The Ultimate Linux FAQ
Objective: A Linux FAQ written to dispel some of the myths behind Linux
Audience: New Linux users, Window Users, Anyone considering Linux as an alternative
What is Linux?
Linux is a popular, freely distributable operating system, and is a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows.
Read the following only if your interested in the history of Linux per whatis.com : Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, was born in Helsinki, Finland, on December 28, 1969. When Linus was ten years old, his grandfather, a statistics professor at University of Helsinki, purchased a Commodore VIC-20 computer. Linus served as an assistant to his grandfather by entering data into his grandfather's "programmable calculator" and, just for fun, taught himself some simple BASIC programs by reading the instruction books that came with the computer. By the time he registered as a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, Linus Torvalds was an accomplished programmer.
In 1991, after taking a course in Unix and C, Torvalds bought his own personal computer (PC). He was unhappy with the operating system that came with the computer (MS-DOS) and decided to write his own. Torvalds became interested in MINIX, a small Unix-like operating system developed for educational purposes by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a Dutch professor who wanted to teach his students the inner workings of a real operating system. Minix was designed to run on Intel 8086 microprocessors and had source code that was readily available for study. Torvalds decided to develop an operating system that exceeded the Minix standards. He called it Linux, a contraction for Linus' Minix.
Linus Torvalds published his code on the Internet under the GNU General Public License, and asked members of the comp.os.minix newsgroup to help him build the operating system we now know as Linux. On August 25, 1991, Linus Torvalds posted this famous message:
Hello everybody out there using minix -
I'm doing a (free) operating system
(just a hobby, won't be big and professional
like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.
Linus Torvalds credits much of the success of his operating system to the Internet and to Richard Stallman's GNU project. Torvalds and his co-developers made use of the system components developed by members of the Free Software Foundation for the GNU project. The open-source philosophy behind the development of Linux, combined with the success of the operating system, has made Linus Torvalds into what can arguably be called a "cult figure." Unlike Windows and other proprietary operating systems, Linux remains publicly open and extendable by contributors. Anyone can use it without charge as long as any improvements they make are not copyrighted and remain freely available. At present, it's estimated that only 2% of Linux code today was written by Linus Torvalds himself.
After spending 10 years as a student and researcher at the University of Helsinki coordinating the development of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds accepted a job with Transmeta, a Silicon Valley start-up company known for its recruitment of high profile talent and its Crusoe chip.
Why should I use Linux?
If you like the maximum amount of control over how your Operating System (OS) works as compared to Windows, Apple, or a Mac and want it for free or very low cost compared to Windows or Apple products then you really should try Linux. It provides the maximum in flexibility and lowest in cost.
How much does it cost?
Well I would first discuss what is cost (seems simple but its not as simple as it seems)? If cost to you is money Linux can be downloaded for free. If cost includes your time (assuming you already understand Linux) and your machines time then the cost is still very low. If cost includes learning time and you know nothing about Linux then it can be costly in your own time to learn and any learning materials you may decide to purchase.
It would be unrealistic to expect to get the most flexible operating system and not have to spend any time or money learning howto use it.
Linux is free... does that mean it is no good?
Linux has had a reputation in some circles as being terse (I learned this work in my Unix class so I had to use it). If you remember or have ever seen a old PC using DOS (Disk Operating System) then you get a glimpse of Linux beginnings and why it was considered difficult to learn and use.
That was then and this is now. Linux still has a command line interface like DOS but also includes several different Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) that are very Windowsish in look and feel and are very easy to use.
So what is open source?
Per whatis.com in general, open source refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. (Historically, the makers of proprietary software have generally not made source code available.) Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available.
Open Source is a certification mark owned by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Developers of software that is intended to be freely shared and possibly improved and redistributed by others can use the Open Source trademark if their distribution terms conform to the OSI's Open Source Definition.
This is beginning to change. As a example Adobe Acrobat Reader now is available for Linux. This is to encourage more people into using the full version of Adobe Acrobat which the company will make money off of.
