New To Linux: Part 1 - What is It and is It For Me?

Discussion in 'Linux Basics' started by ehansen, Jul 9, 2013.

  1. ehansen

    ehansen New Member Staff Writer

    Jan 5, 2012
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    Many people, when they hear the word Linux, immediately dismiss it as a hard to understand, command line environment designed for hackers and computer geeks. Images of scenes from the 1983 movie War Games start to pop into their heads, with the green on black text based computer systems. In reality though, it is not that scary... in fact, you've probably used Linux hundreds of times and not even known it. As the title suggests, this series of articles will be directed towards people new to Linux, or toying with the idea of making the switch.

    First, let's clear up the name Linux, it is most commonly thrown into conversations about computer operating systemslike: "Do you use Windows, Mac or Linux?". The problem is that Linux is not an operating system (OS), it is what is known as a kernel. So, what is a kernel? It is the very base, the foundation of an OS. In the simplest terms, it contains all the instructions and commands needed to turn a collection of components like the mouse, keyboard, memory, hard drive... etc into a useful, working computer. Of, course the reality of it is much more complicated than that, but luckily the average user does not need to know all the ins and outs of it. Think of it like your car, you do not need to know how every part of the engine works just to go to the store. So, what does this mean exactly? Why the confusion? Well, the Linux kernel is distributed under what is called the GNU General Public License or the GNU GPL, what this means is that it is, again in the simplest terms, it is free to distribute and modify as long as derived works use the same license. Free in this case means, not only no cost but also freedom to change, modify, rewrite or add to the code even if it is to make your own kernel, as long as due credit is given and you allow the same freedoms to others with your work.

    Tux, the Linux mascot by Larry Ewing

    OK, so enough with the boring stuff. The confusion comes from the fact that many, many operating systems use the Linux kernel... like Ubuntu, Red Hat, open Suse, Fedora, Android, an many more. These are what are known as Linux Distributions, or Distros for short and use the Linux kernel with varying degrees of modifications. Android for example uses an extremely trimmed down version since the hardware of the devices it's used on is unlikely to change much. I said earlier that you have most likely used Linux hundreds of times and not even known it, because it's used in things like ATMs, cable boxes, self checkouts at the store, GPS units and phones, not to mention countless numbers of web sites run on Linux based computers... it is everywhere.

    Ubuntu Installation Wizard

    So, is Linux for you? Absolutely! Many distros are working to make their OS more user friendly, for example Ubuntu makes it simple to try it on your PC without ever installing it. The download section of their website gives you step by step instructions on how to create a Live CD or Live USB and their installation also makes it easy to install Ubuntu along side your current OS so you can have both on one computer. And Ubuntu is not the only one, many distros are working towards making their OS suitable for newcomers and Linux veterans alike. Most average computer users can install, set up and use their computer with a Linux based OS and never need to see a single command line prompt, and still do everything they do now. Most programs used in Windows have either a Linux version or a comparable Linux only program that does the same thing. For example, if you use an office suite in Windows there are several free, opensource variants such as LibreOffice which is compatible with MS office and offers a similar suite of programs. The programs that do not have a Linux version or counterpart can often be run in an emulator-type application called WINE. Since, you can try distros like Ubuntu before you install them, you can find out in advance if you can do everything you need to, and with the ability to install side by side with Windows, you can always keep it around just in case.In the next part of this series, I'll go over how to get, try and install Ubuntu ?(one of the most new-user friendly distros). I'll also get you familiar with its desktop environment and go over the basic settings to help get you started.

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