Linux for muggles

My first experience with Linux was 8 years ago, a few years after my Dad bought me my first ever computer. The first Linux OS that I tried was RedHat Linux. At that time the Internet in this country was still at its infancy so I didn't know much about other Linux distributions (distro). So I bought a RedHat cd for 5 bucks at the local computer store and attempted to install it on my PC before failing miserably. Back then I didn't know much about computers. I do know hot to format a hard drive and install windows on it but that's about it. I have no idea how to make partitions, set aside swap areas or where to put the root folder. Bear in mind Google didn't even exist yet back then and those cyber cafes are not as numerous as they are today so basically I didn't have anyone to turn to for help. So after a few tries I gave up and decided to stick to Windows until now.

It all started about a month ago when the PC that I use at my office got hit by a virus for the 3rd time already this year. I'm usually very careful when using my PC, staying clear of porn sites and being cautious whenever I download anything from the Internet. Nevertheless the PC that I use at my office is not really mine, it belongs to my company. So being a a public property anyone can use the PC in my presence and especially when I'm not around. And so one day I turn on my PC only to find it infected by a nasty virus which causes my PC to keep on restarting over and over again by itself. That's it, I've had it. From that moment on I've decided to give Linux another try and install it on my office PC. With some initial help from my friend Sapuang, the Linux expert / super power System Administrator I am now a full-fledged Linux user.

What is Linux? Linux is just another operating system for your computer just like Windows XP and Mac OS. If you compare the computer to a human, the operating system (OS) is like the brain for the computer. Without the OS, that expensive piece of hardware and peripheral that you call a computer is quite useless. Just like us human, without our brain, we're just the same as a monkey or a lamp post. That's why you have every right to be offended when people say “Why you do like that? Got no brain ah?”. Yes, it's the brain that make us different than inorganic stuff and other living things.



Tux the penguin, the official mascot for the Linux kernel.


So why Linux? Why not stick to the good ol' Windows? I can list a dozen reason why Linux is better than Windows or Mac OS but I'll just say one, Linux is absolutelyfree. You don't have to spend a penny to use Linux aside from the bandwidth that you use to download the cd image. The brain is probably God's greatest creation for the human being and we didn't have to pay anything for it. It's the same case with computers. Why pay Microsoft for an OS when we can get it for free? Had Linus Torvalds created Linux earlier than Windows I'm pretty sure the every computer in this world will be powered by Linux. Had somebody thought of Linux earlier people would be saying Bill who? Most popular Linux distributions today are not as good as Windows, they're even better in every aspect. They're safer, faster, more efficient and best of all free of charge. Every single computer on sale today would be a few hundred bucks cheaper had they used Linux.

Listed here is a few disadvantages of using Windows compared to Linux.

Higher cost
Commercial operating systems, especially server operating systems, like Windows Server 2003 and Novell IntraNetware, can can cost more than USD400 for a single copy and limited number of user licenses. Even the more modest USD100 for Windows 95 can be a problem for people in developing countries, as well as students and others. The price for commercial systems almost never includes development tools, which cost even more. Linux, on the other hand, includes free C, C++, FORTRAN, and other development tools.

Slow release pattern
Major upgrades to operating systems come very slowly. Windows XP came out three years after Windows 200; Windows Vista even longer. The major distributions of Linux, on the other hand, are releasing major updates every six months or so.

Minor upgrades also take longer to acknowledge and fix in commercial systems. Recent problems with Safari and Microsoft Internet Explorer are good examples of this. In the case of the "denial of service" TCP/IP bug, a Linux patch was posted for it mere hours after the problem was isolated. Anyone who is technically capable can fix the bugs, too, merely by changing the code in question and recompiling.

Lack of source code availability
The fact that the source code for Windows and other systems is a closely guarded secret keeps people from learning from it, tinkering with it, and (perhaps) improving it. It means that problems which are technically easy to fix, cannot be fixed by any user with the technical expertise, but everyone must wait until Microsoft publishes a patch. The availability of source code is a particularly useful thing for programmers and computer science students, which form a significant percentage of Linux users.

Planned obsolescence of hardware
A growing computer industry requires that people periodically get faster and more capable hardware to keep up with the advances the industry makes. Microsoft does not make it a priority to maintain backward-compatibility with older systems when it releases new operating systems. Many people do not have the money to upgrade every two or three years. So that old 486 or Pentium II PC will becomes a very expensive junk unless there is a platform which can run on it acceptably. Linux is such a platform.


On the other hand, here's a few reasons why I love Linux.

