Linux, just the mention of that word can spark an endless debate between Microsoft Fanboys and Linux Junkies. This debate or as it has more appropriately been called, war of words, has been going on ever since the inception of Windows, and will most likely continue until one completely abolishes the use of the other. Alas, this article isn’t about the age-old war of Microsoft vs. Linux, instead it is meant as more of an introduction to the world of Linux and what it can and can’t offer.
First off, I would like to say that Linux is by no means outdated, contrary to some peoples’ misconceptions. There are new versions of distributions coming out all the time. In case you don’t know what distributions are, they are like different flavors of Linux, each one having its own special look and/or features that set it apart from the others. Popular Linux distributions or distros are Ubuntu, Fedora Core, openSUSE, Mandriva Linux, PCLinuxOS, and Knoppix. Of course, there are other distros, which are too countless to mention. If you wish to explore more of the available distros, I suggest you head over to DistroWatch, which is an almost comprehensive resource for Linux distros.
Before you pick a distro, though, you might want to hold off. After all, who wants to jump headfirst into the baby pool? When picking your distro, you have to factor in many things including, but not limited to, hardware compatibility, features, extensibility, customizability, accessibility, and user-friendliness. For a Linux beginner, the biggest factor has to be user-friendliness. If you go from Windows to a distro of Linux where you have to use the command line for nearly everything, as you do with some distros, you will be lost. Luckily, many distros are available for beginners such as yourself. There are three main beginner distros I would recommend. They are: Ubuntu, Fedora Core, and PCLinuxOS. All three have great community support, and allow two of the three allow you to grow up with Linux as you use them. By that I mean, the more you use the distros, the more you will find that you can do with them.
The two distros I am talking about are Ubuntu and Fedora Core. Ubuntu has gained a ton of momentum over the past year or so; therefore I would recommend it over Fedora, but not by much. Ubuntu is based off Debian, with Fedora being based off the commercial Red Hat Linux. Ubuntu has a lot of extra eye-candy features built into it such as 3D desktop and other things that give Vista a run for its money. Fedora doesn’t come with those features out of the box, but is still very customizable, as is Ubuntu. It’s all up for a matter of preference, I guess, but Ubuntu seems to yield the best results with beginners.
In order to install a Linux OS onto your computer, you are first going to need to download an Image and Burn it onto a disk, or you can ask a friend to do it for you, if they know how to do it, that is. When you pop the CD in, you are going to have to restart your computer. After you enter the installation, you are going to be faced with the choice to partition part of your drive off, or wipe your entire hard drive. You will most likely want to partition part of your hard drive off, in order to keep the rest of your data in the Windows partition. If you choose to partition, then you have just accomplished what is called Dual-Booting. This is a common process for most Linux beginners, as they will want to preserve all the data on their Windows partition, while they feel out Linux. There is also another way to try out Linux without installing anything on your computer. All you need is 512mb of RAM and a Distro that has a Live CD option. A Live CD is a CD of that certain distro that loads up and allows you to run it when you start up your computer. This option installs nothing on your computer, and runs completely on RAM, which is why you need 512mb of it. This feature is the one that got me to try Linux in the first place, and now I love it, and use it everyday. Of course, when running the Live CD, you cannot install and try other programs that aren’t included in a regular install of the distro, so you should keep that in mind, but at least you can test the basic features. For most regular computer users, the out-of-the-box programs that most distros come with should be plenty to work with.
When you’re ready to graduate from using Linux, to really using Linux, you should explore the world of the different desktops. There are three main desktops that rule Linux land; Gnome, KDE, and X Windows. Gnome is by far the most popular, probably because of its cuteness; it also has extreme extensibility with all of the available widgets. KDE comes in second, and is a little more like Windows, with a sort of Start menu feature. X comes in last, because it is very minimalist. All of these can be installed at once and you can switch back and forth between them, so you can experiment for yourself to find out which desktop suits your wants and needs best.
On the subject of programs, Linux offers a plentitude of them. From music players to video editors to games, Linux has it all, and best of all, everything is free. There is no more share-ware to worry about when downloading programs, no more licenses to keep in a safe place, and best of all you don’t have to worry about any types of laws when downloading or distributing Linux or any of its components, everything is free as in free beer and free speech. With Linux, you get quality and quantity for an unmatched price, free. So what are you waiting for? Try Linux today.