If you have spent some time in tech as a hobby, or for your work, you have probably heard of Linux. What exactly is Linux, and why do people choose to use it?
What is Linux?
Linux is an operating system (OS), which is the software that makes a computer work. Other OSs include Windows and Mac OS. Unlike these brand name, ready-to-use OSs, Linux is completely customizable and open-source. Because of it’s detailed customizability, Linux is the OS of choice for the most tech-savvy of computer users. Linux comes in a wide variety of distributions, each with different desktop environments.
Linux is customizable at every level; it can be fit to your specifications like a tailored suit. Much like the name brand OSs, Linux comes with default apps, but these vary between distributions. Each Linux distribution is a version of the OS that comes with an appearance and apps by default (e.g: Linux Mint). If you run a Linux distribution on your computer, and want to uninstall an app, you can easily remove it from the system. This is unlike other OSs, which have permanent default apps. Additionally, you can add apps if you need them.
There is a Linux repository of open-source programs that is monitored and added to by the Linux community. These programs can be searched for and added through the terminal present on every Linux distribution. The repository and source code is monitored by the Linux community, much like how Wikipedia is monitored by moderators. It is because of this close-knit community watch that Linux users do not need to use antivirus software to protect their information. All Linux files and programs are monitored for change and viruses.
A great advantage that Linux distributions have over other OSs is that it can be booted on a computer from a live USB. What this means is that you can run Linux on most computers from a USB, including Chromebooks and Mac computers. With a live boot USB or DVD, you can choose to either install Linux as the computer’s OS, or run the OS off of the USB with the computer’s RAM. If the OS is run live, the computer is not affected later on.
The terminal is the most important utility that makes Linux a superior OS. It is a window that allows you to perform tasks on the computer with commands, as opposed to a user interface. There are commands for every function imaginable on a computer. For example, you can use the terminal to search through a given folder and delete images under a specified file size, this function requiring about five lines of code. Additionally, the terminal can be used to automate programs. Ultimately, the terminal is used to command all utility of the OS. Tasks range from running small ten-line loops to downloading programs from the repository to changing the appearance of the OS. It is because of the terminal that the user has more access to the OS.
Linux has near limitless potential use, dependent on the experience and knowledge of the user. You don’t need to be a software expert to enjoy some of the practical utility of Linux, although being well-versed in some functions certainly helps in getting more out of your computer. An example of an entry-level command is shutting off power to a specified USB port. Why would anyone need to do this? For any reason, or none at all. The point of highlighting this command is that it is an excellent example of the extreme level of control that Linux users can have over their computers with one line of code. The scope and depth of user control is practically endless.
Security and Privacy
Not all computer security concerns are about random black hat hackers. More often than not, government agencies will spy on citizens through commercial OSs. Even if you do not do anything worthy of government monitoring, your privacy is a right, and using a Linux distribution is an effective method of ensuring your privacy. In addition to safety from these serious threats, Linux distributions also do not run ads within the OS. The various groups that contribute to Linux work as peer groups, not looking to squeeze every dollar from their consumer base. Because of the decentralized moderation of Linux’s source code, there is no money-controlled monopoly deciding what happens to the distributions.
Linux is free. It is an open-source OS, meaning that no one person or entity owns it. Anyone can download and use any of the Linux versions. Another cost-saving benefit of using Linux is the fact that you will not need to buy any antivirus software. The Linux community monitors the source code and repository, removing any virus threats. Downloading Linux is not as straightforward as it seems at first. There are some hurdles to jump, such as downloading from the right site, making use of torrenting software for the download, and making sure that your download is UEFI bootable.
There are other options online to purchase live USBs and DVDs that have the OS ready to boot. Most bootable OSs cost little more than the price of the USB, with the cost increase due to the convenience of having a ready-to-boot OS on it. Live boot USBs and DVDs are a good way to get started with Linux, as the pre-packaged distribution is ready to work, and doesn’t need the time investment required to set up a distribution on your own. In the event that you need to troubleshoot a download or installation, the time spent could very easily cost more than the price of buying a live boot USB or DVD.
Use on Older Computers
Old computers that use outdated software on ancient hardware are practically unusable, and unsafe for data protection. As software is no longer updated and ages, it becomes increasingly vulnerable to hacking. It is important to use an OS that is current, both for security and ease of use. Most older computers can run Linux distributions, effectively reviving the computer. Linux will continue to be updated, and some distributions are light enough to be run on old systems.
The comparison of Linux distributions to other OSs can be likened to that of Android to iPhone. There is a greater emphasis on user control with android, while iPhone has less user control within a highly polished GUI. When compared to other OSs, Linux is cheaper, more secure, and open-source. If current trends continue into the future, name brand OSs will decline in quality. A well-known example of this is the decline from Windows 7 to Windows 8. To emphasize the trend in Microsoft, support for Windows 7 has ended recently. Conversely, Linux is only getting better, with frequent updates from the community, and a large network of watchers that ensure the security of the source code and repository. Linux is useful to users of all skill levels, with room for knowledge expansion for everyone. The distributions are useful to any and all computer users, with the nooks and crannies always usable to those willing to learn how to access more of their OS.