Getting Started with Linux and Open Source

Linux is all around you

This tutorial shares the basics of what Linux and Open Source is with an introduction to useful terminology. By the end of this tutorial you will have acquired the knowledge to download then install a Linux operating system on your laptop/computer

Everyday we use Linux on Smart Phones, Flight Entertainment Systems, our cars, Sony Play Stations, Smart TVs and a lot more besides. 95% of the world’s supercomputers use Linux and internet giants like Google & Facebook are built on Linux.

Linux is FREE, fast, intuitive, secure, stable and fun to use whether you are browsing the internet, playing games or multimedia, studying or getting serious work done.

Based on the Linux Kernel, there are literally hundreds of Operating Systems known as Linux Distributions or “Distros” for short. Some of the popular ones include Debian, RedHat, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, ArchLinux, Solus, elementary, KDE Neon & Manjaro

Each Linux distro can run on old or new hardware as a complete replacement for Windows or Mac OSX. No need to hunt for proprietary graphics drivers or install anti-virus/malware software.

Open Source Explained

The open source philosophy explained in a short five minute video

Why Linux?

With Linux you can accomplish all the same things you use your computer for today and in the majority of cases software is superior to what you are currently using. Despite this there is no guarantee that Linux is a perfect fit for your use-case. For example if you are heavily invested in “A” list Windows games or there is windows software you cannot live without. The workaround is to “dual-boot” running Linux alongside your Windows installation. Dual booting is out of scope from my tutorials as an exclusive Linux user I have little experience.

  • There is no cost to install and use Linux and most of the software for a normal use-case is completely free of charge.
  • Linux users have the freedom to download, use, share, and improve open source software for any purpose. No such thing as piracy!
  • Because of code transparency “open-source” software makes malware, viruses and spyware ineffective. No need to pay and depend on 3rd party software to protect your computer or privacy.
  • Proprietary software is also available on Linux in most cases free of charge.
  • Users purchase a permission to use Microsoft Windows on a single computer and are forced to accept a number of restrictions while waiving their privacy by law. Purchased software is not transferable to another computer.
  • Unaware of alternatives like Linux, some people are ready to discard older working PC/laptops when it comes to upgrading to the latest Microsoft has on offer. Linux breathes new life into older hardware with unrivaled performance. I doubt you have ever tried to install Windows 10 on an XP machine?
  • Computers are used to share ideas, culture, and to expand our knowledge and creativity. Without freedoms over software there is a risk we lose control over being innovative as well as what we share. Without going into all the reasons, Microsoft simply do not value these freedoms. In fact with every new iteration (currently Windows 10) they have established unprecedented controls over your privacy and rights. The End User License Agreement (EULA) is well worth reading.

Linux and Open Source Software has so much choice. Where do you start?

Unlike Windows and Mac OS X, Linux supports many desktop environments and selecting the right one can be daunting as some are designed to me more intuitive than others. There are many reasons why you might select one over another.

There are hundreds of Linux Operating Systems known as Linux Distributions or “Distros” for short. Each Linux distro can run on old or new hardware as a complete replacement for Windows or Mac OSX. Some of the more established ones have names like Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, ArchLinux & Linux Mint. Then there are “new kids on the block” (the primary focus of this site) with names like Solus, elementary, Ubuntu-Mate and KDE-Neon. These always provide positive feedback from the users I introduce them to.

Each Linux distro starts out as an implementation of ideas of a company or individual or group of individuals. A community of contributors and users is formed which grows over time. Each Linux distro comes with a desktop environment (DE) that includes built-in applications such as a file manager, configuration tools, a web browser, games and a Package Manager (Software Store) which allows you to add/remove and manage software applications. Some desktop environments are designed work with many distros while some are exclusive to their own. Here is a brief overview…

