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To Linux or Not Linux--Intro

Posted 12-31-2014 at 04:27 PM by BeardedSonOfNel
Updated 12-31-2014 at 04:46 PM by BeardedSonOfNel
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I like to think of myself as pretty agnostic when it comes to platforms, and OSes; I mean after all I own Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony consoles. I'm also and avid PC gamer. I use a (don't laugh) Windows Phone. My personal tablet runs Android, and my kids have iPads. I have a Mac and a few PCs for work, and I personally own several PCs; however none of them had Linux installed on them.

It's not that I hate Linux; in fact every-other-year I give it a try, and in the end after playing with it for a few days I walk away from it. Well a good solid year ago (maybe two) I downloaded Linux Live usb Creator, and it has opened the Linux door for me, and maybe for you too. More on the Live Creator in the next post where I'll help you get started using Linux.

I think it is fair to say that in years past Linux was not “User Friendly”, and that turned the average user off, but each year it gets better in that department, and I'd say it is now just as easy to use as Windows or OS X. Where is gets difficult today is which distro (distribution) a person should install. There are hundreds of distros (you can think of them as flavors) to choose from.

Linux distros...

Let's get something straight right away. A distro is not Linux. Linux is a kernel that provides a way for software to interface with a machine's hardware. Each distro includes the Linux kernel. So, what the heck is a distro then? According to Wikipedia: A Linux distribution (often called distro for short) is an operating system made as a collection of software based around the Linux kernel and often around a package management system.

You might be saying to yourself “I was cool with the definition right up to the package management system”.

Wikipedia: A package manager or package management system is a collection of software tools that automates the process of installing, upgrading, configuring, and removing software packages for a computer's operating system in a consistent manner. It typically maintains a database of software dependencies and version information to prevent software mismatches and missing prerequisites.

Packages are distributions of software, applications and data. Packages also contain metadata, such as the software's name, description of its purpose, version number, vendor, checksum, and a list of dependencies necessary for the software to run properly. Upon installation, metadata is stored in a local package database.

Package managers are designed to save organizations time and money through remote administration and software distribution technology that eliminate the need for manual installs and updates. This can be particularly useful for large enterprises whose operating systems are based on Linux and other Unix-like systems, typically consisting of hundreds or even thousands of distinct software packages; in the former case, a package manager is a convenience, in the latter case it becomes essential.[1]

So distros can be broken down into several groups by what kind of package managers they have, and those groups can then be broken down further by other criteria. Ubuntu, Mint and all other Debian-based distros use dpkg/APT as the packaging system. Other distros will use other systems (e.g. Red Hat, Fedora, SuSE will use RPM, Arch uses pacman).

After we break down the distros by package managers, we can then further break them down by what packages (programs/Apps) they come with. For example Ubuntu, and Mint distros are based off of Debian, and under the hood they are very similar in the way they interact with the kernel; however Mint comes with many codec packages that allow for video/audio playback right out of the box. If you use Ubuntu you would have to use the package manage to install the codecs you would need to play a video/song. Other packages include office programs, web browsers, ect...

From there distros can be broken down by what kind of desktop environment they use. You'll see environment names like Unity, MATE, KDE, Gnome, Cinnamon, LXDE, and Xfce. There are many more, and you'll have to decide which one you like best. Going into each environment is beyond the scope of this article, but simple searches on the web with provide you with all the info you need.

Still breaking the distros down...

Distros can then be divided into another subset of categories. Those categories are Desktop, Embedded/Mobile, Enterprise, LiveCD, and Security Enhanced. Each one of those can then be broken down too. For example the Desktop distros may cater to arts, science, education, media, software development, gaming, or general usage. All the environments are customizable.

Wait, I thought you said Linux was easy...

Well it is. You can get started using it with really no knowledge of what I spelled out above, but knowing the small amount of information I listed can go a long way as you start the adventure known as Linux.

Why would I want to use Linux...

I don't know. I can only explain my reasons for using it.

1. I wanted to use some older hardware I have around and certain distros run very light, but still have the power to allow me to run modern programs, and browsers faster than newer versions of Windows. Sure I could install XP, but it no longer gets any kind up updates.

2. It's great for us who have aging parents that are always messing up their machines with viruses, and other crap they get into on the web.

3. Security. At a minimum I could use a version of Linux that runs off of a usb thumb drive, and pay my bills on-line knowing that I'm secure on my end of the transaction.

4. It's free, and provides more freedom.

5. Customization.

Will/Can Linux replace my Windows or Mac OS...

That really depends on your needs. If you use your computer for email, web surfing, writing, watching movies, and other general computing activities, then I'd say yes. If you are a major PC Gamer, then you'll probably still want a rig that either dual boots into Windows/Linux or a dedicated gaming rig that runs Windows. I have a gaming rig, and work laptop that both use Windows, but the machine I'm writing this on is a dual boot laptop. This whole article was created on Linux using said laptop.

I would say right now in my personal life (outside of work) I use Linux about 80% of the time, and as more Linux ports hit Steam I'll see that usage rise.

In my next post I'll show you...

How to test drive Linux without installing it, and I'll point you to a few distros that are great for those that are new to the Linux scene.
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