TUX - The Linux mascot
It has been two years since I first used Linux seriously and I have been its regular user since a year. Till now, Linux has never failed to impress me. This article discusses in brief who should switch to Linux and why.
What is LINUX?
For those who don’t know about it, here is a brief introduction:
Linux (pronounced Line-ux or Lin-ux (Lin as in fin) or any other way) is a fast, stable and flexible open source operating system. It is a reimplementation of UNIX and was founded by Linus Torvalds in 1990s. UNIX was mainly used in mainframes of universities, research centers and big organizations at that time. Linux brought UNIX to PCs and servers for free and gave the users the right to change the source code according to their needs.
Linux is one of the most successful and biggest open source projects. It has grown and matured a lot since these two decades, thanks to the efforts of numerous talented programmers who contributed to this project. One of the biggest plus points of Linux according to me is its wide hardware support and its ability to dwell into any computing environment.
Linux usually comes in form of distributions (distros).
There are other UNIX reimplementations like Linux. FreeBSD and Solaris are among few of the popular ones.
Linux is just the kernel which can also be referred as the core. The kernel alone will not be of much use to the users. Distro vendors add clothes to flavor up the Linux kernel with essential software, commands, drivers, etc. in different ways to suit the end-users. There are numerous distros targeted for different user groups.
It's Free - This is the first reason I give when someone asks me why I use Linux. Almost all Linux distributions are free of cost. This is a major reason why anyone should use Linux unless you do something in Windows which is not possible in Linux (there are VERY few such things) or if you love paying for things that can be done for free.
It's open source - It means that the source code of Linux is open to all. Some people will say it as a disadvantage as people will be able to exploit the loopholes visible through the source code. This is a stupid statement as the loophole/bug is visible to all and many programmers come forward to patch it as soon as it is discovered/reported.
As Linux is open source, programmers around the world are free to change, optimize and fix its source code. This results in a more stable, mature and bug-free code.
It's always up-to-date - Linux is maintained by the open source community and is regularly updated according to the current technology. Thus, Linux is always equipped and compatible with bleeding edge technologies and at the same time equipped with latest security patches. On an average, a new Linux kernel update comes out every couple of months.
Freedom – There are many Linux distros focused for different types of users and you have the choice to use the one that suits you. Also, you have the freedom to alter your Linux OS to suit your requirements.
Live CD - Most Linux Distros have a Live CD which you can use to boot the entire Linux Distro from CD without touching your hard drive. It is a good practice to use a Live CD to try a distro before installing. You can also boot a Live CD image through USB flash drives.
Security – Security is also one of the top reasons why someone should use Linux. Have you heard of any virus for Linux? I don’t think so. Call it lack of popularity compared to Windows OS or anything else, you won’t fall into any kind of virus trouble while using Linux. This means you save bucks which you would have otherwise invested in an anti-virus. Linux’s security makes it a popular choice for servers.
Flexibility, stability and efficiency - Linux is Flexible and can be molded for any usage . It can be changed to run in supercomputers (8 of top 10 supercomputers run on Linux), embedded devices or anything else (like on a computer with 2MB RAM). Android, which is emerging as a leading OS for smartphones, is based on Linux (modified Linux kernel). Similar examples are MeeGo and Maemo.
Linux is a very stable OS. It hardly crashes as the application runs in layers and doesn’t cause problems with the kernel. Servers running Linux stay for years without any downtime. As a matter of fact, 80% of the world’s servers run on LINUX.
Linux running on a wrist watch
Very Helpful Community – Facing any problems with LINUX? Just post it on any popular Linux forum and you will find lots of people willing to help you.
Sadly, Linux too has its share of disadvantages. Here are some of them:
Some popular software not for Linux – Some of the popular software like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, etc. is not designed for Linux and some find their Linux alternatives not up to mark. Although there are ways to run these windows based software on Linux (using WINE), it doesn’t guarantee stability and support.
Not many good games – This is one of the most disappointing things about Linux. There aren’t enough good games made for it. Most leading game developers make games for Windows. Although there are few nice games for Linux that might satisfy a casual gamer, a heavy gamer or someone looking forward for some games with breathtaking graphics or some popular titles would want to have a Windows installed along with LINUX.
However, WINE successfully runs many popular Windows Games under Linux.