Safety and reliability
Built on the legendary reliability and safety of UNIX operating system, it is not far-fetched to say that Linux is at least ten times safer and more reliable than Windows. Linux systems are not easily hacked into and most established Linux distros are very stable and less prone to crashes or system freezes. The Linux operating system, along with Unix and other Unix-like computer operating systems, are generally regarded as well protected against computer viruses. Like other Unix systems, Linux implements a multi-user environment where users are granted specific privileges and there is some form of access control implemented. As such, viruses typically have less of an ability to change and impact the host system. That is why none of the viruses written for Linux, have ever propagated successfully to a large number of machines. The infection level depends on what user runs the binary. A binary run under the root account would be able to infect the entire system.

In addition, virus written for Windows are completely harmless in a Linux environment. That's why whenever I suspect my USB drive or floppy disk to be infected with viruses, I'll open them in Linux first where I can see each of and every one of those viruses and just delete them, just like that. But make sure you empty the trash bin first because when you press the delete key, the viruses is still kept in the trash bin and not completely deleted from your USB drive / floppy disk. So for a virus free computing, use Linux!

Customization
Since the source code for Linux is freely available for anyone to modify, copy and distribute, so does the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for Linux. While you're stuck with the same boring interface for Windows 98, Windows XP and soon Windows Vista, you can choose a great variety of Windows Manager / Desktop Environments for your Linux system. There's GNOME (my favourite), KDE, Xfce, Enlightenment, OpenBox, FluxBox and IceWM just to name a few. What's more, they're all much prettier and more pleasant to look at than Windows too, the fonts, graphic, themes, everything. Trust me, once you started using Linux, you'll notice how dull and boring Windows looks like.

Resource efficient
One of the main reason why I like Linux is because they're resource efficient. My 450Mhz Pentium III PC with only 128MB of RAM ran a lot faster using Ubuntu than it ever has using Windows 98. All Linux system have the ability to convert free hard disk space into a swap area to compensate the lack of memory so that your old PC will run considerably faster.

Compatibility and Interoperability
One reason why many Windows user shy away from migrating to Linux is because of the perceived lack of compatibility between Windows and Linux. The truth is, most Windows documents and file formats is accessible from Linux. You can open any Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents just as easily in Linux using OpenOffice.org. In fact most popular applications in Windows has it's free equivalent in Linux. For graphic and vector image editing there's the GIMP Image Editor, CinePaint, Hugin Panorama Creator, Inkscape Vector Illustrator, Scribus, StopMotion and Xsane Image Scanner. I can use Totem Movie Player or VLC media player to play dvds and all video format and I can listen to my audio cd or mp3 collection using XMMS, Amarouk or Kaffeine media player. Got a cd or dvd to burn? Use K3B or GnomeBaker. For Internet surfing I can use the reliable Mozilla Firefox (or IceWeasel), Opera or Konqueror and for Instant Messaging there's Pidgin Internet Messenger which support all major messeging account (Yahoo, MSN, AIM, Gtalk,ICQ etc).In a nutshell, everything you do in Windows you also can do it just as well in Linux.

Nothing beats Linux, in term of plug and play hardware support. While you have to find every single driver for every undetected hardware for Windows, Linux will do all the hard work for you. Every single Linux distro that I tried detects all the hardwares and automatically downloads and installs the appropriate drivers. They even support all major printers, scanners and a lot of digital camera brands out there like my Nikon L10.

So if you've got a PC or even a partition to spare why not give Linux a try? Although it's possible to install Linux in your existing Windows system, it is advisable to get another PC, a cheap 2nd hand one or that obsolete PC that your friend is about to throw away and convert it into a Linux machine. And contrary to popular believe, Linux is not as hard as some people claim it to be. For starters I highly recommend Ubuntu, one of the most popular and user-friendly Linux distro out there. If your PC comes with a lot of memory (512MB and above) I suggest you try out the Ubuntu Live cd (desktop version) which will load the entire Ubuntu system from the cd and you'll get a fully functional Linux system in a matter of minutes. Best of all, this Live CD method will not affect your existing Windows OS at all. If you like what you see (I bet you'll do!) you might want to install Ubuntu permanently on your hard disk so that you can fully experience the wonders of Ubuntu and Linux in general. Moreover you can ever ask the folks at Ubuntu to send you the Ubuntu CDS to you for free! Just fill up the application form and in 3 weeks or so, the CDs will be delivered right to your doorstep. So come on, give it a try today. You've got nothing to loose and lots of exciting new things to learn with Linux. Like they say, Linux is not just an Operating System, it's an adventure!

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