OVERVIEW OF LINUX FOR NEWCOMERS
Freely available and freely expandable
Linux is the name used by a large number of freely available modern computer operating systems that are easy to install and set up, and allow Users to download thousands of free, high quality applications from the Internet.
If you're still using proprietary software such as Microsoft, you may find it difficult to believe that superior alternatives are available at no cost. For an explanation of this and other aspects of Linux, go to the Introduction page.
No installation required
It's not necessary to install Linux to use it. Live CDs can run directly from a CD in RAM memory, and are a convenient way of trying out new systems before choosing one to install. Knoppix is one of the best Live distributions (or distros), and can often be found on the free CDs and DVDs in magazines at your local newsagent. It's also ideal for repairing a broken system, especially broken Microsoft systems after the all-too-frequent 'Blue Screen Of Death'. However, there are better choices for an installed system.
For instructions on obtaining and using a Live CD see here.
Runs fine on laptops, with special versions for netbooks and mobile phones
As always, laptops can be a bit trickier to get going than desktops, but most will run Linux without problems. Dedicated netbook distros are available for these smaller machines; in fact, some netbooks come with Linux already installed, and Linux is already in widespread use on mobile phones, mostly in its Android incarnation.
Runs quickly and reliably on older machines
If you have a reliable older machine that runs Windows too slowly or not at all, there are versions of Linux designed especially for them. About 70% of the worlds Internet servers run Unix or Linux because it is faster, more secure, and more reliable than the Microsoft alternatives. The same secure and efficient code forms the basis of all Linux distros; and because it is highly configurable, distro builders can optimize versions for machines with slower processors, smaller RAM, and smaller hard disks than are needed by more powerful versions. A recommended minimum configuration for running Linux is an 800MHz CPU, 256MB of RAM, and a 10GB Hard Disk, but lower spec'd machines can still be usable with some distros.
Plenty of expert help freely available
At some stage you will probably need assistance, and this is where Linux shines. There are innumerable sources of help freely available on the Internet – documentation, discussion forums, chat rooms etc. All Linux distros have a website, and most have discussion forums where Users can ask questions and get answers from the experts – the people who build, maintain and distribute it – and other Users who volunteer their time out of enthusiasm and a sense of bonhomie. There are even chatrooms where you can get free help in real time. No more hanging on the phone for hours to a foreign country and a weary, less-than-enthusiastic wage slave.
No viruses – that's right, none
This is also why there are no viruses in Linux systems. The moment a virus appeared – and few people have bothered writing them for this reason – a worldwide army of volunteeers would immediately turn to destroying it. Mostly this is done simply out of a sense of pride – no damned hacker is going attack my system and get away with it – but also because Linux programmers are amongst the best in the business, and a note in your CV that you destroyed a virus is a ticket to a well-paid job as a computer security engineer.
Ideal for education
If you or your child are studying IT, Linux is the ideal platform to use. All of the source code – the original files that create it – are freely available for download. No proprietary software vendor will release this – it's the Intellectual Property that they pay huge fees to lawyers to protect. Linux is the operating system used on the One Laptop Per Child Project that is currently distributing free laptop computers to Aboriginal children in Australia.
There are a number of ways of obtaining Linux. The easiest is by buying a magazine with a cover CD/DVD. Downloading a file from the Internet and burning it to disk is the next option. If you have a friend who's a fan of Linux, you'll have little trouble getting a free copy. In Australia, Linux installation disk sets can be purchased from vendors such as those listed here for around $10 to $30.
Linux operating systems come in a wide variety of configurations suitable for all Users, from those with little or no technical knowledge up to industry professionals. (In fact, Linux has largely been written by academics and industry professionals working in their own time.) Each distro comes preconfigured with certain types of User in mind; the popular ones are configured for ease of installation, simplicity of operation and user-friendliness. Others assume that you know what you're doing and need little or no help. See the Installation page for more.
A world of choice
Once your new system is up and running, you have a world of choice at your fingertips. Tired of Firefox? Try Opera, Seamonkey, Konqueror, or a number of other top quality browsers. Interested in music? There are scores of powerful music applications – synthesizers, hard-disk recorders, drum machines, guitar effects. You name it, Linux has it. Keen on astronomy? Celestia is one choice – an amazingly powerful planetarium and space simulator. Need a maths plotting utility for your homework, or a program to draw molecular models for that overdue chemistry assignment? Try gnuplot, chemtool, garlic, or easychem. And if you're into gaming, you'll not only have a huge choice, but the ability to reconfigure and even reprogram your software that no proprietary game can ever offer. See the Applications page for more suggestions.
Links and more links
And any time you're wanting to explore beyond your existing boundaries, there are thousands of Internet sites to browse, explore, and interact with. Go to the Links page for a catalogued hundred or so to get started.