What’s This “Linux” Thing and Why Should I Try It?

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linux tux   Whats This Linux Thing and Why Should I Try It?Lately, Linux has been receiving quite a bit of notice. Between the ASUS EeePC, the One Laptop Per Child project, Dell’s new Ubuntu line, Intel’s Classmate PC, and Everex’s Green PC, Linux has been getting a lot of attention from computer manufacturers. It seems every new computer in the last year has had Linux, but to most people that doesn’t mean anything. It probably leaves you wondering, “what’s this Linux thing everyone’s talking about?”

So, what is this Linux thing?

Linux is an operating system, just like Windows and OSX are operating systems. It talks to the computer’s hardware, makes sure everything’s going OK, and then you run programs on top of it. Because it pretty much always comes with a standard set of tools (the GNU tools) which are very similar to the tools found on big UNIX systems, it is sometimes called GNU/Linux. If you’ve ever used a UNIX system, you’ll feel right at home.

When someone says they use Linux, what they mean is they use a distribution (aka distro) of Linux. Without the GNU tools or any applications, it can be a little useless. A distro is a software bundle. It includes the Linux kernel (the part that actually talks to the hardware), the GNU tools, and whatever applications the person or people who started that distro thought were useful, all configured in a way that they think works well.

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Since not everyone has the same idea of a good system, there are a few hundred distros out there, each having its niche–though often many distros share a niche. There are distros for old, low-spec computers, like Damn Small Linux and distros like Sabayon for high-end computers to show off their bling. Some distros, like Gentoo are loved by those who like to tweak everything for the best possible performance, just like that guy down the street who’s always tweaking his hotrod. Some distros, like SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) are aimed at corporate desktop use with support contracts. Red Hat, on the other hand, is for corporate server use. Then there are CentOS and OpenSUSE which are just like Red Hat and SLED, except without the support contracts which corporate environments often require. Fedora is the desktop version of Red Hat, aimed at home users, though my school uses it in the computer labs. Debian is known for its stability, which makes it great for servers, but since it usually includes older software, many desktop users prefer Ubuntu to have an up-to-date system. There are tons of others, but those are some of the most common.

Why should I use it?

There are a number of reasons you may want to try Linux on your computer. For me, the main reason to switch was to try something new. I wanted to know what else was out there besides Windows, which I was bored with, and OSX, which I don’t like. Trying something new and learning more about how computers work might not be your thing, though, so here are some other reasons.

    It’s free – You don’t have to pay anything to try or use Linux. Most of the software for it is totally free-of-charge too. Some distros are for-pay, like Red Hat, but in that case you’re paying for a support contract. They’re generally available without the support contract as well, such as with CentOS.

    You’re free – One of the things we say about Linux is that while it’s often free/gratis (free as in beer), it is always free/libre (free as in speech). What that means is that there are a few freedoms which come along with it. You are free to use it and any other FLOSS for whatever purpose you want. You are free to study the program and adapt it to your needs. Even if you can’t code, if there’s something you want changed, there’s probably a 12 year old down the street who could make the changes for you. You are free to share it with your friends without being branded a software pirate. Just about anything you want to do with FLOSS, you can do, unless you want to change the license to make it stop being FLOSS. That’s a pretty wide-open license.

    It’s secure – Linux was built, like UNIX, to be a multi-user system. There are permissions in place to maintain the security of the system. Users do not run as administrators all the time, so actions which affect the system must be explicitly allowed. Software cannot be installed unless a user says, as administrator, to explicitly allow that to happen, so viruses cannot install themselves. DOS and its child, Windows, were not built with this security model in mind. They run under a set of assumptions which just aren’t true in today’s world. They assume that only one person will ever touch the computer, that that person has all the knowledge necessary to be a good system administrator, and that nobody else can reach that computer, such as through a network. Given the existence of the internet, we know that there are plenty of people who can reach our computers. What we need to do is keep them from getting into our computers and causing harm. Linux’s system of permissions prevents this. Windows’ assumption that any action being performed is being allowed by the administrator is what allows malware to self-install. Microsoft has taken steps in its newest version of Windows, Vista, to copy this system of checking with the administrator before allowing certain actions to be performed, but the way in which it was done seems to be more intrusive. It’s always obvious why the system is asking for permission if you are using a UNIX-like system, such as Linux, FreeBSD, or OSX.

    It’s easy – This is a new one. It used to be fairly difficult for a new user to try out Linux, mostly because installation was difficult. Once the system is setup, though, it only stops for hardware failure. My mom’s been using Linux (Ubuntu, specifically) since Thanksgiving 2006. I set it up for her, showed her where Firefox was, told her she could find whatever she needs in the Applications Menu, and got on a train to go back to school, 250 miles away. By New Year, she was bragging to her friends about how much faster and easier this Linux thing was than Windows. Wow. And they said only a geek could figure out Linux. My mom took a month to figure out email! My siblings were still asking me to install software for them after 5 years of Windows. On Linux, they mark a few check boxes to choose what they want to install then hit “Apply” and everything downloads and installs automatically–no hunting the internet for installers.

How do I get it?

You can download an ISO from any of the distros’ websites and burn your own install disk or get a friend to give you a disk. Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) mails out free CDs too. You can also get DVD versions (which have extra stuff included) of many of the distros online for a small fee. Finally, check your local computer store. Sometimes Xandros is available with the regular boxed software. If you really don’t want to try to install it yourself, check for a local LUG. They often have “installfests” where you can bring your computer to get help from someone with a bit more experience.

What’s with that penguin up there?

Linus Torvalds, the man who started the development of Linux back when he was a student at the University of Helsinki, was once bit by a penguin. When the idea of having a Linux logo came up, he suggested a cute, friendly little penguin as the mascot. He said it was more interesting and fun because you can do things with a mascot like that which you simply can’t do with a rectangle that says “LINUX.” The penguin’s name is Tux, and he was created by Larry Ewing using the GIMP.

(By) Mackenzie is a college student who likes to promote Linux and Free/Libre Software. Most of her free time is spent on the computer, helping new users, or hanging out with some of the friends she’s made in the Linux community. Check out her blog, Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks.

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100 Comments - Write a Comment

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lefty.crupps

Very nicely written and concise, and I appreciate that you explain the benefit of “You’re free” when using FLOSS. I will use this as a pointer for new users. Thank you!

