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The layman’s guide to Linux

It all began with a dual-boot: in layperson’s terms, the option of choosing either Windows or Linux when your computer starts up. I gingerly pressed the arrow up to highlight Linux, hit Enter — and went down the rabbit-hole into the UNIX world.

The first surprise was the incredibly fast boot-up time. My Linux system fired up in under 30 seconds. No need to pass time painting on French tips while waiting for Windows to wake up!

Linux comes in several varieties or ‘distributions’. Go for the user-friendly Ubuntu (I did), the beautiful Mint, the Windows-lookalike Zorin or even the really tiny Puppy Linux, instead of software engineer specials like Fedora or Debian, or the desperately tricky Arch Linux.

With Windows, we’re used to operating systems being memory-hogs, whereas Linux leaves lots of room to run other stuff. Even brand-new Linux upgrades don’t need a whole lot of extra space and new tech. That means you get to decide when (or whether) you want to change your computer. Dashing out to buy a new computer, simply because Windows announces that it will no longer support its old version? So five minutes ago!

Puppy Linux is perfect for bringing obsolete and unusable computers with tiny amounts of RAM and ancient CPUs into action. In real terms, that means it’ll work on your old college PC with the large boxy CRT monitor (remember those?) just as well as on your sleek new machine.

Oh, and Linux is free. That’s right, you don’t pay a penny for software with Linux — unless you want to donate money to the Linux community. Linux is part of the Open-Source movement, that has a policy of making software available to everyone at no cost. It’s completely legal to download the version of Linux you want from the internet.

You don’t pay for add-ons either. When I downloaded Ubuntu, it came with a bundled Software Center, from which I could install the software I needed or wanted. Clicking on a briefcase icon marked ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ opened a window. Typing in a keyword brought up a list of related software, and clicking on the large box marked ‘Install’ beneath, got me what I wanted!

Customisation is a by-word in Linux — you can tweak Linux to literally create your own personalised version of it. Opening an application makes it pop up in the desktop sidebar. Click on ‘Lock to Launcher’, and pick which applications get to stay in the sidebar for easy access.

As a French teacher, my best find was Verbiste, the offline French verb conjugation tool. As a cooking enthusiast, the Gourmet Recipe Manager was an adorable little perk.

And a must-do: download Wine, which runs Windows stuff on Linux.

Every piece of Microsoft software has a Linux doppelganger. I opened a text document and started typing, as usual… easy-peasy! The good part? The word count and character count appear automatically on the bottom left in the tiny bar at the base of the page, updating with each word I type. Confession: I’ve never liked Times New Roman, somehow. LibreOffice’s Century Schoolbook is much larger, clearer, and just so much more official-looking.

A dash of fun

  • The Linux community has widely adopted a penguin affectionately named ‘Tux’ as the mascot for the Linux kernel

While LibreOffice does the job of MS Office, the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) went above and beyond what my MS Photo Editor could do. To give you an idea, it starts with a dialogue box asking if you want to rotate a photo to get it the right way up, having automatically detected if the photos you’re opening are sideways or upside-down. The GIMP has some pretty sophisticated image manipulating tools. For my part, cropping a picture is super-easy. And turning a photo into a PDF by clicking on ‘Export’ is a piece of cake.

Linux’s internet browser, Firefox, is arguably the Open-Source community’s best (and most popular) contribution to the internet experience. Like almost all Linux software, Firefox is a smooth-running software, and rarely crashes or glitches. Software’s golden principle “of least astonishment” is that a software should do things that are least expected to surprise an unwary user, on which count Firefox scores a ten. In almost five years of browsing on Firefox, I’ve never known it to do weird and inexplicable things.

The best part of my Linux experience? My computer doesn’t crash any more. My exasperated sibling used to reinstall Windows every 3-6 months, when one of us inexpert users would trigger the infamous “blue screen of death” (the blue screen on your monitor which heralds a Windows crash). My current Linux install has been going strong for 3 years. Need I say more?

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