What is Linux ?
is an operating system that includes a graphical user interface and
provides the same kinds of services that Windows does. The biggest
that Windows is a proprietary operating system that you have to buy and
Linux is free. While there are some commercial distributions of Linux
that you have to buy, most of the popular distributions of Linux are
completely free. It is worth noting here that there isn't just one
Linux but more than a hundred different "distributions", all of which
are slightly different.
Which Linux to
there are many different Linux distributions to choose from the best
idea is to choose the most popular distribution as that one is more
likely to get the most attention in terms of bug fixes and should be
relatively stable. For more than a year now the most popular Linux
distribution has been Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African word meaning
to all". The second most popular distribution is called "Mint" and is
actually derived from Ubuntu.
I can honestly say that the
ability of Ubuntu to recognize and instal different hardware is
impressive. I recently installed Ubuntu on a customers PC and was
surprised to see that it had automatically set up the drivers for the
HP all in one printer/scanner that was attached. I was similarly
impressed when I plugged an old Canon scanner that I bought on ebay
into my PC and it automatically set up the drivers without any fuss. My
Windows XP partition on the same PC would not recognise the scanner
until I downloaded the drivers from the Canon web site.
operating system by itself is not very useful without some software to
perform basic tasks on the computer such as word processing, handling
emails and browsing web sites. Ubuntu has some free programs to handle
these tasks that are included in a standard instal. A program called
"Evolution" does a good job of handling email and is similar in
functionality to Outlook. Web browsing is handled by firefox which is
also available for Windows. There is also a complete office suite
called "Open Office". Open Office includes a word processor,
spreadsheet and a presentation program that are similar in
functionality to Word, Excel and Powerpoint respectively. These
programs will edit and save documents created with Microsoft Office.
The latest version will even open the new .docx and .xlsx formats
Office 2007. It is worth noting that Office 2007 can be pursuaded to
save documents in the old .doc and .xls formats by using the "save as"
option when saving.
Open Office also includes a drawing program
and an SQL database program. I am fairly certain that the database
program "Base" is not compatible with Microsoft Access.
addition to the programs included in the standard instal there are
literally hundreds of other free programs available to download for
just about any task you can imagine. Downloading and installing them is
easy. You just choose "Add/Remove Programs" from the menu and you are
presented with a huge list of prgrams to choose from. You just click on
the ones you want and apply the updates (assuming you have internet
access). It is that easy.
Linux vs Windows
big question is whether Linux can act as a replacement for Windows XP
or Vista ?. This is a complicated question and really boils
to a "horses for courses" issue. Linux certainly has some favourable
points, the most obvious being it is free. What is not so obvious is
that a Linux system is far less likely to get damaged by viruses or
spyware than a Windows system. This is mostly because Windows
executable viruses simply will not run in Linux. There may be some
exceptions to this but they are probably not significant. It
also due to the fact that there are very few viruses written
specifically for Linux. Vista is reported to be more secure than XP due
to it's User Account Control (UAC) feature. The problem with UAC is
that you have to confirm many basic operations by clicking on the
or Cancel buttons. This can become very annoying.
On the downside
is the fact that many aspects of the Linux desktop will be unfamiliar
to new users and it will be harder to find friends or neighbours to
help you with Linux than it would be for Windows. Another problem is
that some devices simply won't have a Linux driver and therefore cannot
be used on Linux. You will need to check carefully before
any new devices to see if there is a driver for your Linux that
supports the device.
to be the case that Linux was simply too complicated and different for
the average user. There have been numerous improvements to Linux over
the years and I think it has reached the stage now where a Linux
desktop is no more complicated to use than a Windows desktop, just
Fortunately you don't have to choose one system to
the exclusion of the other. You can set up what is called a dual boot
system. There are several web sites that explain how to do this so I
won't go into details here. The short version is that you instal
Windows first and then shrink the Windows partition on the hard disk to
make room for a Linux partition. When you instal Linux it will instal a
boot loader called GRUB so when you boot (turn on) the PC you can
choose to boot either Windows or Linux.
A standard instal of
Ubuntu includes an NTFS module that allows you to read and change the
files on your Windows NTFS partition. Linux will also read the older
FAT32 partitions used by Windows 98 and Windows ME. You won't be able
to read your Linux partition from Windows unless you download a program
that allows you to do this.
For the really adventurous, it is
possible to run both Windows and Linux or any other operating system at
the same time by setting up a virtual machine in your main operating
system and installing the second operating system in the virtual
machine. This is fairly complicated and is probably not practical for
the average user. You will also need a fast PC with lots ( at
least 2GB ) of RAM to run things at a decent speed.
Where to get
can be downloaded for free. Just enter "Ubuntu" into google to find the
web site. You will need to download an iso file which is about 700 MB
and needs to be burned onto a CD. You can then instal Ubuntu by booting
the PC from the CD. Please be carefull and back up your Windows
documents first because it is possible to wipe out your Windows
partition if you accidently choose the wrong option when choosing the
disk partitioning option.