As you may already be aware, Linux is an Open Source operating system which is made available under the GPL. Being Open Source means that the underlying source code for the software is freely available for use and modification.
In the current economic climate a lot of us are looking at how best to cut costs both in business and in our personal lives, and reducing our outlay for computer software has to be given some serious consideration. Replacing commercial operating systems with the freely available Linux is becoming increasingly common, even amongst the not so geeky, however the main question being asked frequently is “which flavour of Linux should I be using, and why?”.
Linux comes in many different flavours, called distributions (or distro‘s for short) and it really can be a bit of a minefield deciding which is the best one to use. A lot of it does come down to personal preference, as well as your own level of technical expertise however I’m going to try and clear the waters a bit in this post. 🙂
As a general rule, there are 2 main camps of Linux distro’s – those which are commercially backed and those which are purely contributor supported. The chances are, you’ll have heard of some of the commercially backed ones even if you haven’t had a chance to use them before – the most common examples being:
The difference between these distro’s and those without commercial backing is simply that the support (including, but not limited to bug fixes and development releases) is offered by the commercial partner in addition to the community contributors – it means that some of the developers working on the code are being paid to do so, it’s not just their hobby as it is with community releases. The commercial developers often sell packaged copies of their distro’s which include additional support services, such as telephone and email support as well as printed manuals.
Don’t worry, the aim of this article is to help you to save money so you don’t have to buy a copy of Linux, all of them are freely available to download – and there’s plenty of support available on the Internet including our very own forums!
In terms of operational differences – the things that you and me would see – it’s mainly different cosmetic appearances and software packages which allow us to differentiate between the various distro’s. Some are built around different kernels, but going into that would probably be a bit complex for this post. Most notable is the type of interface implemented by the developers, and the 2 main GUIs (desktop environments) that you will see are GNOME and KDE. Whether you prefer GNOME or KDE is purely down to personal preference, I am personally a fan of GNOME (and XFCE, but again that’s probably straying a bit far from the beaten path) but I now a lot of people prefer the generally more polished and “packaged” feel of the KDE. Some distributions come with just one Desktop Environment but most will give you the option when you carry out the installation so you can choose whichever one you want to use.
I probably shouldn’t make any recommendations in this blog, as it does have to be your choice which distro you decide to go for, but I have got a soft spot for Ubuntu. Ubuntu was originally derived from the Debian source code and first came into existence as a usable build in late 2004. I’ve been using it myself since that very first release, and have even made a few small contributions myself (although be under no illusions, I’m no coder!!) and I’ve always found it to be very stable and the most “usable” of all of the desktop distro’s that I’ve used.
If you’re not sure whether you fancy jumping in with both feet and installing Linux instead of Windows, why not try a Live CD version? These are simply a bootable CD which loads a cut down Linux operating system into your computers memory, allowing you to play around with it as much as you want without touching any of the data on your hard drive. Favourite live CD’s include Ubuntu and the appropriately named “Damn Small Linux” DSL which is a mere 50mb when stored.
Linux really is an amazingly flexible and powerful operating system, as well as being unparalleled in it’s stability. I’ve personally been running a Linux server box for in excess of 11,000 hours (over 15 months!) with no downtime at all, and I’m sure that this is nothing compared to the up-time experienced by some of the big corporations. What more can I say really other than asking you to give it a go and let us know how you get on! 🙂
If you do decide to take the plunge and have a go at installing a Linux distro, don’t forget to check out the Open Source section of the Ebuyer.com Forums and also keep an eye out for my forthcoming guide to dual-booting Windows with Linux…which will be posted here later in the week.