Top Linux Terms - Understanding What Linux is Before Making the Switch

Top Linux Terms - Understanding What Linux is Before Making the Switch
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Luckily, you do not need to know a lot about Linux in order to put your computer to good use. This article will provide you with the bare essentials you will need to get you started.


This is not a Linux term, but if you don’t know what it is, you will probably never be able to install Linux (If you downloaded Linux, which is ~85% of all people). If you download Linux, it will come in an ISO image. Most distributions will come as an ISO image as a method of fitting an entire CD into one file. You will need software such as Nero to burn the image to your CD.


When reading about Linux, you will likely see the terms “root user” or “superuser” used frequently. These refer to the administrative account in Linux. The root user in Linux is a special account that can be used to control the system. The root account has total control over the system; a person using the root account can see or change any file on the system, and can run any program. However, with great power comes great responsibility: unlike regular user accounts, the root user is capable of deleting every file on your computer, configuring the computer so that it is unusable, or other bad things.

The root account is to powerful for daily use. You don’t want to use it to compose Abiword documents or to surf the Internet. Use your regular user account for these tasks instead.

You should receive a root password along with your computer. If you need to perform administrative tasks on your computer, you will need this password, so be sure to keep it in a safe place. In general, you want to keep this password (and all passwords) private.

GRUB / Boot Loader

If you have more than one operating system (Windows and Fedora for instance) a boot loader menu will appear every time you start your computer, giving you the choice of which operating system to boot. Linux has its own boot loader called GRUB, which will be setup during the installation.


This is one of the first things you need to know before switching to Linux. Distributions are basically different branches of Linux that include their own set of features and programs. Most distributions share much of the same software.

Live CD

Live CD is a style of Linux that will boot from the CD as though its install on the computer. Live CDs often offer a good representation and preview of how the installed version will look and feel. Some distributions of Linux, such as Ubuntu, offer Live CD ISO images, from which you can test and install the operating system onto your hard drive.


Different CPU manufacturers base their CPU design on different “Architectures”. Architecture defines how information is moved in/out and processed (There is more to it than that). You will need to download the needed architecture for your computer. Most computers support the x86 architecture, and its probably the one you are going to use.


A kernel is the base of any operating system. It is basically the link between the software and the hardware. It’s responsible for resource management and many other functions. Please note that Linux itself is the kernel, not the operating system.


The GUI is the graphical interface in an operating system. The mouse, menus and other visual component all come from your GUI. There is another type of interface called Command Line Interface(CLI). Please see 8 for more information.


A terminal is basically the CLI component of a GUI. It is used by typing in predefined keywords which are linked to their own functions. Get to know the terminal, because once in a while you will need to install or compile a program using the terminal.


You will see this term quite a bit. If a piece of software is proprietary then that means its closed source and restricted in other ways. This kind of software, specially drivers, is not preinstalled on most Linux distributions and has to be installed separately.


Even though it is a piece of software, I had to include this. Wine is a program that you want to become familiar with. As it will help you install Windows software on Linux. Wine is what is called an “Emulation Software” or “Emulation Layer”, which is able to execute exe files.note: This doesn’t place Windows into Linux, most programs don’t fully work.

Learning Linux

These basic Linux terms are a great place to start in your quest to learn Linux. Once you have Linux installed and you start to dig deeper these few terms will allow you to expand your knowledge. Good luck and keep it open-source!