Friday, September 7, 2007

#6 Intro to Linux

by Jeff Smith

Today I'd like to talk to you about Linux. If you're like most people I've talked to, your reaction to that statement was probably, "Um...What's Linux?" A lot of people have never heard of anything other than Windows and Macintosh. If you're one of these people, then listen up. There is a third option.
If you're tired of viruses and spyware, sick of endless security holes, hacker threats, if are ready for something different, then listen up. There is another way.
Linux is an Open-Source operating system. For those of you not hip to the terminology, Open-Source means completely free and anyone can modify the programming code however they like. The source code is available and if you know what you are doing, you can contribute to how the program works, what features are incorporated, and even how it looks, even rename it.
Linux is an alternative to Windows and Mac that is more secure than either of them, runs good on older hardware, and does most of the things that you do on your computer now just as well as the competitors. Its NOT succeptible to viruses or spyware. And its FREE.
So I guess the question on your mind now is "Why haven't I heard about this before?" For one thing, Linux isn't really owned by anyone, so there is no one to pay for advertising, nor money to pay for ads due to its low low price of $0.00. To be truthful, Linux has suffered a reputation for being only for geeks and technical geniuses. Its began in 1991, created by Linus Torvalds, as a PC-compatible version of Unix. It was cryptic, hard to understand, hard to configure, and hard to use. But not anymore.
Linux has blossomed into a wonderfully functional and robust way to use your computer. The hardest part about using it is un-learning all of the habits you've gained from using Windows. Many new users get discouraged by the differences and think that it should be more like Windows, an attitude which tends to upset experienced Linux users. Its not supposed to be like Windows.
If you give it a chance, and don't mind feeling dumb for a little while while you get your bearings, you'll eventually get the hang of it just like you did starting out with Windows. It IS different. Some things are not where you expect them to be. But I personally found it to be worth the effort.
If you've never learned to use a computer, Linux is probably easier to learn than Windows. Things are layed out in ways that make sense... just not to seasoned Windows users.
"But," you ask,"what exactly makes it better, other than the price?" One thing is stabilty. Often when using Windows, after your computer has been on for a while, your computer will start to act up, and you'll need to reboot it in order for it to get its head straight. Linux is so stable, people have had their computers running for over 14 months solid without needing to reboot. It is this reason that most of the websites you visit on the net are hosted on Linux servers.
Another good thing about it is the amount of free software available. In Linux, free is a way of life, a philosophy. You won't recognize most of the names of the software (K3B instead of Nero or XMMS instead of Winamp) but they'll work just as good as what you've come to know. Think of it as like the bagged cereal at the grocery store. It tastes as good as the name brand stuff, but you get twice as much. They can sell off-brand cereal much cheaper because they don't have to advertise. With Linux, its supported by volunteers and enthusiasts. When you have a problem with it, you don't search a knowledge base and read 10 pages looking for your answer, you write your question in a forum, and a volunteer will usually answer you in a little while. Often in just a few minutes. Its a community, and you're invited to become part of it.
And speaking of asking questions about computer problems, I don't print my email address at the bottom of this just to waste ink. If you have a problem or question and need some advice, or just want to tell me what you thought about an article, please email me. I'd love to get some feedback on what you think. I promise you will get a reply, and if it is a common enough problem, I may even print your letter in here. I also do repair work in my free time if its a bigger problem than you can handle, and I don't charge an arm and a leg.
Next week we'll discuss the many different flavors of Linux (there are over 250) as well as my personal favorite, Ubuntu Linux. Until then, surf carefully, its a dangerous web out there... for windows users. :-)
Jeff Smith

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