GNU/Linux Adoption

Few years ago I moved from Windows 7 to Kubuntu Linux 14.04. It was a new experience after using Windows for so many years. But I decided to give it a try and it was well worth it. I later moved on to Arch Linux. I am writing this post to share that experience.

I have been using Windows for about four years in my Compaq 610 laptop. When I decided to switch over to GNU/Linux, I was skeptic at first. Everyone around me was using Windows and I had grown accustomed to it. There were a lot of questions in my mind, and I'm sure anyone new to GNU/Linux would have the same questions. So I would try to answer them—

The Name

The actual name is GNU/Linux. If you are wondering, the operating system commonly referred to as Linux is broadly a two part system —

  1. GNU user-land: The programs that make the system work and communicates with the user.
  2. Linux kernel: The underlying program that deals with the hardware.

Hence whenever you are talking about Linux OS you are actually speaking of GNU/Linux.

Why GNU/Linux?

Here is what I think—

GNU/Linux is free and open source

Please note that the word free means you have the right to use GNU/Linux any way you want, modify it any way you want and give it to any one you want. That is Free as in freedom.

What does that mean? That means there is a massive community behind GNU/Linux who contribute back to this system. Something a closed source system like Windows doesn't allow you to. This huge contributing community means every piece of code is meticulously scrutinied and improved by the capable users, meaning no hidden software backdoor, swift repair of vulnerabilities and generally improved code base.

Besides GNU/Linux is free of cost. You don't have to pay a single dime to use GNU/Linux. That may not sound good enough to you if you're used to pirating Windows, but a truly free and open operating system has its own rewards.

GNU/Linux is resistant to virus

You have probably heard about this and it's true. GNU/Linux has a very powerful execution permission control system. That means even if someone tries to infect a GNU/Linux system with a virus, it can't run itself to infect anything in the system. More that that every user in a GNU/Linux has a well defined set of user permissions, so a compromised user can't do anything to harm other users in a system unless they get superuser access. So even if you mistakenly run a virus as a normal user it won't be able to touch the important system files.

GNU/Linux has a huge collection of free softwares

You no longer have to hunt down for free versions of softwares or cracks for proprietary softwares. Because everything you might need is right there in the GNU/Linux repositories. All you need to do is to search the repository for the software you want and install it. It needs only one line of command (or there are graphical systems available if you don't want to deal with the command line).

Installing from the repository has the added benefit of a clean installation and since the files in the repositories are meticulously checked you don't have to be afraid of any malware. Did I mention that GNU/Linux applications are a lot smaller and faster than their Windows counterparts? That means you will need a lot less of your time, bandwidth and disk space to get some applications installed and they would perform better than closed source ones.

If you don't find something in the official repositories, there are myriads of unofficial repositories from where you can get your application of choice. And you can always install a software from its source code. All for free.

GNU/Linux is extremely customizable

If you are happy with the standard installation, that's okay. But if you are interested in customizing your computer then you can do virtually anything with your system. You can remove or add any software you want, you get to choose from a huge array of desktop environments and you can edit the configurations to your heart's desire. If you are comfortable with command line, great, but if you are not you can use the graphical user interfaces to change the settings. You can make your GNU/Linux installation exactly the way you want it.

GNU/Linux follows the UNIX Standards

UNIX happens to be the ancestor of most modern operating systems. It's standards are defined by POSIX, which is considered to be the universal standard for the Operating Systems. Did you know that Apple's Mac OS, BSD operating systems, even Android- all follow the somewhat the same standards? (It happens to be that Windows is the only widely used operating system that doesn't follow it.) So if you are new to computer, you should definitely start with GNU/Linux. Because that way you will learn a lot more about computers, both because it's open source and it conforms to UNIX standards. Even if you are already familiar with Windows you should consider giving GNU/Linux a try.

You will enjoy the freedom, you will enjoy the power.

Any disadvantages?

Well, depending on your habit and computing practice you might find some—

  1. If you need to use Microsoft Office suite you may face some difficulties. Microsoft Office documents use proprietary formats and sometimes there are some problems with compatibilities. There are some work arounds to this problem—
    • You can use LibreOffice, the open source office suite. It uses a open document format, but it can also work with MS suite documents. That being said there might still be some formatting incompatibilities.
    • If you don't mind learning something new, LaTeX is a very good option for creating documents. It's easy once you get the hang of it, no need to worry about the styling of the document and it can generate very professional looking typesetting. You can even make presentations like MS Power-point with LaTeX, if not better.
    • If you insist on using Microsoft Office specifically, you are not out of option. You can still run it in GNU/Linux under the Windows compatibility layer known as Wine.
  2. You can't play your Windows games in GNU/Linux. Although you might run some of them with Wine software, many of them may not run. But there are native games for GNU/Linux platforms, and they are quite good. You can try them out. Finally if you're keen on playing Windows games, you can have a dual boot in your computer.

