Saturday, August 15, 2009

What is this Linux thingy and why should I care?

A lot of people are hearing things about GNU/Linux but are confused about what it actually is. They don't know much about it or why it is important. They are wondering if they should learn about it or maybe start using it? This article will introduce some simple concepts for people who would like to know a little bit more about GNU/Linux.

There are two main operating systems that almost everyone knows about. Microsoft Windows is one of them and currently it is very dominant. It runs on most desktop and laptop computers. If you go into any computer store you will see that Microsoft Windows is pre-installed on many machines. The other is Mac OS which runs on Apple computers and is becoming very popular. However, there is a third operating system that is gaining momentum, people are starting to take notice and are switching over. GNU/Linux is a free operating system that anyone can download and use. It features thousands of free applications that are of good quality and allows you to do stuff you would do with your Windows and Apple system. To download GNU/Linux all you need is a blank CD so you can burn the OS image. The installation is a breeze and the interface is similar to other operating systems mentioned above. There are things you will have to learn as with any new OS but it is not that difficult. There are a lot of advantages to installing and using GNU/Linux. Lets give you a brief introduction.

Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Since then it has matured tremendously and is a competitor to Mac OS and Microsoft Windows. An important concept about GNU/Linux is that it is open source. That means the software is not proprietary. There is no one company in control of GNU/Linux that is dictating to you what you can or cannot do. Because Linux is open source, anyone can copy, edit and distribute it to as many people as they wish. It is a new way of thinking about computer software and a revolution that is changing the computer industry.

You might ask yourself how is this possible? Is open source software even feasible? Well, because GNU/Linux is open source there are many volunteers that contribute to it and some companies pay their programmers to code for GNU/Linux. Now that Linux is gaining popularity large companies have a lot of interest and are putting finances towards the project. Open source software has been around for a long time and still continues to thrive. I guess it is feasible and GNU/Linux is proving that open source can be a good competitor to proprietary software.

To download GNU/Linux you need to get a particular distribution. The most popular ones are Ubuntu, Mint Linux, Fedora, openSUSE but there are many more out there. There are hundreds of distributions of GNU/Linux and each distribution is geared towards a particular user. It is important to start off with a popular distribution of Linux that is geared towards ease of use. This ensures that things will work out of the box and minimum tweaking is required. Later on if you want to get more technical with Linux you can try out other distributions that are geared towards professionals.

Why would anyone want to use GNU/Linux? Well, there are a lot of reasons but the most alluring is that GNU/Linux is completely free. It does not cost a penny and anyone can download it. A regular operating system will cost you around $200. So price is definitely a huge factor for people switching over. This saves people money and also allows them to install it on mutiple machines without licenses. Even most of the applications that you install on Linux are available for free. This gives your operating system tons of functionality from editing audio/video, playing games, surfing the web, editing documents and many more. Another reason that people switch to GNU/Linux is because of its open source nature which gives additional power to the user. Because anyone can copy, edit and distribute the software there is no one company that can control things. This is very good for innovation, comptetition and freedom for the user. GNU/Linux is a computer software revolution and many people are realising it. People are not happy with other operating systems that lock them in and dictate the rules to them. With GNU/Linux it sets you free from restrictions and limitations that are created by certain companies. Linux will run on many different computers from servers to desktops, laptops and even many gadgets. So why don't you learn more about GNU/Linux and join the world of open source software? You will be impressed at how innovative and progressive it is.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with the price aspect as the most alluring part of Linux. The problem is that we are conditioned to equate quality with cost, and where software is concerned, this is rarely true.

    An operating system is just information that tells your computer how to act. Information is intangible - it can be given away freely, and yet retained after it is given away.. With information, it is quite possible to have your cake and eat it too.

    In order to justify a $200 price tag for Microsoft's operating system, they have to manipulate it such that it is difficult or impossible for the OS to function without Microsoft's explicit authorization. Otherwise, there is nothing to stop altruistic individuals from simply giving away copies to people who need it. Not only do they have to add copy protection schemes, they have to ensure that those schemes can't be suspended by the user. The entire operating system has to be locked up and in the control of Microsoft, denying you (and your fellow users) from being able to modify it to suit your needs.

    Linux does not operate like this. With Linux, if the operating system is not capable of performing the task you need, you can alter it, or you can use alterations developed by someone else. (This is VERY common - kernel mods are released all the time to add or change OS behavior, to allow functionality that the original designers didn't anticipate)

    This open philosophy pervades the linux world. It's not just the operating system. It's hundreds of thousands of software packages, all modifiable and redistributable by end users.