What is Linux?

By | December 16, 2016

What is Linux

What is Linux anyways?

If you have been around the tech world for a little while and have more than a passing interest in computers, there is no doubt you have heard of Linux.  Maybe you never really looked into what it is, or how it could benefit you.  Let me try to explain what it is and what it isn’t here.  Maybe, just maybe I will inspire you to give it a try.

The name Linux actually has two meanings.  The first and most correct one is using the name Linux in reference to the Operating System.  The operating system or OS is the layer between your computer and the software you want to run.  I won’t bog down in the details here.  Other operating systems you may have heard of are Windows, MacOS, and ChromeOS.

Linux is the operating system that several distributions are built on.  When some people use the term Linux or say “I run Linux” they are usually referring to the distribution of Linux they are running.  Linux the OS is free for anyways to make a copy of, make modifications to, or do whatever they wish with it.  Many groups create a custom version of the interface and market it to computer users.  The only requirement is that the code of the operating system remain free and open for anyone to see.

So we will look at a couple of distributions (distros) of Linux in this article and explain why you might want to give one a try.

Couple of basics or why use it in the first place

Linux does allow for more control over what your computer is doing and is a safer operating system to run your computer with for a couple of reasons.  First is that since not that many people run Linux there are not as many people out there trying to inject viruses into it.  Also, since Linux is maintained by small groups of coders (normally) security flaws are usually fixed as soon as they are found.  These updates are then pushed over the internet to your computer for an automatic update.

Linux is free!  Meaning, once you download a distro and install it on your computer, it will continue to be updated without you ever needing to buy anything.  Nothing, all new updates are free also.  A lot of the distros do ask for donations to keep the projects running, but it is not necessary for you to give anybody any money.

Linux also does not come with all the extra stuff you don’t want, Windows and MacOS show up on your new computer with programs installed that you have no want or use for.  Linux distros, during the install will ask what you want beyond the standards.

Linux has versions that are great for older machines.  Many Linux distros pride themselves on working on hardware that nothing else works on anymore.  You can get a modern operating system onto a 10 year old laptop, should you want to do that.  Linux distros also usually have a smaller storage footprint than Windows or MacOS.

So with that, let’s look at a couple of the most popular distros.

1. Ubuntu Linux

ubuntu desktop

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu is by far one of the most widely used and recognized distros of Linux.  It has a clean and simple interface that will be familiar to Windows and Mac users alike.  Ubuntu also has the widest range of add on programs out there.  If there is something you need to do, chances are someone has created a program to do it.  Best of all, the programs you add to Ubuntu or any other distro are free!

Ubuntu is easy to install, just answer a couple of questions about what time zone you are in and how your keyboard is laid out and let it do the rest.

If you just want to try out Ubuntu without installing it, you can put it on a USB drive and boot your computer from the USB.  This gives you a chance to see what it is like to run a Linux distro and try it out without needing to install it.


2. Linux Mint

Linux Mint

Linux Mint

Don’t let the cute name fool you, this is a full fledged serious operating system.  I have used Linux Mint a couple of times in the last few years and have always enjoyed it.  It is easy to set up and easy to get going on.  It is one of the more Windows looking Linux distros.  It is really easy to transition from Windows to Mint.  There is also a wide user community that you can ask questions of.  Also, Mint was built off of Ubuntu, so a lot of the questions and solutions people apply to Ubuntu work in Mint also.




3. Tails Linux

Linux Tails

If you are really concerned about your privacy online and on your computer, then Tails Linux is the distro for you.  It leaves no trace behind on your computer that it was even there.  It totally runs off of a USB stick.  Also, it comes with baked in security tools and settings for secure web browsing and encrypted email.  If your tin-foil hat is adjusted correctly, give Tails a try!





4. Lubuntu



Now if you have some really old hardware laying around that you maybe want to bring back to life, there is nothing better than Lubuntu.  It is specifically designed to work with older hardware and is based on Ubuntu.  It can make an older laptop feel new again.  It has a small footprint and the resource requirements are not so heavy that a 10-year-old laptop couldn’t run it.  It also maintains compatibility for more legacy hardware specs, like a PS/2 Mouse.  So if you need something to bring a laptop back from the dead, or a decent USB based OS.  Give Lubuntu a try.




5. Chrome OS

ChromeOSNow you may think that this would only work on a Chromebook, but not true.  The Chromebook OS is based on the freely available ChromeOS project. You can turn any computer into an almost Chromebook.  The are a few difference, like no automatic updating and some material design differences but underneath it is all the same.  Worth checking out if you want something a little different.


Bottom Line

Hopefully, this gives you the push to at least try out a live USB version of a Linux based distro.  There are many others out there and this doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of what is available.  If you want some more info, please leave a note in the comments or sign up for the email list to find out more.  Linux is a great way to breathe life back into older systems or make your new system run even better.  Both Windows and MacOS can be replaced with a Linux Distro.  Go ahead and give it a try.