Time for a nerd post.
I’ve been a computer nerd since the late 90’s when I built my own PC. Though my first PC was actually an old Packard Bell 386 computer that was the “family computer”. The first computer that was my very own was something I built in 1998 running Windows 95.
Since then I’ve been upgrading and building and tweaking PC’s for over a decade. Not to mention buying a few Mac’s in there.
I don’t remember when it was that I first tried a Linux operating system, but I believe it was SuSE 7. Then a whole handful of other distros followed. Until now, where the only distro I even consider anymore is Ubuntu.
Did I lose you?
Most of you are probably fairly tech savvy but I’ll explain for those of you that don’t know. Then the next time you hear the word “Linux” you won’t feel like an idiot.
So this is Linux in a nutshell. Linux is an operating system, like Windows or Mac OS. It’s what runs your computer and allows you to install and run applications like iTunes and Photoshop and all those great games. What makes Linux different is that it was developed by a guy named Linus Torvalds as a UNIX type operating system that could be run on regular PC hardware. UNIX is old school, but it’d design was logical and it was built for powerful old computers that used different hardware then regular PC’s. So Linus started building the Linux kernel (which is the heart or core of the OS) and from there he released to open source for anyone to take and build off of. And people did.
Nearly two decades later Linux is out there everywhere. In fact more then half of the internet is running on linux servers. These servers are the computers that host websites and make cool shit happen.
So what makes Linux special.
1. It’s free and will always be free. Everything that is built with it, must also be free. It’s mandated.
2. It’s open source. This means that anyone can take the code and do what they want with it.
3. It’s diverse. Because it’s free and open source there are a lot of things people use it for. Everything from desktop operating systems to web servers to vending machine operation.
As a desktop operating system Linux comes in a whole range of varieties from a whole bunch of companies and people. It’s a huge grass roots effort which has recreational programmers and large companies everywhere contributing their part to making Linux usable for all kinds of things.
When you go looking for a Linux Desktop OS you will hear the term “distro” which is short for “distribution”. A distro is a certain flavor of Linux put out by a certain company, individual or group of individuals. Here are some examples of desktop Linux distros:
Damn Small Linux
Yellow Dog Linux
The list goes on. The reason it’s so long is because anyone can take a previous distro, steal it and build their own distro using it as a foundation. You only need to give credit where credit is do. So it’s not really stealing. In fact it’s not stealing at all. That’s just the nature of open source software.
Right now, the most popular Linux distro for everyday people is Ubuntu. You may have heard the name before.
So what’s cool about Linux and what isn’t?
Linux distros have a lot of cool features, depending on the distro you get. Some of them look and act like any Windows computer you’ve ever used. But others are just text on a screen with a prompt where you type commands. True Linux hardliners are fans of the command line and often do everything with it, from copying and pasting files to installing software. The rest of us would be more comfortable with the graphic user interface filled with icons and windows and menus.
Alot of open source software that you use right now on Windows or Mac is available for Linux. Such as firefox, utorrent, openoffice, GIMP, and more. There is also some commercial software available, but not as much as on Windows or Mac. In my opinion this is the biggest downfall to Linux and reason I personally am not using it as my main OS.
One of the nice things about Linux is that many of the distros allow you to try them for free, without having to install anything on your computer. They are called LiveCD’s and once you download them and burn them to a CD using Windows or Mac, you can put them back in your CD drive, restart your computer and Linux will load up. Everything will run off the disc itself and you can try it out without fear of hurting your computer or changing anything. When you’re done, just eject the CD and go back to using your computer as normal. If you like it, just click install and it will install itself right next to Windows on your computer and you can then chose which OS to boot into when you start your computer.
One of the other big issues with Linux however is hardware support. Most hardware companies when they build a product for your computer will also build drivers so their hardware can talk to your computer. Most of those drives are made for Windows operating systems since most people use Windows. Followed by drivers for mac OS and then if at all, Linux.
Most companies still don’t see Linux as a viable source of income to bother with supporting it. So a lot of support for Linux comes from everyday people who build drivers and software as their hobby. Don’t get me wrong, this is a huge group of people the world over, but without a lot of commercial support to fund projects and put food on peoples tables, support can be hit or miss.
For years the geek in me has been struggling with Linux. part of me loves the idea behind it and loves what people are doing with it. There is some really cool stuff going on. There are certainly a decent chunk of people out there that use Linux as their main OS every day. But for me, it’s still sort of hobby OS. The fact that it takes a bit of effort to get a Linux OS up and running on my computer with full hardware support and the lack of commercial software naively available for it acts as a bit of a turn off for me. If these thing were not a problem I would have ditched Windows years ago and possibly never bought a Mac. But many people and companies view Linux they way I do. Truth is a lot of people are perfectly happy with Windows and Mac no matter what their shortcomings are. Whether Linux will ever take off as a mainstream OS is something only the future will tell. But so far it’s not looking like it.