Some simple tasks sometimes become complex - Although the Linux Distros and desktop environments are very user-friendly, there are times when they don’t work the way you want and you need to go back to the terminal (command line). I usually face problems with lightweight distros which does not detect all my partitions and adds their entry to fstab. I have to mount them through terminal or manually add its entry to fstab. Installing software can also be troublesome for new users under some distros.
Doing things through terminal might seem complex at first (I think it's fun!), but new users get used to it in a couple of months.
However, in the process of doing these things, you always learn something about how Linux works and how it does something.
Hardware Support – Although Linux’s Hardware support is wide (wider than any other OS including Windows), there are still some hardware Linux doesn’t support or supports partially.
Switching From Windows
Here are few points you should see if you are switching from Windows to Linux (or just keeping Linux as your secondary OS).
Running Windows executable
It's possible to run Windows executable files (*.exe) in Linux using WINE. It supports wide variety windows apps and games like Microsoft Office, photoshop, counter strike, mass effect 2, etc. For a list of tested applications, click here. Although I prefer to use open source alternatives for popular Windows software, WINE often proves as an essential tool when I want to run some Windows app or play some good games.
Wine too has its own set of issues while running Windows programs. So it's better to check the compatible apps list in its website.
Wine has still a lot to develop and I believe it is a great tool especially for people switching to Linux from Windows. A project called Longene aims to include Windows support in the Linux Kernel with the help of Wine. Read more about this project here.
Microsoft Office in Ubuntu using WINE
Accessing Shared Windows Folder
Samba is an open source application that enables file and printer sharing with a Windows client. You can use Samba to access a shared Windows folders through Linux or share a Linux folder/drive to be accessible through Windows.
Read more about accessing a shared Windows folders here.
ntfs-3g is a very handy application to mount and manage read/write operations on a ntfs drive.
Learn more about its usage here.
Here is a List of Linux distros which I recommend:
Ubuntu – It is the most popular Linux Distro according to distrowatch.com. It is a perfect distro for both beginner and advanced users. It comes with a Wubi installer which installs Ubuntu from Windows to run just like any Windows application. It saves you from doing the partitioning by creating a disk image inside a pre-existing partition although I discourage installation through Wubi as Ubuntu installed this way doesn’t support hibernation and the installation is less stable as it becomes dependent on the stability of the windows drive. But new users can use this method to get a taste of Linux and then go try installing it the way it was intended to. You can also try Kubuntu which is just Ubuntu with KDE graphical environment instead of GNOME.
Linux Mint - It is an Ubuntu based Distro that makes thing easy for new users. Most new users get annoyed when they cannot play their favorite music as the mp3 codecs are missing after installation of many distros. Linux Mint comes with most codecs pre-installed which helps new users feel like home. I personally recommend this distro to new users. Mint was my first Linux Distro after I got seriously into Linux and I used it for about 6 months before switching to Arch Linux.
Fedora – It is a Red Hat sponsored project and a very popular Distro out there. It’s always in line with the latest technology and its RPM packages support make it easier to install software.
Arch Linux – My current Distro, Arch Linux is a flexible and simple distro that allows user to customize it according to what they need. Although the customization process is pretty lengthy and can take a whole day, you end up with a very efficient distro which only has features you want. The best part while using Arch Linux is that you learn a lot about how Linux works. This Distro is not recommended for beginners and should be used by those who have some Linux experience. I recommend the beginners to use any of the distro listed above Arch Linux and then try Arch after a few months.
An excellent guide on Arch Linux installation can be found here. Also go through the beginner’s guide in the Arch Linux Wiki through its official website.
I use Arch Linux on my decent Desktop which has a core 2 duo processor with 1GB RAM as well as my low-end 5-6 year old Laptop which has 256 MB of RAM and 1.6 GHz intel M processor. Arch performs great in both my computers!
Arch Linux with LXDE on my old Laptop
Puppy Linux – Puppy Linux is an example of Linux’s flexibility. This 128MB distro that can run from CD, USB or hard drive is a great Linux Distro for lower-end computers. It has all basic functions that an OS should perform and thus can be used to breathe life into an old PC.
Some Other Recommended Distros
Linux is an OS for all. The best part about it is that it still has a lot of cream to add to itself.
So, use it to know more about it.