Many people are scared of switching from Windows to a Linux operating system, but they really shouldn't - as this selection of tips, tricks and advice will show, making the change and using a Linux computer are really both quite simple!
Understanding the Difference Between Linux and Windows
For the vast majority of newcomers to Linux, their only real point of reference is Windows. This is unfortunate as Linux is a very different entity. As such you should be aware of the differences between the two operating systems, as well as understand why some distros choose a GUI (graphical user interface) that resembles the Windows desktop.
A “beginner’s guide" to Linux will teach you the basics of your chosen Linux distro, but be aware of some of the terms and jargon that are used; they’re specific to the platform and its various components, and are quite different to those found in the world of Windows!
Choosing a Distro or a Computer
Once upon a time you would install Linux yourself, usually from a disc that you had burned with data downloaded from the Internet. While this is still a common means of enjoying Linux, it is now possible to find a computer with one of the popular distros pre-installed. Several major suppliers including Dell offer Linux computers.
Before you embark on installing any distro, however, you should try as many as you can, using the Live CD download. This enables you to run the operating system out of the RAM of your computer, avoiding any permanent changes to your machine. A Live CD is a great way to try Linux, pick up some of the basics and eventually determine which distro will suit you.
Guides for Popular Linux Distros
When you have settled on a version of Linux to use, you will need to install it on your PC or laptop. There are various ways of doing this depending on the build and how standard it is; if you’re using Ubuntu or Fedora, however, you should find that the installer has plenty of flexibility and you shouldn’t need to make too many changes.
Note that dual-booting Linux and Windows is an option, useful for anyone who doesn’t wish to lose the use of some applications and games or isn’t ready for the full transition. Although this isn’t a task for a complete beginner, anyone with experience installing operating systems will be able to manage a dual boot configuration without any problem.
Linux Commands and Shortcuts
Something that often puts a potential new user off Linux is the Terminal, where text-based commands are entered for tasks that might be performed using a mouse in any other OS.
In actual fact, however, once you understand the nature of the Terminal and the commands and how important this tool is to the successful running of a Linux computer, it shouldn’t take too long to pick it up!
Linux Connectivity and Updates
Naturally once your Linux computer is set up you will want to get online. Web browsers should already be pre-installed, but you will also notice that once you’ve established a connection – perhaps via Ethernet, perhaps via Wi-Fi – you will be able to update your system to the latest version of your Linux distro, or add smaller updates to help the OS run with more stability.
Managing Your Linux Computer
As with any other type of computer, your Linux PC will have some useful tweaks and settings that you can apply. A case in point is the power settings, which are particularly useful to anyone using Linux on a notebook computer. You should also be aware of methods for monitoring your hard disk space, as well as standard stuff like understanding the audio controls.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a Linux system is secure because it isn’t Windows. Web servers are hacked every day, and the majority of those are running Linux distributions.
As such, you will need to be aware of firewall utilities, problems with malware and spyware, and remember – just because there have been no problems in the past doesn’t mean that data will not be stolen or corrupted in the future!
If you find that you’re really enjoying the flexibility and power of Linux, there are many courses and certificates that you will find online to help you get to grips with the operating system in a whole new way, something that might even lead to qualifications and even a career in Linux!
Gaming on Linux
As mentioned above, some people are afraid to switch to Linux as it can mean the loss of games and certain apps. If you are an avid gamer, however, you will want to be aware of the options for playing games on your Linux computer.
If your preferred type of game is browser-based, then you will have no issue, as long as you have Flash installed. However, if you have a requirement to play games that you previously played under Windows, then you will need to install Wine, the Windows environment that allows installation of games and apps in Linux.
Office and Apps for Linux
As with games, many Windows-based applications can be setup in Linux using Wine. However, you will not need to do this in the majority of cases as the various Linux distros have a superb selection of top apps and software suites available.
Finding the right software is a case of knowing where to look, and once you’ve got your head around the compatibility of Word and OpenOffice (or whichever open source office solution ships with your chosen distro) you will need to address the issue of an email client, choosing a web browser and if possible synchronizing your settings and favorites!
- Screenshots provided by author.