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Aibek

Hey Mackenzie

This was the best Linux Intro ever. And thanks for the penguin story, I always wanted to know where that fat penguin came from

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Tina

Welcome to the team MacKenzie and wow what an awesome post! I’ve fancied Linux for a long time and reading this post has puched me a little further to finally giving it a try. :) Thanks a lot for the great overview and explanations!

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Shankar Ganesh

Good article there!

You can find more about that Tux mascot here:
http://www.sjbaker.org/wiki/index.php?title=The_History_of_Tux_the_Linux_Penguin

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Keith

Thanks for the intro Mackenzie. I look forward to seeing some articles about Linux, I just started using Ubuntu back in October and haven’t gotten a good feel for it yet, so I look forward to your help and incite.

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Victoria

Excellent piece. I definitely learned a few new things from reading this and will have a better time explaining Linux to people in the future. Cheers!

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Steven

How on earth do you get “bit by a penguin”, by which I mean why was he so close to a penguin!?

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Norm

actually; Tux was not coined by linus, he only propagated the idea through the mailing lists..
nice intro.. almost no way for m$ fanbois to argue with it..

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nix

havent you heard of or tried http://www.pclinuxos.com/
pclinuxos.com/index.php?option=com_ionfiles&Itemid=28
new PCLinuxOS gnome!
its on top of the list at distrowatch.com/

you shoud check it out and mention it in your articles i like it more than all the rest ,been using it for a year or so , radically simple is the motto !!! :-)

Mackenzie Morgan

Yes, of course I’ve heard of it. There are always PCLOS users coming into #ubuntu to ask for help because their IRC channel is apparently either dead or not as helpful. I was going with the ones that have been popular for a while or serve a niche as a quick overview.

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Sudheer

Very nicely written post. I have been wanting to write a similar post from few days. I can now point out my blog readers to this post.

Regards,
Sudheer

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Mata

You might also mention the Yellow dog distro for PowerPC Macs. I have an old iMac I’ll probably convert.

Mackenzie Morgan

Debian supports around 20 architectures, including PowerPC. Ubuntu hasn’t had official support for PPC since 6.10, but they’ve continued to release ISOs for PPC Ubuntu on the main server (they just aren’t on the other mirrors).

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J S

For a complete listing of current choices, plus a rank ordering of the most popular
go to distrowatch.com (see list half-way down the page on the right side).

Lots of choices.

If you want to try it all out – this is the low stress low risk way to ease into it:
1- Install on your favorite Windows box: open office, firefox, and gimp (google for download urls and details) – this will give you an idea of the level of quality in open source programs.
2- Take an old pc in the house you don’t really use “because it was too slow” and install a copy of Kubuntu or PCLinuxOS or try others (install often take less than 30 minutes, vs hours I’ve spent installing Windows + drivers…). You’ll often find it’s now as fast as your favorite Windows box.
3- Install Linux to your favorite Windows box as a second partition. Then if you need Windows you can reboot and select it from the menu. Alternatively, get a second hard drive and install Linux on it and unhook your Windows drive or change the boot order. Or try out some Virtual Machine setups – but they will take more than the average user to get going.
4- Wipe Windows off and go Native Linux and don’t look back.

Mackenzie Morgan

A common misconception about DistroWatch is that it tells you how popular a distro is at that time; however, it does not monitor hits to the distros’ websites or downloads of their installers. All it counts is how often people look at that distro’s page on DistroWatch. So, if the users of one distro are unconcerned with looking at their distro’s page on there every day, it goes down. Meanwhile, someone may use one distro, but, since they already know how that one works, only look at DistroWatch’s pages for other distros, just to see what else is out there. That doesn’t mean the distros they looked at are more popular–after all, they have a different one installed–but that’s how DistroWatch counts it.

Travis Quinnelly

Interesting, I didn’t know that’s how DistroWatch did their counts.

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projectmanagement

Hmm, does anyone know some good Gannt software for projectmanagement on linux. Then i;ll switch (from mac to linux anyhow).

Mackenzie

I use GNOME Planner.

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Rory Sinclair

Given that Mac OS X is UNIX based (and even UNIX Certified in Leopard), a lot of what you say here about linux also applies to Mac OS X.

I just wondered why you state you ‘dont like’ Mac OS X?

Anonymous

Simply because of a few reasons:

1. Mac OS X is not as high quality as Linux.

2. Mac OS X *hardly* actually uses its UNIX features, and even in its earlier versions, those things that even made it a UNIX were optional. You may as well have put in a WINDOWS kernel for all the good the BSD-based Darwin is actually doing Mac OS X.

3. Mac OS X is proprietary, actually, with maybe a few smatterings of open source components dashed in there.

4. Mac OS X is locked down onto the hardware Apple decides you want to run. Trying to run Mac OS X on a PC is illegal. Not so with Linux, which is available for over 200 different processor architectures legitimately, and is genuinely free software.

5. Mac OS X doesn’t half near the level of power Linux or a “real” UNIX actually has. Despite introduction of BASH and those aforementioned rarely used UNIX features in Mac OS X, if you were to ask a veteran Linux or UNIX user how Mac OS X actually ranks in the UNIX world, you’d be disappointed to hear either outright laughter or a description of how, aside from SCO’s UnixWare and OpenServer, Mac OS X is near the bottom of the UNIX heap.

I am relieved, however, that you didn’t claim that Mac OS X was based off of Linux, which is false. It is based off of BSD.

There’s also the users of Mac OS X. UNIX features are actually wasted on their stereotype. These are people coming from a purely GUI-driven, non-CLI, non-technical OS culture. UNIX is not really for them.

I’m not saying Mac OS X is bad or anything, just from the perspective of a long time UNIX user who knows what UNIX is and how it is used, Mac OS X makes a lousy Linux, but a good home operating system.

Of course, as an operating system itself, Mac OS X has its problems, not the least of which is its not legally feasible for a PC user to switch and retain their old hardware. It is not cheap to switch to Mac OS X on a whim like it is for Linux.

Anonymous

My edit isn’t showing up. So I’ll add in a reply.

I’m not saying Mac OS X is a bad operating system… just a bad UNIX.

Though if I were to tout it as an alternative to Windows, I’d also say its not a good alternative, mosly for legal/monetary/philosophical reasons:

1. Macs are overpriced commodity-based machines. That’s right! You could build a PC with the same exact hardware for less money!

