This is the first of a series of posts written for non-geeks just starting out with Linux. The idea is to provide the gist, a few important facts, and some fun suggestions. Slowly and easily. Some of the posts in this series may end up being useful references, so consider bookmarking those.
At some level all operating systems are the same, but in some ways that will matter to you, Linux is very different from the others. The most important difference, which causes both the really good things and the annoying things to be true, is that Linux and most of the software that you will run on Linux is OpenSource, as opposed to proprietary AND it is produced by a diverse group of entities that share a single, continuous, common, and sometimes harmonious community. If there are two “competing” applications that do more or less the same thing, it is not at all unlikely that the people who make the software could meet up and decide to merge them into one project, rather than try to kill each other in the usual corporate way. If there is a single project within which differences occur as to what the project should be like, the project can be split (“forked”) and there are no law suits over the ownership of the computer code … they simply evolve in different directions thereafter.
The most important outcomes of the community-based and non-Proprietary models, for you, that you will notice and that will make a difference in how you use the computer, are:
- *There is one way to install software that works the same for all software, and all the software you might ever want to install is all accessible, searchable, findable, and installable from one single fairly easy to use application.
- *There is no trial ware or advertising or wanton popups telling you to buy something.
- *There are no end user agreements to click on, although the software is all licensed (you need to know nothing about this).
- *You will not have a situation arise where yo have to agree to a new end user license for software you’ve already installed.
- *It is trivially easy to install software.
- *It is trivially easy to remove software.
- *When you remove software, it is really really gone.
- *You can install or remove software without having to close down other software.
- *You will never have to reboot for new software to work, unless it is part of the operating system itself (and then you may or may not have to log out and back in or reboot).
- *A bug is a bug, and people generally admit that it is a bug. And they tend to get fixed fast in the mainstream applications. (Compared to proprietary software, anyway.)
Linux itself is fundamentally different from Windows in several ways that will also matter to you.
- *Linux is case sensitive. So, a file called mystuff is different from a file called MyStuff.
- *Linux uses “extensions” (like the ‘.doc’ in mydoc.doc) but does not require them. Actually, it doesn’t use them at all, but a lot of software that runs on Linux assumes you are accustomed to extensions.
- *You will see very few confirmations in Linux. When you select a file and delete it, it is gone. You do not have to have a conversation with the computer via arcane dialog boxes (note: in Gnome, a “deleted” file is put into the “trash”).
- *Different “applications” (called “Processes” in Linux) run very independently from each other. Your browser can’t crash your spreadsheet, and your spreadsheet can’t crash your word processor, or at least, it is very unlikely for that to happen.
- *The operating system itself is lean and mean. It uses few computer resources (memory and stuff) and is crispy, not sluggish.
- *Over time, the operating system does not grow more sluggish. Adding software does not break the system or slow it down.
- *You don’t have to (and in fact can’t) “defrag” the hard drive, because the file systems that Linux use are designed to not break themselves over time.
- *”Wipe the drive and reinstall the system” is possible, sometimes it is done, but it is never necessary. It is only done by people who screw up their computer and are former Windows users and don’t know any better. (Having said that, it may be better to wipe and install rather than upgrade major version upgrades of Linux.)
There are a lot of Linux Haters(TM) out there. I think many of them are paid by Microsoft. I know for a FACT that some of them are. There are a lot of people who tried Linux in the past and had bad experiences and do not realize that the system has changed and improved. There are people who hold Linux to the Ginger Rogers standard but give Windows (Fred Astair) all the breaks. So, for instance, Windows can crash on them again and again and again and they will keep going back, like zombies to the brain bucket, but if Linux does anything they don’t like they will leave Linux and never look back and complain incessantly about it forever. This asymmetry in treatment is the subject of another post and need not worry you now.
All you need to know now is that Linux does have its problems, it is not for everybody, and it is a hundred times less annoying than Windows, and at the moment, it is the operating system on your computer so you need to kinda live with it for a while anyway. So a positive attitude is in order.
Next installment: Distros!
For a list of all the posts in this series, CLICK HERE.