This page represents an attempt to answer all the common questions we get asked. I hope it helps. If you have any more questions you want answered, please add them to the comments section and one of us will do our best to provide an answer. Please keep in mind, the questions should be of a general nature applicable to everyone and ”not specific technical queries.”
What is Linux?
Strictly speaking, it is the name of a “kernel” which a chap called Linus Torvalds first started to develop. The kernel is the heart of an operating system. More recently, any distribution using this kernel, became known as Linux. See linux overview for novices for a potted version of how it has developed into what it is today.
What is a distribution (distro)?
A Linux distro, is a collection of applications (programs) that have been joined together, to make a seamless operating system. The kernel (mentioned above), is the heart of the distro. Another way of thinking about a distro is, it is the whole of what you see when you boot up a Linux system for the first time. A complete and productive system from that moment on. Examples of mainstream distros include, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint, SimplyMEPIS, SuSE, PCLinuxOS and Mandriva, but there are many, many more.
What is a “Live CD”?
A Live CD, is a Linux distro (normally downloaded in the form of an ”iso” file. When the file is burnt to a CD or DVD in the proper way, you are able to boot from the CD/DVD straight into a usable operating system. At this point, nothing on your hard drive has been changed and you can simply exit from the ”live system” and boot back into whatever you have previously been using. My contribution: Linux overview for novices gives more information about this process.
Is it difficult to use Linux?
No. It’s on occasions a little different to Windows, but you will soon get used to it.
How much does it cost?
It’s free! All the main-stream distro providers offer a free version. Some also offer enhanced chargeable versions too, but they are not really necessary unless you have a specific reason for wanting vendor support. This may be seen by business users as a necessity.
Is it difficult to install Linux?
No. Most of the main-stream distributions (distros) installation procedures are more simple than Windows. You can find help and advice on this site on how to do it, but in truth, it’s mainly point and click. Most distros offer a Live CD/DVD version that will run without installation, you can try these distros without installing or compromising your existing operating system on your hard disk.
How do I deal with updates to the system?
Most of the main-stream distros offer at least a notification method and often you can set the system to do it automatically for you. If you prefer to check the updates and do it manually; no problem. It’s a simple point and click operation.
I have an old computer. Can I install Linux on it?
There will certainly be a version of Linux that will run successfully on your computer, but it may not necessarily be one of the latest releases. As with all operating systems, a minimum hardware specification is required, which can be obtained from the distro web page in question. Suffice to say, there is even a distro that will run from a floppy disc, although you wont enjoy a graphical user interface with it.
Can I use the programs I use in Windows?
It depends. For example, the Firefox web browser is available and in a lot of cases is the default browser in Linux. This will be identical to use. You can use a program called “wine” to run some Windows programs in Linux, most commonly MS Office, although there is a perfectly adequate native alternative in the form of Open Office. Overall, you are better off forgetting Windows and getting used to using the native programs. A small investment in time, will transform your Linux experience.
Will Linux cause me hassle connecting to the Internet?
If you want a trouble free time connecting to the Internet, I can’t recommend highly enough, an ADSL/Router or (if you’re cable) a DSL/Router. In almost all cases, Linux will recognise these without any input from you.
What about email?
It’s exactly the same as Windows. There are any number of email clients (applications) you can use, but Thunderbird from the Mozilla stable is probably the most common and again, is identical to the Windows version.
Do I need to protect my computer from viruses and malware?
This is open to debate, but the quick answer is, if you don’t, you’re very unlikely to come to any harm. There are almost no viruses that are effective against Linux and those that maybe, are “proof of concepts” written to probe possible future problems. In short, Linux is as bullet proof as you can get. You may however wish to use an anti-virus application to protect the poor Windows users out there. For example, if you receive an infected file that you wish to pass on to a Windows user, you may not be aware it was infected and inadvertently pass it on to them.
Which distro should I try?
Try as many as you want! If that sounds flippant, it’s not meant to be, but there is such a rich diverse range of options, it’s not realistic to be pedantic about which distro to choose. All the main-stream distros now offer a “Live CD”. This means you can run it directly from the CD, without touching your existing hard drive or installation. The bottom line is, end up with one that is right for you. At the time of writing, I would suggest, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint, SimplyMEPIS, SuSE, PCLinuxOS and Mandriva as all being suitable for new Linux users.
What’s all this about KDE, Gnome, Xfce, Fluxbox and other weird sounding names?
They are all Desktop Environments (DE’s) – also known as Window Mangers. In other words, they are what you see when the system is first loaded. The huge difference between Windows and Linux, is how you can manipulate the system to completely customise it to your own liking. KDE and Gnome are the most prolific and heavyweight DE’s. Xfce and Fluxbox are more lightweight and can be better suited to lower powered computers. They will all have a tremendous effect on how you perceive Linux and are another good reason you should try a few alternatives.
This is all very good, but can anyone use Linux?
Yes, anyone. Strangely, those that have a minimal knowledge of computers (in other words, no preconceived ideas) often find it easiest of all.
But, I’ve heard you have to use commands to use Linux.
Rubbish! Modern Linux distros are all Graphical User Interface, just like Windows.
How do I add more applications (programs)?
Well, that’s really a page in it’s own right, but suffice to say, it’s point and click via the distros package manager. It is rare these days, that you have to compile from the source code and in fact, if you can avoid that, so much the better. No more searching around the Internet for the application you need. It’s all located in a central repository and almost guaranteed to work.
So how many more applications will I need to make the computer a productive tool?
You wont! All main-stream Linux distros come with a full array of productive tools right from the off. You will find an Office Suite pre-installed, CD/DVD burning software, Powerful Graphics software and a whole host of other useful software all there right from the first time you use the system.
What about my favourite Windows games?
I have to be honest, that’s a sticky one! Those games have been produced for the Windows platform and not for Linux. Having said that, many Linux users have had success running their favourite games in Linux, either through “wine” or some have even been “ported” to Linux. In other words, Linux versions are available. Those that have had success swear their games run quicker (I couldn’t say), but it does make some sense, as Linux requires far less resources than Windows.
So what about dual booting then?
Linux will happily coexist with Windows on the same computer. You may consider a fresh install of Windows for your games and then adding Linux for all other computer usage.
How often do I have to defragment the hard drive?
You don’t! Assuming you use one of the native Linux file systems such as ext2 or ext3. The method of writing to disc in these systems is different to Windows and the system takes care of this issue automatically.
Can I use my existing printer?
Maybe. This issue has moved on drastically in the last twelve months or so and almost all modern stand alone printers are now supported via CUPS – Common Unix (and Linux) Printing System.
You can find a list at Open Printing All-in-ones are somewhat more of an issue, but HP in particular, are really getting behind the Linux movement and are offering good support and direct help to the community.
When using Linux, how easy is it to save, copy and paste and execute all the other common tasks that are so easy on Windows?
In all the main-stream distros, it’s so similar, you’d have a hard job telling the difference.
Can I share files with another Windows computer on my home network?
Yes you can! Samba is a software package that allow file sharing with Windows computers not only across a home network, but across an enterprise sized network too.
What is a “terminal”?
It normally has an icon that looks like a TV screen and is a way to run commands in Linux. Even though you can do all the common tasks required via a Graphical User Interface, there is also a very powerful option to do even more via a command line.
This all sounds good, so how do I start?
Choose a distro you fancy and download the “iso” file.
Go to Burning Distros and follow the instructions.
Finally, set your computer to boot from your CD/DVD drive as the “first boot device” and let the CD run from boot-up. If you don’t know how to do that, go to linux overview for novices for more information.