I recently wrote about how the traditional operating system is declining in the consumer market and how devices like smart phones, tablets and Chromebooks are taking a commanding lead as they are simpler and deliver a lot of functionality for a smaller price.
It has come to my attention that lately one really does not need a powerful computer to do most of the things that one does. In fact my own Ryzen 7 system Tantalus is probably sitting on my desk wondering what all the other 15 cores are supposed to do while I surf the web. If course this changes when I fire up Forza Horizon 3 or any number of other games.
With this all in mind if you are building a computer that is really going to focus on browsing the internet and other sort of light tasks you really have to consider whether you want to spend the $150 to $250 CAD on Windows 10 Home or Professional when you can download Debian/Ubuntu or Fedora Linux for free.
So let me “sudo apt-get install” or “sudo dnf install” some knowledge in to your brain about the current Linux situation and why you should seriously consider Linux as your next operating system.
The first step in to the Linux environment can be a bit daunting to some as there are hundreds of flavours to choose from. In the land of Linux these are called distributions. They often are a slight customization of the Linux kernel (the stuff running in the background) but in more cases they use a highly customized desktop environment. A desktop environment is merely the graphical user interface you see when you login to your computer. If Linux does not have a desktop environment installed you only have access to the terminal command line which can be a bit of a pain. No worries though, most versions of Linux have a desktop environment installed by default (usually GNOME, KDE, or MATE).
Whoa now you say. GNOME? KDE? MATE? What language are you speaking? Well to tell the truth I don’t really know but what I can tell you is these are basically different user interfaces and again some versions of these you may like while others you may not. One of the most popular distributions today, and one you may have even heard of, is called Ubuntu. It used to use the GNOME desktop environment but with their latest editions they switched to an environment called Unity. While it certainly looks nice it has not been received well.
Here’s where things get interesting. Say you like Ubuntu but can’t stand the user interface. You’d like something more traditional with something like a start menu from Windows or something like the persistent title bar on a Mac. You can install a different desktop environment to make Ubuntu look and feel more like either of those. For instance, if you want a desktop environment similar to Windows you can install the Cinnamon or even the KDE desktop environment. Both are great choices. No they aren’t Windows but they do a pretty good job regardless. The only really good Mac desktop environment I have seen is the one included with Elementary OS which is based on Ubuntu.
I know. It still seems pretty daunting doesn’t it? I promise you it really isn’t. If you are interested in trying any of these Linux distributions out most have a live CD option that you can use. It will boot up to a temporary installation of Linux inside you RAM and let you try it out without erasing your already installed system and files. Pretty cool huh? Now a lot of people don’t have optical drives anymore and there are tools for that too. Just do a search for booting a Linux live CD from USB on Google. It will set you on the right path.
Now where Linux often fell flat in the past was with the actual installation of the operating system. Good news! Gone are the days of the non graphical user interface installation. We now have very easy to use installers. They are even good enough that if you want to keep Windows or Mac OS for any reason they will allow you to install Linux beside Windows so you can boot to either whenever you like. The installers all make it very easy if you read the instructions. I won’t lie, it’s still not as easy as installing Windows 10. That is incredibly easy now. But don’t let that discourage you.
I have, over the last half a year, been installing and trying out different distributions of Linux and I gotta say the easiest to install was Fedora. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the installer used but it’s so easy it almost feels like one forgot to do something. Debian/Ubuntu installations are almost as easy though.
I can hear you screaming your question. How is Linux to use everyday? Again, I won’t lie, it may take a little bit to get used to where things are and how to get programs but after an hour or so it really feels good. All your regular apps are here for the most part. Firefox and Chromium (Linux’s version of Google Chrome) are both easily available on software repositories to download.
Software repositories? What the heck, Jeff? You said this was easy.
Stay calm. Think of software repositories as Linux’s version of an App Store. Except everything is free. Yep, welcome to open source. Free software baby! Almost every distribution has a different name for their repository so the best thing to do is look through your menus for something like Software Manager or Software or something to that affect.
If you are willing and want to look like a script kiddy to all your friends you can bring up the dreaded TERMINAL!!! Back in the day you had to drop down to the terminal all the time to get things to work in Linux. Now it feels more like using the Command Prompt on a Windows machine. Yeah you may need to pop open a Terminal window sometimes but you don’t really need to unless you are really playing around with Linux. That said, if one wanted to install say, Libre Office on to a Debian/Ubuntu or Fedora based system you would type the following:
sudo apt-get install libreoffice
sudo dnf install libreoffice
What you are saying with the above commands are as follows:
sudo – this puts you in to a super-user/administrator mode and after you type in the rest of your command it will ask you for your username password to continue.
Apt-get/dnf – These are the different package installer programs in Debian and Fedora. They both do essentially the same thing which is unpack the software you want to install.
Install – is just as it says. This commands the software un-packer to install the software that you specify next.
Libreoffice – that is the software you wanted to install. You can put anything behind this if you know what you are looking for. If the installation errors out that often means that either something was miss-spelled or the software you are looking for is not listed in the repository.
Now there are other commands you can run before this to make sure you get the latest software but you can discover these things on your own. That’s part of the fun of Linux. The community has gotten very large and often the solution to questions or problems are only a Google search away.
Now many people write-off gaming when it comes to Linux and when it comes to what is available on the repositories I wouldn’t blame you. That said Steam is available on Linux and there are a good amount of titles that will run on Linux. After you install Steam you can explore what is compatible in your library already and you can search for more compatible Linux titles on the Steam store.
If I haven’t scared you off yet I’d love to recommend a few different Linux distributions to try out.
Debian – This is the distribution that Ubuntu is based on. Debian tends to be more conservative in it’s approach to updates in favour of complete stability. Debian based distributions also tend to have more available software-wise on their respective repositories that other based distributions.
Fedora – This is currently my favourite distribution. Fedora tends to be the most up to date and is usually on the bleeding edge of the latest and greatest as it comes to Linux. The drawbacks are sometimes compatibility and stability suffer sometimes (though I have not had a problem). Fedora also tends to have less software in their official repository but there are ways to add more. Again a Google search is the best way to figure these things out.
ZorinOS – This is the one of the nicest looking distributions out there right now and if you are familiar with Windows this distribution will keep you happy. It is based on Ubuntu so it has all the advantages and disadvantages of Debian.
ElementaryOS – I mentioned this earlier as a great starting point for someone moving from Mac OS. This has a very similar interface and again it is based on Ubuntu so it has all the advantages and disadvantages of Debian.
So can you use the above out of the box to surf the web? Yes. Absolutely. They have all you need. You can even play some games. Linux no longer has to be relegated to your older PC (though that’s a great place for it if you want to revitalize an old piece of hardware) installing it on modern hardware can create a speedy and pleasurable experience to be sure.
Have you tried any distributions of Linux? What was your favourite? Did you have any struggles? Let me know in the comments.