How to get GNU/Linux?

Getting GNU/Linux is very easy. You can simply download a distro and install it.

But before that you have to make some choices.

There are typically two things you need to choose—

  1. A distro
  2. A desktop environment

Which distro to use?

Distros are ready to use versions of GNU/Linux systems. Many of them also provide a live version which you can use without even installing it to your computer.

There are lots of GNU/Linux distros out there. All distros have their advantages and disadvantages. I am going to mention some of my favorite distros to help you decide.

Distro name Difficulty Main features
Ubuntu Easy Very popular, very easy to install and very large software repositories. You can find almost any software developed for GNU/Linux in Ubuntu repositories. It comes with many varieties with different desktop environments, such as Ubuntu (Unity), Kubuntu (KDE), Xubuntu (xfce), Lubuntu (LXDE) etc.
Linux Mint Easy Comes pre-installed with lots of apps including some proprietary ones like flash. You can start using it right away after installation.
OpenSUSE Easy Known for its excellent graphical user interface support. It provides graphical interface for almost everything in the system
Debian Intermediate Famous for being stable and highly reliable. It has the largest software repository among all GNU/Linux distros.
Slackware Intermediate The oldest GNU/Linux distro still maintained. Known for its close adherence to Unix philosophy.
Arch Linux Difficult Famous for its simplicity and elegance. You can build your own customized system by piecing together different softwares via command line.
Gentoo Difficult Unlike other distros mentioned above, Gentoo compiles every software directly from source code for better performance.

Which desktop environment to choose?

Perhaps the most important decision to make is the desktop environment. A desktop environment is the user interface to your operating system.

As with distros you have lots of options to choose from. Again, I'll mention my favorite ones.

Desktop Environment Main features
KDE Plasma Beautiful, elegant and extremely customizable. Uses a traditional interface with menu button, task-bar etc.
GNOME Shell Another beautiful desktop environment. It has a different and innovative style of user interface.
XFCE Relatively less resource intensive than the above two, while still maintaining high usability.
LXDE Extremely lightweight and blazing fast. Can perform very well even on lower end hardwares.

My recommendation

My personal recommendation is Xubuntu LTS. Xubuntu is a variant of Ubuntu with Xfce desktop environment.

The best thing about Xubuntu is that it's very easy to install, performs well even in lower end computers, comes with the huge repositories of Ubuntu and has an extremely customizable desktop environment.

However if you are planning to install GNU/Linux on a very old and low spec hardware computer, you should go with Lubuntu. If you have good hardware and you want a very nice looking desktop you should check out Kubuntu. But if you are mortally afraid of the command line, you should try OpenSUSE, which has the best graphical user interface out there.

If you are cool with using the command line then you have some more options. Arch Linux gives you the cutting edge softwares, whereas Debian is your best bet if you want rock solid stability.

How to install?

Installing a GNU/Linux distro is easy. All you need to do is to visit the distro website and download the ISO file corresponding to your computer architecture (32 bit or 64 bit). Once you have downloaded the ISO file, burn it to a DVD. if you don't have a DVD drive, make a bootable flash drive with the ISO file. Now boot your computer from that drive. A graphical installer will guide you through the installation process. Once you have installed it, make the modifications you want and install the softwares you need. This is just a short version of the installation procedure. But detailed installation instructions are easily available on the website of the respective distro.

Things you should know

  1. You should always back up your data before installing any operating system.
  2. If you want a dual boot, install Windows first. Then install GNU/Linux to a separate hard disk partition.
  3. In order to wield full power of GNU/Linux, you should learn to use the command line. While its perfectly okay to use the Graphical User Interface only, it's always recommended to build up familiarity with the GNU/Linux shell commands. It may seem intimidating at first look, but trust me, it's a lot easier once you get the hang of it.

Check out these links

Linux on Wikipedia

The GNU Project

Conclusion

Give GNU/Linux a try. You'll know the difference.

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