2. Mac OS X itself is not free, and is only licensed to be installed on Macs! This is bad for a disgruntled Windos user wanting to switch simply because to stay legal they’ll have to junk their existing hardware and spend more cash just for an alternative operating system.

3. Mac OS X is restricted. Just like in #2, you can only install Mac OS X where Apple wants you to. This is what we hackers call a Bad Thing.

Linux makes a much better Windows alternative because it solves those three obstacles to Mac adoption:

1. Linux can be run on existing hardware. Linux, unlike Mac and Windows, has an INCREDIBLY wide hardware support. Not just processors either, but also peripherals and internal hardware! With it being truly free, it can be easily adapted for just about ANY use. Can’t say the same for Mac OS X.

2. Linux can actually REDUCE the cost of a new machine. Most of the cost of a new PC actually comes from overpriced Windows licenses. Either building your own Linux based machine or buying an OEM machine with Linux pre-installed has shown to be much cheaper!

3. Linux can be installed on both a Mac and a PC, or it could be put on a SPARC, clustered into a supercomputer, embedded onto a Palm, Xbox, or even an iPod, the options are endless.

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x

bit strange that she doesn’t like os x, but does like unix. sounds like contagious schizophrenia to me.

Mackenzie Morgan

All Linux window managers (as far as I can tell) can do focus follows mouse and set above, just like the old UNIX window managers. OSX lacks these features, and I really like them. I also can’t stand the universal menubar. I like having the menus inside the window where I’m working. I don’t want to have to move my mouse all the way up to the top of the screen.

Yeti~

“I don’t want to have to move my mouse all the way up to the top of the screen”

I’m sorry that did actually make me laugh. But I personally find it useful and it’s not that hard to move the mouse that far. Then again I can also see how people are a tad put off by it. To write off a entire OS though is a little much, Mac OS isn’t the best by any means but I find it alot easier to work with than Linux. The “It just works” statements Ubuntu were passing out just, well, didn’t work (more than once). Fedora also gave me many troubles.

All in all I am more than happy with using a mix of mac os / windows (not vista thank you very much)

But anyways, nice little write up! I would say to people who haven’t tried a linux os, go out and try it, it’s free and most of the time works (sorry can’t say it works all the time). Cant hurt to try!

Just be cautious when installing on a HDD with another OS, I did have it go out the window on me during install and fudged the MBR

Look forward to more unix based write ups! :) good work n keep em’ coming!

dan

I’m a Ubuntu and Arch linux and whilst it’s true that Mac OS X is based on Unix, it’s nothing like Linux. For me, the thing that I can’t stand is the windows don’t close when you click the ‘X’, which for me always using Linux and Windows, confused me =]

I know it’s a bad reason not to like an OS, but I did use a Mac for about a month so I gave it a fair trial :P

I’m not anti-mac either, I think it looks amazing, works and does everything easily. Just, it’s not the OS for me.

Aibek

My main problem with OS X is user interface. It definitely looks beatiful but some aspects make it very hard to get used it. Over the years I got used to certain set of features/menus/tasks (on Windows), and Linux distros like Ubuntu do a pretty good job to accomodate new users. With Mac OS X on the other hand, there is no way but to adjust to whatever is there. Oh and it’s EXPENSIVE.

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scor

I’ve being ask by my friends how to make their Ubuntu system faster..so I told them to test out the latest version of Slax (Based on Slackware with KDE). Easier to setup just install it onto any usb flashdrive or burn it onto cd disc. Now they think it’s the fastest OS they ever seen and the best part they don’t need to install it!

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bruce fulton

You can try it out on your PC first using free virtualization software. See the video

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diabolix

I am a linux user who was conned into buying a macbook under the assumption that Mac OS was just like unix. Most casual unix users will probably not have any problems with a mac, but anyone who uses a modern unix-like system regularly ( in my case, for work) will find that the BSD Subsystem of Mac OS is antiquated, non-standard, and buggy. Linux does have its flaws, but Linux is a much more malleable tool in the hands of a power-user. Linux is a leatherman multi-tool, Mac OS is an Italian switchblade, and Windows is a plastic butter-knife.

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Seventeen Reasons

Hey, quit bashing OS X. It is a lot better than using Win-blows, Piss-dows.

I’m in favor of OS X and FreeBSD.

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Tyler

This is a great article! I am a recent Linux convert from Windows and my laptop has never been happier. It doesn’t run as hot, all my software is free and I feel way cooler than all my friends.

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Pedro

Actually having the menubar alows you to be much faster since you dont have to care about vertical positioning.

Mackenzie Morgan

I don’t like using mice, and when I have to use them, I want it to be not very much. Maybe if you have a physical mouse you can throw across the desk, the top of the screen is faster, but on a touchpad, the top of the screen can take multiple “strokes.” Also, as screens get larger, the top of the screen gets farther and farther away.

Zorael

Opinion.

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flick

If you want a universal menubar in Linux, you can get it if you’re using the KDE desktop.

Mackenzie Morgan

There’s a way to do it in GNOME too, but it requires compiling a patched version of the panel.

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popjack

Linux is currently what I perceive to be an uncomfortable middle-ground between easy of bewildering. I have a Linux machine at home running OpenSuSE 10.3, and I’ve spent time running Fedora and its variants (Core 5, Core 6, Core 7 and now 8, BLAG 7K) as well as Ubuntu and some of its variants (Kubuntu, Linux Mint), and various other distros.

It’s true that installation has come a very long way. It’s as simple as a few points and clicks. Hardware detection and configuration is also much improved. However, the moment something unorthodox happens, things get very hairy very quickly. Send your granddad to the command line or ask him to nano a config file and see how good Windows looks. Or what about the first time a dizzying array of updates breaks something?

Linux has a fantastic foundation, and the veneer of ease-of-use is getting more opaque, but it’s just not exception tolerant enough yet.

I also use and like Windows, although I’m far from a fanboi. Clearly though, it seems like Linux gets a pass on things that MS could never get away with, and does not get enough credit for providing a fairly seamless user experience.

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Mikey

I don’t understand why I should switch to Linux and maybe someone can help. My argument is that an OS is only a launching point for application to increase your productivity. For example I use windows only to launch Word, Excel, etc so that I can get my work done. So by switching to linux or any other operating system what are the advantages? The price of windows is negligible for what it does in terms of productivity. Maybe this is because I’m seeing from a business point of view but I think if linux wants to become mainstream it’s the businesses it will need to appeal to.

