Every time you turn your computer on, Windows always loads right? Have you ever wondered just how many alternatives to Windows exists? While compatibility with programs and games is very spotty, Linux is a fun alternative to try if you want to try something new. Linux and Windows are both Operating Systems (OSes, for short). An OS is what manages your desktop and programs. There are three major OSes, Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX. Linux is very flexible, and has been modified into “distros” tailored for different users. Some of the distros you might have heard of, are Chrome OS and Android.
So why would you use Linux? On Linux, you can customize EVERYTHING to meet your wants and needs. You don’t like how your desktop looks? Try a different window manager. You don’t like the programs your distro comes with? There are dozens of other possibilities for each program. Linux lets you make your computer truly your own. Windows and Mac OSX give you a set unchangeable toolkit. Linux lets you make that toolkit out of stuff you pick.
Calling Linux an OS is slightly inaccurate, as really Linux is just a kernel. An OS is two parts, a userland, and a kernel. The kernel is the core of the OS, and bridges your hardware (as in the physical computer itself), with your software (the Userland and the programs you use). The userland is the set of software your OS requires to function. The userland that most linux distros rely on, is named “GNU” (GNU’s Not Unix, a recursive acronym). As a result, most linux distros are really GNU/Linux. Android and Chrome OS however, use a special userland named “Dalvik”. On Windows, the kernel is named “NT”, and the userland is simply the version of Windows you use.
All of that sounds quite complicated, however actually installing and using Linux is quite simple. Most distros have instructions on how you should burn a “LiveUSB”, which lets you try Linux before you decide to install it. Should you decide to install it, make sure you backup all of your important documents and photos and such, as otherwise they will be lost. If you decide to install Linux, all the websites you use will work like normal, Google Chrome and Firefox are availaible on Linux and work just like their windows counterparts.
If you want to learn more about Linux, the Unbuntu Wiki, Debian Wiki, and Arch Wiki are all distro wikis with an impressive amount of information that holds true for any distro. For a beginner, I’d recommend Linux Mint, or Unbuntu. If you want to try something that’s a little more robust and complex, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Debian are for you. If you wanna try something that is complicated on every level, but extremely educational, try Arch Linux, or it’s infinitely more complex sibling, Gentoo.
Personally, I used Arch Linux in the past, with a myriad of different packages installed. Among other things, I used the Zsh shell instead of Bash, along with the config files that Archlinux currently uses for their LiveCD. I also used the GNOME Desktop Environment primarily, but I experimented with Openbox and Fluxbox as potential alternatives (Fluxbox was buggy but was my personal favorite. I had a half baked WINE setup that I never finished building. I also eventually dabbled with daemon creation but never got anywhere. The one thing I did finish, was I compiled a fully functional development copy of Retroarch and did some minor changes to the program, even though I never submitted my changes to the repository.
Either way, I recommend Linux to everyone who wants to get down into the nitty gritty of how their computer works, and wants to make it their own.