How many other people use Linux?
Some estimates are as much as 18Million, which is a lot of users! It all comes down the fact that there are millions of people using Linux for servers and PC's around the world. See Linux Counter: Estimates of the number of Linux users for more details on how many people use Linux.
Is it hard to use?
No. Sometimes many 'gurus' teaching new users about Linux make it look harder than it needs to be, and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux, you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features, and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces.
You can learn as much as you wish which will be difficult as it would be on any OS or just the basics to do the other things you want like email, surf the web, word process, etc....
Why are there so many versions of Linux? eg Redhat, Mandrake Suse etc?
Linux is possibly the most flexible OS to date. That means programmers or developers and make add on products for it very quickly and cheaply compared to Windows or Apple. So as individual you may prefer the color purple and I may prefer blue. We can both have it our way. That has spawned a series of distributions or distro's with some trying to make some money off of it in the process.
So some Linux users may choose Gentoo, College Linux, Turbo Linux, Slackware, Debian, SuSE, Redhat, Mandrake and as well as others. It all depends on the personal taste of the user, what the intended used is and the experience level of the user.
Which Version/Distro of Linux is right for me?
This is a good question because there is no "right" Distribution for everyone.
If your new to Linux and want the most support on the Internet (both free and paid for) and the largest number of users, then Redhats got it. If you don't care to follow the crowd but still want a distribution for a new users both SuSE (not free but good right out of the box) or Mandrake which is also good but does have a smaller following then Redhat and less support are both good choices.
This is always subject to change with each release or new version and most importantly is just my opinion. Do some searching and decide for yourself. As distro's change this will all change as well.
On the other distro's I would suggest you wait until you feel you have a handle on Linux before trying them. That is unless you don't mind reinstalling your distro on a regular basis because your trying to learn and don't mind becoming a installation expert in the process. (that was a joke )
The exception would be if you have a close friend thats will to take you slowly through the learning curve which will help you take advantage of many of the benefits of Linux even faster!
Does linux have a GUI like windows?
Yes it does have many different graphical user interfaces or GUI's. The two most widely used are called Gnome and KDE. Like many aspects of Linux it depends on your personal preferences as to which one you use. I suggest you try both of them for a while so even if you become a Gnome Guru, you won't be lost in the desert if you ever have to use KDE. Yes sometimes a GUI may become dysfunctional and can only be fixed by using a different GUI or the command line interface.
Do I have to type everything, can i use my mouse like in windows?
Yes you can use your mouse, track ball, thumb tack or even a glide pad.
Will my hardware work with Linux?
Most hardware today will work with Linux but there are still some issues lurking about. The example that comes to mind is controllerless modems or what is called Winmodems/Linmodems. Even so, there are many websites setup dedicated to helping users with such issues, and have LOADS of advice, tutorials and help with winmodems.
If you really want to know if you hardware device will work with your distribution of Linux then go to the site of the distribution and find the hardware compatibility list. If yours is one there great. If not it doesn't mean your hardware may not work "out of the box".
The other source is Linux Forums like Open Source and Linux Forums getting answers from other users that have used the same distro your working with. These type of web sites will also usually have links to more information on Linux issues that you may want as well so give a shot. They are free!
I heard Linux can only run on old machines, is this true?
Absolutely not true. As I write this I'm on a 2 month old laptop running SuSE 8.2 and have also run Redhat 9.0 and Mandrake 9.1 on the same laptop as well during this time.
Hardware support for computers used to be an issue for all distributions of Linux, but things are improving, and more people than ever are now writing publicly available drivers for Linux!.
I heard Linux is only good for servers, is this true?
Linux is great for all types of servers and good for the desktop user as well. Those that would find it most useful are those looking for a alternative to Windows or Macintosh, developer software platform and those that want to learn about alternative OS's designed by those that thought out side of the box.