J S

For Mikey… go take a look at openoffice.org – direct replacement for MS Office (I use it sharing documents with clients that are using MS Office). Productivity wise, you can take a computer choking on running Windows Vista and install Linux (kubuntu.org or PCLinuxOS) and Open Office and have all the modern OS features, virus protection, etc and be running at blazing speeds.

Jadd

That depends on precisely what you do with your computer to be honest. But security is a good advantage if you ignore ethics, freedom and price.

Zorael

Warning: tin-foil hat opinionated text ahead.

Linux is likely as good as Windows in terms of getting your daily work done. As desktop environments, they’re fairly equal in that regard. There are OpenOffice applications to replace Word, Excel – all of which are compatible with their Microsoft counterparts, in that they can open and save to their file formats.

There are advantages and there are caveats. The design of the operating system is superior (educated opinion); properly set up, crashes are *very* random – malicious software (virii, spyware, adware) are virtually nonexistent and for good reason, since any application you run *hasn’t got the necessary privileges to make any changes to your system outside of your personal folder* – reboots are practically never needed unless you upgrade the kernel (if you make changes to the graphical environment, it can be restarted without a system reboot), etc.

The caveats would, in a way, be drivers. Remember; linux has the best driver support – but the drivers are mostly written by developers not tasked by the manufacturing company to do so. They may be *experts* in the subject, but they’re labelled “amateur hobbyists” by antagonists to fling dirt and discredit them. So most drivers are backwards-engineered, but unless your system happens to have a piece of unsupported hardware, everything will work as soon as the system is installed. Meaning, no scouring the internet for video drivers, and their ilk.

Wireless and printer drivers can be iffy. Some models are plain not supported (much like in Vista, eh?), in which your only solution would be to replace the hardware (which you should NEVER “need” to do), wait for someone to develop one, or – better yet – help develop one yourself, if you have the expertise.

But consider this hypothetical case: let’s say RAID was a new technology. And Steve Ballmer doesn’t like it, doesn’t see a future in it, so he doesn’t develop support for it. Meaning, you can’t install Windows on a software RAID stripe. Linus Torvalds doesn’t like it either, so he doesn’t put much effort in it. But developer John Doe does! He’s working at some company who are very eager to start using it in their linux installations, so he starts working on RAID support. A bunch of other developers join him, and lo and behold, eventually there’s support for it in the kernel. Steve Ballmer “decides” for Windows. Noone does this for Linux. Linus is sort of the benevolent dictator and decides somewhat what should be standards (when there are disputes) in kernels, but you’re still free to compile your own, perhaps by following howto’s written by others in the same position. So Linux is there to serve the user, whereas Windows is there to be served *by* the user, if I’m allowed to be so blunt.

Furthermore, Microsoft bullies Linux. They discredit it, call it immature, use bribes and enforce non-support from companies through contracts, etc. Read this story about the Mandriva-Nigeria deal. It’s very true, and an example of Microsoft’s tactics brought to light. They’re brilliant in an economic way, but as underhanded as dirt incarnate. They’re sued for billions every year by the EU for anti-trust behaviour, but they just pay it off and keep doing what they’re doing. They earn much, much more by doing so.

They represent everything that’s bad about big corporations.

Zorael

Post seem to have been rejected, perhaps due to length, so I’ll split it up.

Warning: tin-foil hat opinionated text ahead.

Linux is likely as good as Windows in terms of getting your daily work done. As desktop environments, they’re fairly equal in that regard. There are OpenOffice applications to replace Word, Excel – all of which are compatible with their Microsoft counterparts, in that they can open and save to their file formats.

There are advantages and there are caveats. The design of the operating system is superior (educated opinion); properly set up, crashes are *very* random – malicious software (virii, spyware, adware) are virtually nonexistent and for good reason, since any application you run *hasn’t got the necessary privileges to make any changes to your system outside of your personal folder* – reboots are practically never needed unless you upgrade the kernel (if you make changes to the graphical environment, it can be restarted without a system reboot), etc.

Mackenzie Morgan

First time anyone comments, their comment is held in moderation. Your original comment is in the queue, and I don’t have access to OK the comments. Only the editors can do that. At least, I assume so.

Mackenzie Morgan

Well, since you mentioned it, I think the next article will be on productivity apps on Linux, so watch for that. MS Office really is MS’s cashcow, though. It costs more than Windows, and lots of Mac users buy it too. Thing is, OpenOffice.org can open and create their files too.

Chris

I would say that one of the best arguments for Linux is increased productivity, especially in Debian-based distributions, such as Ubuntu, which use aptitude and dpkg to manage packages. There are repositories full of software for aptitude to draw out of, so for the new Ubuntu user, installing most of the software you could think a user would want is quite easy and fast.

Anyway, it’s a lot easier to recreate the setup you want on a new system when you can issue a command like “sudo apt-get install ant subversion sun-java5-sdk zsh apache2 gvim” to install all the software that I want, instead of searching the internet for all-kinds of executable files that you have to install one-by-one in windows. Oh yeah, and you don’t have to download and install Firefox before you can comfortably track down the rest of the programs you like; Firefox is installed on most distributions by default.

I’m also a big fan of OS X, though I agree with previous posters that Darwin does not follow standards exactly, making it a pain to install and configure some linux/unix programs. One thing that irritates me is the completely proprietary init scripts in OS X, which are nothing like any of the linux init.d or rc.d init scripts.

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Tristan

“You’re free”…you mean to use NDISwrapper right?

ohh wait proprietary modules are banned/restricted. wonderful…good thing im “free”. If you are talking about the benefits of FLOSS perhaps you should mention freeBSD. since it actually is free, and not just kinda free.

Mackenzie Morgan

Intel, Atheros, and Broadcom (probably the 3 most common wireless chipsets) all have open source drivers. Broadcom cards need the firmware to be loaded because it can’t be distributed. Ubuntu, PCLOS, Mint, and Sabayon all include the restricted drivers anyway.

And I mentioned FreeBSD in the security part.

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Rory Sinclair

@diabolix:

“…conned into buying a macbook under the assumption that Mac OS was just like unix.”

