Linux Q & A

Wednesday, 25/02/2009 ≅21:58 ©brainycat

I hear the same questions about linux over and over. I'll answer them here for posterity's sake:

Why would I want to run linux?
If your curious about the way computers actually work, there's no better way to learn that digging into the hardware with some real tools that can show you what's going on inside. If you want to learn how to program, there is a plethora of fantastic development tools that come with nearly every distro. If you want to know how the protocols that drive the internet work, you can set up your own networks, firewalls and server daemons from scratch. You'll learn a lot about why the internet works the way it does. If you don't need any applications that are specific to other OSs, and you want to setup your desktop in an environment where EVERYTHING is configurable, and relish the idea of spending hours tweaking your system to get the perfect look and feel.

Why shouldn't I run linux?
You expect OSs to do everything for you. You want to be abstracted from the operation of the hardware, and expect familiar buttons in familiar places that magically perform operations with a single click. You need to use applications that aren't available or don't have the features you need except on other OSs. You don't want to fix anything yourself, but would rather pay to have someone to be responsible for fixing it for you. You aren't interested in computing for computing's sake, but want a computer to act a like a familiar simple tool.

Whats different about linux?
Linux is POSIX compliant, meaning that it looks and acts like the various classic Unix derived OSs that are still driving huge servers to this day. Linux has a number of performance advantages over commercial OSs that you've heard of, in a nutshell because the linux kernel (the Ego that resides over the hardware, or Id) doesn't try to concern itself with any problems except how to make hardware run good. When you set up a graphical environment, it's just another task that the CPU will allocate resources for as needed. Unlike other OSs, a bug in the GUI doesn't crash the system. It just crashes the GUI, and you can start it over just like any other program. Because you have better access to the hardware and the OS itself requires much less memory, linux will run faster on the same hardware than any of the commercial OSs you've heard of.

Can I do [some task] or play [some game] on linux as well as I can on [another OS]?
Depends on the task. For the most part, linux and it's cousins are going to excel at anything that involves software development or serving standardized services. If you just want to play WoW, linux is not for you. There are some apps that are not quite as good as their analogues, some that are as good or as good but different, and some that are considerably better. It really depends on what you want to do.

Will I have to learn obscure linux commands and work in the black and white text only environment?
Only if your distro farks your install, which will only happen if you tell it to do something stupid or your hardware fails. Any OS will crash in those circumstances, the biggest difference is that you have a real chance at diagnosing the issue and fixing the problem with linux. Personally, I grew up with the obscure commands and they are second nature to me; what frustrates me is trying to drill through obscure, poorly named menus trying to find an option that may or may not exist. So in a sense I feel your pain.

What's the best linux distro?
For beginners I suggest Ubuntu and Linuxmint. Ubuntu is arguably the most widely used distro today, and the support community around it is huge. It's easy to use, supports every piece of hardware under the sun, and does a good job of abstracting the user from the gritty details. It can be a little daunting to set up originally, as there are so many different packages and configuration options. It's a great choice for the "power user" who wants to expand their horizons. Linxumint is based on Ubuntu, but is focused on ease-of-use and the apps included lean towards things like media and internet.