  • GNOME is a very popular modern desktop environment and is either the default or optional in many Linux distros. It is powerful and easy to use once you become familiar with its design concept which will be a short learning curve for most.
  • KDE (Plasma is a highly customizable modern desktop environment targeting those who want a bit more control over their desktop. More customization options normally means a longer investment in user learning time but well worth the effort.
  • XFCE is fast highly customizable “old school” desktop environment targeting those who want a bit more control over their desktop.
  • Budgie is built from scratch and is lightning fast on most computers. A beautiful, intuitive and well-designed modern desktop experience for the Solus project that is growing in popularity on other distros. Highly recommended for new Linux users.
  • Pantheon another beautiful and well-designed modern desktop environment exclusive to elementary OS. Due to its simplicity it works exceptionally well for new Linux users although is not as customizable or have as many out of the box features compared to other desktop environments.
  • Cinnamon is the default desktop environment of the very popular Linux Mint distribution.
  • MATE is the popular revived paradigm of the older Gnome desktop environment. It is a highly intuitive customizable desktop environment. It is an option for many distros but it’s the Ubuntu MATE implementation that is particularly appealing for new Linux users with a step by step welcome screen with a getting started guide and Software boutique.
  • Unity is the default environment for Ubuntu with an alternative desktop layout for the GNOME desktop environment. It has a large user base and in equal numbers has its critics. An acquired taste maybe.
  • LXQt is a lightweight, simple and fast desktop environment that works well on older machines due to its very low system resources usage such as low CPU and RAM consumption.

A Selection of Linux Distributions (Distros)

To learn more the links below direct you to the official websites of recommended Linux distributions to look at. The order of the selection represents my personal (subjective and bias) preferences however is also influenced by experience and the positive feedback I get from the new users I support. To try any of them simply download the installation image and I will cover next steps later in the article.

Solus
elementary
KDE Neon
Zorin OS
Linux Mint
Ubuntu + Derivatives
Debian
Fedora
OpenSuse

What differs from distribution to distribution

  • The community and whether it offers good support, documentation and tutorials.
  • Desktop Environment and how easy it is to install and use overall.
  • Availability and quality of: (Software Applications, Languages, Drivers, Games etc)
  • How it manages security and software updates
  • Some distros are ready to use out of the box, while others need the user to tweak/configure and add software
  • Some distros are a derivative of another distro. Derivatives benefit from and contribute to the upstream parent distro while own their own style to appeal to a niche audience.
  • Modern PCs/laptops support 64bit(x86_64) architecture however 32bit(i386)support had somewhat diminished. Some Linux distros are evolving to support 64bit only. Something to keep in mind if your machine is 8 years or older.

If you want to immerse yourself in the complete “do it yourself” Linux experience and be in full control of your installation read my article Do it yourself with Arch Linux

Download Installation Media

To try or install any of these Linux distro you first need to download the installation media then put it onto a suitable USB thumb-drive.

Select the distro you want to try or install navigate to their download page and follow the instructions


Create a bootable Live USB (Windows Users Only)

 

To create a bootable USB drive (of your chosen Linux OS) you need a clean USB thumb drive 4GB or greater

Windows users need to download and install a small application called Rufus. You can find it here

Follow the instructions below to your bootable drive. This also works for all Linux Distros.

  1. Remove all other USB drives from your machine then insert the blank USB thumb drive you are going to use. Open the Rufus application.
  2. Make sure the “Device” dropdown has your USB thumbdrive selected.
  3. Select the appropriate “Partition scheme” from the 3 options. (Note most modern Linux Distros support UEFI)
  4. For the file system select “FAT32”
  5. Leave “Cluster size” as the default option
  6. New Volume Label: Type the name of the distro you are planning to install).
  7. In “Format Options” make sure the following are ticked
  1. Quick Format
  2. Create a bootable disk using ISO image
  3. Create extended label and icon files
  1. Click on the disk icon and locate the ISO file you downloaded from the distro you selected
  2. Cick the start button
  3. When complete you can restart you computer and you will be able to boot into the live version of the OS you downloaded.

What to expect during Installation

The installation experience of many Linux distros are similar taking anything from 10 to 25 minutes depending on the speed of your internet connection. If its your first time and you want to become more familiar with the installation process I recommend watching a short YouTube video on how its done.

Common characteristics of the installation process

  1. Boot to your installation media
  2. Select your location
  3. Choose your time zone
  4. Set your keyboard layout
  5. Confirm (yes/no) your computer matches the minumum requirements
  6. Choose where to install on your hard-drive (Partitioning)
  7. Create a user and password
  8. Wait for the install to complete and reboot
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