LOL:

Leopard is an Open Brand UNIX 03 Registered Product, conforming to the SUSv3 and POSIX 1003.1 specifications.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_UNIX_Specification

Mac OS X Leopard (at least on Intel, which all currently-shipping Macs are) *is* UNIX. Linux is not, its merely a UNIX-like OS. So the ‘assumption’ is actually correct.

Mackenzie Morgan

The filesystem hierarchy on OSX doesn’t match up with the usual UNIX way though. It’s more like the one GoboLinux uses.

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Francois Rigaut

Nice.

You should probably have mentioned liveCDs and how easy it is to test linux on your hardware without even installing.

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Baal Manche

One thing you should add is the stability of linux.

When I had XP in my machine, I could never last more than a week without a restart. The system would slow down after a couple of days, and after that it starts getting worse. With ubuntu in the same machine, I can go for months without restart. Nothing ever slows the machine down. I should get counter in my desktop which counts the time since last boot. ;)

I can’t count the number of times I hit ctrl+alt+del in XP because of some application hanging and not responding to anything. In ubuntu nothing (almost) ever hangs. Even if it does, the applications responds to the close command, which then almost immediately brings up the wait or force quit option. In XP, you have to ctrl+alt+del and select task and end process to get there, and that needs at least a couple of minutes.

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Mark O’Neill

Wow….now THAT’S what I call ART!

These Linux people….all on drugs! LOL! :-)

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Dawson

Great job! My parents use Ubuntu as well, no virus and spyware worries. It runs very fast, it’s simple, and best of all stable.

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Chaz

i tell you what. i would like to say nice things about linux… but i just think its good for the ones that like to monkey… i don’t like to monkey, i like to use my computer… that is why i don’t use windows ether.

OS2 rules!

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Kirk Rickards

Well written article, however I find it very difficult to agree with “It’s Easy” statement. While many strides have been made in the ease of use classification, there are still too many things that don’t work out of the box and the solutions usually require the user to enter terminal to work some magic. Not ready for prime time. By comparison OS X 10 just works, until linux gets to same level or better it won’t make in roads

Cabreh

It’s pretty simple to make OS X work properly with the hardware when you make both the OS and the hardware.

So, OS X just works eh? Have you set up a web server with php and mysql lately? Then tried to get gallery2 to work?

I can set that up on Linux in no time. Never did get it to work on Tiger. Yes, I have a Mac. No I don’t like it. I’m far more productive on mu Linux systems.

TheRealDizzy

Kirk Rickards Wrote:

” By comparison OS X 10 just works, until linux gets to same level or better it won’t make in roads.”

Actually, the reason OS X just works is because it was configured for the hardware it was installed on. By comparison, Linux also “just works” on computers that it has been pre-installed on by Dell, Green PC, Lenovo, Asus and others.

Try installing OS X on a random Intel PC and you’ll find you’ll have the same pitfalls if not more, than Linux.

Dan
TheRealDizzy

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thetruthofit

It never fails to amaze me how Linux Fanboys love to gloss over just how difficult it is for n00bs to use Linux. This post is a shining example of this sort of one-sidedness (“my mom loves it”). (well if all you’d mom does is log on and use firefox, of course its easy. The fact of the matter is to use any linux distro for much more than that (ie the normal day to day computer use of any average computer user), you have to get your head around package management, compiling, its labyrinthine directory structure, the almost complete absence of a usable ‘help’ system, and the command line. All of which are difficult for people who are not technically minded and, are much more difficult components to master than any aspect of the mainstream OS’s, ie Windoze and OSX. Comparatively, it is totally false to state that Linux is ‘easy’. Windows and OSX are ‘easy’ and thats what people are used to and expect as a standard for an OS.

People who post this sort of misinformation have no consideration for the sort of time wastage and frustration they set people up for who read it and don’t know any better. All the Linux forums are full of posts from n00bs who had no idea what they were in for because of posts like this.

The fact is that Linux is a good OS if you are up for a steep learning curve and are prepared to do a lot of reading/forum posting on how to use and troubleshoot it. It also involves having the patience to learn to understand a lot of arcane language and operations. For people who ‘just want it to work’ out of the box, this is quite an ask, and one which people with knowledge of the OS should make apparent when advising new users about its pros and cons.

Mackenzie, you need to show some consideration for normal, everyday users. There’s no way of knowing how many readers you have inspired to go and try Linux on the misconception it is ‘easy’ to use, thanks to the spin you have provided here. For those who genuinely sought an easy OS you have probably wasted their time by providing an incomplete picture, and created a lot of unnecessary frustration as they try to use something that will require of them a lot of time and effort to set up and use.

Mackenzie

1) You don’t need to compile stuff usually. That’s what the package manager is for…unless you like compiling stuff.
2) You need to know what’s outside /home about as much as you need to know what’s in C:\SYSTEM32 ie. nothing
3) Press F1 in any program or just use the Help menu, and you have help
4) Only geeks use the command line on Linux nowadays :P It’s not needed. Often tech support is given using commands because you can copy and paste them in 30 seconds and have it work instead of messing around with “press the button that looks like…kinda to the left of the one that looks like…” It’s just easier on the people giving the support.

When’s the last time you tried Linux? Even in the year-ish I’ve been using it, I’ve seen great strides in ease of use. Drivers, patent-encumbered codecs, Java, Flash…they used to require a bit of searching, but now they’re no more than 3 clicks away in the distros aimed at beginners. Just try to play an MP3, and Rhythmbox will offer to download codecs for you. That wasn’t the case 2 years ago, but now, yeah, it’s pretty easy. A year ago, Broadcom wireless required ndiswrapper and NTFS couldn’t be written to. Now, NTFS works as soon as the drive’s mounted (which just means you double click on it inside the “Computer” window) and Broadcom drivers are open source and generally included along with a utility to fetch firmware from the web automatically. As I’ve pointed out before, Windows can’t even get wired ethernet working out of the box. We get Intel, Atheros, Zydas, and Prism cards working out of the box with a small download for Broadcom, and hey you at least have wired internet to get that download. Good luck downloading a Windows driver for your ethernet jack without ethernet.

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A.Y. Siu

I think thetruthofit exaggerates a little bit (I can assure you I use Ubuntu for more than just Firefox, and I have never compiled software from source or needed to know the directory structure), but the point remains that one-sided desktop Linux evangelism does indeed end up hurting adoption more than it helps. For every successful conversion this inspires, you’ll have ten or twenty unsuccessful ones who will tell all their friends, “Yeah, Linux is still for geeks. I couldn’t get it to work. It’s overhyped.”

