Your operating system is the software that manages both the hardware and software resources of your computer. It is used to interface with your hardware, manage memory and run applications. Without it you wouldn’t be able to browse the Internet, burn CD’s, listen to music or do any of the other activities that you associate with modern personal computers.
The most commonly used operating system which I’m sure you’ve all heard of is Microsoft Windows. There is a very good chance that you are using it right now to read this document. Although it is a great piece of software and used by a lot of people (it is estimated around 90% of all the computers in the world run a version of Windows) it also happens to be very expensive.
Most people aren’t aware that there are actually alternatives to Microsoft Windows available. They too can interface with hardware, manage memory and run applications just like Microsoft Windows but there is one important difference. Many of the alternatives are available for free!
Linux is an operating system that is available for free. It is what is known as open source, its source code is freely available for anyone to modify and as a result the operating system is very flexible; it runs on a variety of different platforms. It is commonly used in machines such as cell phones and ATM’s and it’s now becoming quite popular in the personal computing market as an alternative to Windows.
The core of the Linux operating system (known as its kernel) was created as by a Finnish student named Linus Torvalds. At the time Torvalds was using an operating system known as Minix for his studies but because the author didn’t permit others to change it, Torvalds went about creating a replacement. Torvalds received the help of many other developers from across the Internet and Linux quickly grew into a fully functional and free operating system.
Linux has now become the most commonly used alternative operating system running on a variety of different platforms. It is used in mobiles phones, ATM’s and even supercomputers. Many people have taken the freely available code behind Linux and modified it to create their own Linux distribution, and if you wish to try Linux out for yourself it is a distribution that you need to get your hands on.
There are a huge variety of different distributions available with new ones being developed everyday. Distributions are available for specific platforms (such as 64 bit processors) and specific uses (such as distributions aimed for the use in the classroom) so it is important that you choose the right distribution for your needs.
According to the Ubuntu website, Ubuntu is an African word meaning “humanity to others”. It is the Ubuntu organisations aim to bring the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.
Ubuntu Linux is a complete Linux distribution suitable for both desktop and server use that is available for free. It includes a rich and easy to use graphical user interface and over 16,000 pieces of software.
Mandriva Linux (formerly known as Mandrake Linux) is a popular distribution amongst new Linux users and people who seek an alternative to Microsoft Windows. It was created in 1998 with the goal of making Linux accessible to everyone and includes a large software library and easy-to-use interface.
Debian GNU/Linux is a completely free Linux distribution started by Ian Murdock in 1993. This distribution is praised for its thorough documentation and excellent community resources. This distribution is very stable and software installation is extremely simple with a special tool named apt-get.
Gentoo Linux is what is known as a source-based distribution. The installation provides packages to install for a very basic Linux system but the rest of the operating system must be configured by the user, with programs and applications needed to be compiled from source. This benefits the user in that the operating system is optimized for their hardware but this method of installation is tedious and can be quite difficult. As a result Gentoo is bad choice of distribution for someone who is new to the world of Linux.
Xandros Linux is designed for beginners and is by the far the most user-friendly Linux distribution available. It works out of the box without any configuration and includes a variety of useful tools and utilities. The only disadvantage with this Linux distribution is that it isn’t usually free; the Standard edition costs $40 and the Deluxe edition costs $99. At the time of writing there is a special free edition available; the limited Open Circulation Edition that is available for download from their site if it is used for personal use.
So you have picked the distribution for you, what now? You need to install your Linux distribution onto your computer. The majority of the time, this is a simple and fast procedure and you can get your new system up and running within half an hour. However, as with any piece of software, you may run into problems when using your new operating system or even when installing it. Due to Linux typically being open-source, there is a lot of support available online to help you with any problems you may run into.
- LinuxQuestions.org is a large, friendly and active Linux community forum where you can seek the help of thousands of other Linux users. The best place to seek help regarding Linux.
- LinuxLinks.com is a large categorized archive of links to hundreds of websites all about Linux.
- LinuxPlanet.com is a website publishing articles aimed at people who are new to the world of Linux.
- UbuntuForums.org is the official community support forums of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Excellent resource for all new Ubuntu users!
- Forums.gentoo.org is the home of the informative and useful Gentoo discussion forums. For anyone who is having issues with the Gentoo Linux distribution this is the place to start.
- Linux Download is a page which lists places where you can downoad various Linux distriibutions.
The thought of using a new Linux distribution may be scary to some but from reading the above I’m sure you have realised that this isn’t the case. There are literally hundreds of different distributions to cater for your specific needs and combining with the huge amount of support available, Linux is the best alternative to Microsoft Windows available.