Many people getting into tech hear or read about Linux and tend to think it is complicated or simply have no idea where to start. Linux is an operating system that has been around for decades and is now used by millions of people around the world. It is more than just a piece of software, as it offers a range of features that can provide powerful and reliable performance.
Linux has come a long way over the years and there are many versions to pick from, so you can find one that is the right fit for you or your use case. It has also become much easier to install and test Linux, usually with the equipment you already have. Additionally, there are a wide variety of online resources available to help you learn the basics of Linux and get familiar with it. With the help of these resources, you can gain the confidence to install and get started with Linux and take advantage of its full potential.
What Is Linux?
Linux is an open source operating system that is reliable, secure and easy to customize. It has become the most popular choice for powering a myriad of devices and technologies, ranging from phones and tablets to servers, supercomputers and the Internet of Things. Its flexibility and scalability make it an ideal choice for users of all levels, from beginners to experienced users. With Linux, users have access to hundreds of applications and tools that make it easy to customize their system to their specific needs. This makes it a great choice for anyone looking to develop their own projects or to create a tailored experience on their device. Linux is a powerful and versatile system, making it an excellent choice for anyone looking for an open source operating system.
The first thing to do is decide which version, Distribution or Distro for short, to choose. Linux has a vast number of distros to choose from, ranging from simple or beginner, to distros for specific use cases. A great website to check out for a growing list of Linux Distros is DistroWatch. There you can find a very robust list of distros with general information about each distro, screenshots of the desktop, links to sites related to the distro (i.e. developer website, forums, etc.), list of currently popular distros, and more. This is a great starting point.
Some of the most common distros that people tend to start with are Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora or Arch Linux. They are all standard desktop distros that are very similar to Microsoft Windows. Most distros have very user friendly and appealing user interfaces. Ubuntu is one of the most popular choices for beginners, due to it’s simple interface. It also has a number of variations that use different desktop environments or themes. With so many choices, it can be hard to settle on one.
Speaking of Windows, with the news last year of the strict hardware requirements to install Windows 11, Linux might be a great alternative for your not so old machine. Most Linux distros are fairly light and can run great on hardware that is a few years old. There are even some that are designed specifically for lower end or older hardware. Most distros are released free under the General Public License or GPL making them free to install. Even the developers that do charge a price for their OS, it is typically much cheaper than Windows. The cost is normally a one time license fee with some basic support, but most Linux systems are self or community supported. There are some that have business support for a fee.
So, you’ve decided you’re going to give Linux a try, but now what? Well, you have some options.
If you want to get your feet wet but not completely dive in and swim away from Windows, you could install Linux as a virtual machine on your current system. This allows you to play with and experience Linux without messing up your Windows installation. You can use Windows’ built in HyperV or download VirtualBox. However, this does requires that your system support virtualization. Most systems in the last 5-10 years should support it, but you might have to enable it in the BIOS.
If you’re system doesn’t support virtualization, you can still try out Linux. Nearly every distro can be run from the bootable CD or USB Flash Drive and choose to ”Try” without installing. This allows you to run a non persistent (meaning no data will be saved to disk and will be lost upon shutdown) Live version of the distro. You can install apps, run commands and experience the desktop environment with everything loaded in memory. When you shutdown or restart, all the data will be lost. However if you have an issue with the Live system, you simply reboot and it’s back to a fresh image.
If you’re like me, you have more than a few old desktops or laptops sitting around collecting dust. You know, the ones you can’t bring yourself to part with because “you might need it some day”. As long as the machine meets the minimum requirements to run the distro, you could install Linux on one of those machines and not mess with your main daily workstation.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could go the route of dual boot. This means you install Linux on the same system, but you have the option to boot to either Windows or Linux. Depending on your setup you might even be able to access files between the OSes. This can be tricky, especially in a system you’ve been using for awhile. You might have to install another hard drive if you can’t shrink the Windows installation and you have to be careful not to wipe your working Windows system.
Linux subsystem for Windows
Windows has developed a subsystem that enables you to install a Linux version within Windows and access it through the command line. This won’t provide a full desktop environment, but it will let you experiment and learn some basic commands without impacting your Windows installation. Using the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) allows you to run Linux commands, utilities, and applications directly on Windows, without having to install a virtual machine or dual-boot your system. With WSL, you can access the Linux command line from your Windows desktop and begin to learn the basics of Linux. Additionally, you can install and use multiple Linux distributions side-by-side on the same system.
While Windows might be the most well-known operating system used in many homes and businesses, Linux is actually powering a far larger number of devices. Knowing the fundamental basics of the Linux system can be a great asset for any user, helping to make complex tasks easier and more efficient. Furthermore, having a basic understanding of the Linux system can help to ensure that users can make the most of the device’s features and capabilities.