If I’m allowed to toot my own horn, I would recommend new users take a gander at Is Ubuntu for You?, which actually acknowledges that Ubuntu may not be for you.

Cabreh

The flip side is these same people would have the same trouble if they tried to install any version of Windows on a bare PC. Especially if they didn’t have the drivers for the network and video cards installed in the PC.

So, your point was that Linux is hard? Or users are simple?

A.Y. Siu

That’s only a theoretical flip side, since most people don’t install Windows. They buy Windows preinstalled. And even if they don’t, they usually have someone else who can install Windows for them.

The other issue is a matter of reputation. Since Windows already has a reputation for being a world-class operating system, people will put up with anything to still be using “what everyone else is using.” When they experience Windows problems, they’ll often blame “computers.” If, however, you try to switch them to Linux and tout it as the holy grail (as this article does), then they’ll blame Linux. See the difference?

In any case, if people are sick of Windows problems and not just “computers,” they’ll just switch to Mac.

I just don’t like the impression articles like this give that desktop Linux, instead of being a good and different solution for a select group of Windows users, is a drop-in replacement for Windows that is essentially Windows-without-problems. It just creates unrealistic expectations which then lead to bad impressions of Linux that will spread faster than the good ones.

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Ashutosh Mishra

I may be wrong, but I guess Linux is more accurately an operating system “kernel” and not an operating system itself. To my knowledge, no one uses Linux but the Linux distros – which are the real operating systems based on the Linux kernel.

Anyway, a splendid article!!

:)

Mackenzie Morgan

3 reasons:
1) didn’t want to have to explain what a kernel is–it’d be overwhelming
2) the common usage of the word is for an operating system
3) in a war of technicalities, an OS is technically just what moves data between bits of hardware and memory…and that’s what the kernel does

Ashutosh Mishra

That’s quite obvious.
:)

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Raseel

Great article. I hope more and more newbies read it.
One thing the author should have added is that with the latest developments in the Linux world, there exists a free alternative to all the Windows or Mac apps out there, including Games and even if it doesn’t there are programs to run native Windows apps on Linux

Mackenzie Morgan

Hey this isn’t the only thing I’m writing here ;)

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radon

My mother is using Ubuntu now as well. She is visually handicapped and Ubuntu comes with a fantastic “high contrast theme” with all possible settings. Much better then OS X.

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W-Shadow

“It’s easy” – riiight…
In my experience, this is not the case. During the past 3-4 years I’ve tried a few distros (Debian, Knoppix, Mandrake, Ubuntu) on three different PCs. Yeah, I got them to install successfully. But somehow they never seem to work fully with my hardware. In my latest attempt, Ubuntu didn’t support my soundcard and video card (NOT an obscure model – Radeon X1600Pro).

After two days of non-stop forum browsing and some 50 reboots, trying all the proposed solutions, I gave up.

So there.

Cabreh

I have 64 bit Ubuntu installed on an HP 6820s laptop which has an ATI mobile Radeon 1350. Not only does the video work at 1440 x 900, but I also have flash and java working on it.

Guess you didn’t try reading the right posts. Nor try using Envy on Ubuntu to install the video drivers. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Ed LaBonte

Ati video cards can be a problem, but I’ve got one (Radeon 1100) and it works fine with both the proprietary and the open source drivers. Ubuntu prompts you if you want the proprietary driver (it gives better support for 3d acceleration) and if you do it automatically gets downloaded and installed. I don’t know about the 1600 but if it’s brand new you might have to wait a couple of months for a driver to come out. For myself, I use Slackware and I have everything working perfectly. It’s not a bad thing to learn about your machine’s hardware. I haven’t used Windows in over 4 years. I keep on hearing about the problems that family members and workplace associates have with windows and I think back to the bad old days when I’d have to reformat my hard drive and re-install the windows operating system every 6 months or so. I can’t imagine going back…

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Jonathan Bennett

I’ve tried a few distros of Linux. Freespire and Ubuntu are my favorites. Mac OS is very nice too. But personally, I just stick with Windows XP. It does what I want, it has the software I want, and it has always been stable for me.

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Andrew Garnett

It seems the people that have the biggest problem with Linux are ‘Windows Powerusers’.
Hell is that an oxymoron or what. Sarcasm aside, these are the individuals that have built up a knowledge base that is Windows and Windows only. Anything non-Microsoft is to be considered a threat and must be hunted down, FUD must be spread, lies told and the MS centric view of the IT world must be upheld and perpetuated.

I don’t like Linux zealots any the less, but most Linux users probably have an equal knowledge of Windows as these so called Powerusers have. They have come to Linux/OSX/*BSD because of Windows only limitations they see in everyday IT.

Do you honestly believe Microsoft got where they are by producing quality software. Look to their own internal email records in the ‘Vista Capable’ debacle. Search Google for the business practices they pursue. Why do you think they funded G.W.Bush’s election campain? Once he is elected to the White House, the anti-trust trial was all but buried (maybe I need to take of my tinfoil hat now).

Windows Powerusers are threatened by the uptake of Linux. All of their experience, all of those hacks and workrounds they use to get and keep Windows working will count for nothing when Linux use gathers momentum. The one-trick pony will have had its day.

New users can be trained to use whatever OS you put in front of them. And you say Windows is intuitive. Linux has many falts and this article should have mentioned some in better detail.
My mother uses (to my chagrin) Windows XP. Both hardware and software don’t work on Linux. But she would have just as much luck installing Vista as she would Ubuntu Hardy Heron (daft names) when released.

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davemc

I did not notice any “misinformation” or “overhype” in this article. Those posters who claim that GNU/Linux is being pushed too hard with article’s like these are spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), and have no basis whatever to do so with today’s Linux Distro’s like Ubuntu, which are as fully featured as it gets, and far easier to work in than Windows XP, and a vast improvement over Vista. OSX is a good OS, and far better on its worst day than Windows, but is still Proprietary in nature, and wholly controlled by Apple. Although it is BASED on BSD, it is not BSD, nor is it compatible with OpenBSD, due to the myriad of tweaks to the codebase. I also do not think it is Open Source, as is GNU/Linux. It certainly is not licensed under the GPL, as is Linux. For these reasons, OSX is the same as Windows. It is an OS that “uses” the users, rather than the other way around with GNU/Linux under the GPL.

