would say that for a new user, linux distros like ubuntu are in fact easier to learn than windows .

There is also another popular misconception that linux is command line only. While it is true that the linux command line is far more powerful than most other OS’s, linux is more visually appealing than any other operating system. That is not just my opinion my friends, that is a fact. I had a desktop that looked quite similar to windows 7, with transparent windows, panel and the snapping to the side of the screen thing 3 or 4 years ago with kde 3. I actually think that MS is getting ideas from KDE. Off topic but interesting none the less. Pictures and videos below for you non-believers.

Desktop effects via compiz fusion

Desktop Effects powered by compiz fusion

KDE 3. notice the similarity to 7 (7 was released half a decade later)

KDE 3. notice the similarity to 7 (7 was released half a decade later)

A few comparative videos (some may have music).

Vista vs. Ubuntu

Highly Customized Slackware Boot

Another nicley done Slack system

Matrix themes (always loved those ones)

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Comments
  1. jfreak says:

    I would disagree with point 5, especially for users with windows background.

  2. lanteran says:

    well, you do have to do a bit of relearning, so windows users might get frustrated early on, but consider it from the standpoint of a new user. Browse the net for some random .exe file? No, use the ubuntu software center. Something goes wrong? Linux: Post your error code thing or description of your problems to forums/irc.
    Windows: Dig deep, your lucky if it ever tells you what actually went wrong. Sending it back gets your drive wiped and bloat reinstalled.
    From my grandma’s standpoint, its far easier to use than windows (no joke, I actually swapped her to xubuntu)

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