All the excitement in the computer business lately has been about the free upgrade to Windows 10 that Microsoft has offered to owners of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 computers. Free is good. We all love to get free stuff, and getting free stuff from Microsoft, well, it’s really special.
But let’s take a look at the operating system that has always been free, Linux, in its many flavors and distributions. Currently the most popular Linux distribution is Ubuntu Linux. I’ve installed this one many times, and it is pretty easy and straightforward. Once you get into the user environment, it looks more like a Mac than a Windows system (the Mac OSX operating system is based on the Linux kernel, after all), but navigating around should be easily accomplished by users of either of the other two popular operating systems.
Linux has been around a long time, and was born in 1969 as UNIX, developed at AT&T, to be the first machine portable operating system. In 1977 UC Berkeley came out with the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) version of Unix. In 1983 Richard Stallman started the GNU Project in order to create a free Unix-like operating system. In 1991 Finnish student Linus Torvalds extended these efforts, and using the GNU compiler created the operation system that would become Linux.
One of the many charms of Linux is that is will run on almost anything. Old PCs that ran Windows XP or Vista will run Linux just fine, perhaps even faster than Windows ran on the same system. And Linux really screams on a new system. It is also fairly simple to run it in a dual boot configuration with Windows, or in a virtual machine. Heck, you can even run it straight off the CD or a USB stick.
Installing Linux is easy enough, although some less experienced computer users may find that downloading the ISO image and burning it to a DVD is a bit beyond their level of comfort or experience, but honestly, it is not too hard, and there are great step-by-step instructions all over the Internet.
But this is one of the major problems with Linux adoption. It is not commonly available pre-installed on the major computer brands, and you can’t just pick one up at Best Buy, or other familiar retail outlets. But Linux is available in systems sold by Dell, HP, System76, ZaReason, Think Penguin, The Linux Laptop, Linux Certified, or Linux Now. So if you are not a serious computer DIY person, you do have options.
Linux comes with plenty of solid applications, and since the vast majority of people spend almost all their time on a web browser, well, there should be no problems. You can use Google Docs and Google Apps just as you would in Windows. And their are two excellent replacements for the popular MS Office productivity applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) in Libre Office or Open Office. These applications create Office compatible documents that your Windows pals will still be able to open, and you will be able to open the Word and Excel documents they send to you. Plus they are free to download, install and use.
As far as security goes, Linux does have some inherent advantages over Windows in this regard. Nonetheless, is it a good idea to install one of the avaialbe security programs from Kaspersky, Sophos, F Secure, or OPSWAT. Many of these programs are free as well.
So it is possible to get into a pretty nice Linux system just for the cost of the hardware alone, and if you are reusing something older that you have on hand, you total cost is just about zero. A brand new system from someone like Dell starts at $250, versus the nearly $500-$700 for a similarly equipped Windows system.
- Alternative is the question, Linux is the answer – Tech Republic
- The only remaining barrier to entry for Linux – Tech Republic
- Busting Linux Myths
- Opswat Linux Security
- Wikipedia – The History of Linux