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houseplant

“The Cathedral and the Bazaar” is a great read if you want to understand what free means and why FOSS exists. After you read it you’ll understand why GNU and Linux had to happen. It was inevitable.

While GNU/Linux is free (as in beer) it’s also free (as in speech). You can write your own programs for the OS, or modify the OS with some really cool stuff and give it to all of your friends and the world, or even sell it for money(as long as you provide the source code with it)

In fact a lot of people buy linux from a vendor simply so they’ll have someone to call for support. This is ok. At least you have the choice. That’s what FOSS is about, choice and freedom, as in speech, and usually as in beer as well.

-HP

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Michael

One thing you (and most of the commenters) didn’t mention is how steep the learning curve for linux support. Enthused by your excellent article, I attempted to install openSUSE on my old laptop, only to be thwarted by by a black screen-“no configurable screens found”. Apparently, I need to configure my monitor, but haven’t a clue how to do that.The GUI won’t work, and I know nothing about how to navigate through the text system. I searched the web, but found nothing I could even understand! Is there a place out there for rock bottom beginners who really do need their hands held every step of the way?

Robert Pogson

http://linuxquestions.org

A method that works for me when that happens:

1)log in as root. username root, password is the secret one you may have given when youi installed GNU/Linux. If you do not know the root password, you can log in as the first normal user and use sudo followed by one or more spaces to prefix commands.

2)Edit the display configuration file. These days the file is usually /etc/X11/xorg.conf

3)Since you do not have a GUI, use a commandline editor from the GNU tools. I like vim but it is geeky. Others are nano, joe and such. Try typing editor for the command. Read the screen carefully. It should be self-explanitory.

4)sudo editor /etc/X11/xorg.conf will get you into it if you are the first user.
4a)editor /etc/X11/xorg.conf will get you in as root. You may have to use a different command than editor on some systems. Commands end with the enter key, like a typewritten line.

5)The usual cause of your problem is that either the video card or the monitor is not quite right with driver or the configuration. Most video cards will work with two drivers, a particular one for the card and a generic one that will work with almost any card. Scroll down for a line like
Driver ‘whatever’
and change it to
Driver ‘vesa’
Vesa is a widely used standard. I have rarely seen a configuration that would not work with Vesa.

6)Save the file or write it back or whatever the editor screen shows you.

7)Try starting the GUI again. On most GNOME systems type the command
/etc/init.d/gdm start

That should give you a graphical login screen
With KDE, you may have to use startx as the command. I forget because it has been sol long since I used KDE.

If that works, enjoy it. Everything should start normally when next you boot up. If you get back to the command line/BASH after your session type
shutdown -h now to shutdown or shutdown -r now to reboot to see it boot normally.

Good luck and welcome to GNU/Linux.

Mackenzie Morgan

I’ve never actually had any luck with OpenSuSE…just spent lots of time trying to fix its default config. LinuxMint has, by far, the best hardware support because it has everything Ubuntu includes plus the addon restricted drivers. And http://ubuntuforums.org has an Absolute Beginners section and the #ubuntu IRC channel is generally fairly full of beginners.

TheRealDizzy

A lot of people claim, this distro, or that distro is the best. They are refering “best for them”, which doesn’t always mean best for “you”. Thank God for choice of distros, and where Linux/GNU is concerned, there certainly is a lot of choice.

There are no two computer systems alike unless you are comparing two identical models, so finding a distro that works for you may be time consuming unless someone else previously had complete success with the identical distro and system. I had at my disposal about 15 different distros when I first played at installing linux. I was curious about install interface, default selected applications included in the distro, the overall look and feel of the distro and most importatnly, how well the distro found and installed all the needed drivers for my particular computer. Some never got to the end of the install, some never made it to the install screen at all. Others got installed and was hit or miss with some hardware drivers.
I found the best distro of those I’ve tried on “my computer” was Mepis (Debien based)…. but that is just me.

At least with Linux, you have the choice to find “The One” that will work best for you.

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Prakash

well,Linux learning curve on a default Gnome Desktop Environment is almost Zero although I cannot say the same with kde.
I will say, a week or 2 is enough to learn and familiarize with GNU/Linux.

the distro a n00b should choose is either Ubuntu or Fedora.dont go for opensuse although its eyecandy is awesome.
for a trial run pclinuxos is fine.

for a rock solid performance system Debian is the answer debian.org

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Robert Parten

I will say what I always say….

Linux is NOT for EVERYONE and ANYONE.

Those who desire a little more understanding of how their computer works and what downloading and installing from trusted sources means, are the ones who can use Linux.

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Dwindle

I spent a month trying to get Ubuntu to work properly. Once I finally had it, I had a slow, glitchy, ugly, limited OS that had nothing to offer me.

There’s a damned good reason why it’s free.

Mackenzie

I think Ubuntu’s Human theme looks nice, and I especially like the wallpaper for the upcoming release, but it’s all personal preference. Linux desktop environments are infinitely more configurable than Windows or OSX, so you can make it look however you want.

How much memory? Under 512MB, I wouldn’t use Ubuntu. Xubuntu is the lighterweight one.

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Orafice

Look at it this way. You can go out and buy a Honda, or you could spend $50K and 6 months of your life building a car from scratch in your back yard. You will then spend the rest of your life listening to your neighbors joke about the 6 months you lost in your life building a go cart for 8 months pay while everyone else simply bought an Accord.

Cute nerd toy, but Linux has very little to offer a serious computer user.

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Bruce

As I am nearly 80 , I am in the group that allegedly finds Linux/Ubuntu incomprehensible .I first used MSOS, in 1987 , DOS and all that command line stuff.
Have gone through Windows 3.1, Windows 98, and Windows XP. and I became familiar with the Blue Screen of Death.
XP wastes quite a lot of my time freezing up, but what really puts me of Bill and Co.is the way they are now becoming Big Brother .
They now can cripple your OS if they feel like it, and there are plenty of users who have been innocent victims of the paranoid Microsoft mob.

The government of China are working hard on developing their own version of Linux, mainly for security reasons-MS could build in code to get info. of their computers.(I don’t think they are unreasonable it that assumption).

I have no desire to carry on using MSOS , and when Ubuntu 08.4 comes out I will be installing it.
Have had a go at a couple of earlier editions, learned a lot and I understand that 08.4 will be very good.

