Many people are curious and interested to try Linux. However, usually they get scared away. Linux is easy! This is yet another HOWTO to help them!
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of Linux and might be wondering what the fuss is all about. This post like my previous one is again dedicated to my friends who have not yet migrated to Linux! I’m one of the few Linux users in my college, and few of the few with some decent years of experience with it(no show off here). Hence, I’m more than frequently asked about Linux. Rather than repeating myself every time or redirecting them to n-number of links, I decided to write this post. I hope after reading this you find yourself using a Linux system and be productive with it.
This post assumes that you know nothing about Linux, except the fact that its an Operating System. In this post, I will guide you how to start with Linux and will also answer some Frequently Asked Questions.
1. What is Linux?
Linux is an Open Source Unix-like computer Operating System. When I say Unix-like, it more or less means that it is a Unix clone. You don’t have to worry about details for now. But believe me, history is interesting and recommended – read Wikipedia page.
Unlike your so called favourite operating system Microsoft Windows, Linux comes as many varieties. Hence, if you start looking for Linux system, first thing that you need is to choose a distribution.
1.1 Linux Distribution
Linux itself isn’t a complete operating system. It’s just a part, called kernel. In layman language kernel is core/central part of operating system. Hence, Linux has to be combined with many other programs to make it a complete operating system.
This is one huge advantage of Linux. There are many distributions available giving users a wide number of different choices. You can pick the ones that fits best your needs. Hence a beginner would choose a distribution that is more user friendly, on other hand a purist will choose that emphasizes of maximum configurability.
Some examples of Linux distributions are – Ubuntu, Debian, ArchLinux, Fedora, OpenSUSE. Checkout DistroWatch for more complete list.
1.2 Why Linux – Advantages
I would start by listing these points -
- Low Cost: Linux is open source! Most Linux system(95%) are available free of cost. Also, almost every(100% in my case) software you will require will be open source and free of cost.
- Stability: Linux is very stable. You would hardly find it crashing, freezing forever and ending up with something like Blue Screen of Death.
- Performance and Flexibility: No matter you are have a shining brand new high end computer or 10 year old computer, it will perform well and make best use of your resources.
- Secure: Linux is very secure operating system. You’ll hardly ever find your computer infected by malware. You don’t need an anti-virus software.
- Cross-platform: One of the coolest thing about Linux is that you can run it anywhere(almost). From your home PC to supercomputers to mobile devices to hand watches to car to watch to your iPod! But here we would talk about using it on your PC.
- Choice: There are wide number of Linux Distributions available. As discussed in [1.1 Linux Distribution] this gives you option to choose a distro as per your taste.
- Dual Boot: You can have Windows/Mac OS and Linux on same system. Ever cooler, some distributions allow you to run Linux within Windows like an application. So if you are really scared you can try that.
- Plus you get everything you have in Windows. (Well yeah, cool games ain’t there)
Linux is hard to install and use? Well that used to be case few years ago, but now that’s history. Ubuntu is great example to prove that. It made Linux available to common man!
1.2.1 For General/Regular User
Linux is now as available to a normal user very easily. Distributions like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, LinuxMint make user experience very friendly. Installation is quick and without any trouble. Installing new software is just a click away!
Its a popular myth that Linux is completely command line stuff. Well you are wrong. Linux have got some of the most intuitive and best GUI environment in the world. And guess what, you are not stuck with one single environment! You have choices – KDE, GNOME, XFCE etc
All your basic software like Office Suite, Image Editor, PDF Reader, Web Browser are usually pre-installed with your distributions! So its like complete usable system in a box!!
Apart from that you don’t have to worry about viruses, trojans and other malwares. You are completely safe here. Your system will hardly ever give you problems. So basically, you can concentrate on what you want to do rather than on the peculiarities of technical stuff.
1.2.2 For Power Users and Programmers
Linux was an operating system system made by programmers for programmers. It preserves that quality even now. The main reason perhaps being a clone of Unix system. If your aim is development, Linux is best platform for that! There are many cool tools available including powerful shells. These tools make you more productive! You have to start working with new library? Well its just a command away, and its installed in your system! Personally, I cant imagine myself working without these tools.
The flexibility you get with Linux system is unbeatable. Every part, every component is configurable. Since almost everything related to Linux is open source, you don’t have to worry about some problem bugging you, as you can fix it yourself! I have made many patches for programs to implement something weirdest and craziest things, which I wonder could have been possible with a proprietary/closed system.
Linux can be a bit weird for you at first. It’s mostly because people are so used to Windows, that their imagination/knowledge is narrowed. Linux deviates from Windows approach which seems to be standard for many normal users.
Also, you may find yourself stuck sometimes. This can make you frustrated at first. But tell me, when with Windows you were not stuck and frustrated? Anyway, good news is we have great community which is always happy to help.
Installing Linux on your computer is very easy. Usually both GUI installations as well as Console based installations are available. Linux can be installed from many media’s, including your Optical Disks and USB Flash Drives.