Is linux more stable than windows?
This is a good question and if you ask ten experts you get a mix of answers. It depends on how you intend to use Linux, the distrobution, patches updated on a timely basis and administration. Linux is not a fire and forget missile. Like it's competition it still requires updates to be applied in a timely manner. So it can be as more or less stable than Windows depending on if you maintain your system if a timely manner.
There is also one major difference between the two operating systems which is also why Windows seems to be targeted by almost every virus made. Windows allow the use of what is called Macro's by default in all its applications from email to word processor, spreadsheets, databases (all versions of windows), as well as allowing other companies to write programs that can directly access the windows kernel (Windows XP, and all 9x variations).
So the answers which is only my opinion, is yes it is more stable but I would counter that argument with the lack of applications as compared to windows. Even this argument is becoming less absolute as time has passed and the trend continues with more and more windows applications being both windows and Linux friendly.
Can i use the Internet and read my email's with Linux?
Absolutely yes. Which ever browser and email client software you use, will still use the same basic setup configuration as if it were on a windows computer.
Can I put in a CD and listen to music in Linux?
Once again abosolutely yes. Depending on the distrubution you have Linux has several variations of media players that are shipped on the distro CD's as standard.
Is Linux faster than windows?
Linux has 2 major speed advantages over Windows:
1) You can compile software for your machine architecture, allowing software that you are running to take full advantage of your hardware and processor capabilities.
2) Because Linux is such an "open" system, this means that you can make virtually limitless tweaks if you so choose.
That said and done, In the vast majority of cases Linux runs perfectly well "out of the box" without any further tweaking required for speed.
I heard something about using Linux on an Apple Mac? Is this true?
There are a number of distributions able to run on a Mac, including "Yellow Dog Linux", "LinuxPPC" and Fedora now has a PPC port. In theory, and distribution of linux with a PPC port can be installed onto a Mac.
As one user wrote in to say on OS X: "As for OS X itself runs a version of Unix called Darwin. Darwin is a derivative of FreeBSD but they have replaced the kernel with the Mach 3.0 kernel. The Mach 3.0 kernel is a derivative of the BSD4.2 kernel, which the current FreeBSD kernel has been derived from.
In total Mac OS X is a flavour of Unix where in most cases the program just needs to recompiled."
What about games, can i play games in Linux?
Linux has a number of games available, including many popular games such as Quake etc.
With the advent of Wine and Xwine applications that allow Windows applications (including games) to run on top of Linux it could run a lot more games than you could run on a standard Windows machine. Now that's a lot of games.
I use Microsoft Word and Excel, can i use these in Linux?
Just like above you can run your Windows Office software plus your other Windows applications on Linux machines. Usually most people will use "OpenOffice" or "StarOffice", both are alternatives to the Microsoft office package and can open Microsoft Office documents.
Can i use linux without having to wipe my hard drive?
Yes, you can have more than one OS on your computer as I do on my laptop which is what I'm typing this with. The term used is call a Dual Boot PC. You could also consider experimenting with a CD based distribution - Basically a distribution of the linux operating system that can run entirely from a CD.
Can i use Kazaa with Linux?
Yes you can. Although the legal issues over downloading of music is a hot issue this may change my answer in the future but it would effect all OS including Windows. Linux also has many alternative p2p applications, which are easy to use and serve the same function as windows app's such as Kazaa.
Can I run any Windows programs in linux? I heard it was incompatible...
With the advent of Wine and Xwine applications that allow Windows applications (including games) to run on top of Linux it could run be more applications than you could run on a standard Windows machine. Now that's a lot of software.
What if i don't like Linux? Can i remove Linux and get everything back to as it was before?
Short answer is yes. Longer answer is it will not be a click and go back to Windows operation. So before making the plunge in Linux always be sure to backup your data and any applications you don't have on CD. Alternatively, there are many distrobutions which can be run directly from your CD drive, you would not need to modify your existing setup to run them, and if you decide you don't like it, all you have to do is take the CD out of the drive! Knoppix and slackware-live are 2 examples of such CD-ROM based Linux distributions.