Must go and have a nap now.
Viva la Linux
Peace and Joy to you all

Bruce

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rob_hackenslay

I have a hard time arguing with any of y’all, each of us has our own experiences, but my 78 year old neighbor uses a Ubuntu live cd to get on the internet to keep his system clean. If it weren’t for his tax-prep software, he would have switched years ago. Like most of us, he doesn’t understand Windows any better than Linux, but is just used to it. His computer is Vista-capable (whatever that means), but he just drops the cd in and hits enter. Now I like my games, and some REQUIRE Windows(Solstice), but most (Neverwinter Nights, Diablo II, DungeonSiege[M$ Games]) ran right after I selected Wine in Add/Remove Apps. Not for everyone, but if your having problems or are just willing to learn, no better choice.

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Shankar Ganesh

Spent around 10 minutes reading all the comments here :-D

Anyways if any one wants Mac Like Global Menus for Ubuntu, here you go:
https://wiki.ubuntu.com/global_menu

Just follow the procedures there to install it.

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Rob Enderle

>If you’ve ever used a UNIX system, you’ll feel right at home

Yes, I know that my parents, aunts/uncles and the 30 cpus we saved from the scrap heap for people atthe retirement home all feel right at home with UNIX.
Not.

If you have used UNIX, then you know enough about computers that you dont need this blog.
If you never used UNIX but heard of it, this could scare the hell out of you.
I just read an article this week which talks about Linux and line commands. BS.
I dont ask my mom to alter her Win registry, and I dont ask her to sudo things.

I’ve put Windows users on PCLinuxOS, kUbuntu and xUbuntu and made it look as close to their old OS as possible because KDE can do that. It can even add the top bar just like Mac so you dont even have to look at GNOME (I spit on Miguel) and their locked down ways..

– – – – – – –

When I give live distros to people to choose from I always give them a little primer on what GUI differences there are and that even though you might have a KDE environment on two distros, there are also changes made by the distros themselves. You dont even have to be technical about it. For example, for the less experiences you compare the Linux kernel part as the motor and the GUI and software as the body, the interior finishings and so on.

People are so used to the proprietary way where Windows or Mac is both the ‘brains’ and also finishing touches of the car.
I dont push the info on the people that dont care but whenever I use an XCFE based distro on some old machine, I feel the need to explain/show on my laptop where Im running 3 different Gnu/Linux using the 3 main GUIs.

I think you could add a paragraph explaining ‘about the look’ in the article.

PS: I have also made dual boots for people who need WinXP for some reason (Wine is still not for everyone) and especially games and installing Windows is much longer and harder than Gnu/Linux is. And that’s not counting the time I need to install the anti-virus, firewall and spyware stuff. Windows users are stunned when they see this because they also heard how hard Linux was. Creating a dual boot with PCLinuxOS is truly a breeze.

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Khan Md Ashraf

Great article. Dispassionate. I can link to this?
Ashraf

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Sawyer

Simply educational and well written. Good to see people can still write laymen explanations on things tech, especially Linux because it helps to project what Linux really is; A simple and effective OS.

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Stefan Drakulich

I have just installed linux on my PC using Dual Boot..i know that you do not give tech support, but it would be greatly appreciated from a fellow computer-a-holic!!! haha…..anyways this is my problem and I posted it on ubuntuforums and i will post it here

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=4687102#post4687102
I installed everything correctly so that my system dual boots with xp and ubuntu, the latest (not the beta), and when I try and start from the dual boot screen, I get everything perfect, the bar indicating that ubuntu is loading, etc…after the bar completes, i get 5 command lines checking whether something is ok, and after that my screen goes black, it is still on, but it is as if the nothing is on…the live CD works fine, so it cannot be my configuration, at least I don’t think so…PLEASE HELP ME!

a user just sent me this reply though…

Boot your Live CD and post>
sudo fdisk -lu

Mackenzie Morgan

I’ll talk to you on the forum thread. I just replied to it.

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daniel

I PREFER MAC OVER WINDOZE.

…but Linux’s the best!!

In these ranking costs don’t matter, meaning this ranking is independent of money. For example, suppose you equally pay $500 for Linux, or Vista, or Mac, or whatever.

1.-All Linux distro’s.*
2.-HURD (for keeping up until now, finally seeing the light of day)
3.-OpenBSD.
4.-FreeBSD.
5.-NetBSD.
6.-UNIX (for making me feel young)
7.-HP-UX (for the funny name).
8.-Darwin (Darwin IS Mac OS X naked, but FREEDOM beats the Aqua GUI)
9.-Mac OS X (If Mac gets _free_ and _customizable_, it will rank 2nd)
10.-HairOS (the system than runs in my hair comb)
11.-Windoze.

*Except Lindows. What’s the case trying to imitate the worst when you really are the best?

Notes to keep:

-Mac OS needs to get more free if it wants a chance in the OS Wars. See Darwin’s ranking for example.

-BSD system are ranking for their values and orientiation. My (very pleasurable) experience is limited in the three BSD systems, so please forgive my rudeness.

-Redmond’s products are the only ones that didn’t rank in the top ten. If you have the wonderful Mac OS X, but with Microsoft office, you fall to eleventh place, while Windows falls another place (the tenth place gets to be vacant).

“Try everything you can, then stick to the best in YOUR opinion”

–My advice.

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daniel

You are so uneducated!! Don’t ever do that again, it is not real “art”!

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PC

u forgot to mention wut linux can’t do and thats play games and get lots of software. In other words, have fun with the compatibility issues bitches…

Mackenzie

Thanks to WINE and the efforts of folks who port games, quite a number of Windows games can be played on Linux. I know a lot of people who play World of Warcraft on Linux. Additionally…
$ apt-cache search game > /tmp/games && wc -l /tmp/games
1131 /tmp/games

Ubuntu lists 1131 game packages in its repositories. As to no software, well… Debian has well over 20,000 packages in its repositories. I’m part of the team that maintains over 16,000 of Ubuntu’s packages. So well, I guess if 20,000 packages isn’t a lot of software, then sure, you’d be right.

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Danny Stieben

Mackenzie,

Great Linux intro! I’m currently running a server and desktop that use Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop, respectively. I still consider myself as a novice, but I can still get things done. I try to promote Linux and open source as much as I can as well, and am glad to see more and more people doing the same.

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