Don’t Fear Tux
The Linux computer operating system turned twenty in August this year. But, despite having reached that fine age (in computer terms), it remains on the fringe, with relatively low usage levels. Mostly, it has suffered from its reputation for being complicated, with many thinking it’s exclusively for geeks and nerds who know each line of code by heart.
But the reputation is undeserved. Linux hardly makes any special demands on users and is far easier then Windows or Mac OS, once you become accustom to the user interface.
Another reason that Linux it is not very popular, is due to the fact that OEM’s, are locked into Windows due to licensing with Microsoft, but that is slowly changing and set to become rather sub-standard now due to Android.
Indeed, the most daunting prospect with Linux is choosing between the variety of versions available — and the ability to dive beneath the user interface and get deep into the software, if you’re so inclined. Linux Mint and Ubuntu being the two most popular ones. The Ubuntu project, founded in 2004, has now an estimated 25 million users worldwide.
There are other hurdles for Linux, which uses a penguin as its symbol. Most computer users find it a step too far to switch to Linux when their computers come pre—installed with Windows, says Novell manager Holger Dryoff. “Personally, I haven’t used anything but Linux on my computer since 1994.” Novell has close links with one of the classic Linux versions, OpenSuse, which basically consists of the core of the system, along with a few other freely distributed programmes.
Suse, the affectionate name of OpenSuse’s predecessor, “did the pioneering work for the distribution of Linux in Germany,” says Nils Magnus, co—founder of Linux Day.
Its version 11.04, for the first time, no longer comes standard with the Gnome desktop, but a new interface from Unity. The launcher is no longer at the bottom, but on the left, leaving more space on displays — which predominantly use a 16:9 ratio — for contents running from the top to the bottom of the screen.
“This is a new and very interesting attempt to design the desktop differently than before,” says Magnus.
Ubuntu is a version based on Debian, which has been around since 1993 and also consists predominantly of freeware. Other versions include free commercial programmes like Acrobat Reader.
“Debian is clearly the biggest Linux line,” says Ladislav Bodnar, who operates the website distrowatch.com. “The latest version requires eight DVDs.” The most compact Linux that still contains a graphical interface is Tiny Core Linux, which takes up all of 11 megabytes. Bodnar, a Slovakian Linux aficionado, lives in Taiwan and has 689 versions of the software in his database. Of those, 323 are still actively managed and under ongoing development.
“More than ever, there’s this heated debate about the graphical user interface,” says Bodnar, explaining trends in the Linux scene.
Ubuntu’s Unity desktop, a well as the new Gnome Version 3, orient themselves more towards use on a touchscreen.
“They can also be used on a desktop or a laptop, but they demand a radical rethink of expectations.” That has forced a lot of Linux users to consider alternatives, says Bodnar, like graphically intense user interfaces such as Xfce or LXDE. “Of course, there are naturally those who like the new desktop design from Unity or Gnome 3.” Installing software and downloading updates has become simple with most versions.
“All big distributors are coming along with package management,” explains Magnus. Finding appropriate drivers is no longer a problem either. There’s support for all kinds of hardware, from USB sticks to UMTS modems or even finger touch sensors on notebooks.
Magnus recommends Ubuntu, LinuxMint or Fedora — produced by Red Hat for home use — for beginners. “Debian is not so useful for first—time users,” he says, noting that this modularly built system can sometimes be complicated to install on a PC.
The variety of Linux versions is especially useful for specialists, who tend to use their computers for specific tasks. That means there’s Edubuntu, an Ubuntu version for students, or Mythbuntu, for recording videos. Backtrack also relies on Ubuntu, as it provides special tools for security checks of computer networks.
When are you going to try Linux? If you used Facebook, Google, Android or Wikipedia recently, you already have.