What is Linux?
Sheldon sent in this request to me, and I think it might be useful for some of you out there that may have heard of Linux, and were wondering what it was all about. There are essentially two things needed to have a functioning computer: hardware and software. Hardware comprises all the physical components that you put together, and software is all the programs that you run to get work done. It used to be that you could only run certain kinds of programs on certain hardware, but that is mostly a concern of the past. These days, you can install whatever operating system you wish on most hardware, and have pretty good luck at getting it all working. The operating system is the underlying software the provides an environment and interface to make those programs run. Some common operating systems include Microsoft Windows, Apple’s OSX, and various different types of Linux.
The history of Linux began in 1991 with the commencement of a personal project by Finnish student Linus Torvalds to create a new, free operating system. This means anybody can download the code and install it on any hardware they want, without needing to pay for a software license. Because Linus shared the code under an open source license, anyone is free to make their own version, or to contribute fixes and enhancements.
There are thousands of different distributions of Linux, but only a few that have achieved mainstream popularity.
Ubuntu, which is built on the Debian platform, has easily been the most popular version, and is one of the easier to use variants. Before that, Red Hat, and OpenSUSE were quite popular. Right now, the most popular specific distribution, according to distrowatch.com, has been Linux Mint, itself a variation of Ubuntu.
Why is it better? Linux Mint tries to ‘just work’ out of the box, and succeeds far better for the average user, than many distributions that came before it. Also, you really do not have to worry about viruses anywhere near the level you would on Windows, or even OSX.
What’s the catch? Linux does not run windows software. Not by itself. You can install a special program that can run some windows software under Linux, called “WINE,” but this can get complicated very quickly, and no software vendor will support this. Additionally, it will be like learning how to use a computer all over again, since nothing will be where you expect it, from years of using Windows or OSX. Also, please do not attempt to use Linux on your main computer, un less you know what you are doing. It can very easily wind up wiping out your data, if you aren’t careful. I would recommend trying it out on an old computer that can safely be erased.
That being said, there are often local groups that will help you get to know Linux, and how to use it.
If you would like to give Linux Mint a try, it can be downloaded from linuxmint.com. the default version is called the “Cinnamon” desktop.