For beginners its highly recommended to use a Live CD/Live USB based installation. These media can boot a Linux system without actually installing or making any changes to your computer. Its quick, easy and safest way to try Linux. However to do something useful you should install it to your computer.
Minimum System Requirements: This depends upon the distribution you choose. Check the documentation of your selected distribution.
Some Other Requirements: An internet connection. Google things before you ask.
Anyway, getting back to point – to install Linux on your system -
- Choose a Distribution: The first and most important step is to choose a Linux Distribution. For Linux newbies its highly recommend to get Ubuntu/Kubuntu.
- Choose your Flavour: Most distributions will give you an option to choose a Desktop Environment. A Desktop Environment basically refers to the style of the GUI available, the looks, the set of applications, window manager’s and stylers etc. In easy words(but not accurate) desktop environment is kind of complete suite of application which will provide a GUI to plain Linux system (with nothing but kernel and GNU tools). There are many desktop environments with different goals and approaches. Some people prefer one more than another. Most popular ones are KDE and GNOME. Kubuntu is KDE flavour of Ubuntu. Ubuntu uses GNOME, but with slight changes to it. I prefer KDE.
- Choose your Architecture: You will mostly be provided these two options. 32-bit or 64-bit. Its recommended to get 32-bit as they are very well compatible with most systems and software’s. If you wish to use more than 4GB RAM or 64-bit architecture for some reasons, download latter.
- Prepare your Installation media: Now decide from which media would you like to install. The downloaded file will be in ISO format. You can either prepare a disk using a CD/ISO Burner or prepare a USB using this or search for more.
- Prepare Hard Disk: Unless you have an empty hard drive, its recommended to prepare an empt/new partition(of around 30GB at least) for linux system. You will also need a small partition called swap which is recommended to be at least equal to your RAM size.
- Boot and Install: Now boot your prepared media. Follow the steps. For most distributions there is step to step guide available. At some step it will ask you the location to install. It will give you many options. Choose the one that says, ‘do it manually’. It will list all the partitions in your hard disk. You will require at least two partitions. Main partition will be mounted as “/” root. Select the one that I asked you to prepare in last step. The second one is swap for which you need a small partition. If you have more than 1GB RAM, make it equal to it otherwise 1.5 times.
- Hardware Drivers: Chances are great (if you are using Ubuntu/Kubuntu/OpenSUSE) that all the drivers will get installed automatically during installation. However, if something was not installed, some distributions (I know (K)Ubuntu will) will try to find it from internet and ask your permission to install it.
- Run It and Enjoy!
3. Some Differences (with Windows)
Linux is totally another operation system. You’ll see many changes. Don’t be afraid. Most of the things will be easy to get. You wont have to think to use it! However there are some things that I would like to point out.
- No Drives: Yes! You wont find drives like C, D, E, F on your Linux system. Every path starts with “/” rather than “C:/” or something. However you’ll find a list of hard disk partitions available on your File Manger. Click on that and you can access that. It will be mounted to “/media” or “/mnt” or …
- No EXE files: Yes! Executables in Linux don’t have EXE extension. In Linux extensions don’t matter, particularly for executables.
- Windows program wont run here: Yes! Linux is a completely different operating system. Hence Windows programs wont run. However Linux itself has very rich software’s available. However there are cross-platform applications. Eg. VLC
- Slashes in Paths: In paths, directories are separated only by forward slash(/) in Linux.
- Case Sensitive File Names: Linux file names are case sensitive.
- root user: Root user in Linux is what administrator user is for Windows. Perhaps even more.
- Packages, no setup files: In Windows the approach to install a software is to download its setup file and run it. This approach is also available in Linux for some software, but mostly you will use packages. Package Management system and package format depends upon the distribution you choose. Read documentation of your distribution to know more.
4. Some Common Application Softwares
- File Manager => Dolphin (for KDE), Nautilus (for GNOME), Thunar (for XFCE) etc … => Alternative to Windows Explorer
- Office Suite => LibreOffice/OpenOffice => Alternative to Microsoft Office
- Web Browser => Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera
- Text Editors => Kate, GEdit
- Image Editor => GIMP => Alternative to Adobe Photoshop
- Photo Editor/Manager=> digiKam, F-Spot
- Music Player => Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox => Alternative to Winamp, Windows Media Player, iTunes
- Video Player => VLC Media Player, Miro
- Document Viewer => Okular, Evince => Alternative to Adobe Reader, WinDJVU, DVI, CHM etc ..
- Instant Messaging => Pidgin, Kopete, Empathy
- BitTorrent => Transmission, Deluge
5. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(To be added soon! You are free to ask me questions so that I can make this section worth.)
Note: This document will be constantly updated to make sure it’s always improving and getting better, and acting as good kickstart guide for beginners. Your suggestions and feedbacks are always welcome.
Note: This revision is just a draft at the moment. I published it to get more feedbacks. However, this document itself right now can serve as decent guide for starters.