Can i get help for Linux if i get stuck?
Yes you can. Many free community sites exist where Linux users come together to support and help one another. An example of such as site is Open Source and Linux Forums. Also, depending on what distribution you have and if you have any support from the developer available to you. Generally the free distributions don't come with any support, expect what is free from their web site only. If you buy your copy of Linux they usually give you limited support for 30 to 60 or so days after you first register it. If you bought it, then use what you paid for before its over. After that you'll need to become aware of the wide and deep Linux support available for free and some for a fee that is available on the Internet. If your patient, the free support will usually get you where you want to go. It may not be overnight or a week but given time most issues can be solved because you are not the first person to encounter the issue you have. That's where the Linux community really comes in and makes all the difference.
If Linux is so great, why don't all my friends use it?
There is what is called a herd mentality. Right now many people follow the herd to Microsoft. For some of them this maybe the right choice. But that's what part of this is really all about ? choice. We don't all have go to MS for all are software needs. Follow the beat of your own drummer.
Where can I get Linux from?
You can purchase it from most retails computer stores, online ecommerce computer sites, download what is called a image file (copy or image of the installation CD's) and burn then changing from a image or iso file to a bootable CD ready for installation. Depending on your installation, you may have more than one ISO file to download from the developers web site. You can also use > Download Linux - LQ ISO as a central locations to many of the major distribtions.
I dont have a CD Writer or am not sure how to do it, can I still get linux?
Yes, several of the major players in the Linux field have CD's that can be bought online or at your local computer store.
I am having a bit of trouble getting some of my hardware to work. What should i do?
Contact your distribution developer if there is any free support left there, if not then search for sites like Open Source and Linux Forums for discussion forums to resolve problems others have most likely had before.
So... I got Linux installed, what now?
You do the same type of stuff you did before you ever discovered Linux except now you actually have more choices for no or low cost. Want to learn how to program (c, java, perl, you name it) then go at it. Want to develop databases, then charge straight to mysql as a starting point. Want to network machines together then look towards Samba Server. Want to do graphics work then head towards Gimp as another starting point. Did someone say webserver, it's only the most popular on the planet so try Apache Server. These are just starting points and there are many applications within each area I mentioned and I didn't even mention all of them.
I have a Question...
No problem! visit Open Source and Linux Forums and ask!
Copyright 2003 flw
This content is copyright of the author, it may NOT be reproduced in any form with out express written permission of the author.
* Netcraft figures removed, expanded a little on linuxcounter.org
* Trimed "Linux is free, does that mean it is no good".
* Spelling corrections.
* Do I need to use that DOS looking stuff just to use Linux for email, surf the net and basic word processing?
* I see it seems like everyone is customizing their Linux. Do I need to do this or can I just leave it as it is?
* What are the basic Linux applications that are used at home and how do I find out how to use them?
* Where do I go for basic information on how to change my wallpaper, sound events, screen savers, icons, renaming file, folders or icons, moving icons around.
* Will my AOL account work? If so how? If not what do I need to do?
* Do I still need a firewall and anti-virus like I did when my PC was running Windows?
* I heard Linux doesnt get viruses? whats that about?
* Are there any Anti-Spam and popup applications for Linux? Where can I find out more about them
* I've read something about a kernel. What is it and why would I want to know?
* Can I play my Quicktime videos, Windows WMA sound or AVI video files, or MP3's? If so how?
* Can I still use my scanner, if so how since there is no Linux install on the CD or web site from the manufacturer what do I do?
* I heard Linux does play well with wireless devices from internal network cards (pcmcia, PCI, and integrated on system board). Is this true and if so what can I do to get it to work?
* The computer guy at work told be to stay away from Linux because its only for advanced IT people and takes years before you can really do anything with it. What the scoop?