First Steps with Linux
Welcome to the wonderful world of Linux. You’ll embrace a plethora of free open source software, with more choices than you could possibly imagine. There are hundreds of actively-maintained Linux distributions, dozens of different desktop environments, and tens of thousands of open source applications covering the whole gamut: games, multimedia and graphics tools, internet apps, utilities, development environments, and much more. Linux offers an adventure so far removed from the straight-jacket world of Windows. This choice can be bamboozling to the newcomer. So we’ve produced four videos which offer a gentle introduction to the new world.
Linux Distributions (“Distros”)
A typical desktop Linux distribution consists of various software components including the Linux kernel, a broad collection of programming tools produced by the GNU Project, a graphical server, and other free and open source software.
Some distributions have paid extra attention to making a beginner’s journey into the world of Linux a more seamless transition. This can be achieved by providing extensive documentation and easy installation and set up, eye candy, configuration of the desktop to give a Windows look and feel, and good hardware detection.
Other distros are better suited for intermediate or advanced users. They rely less on graphical configuration tools or easy installation routines.
Distributions designed for the desktop typical offer a friendly graphical interface, and a common set of applications, for installation at home on a regular PC or laptop, whereas server editions are predominately used in a business environment, often being accompanied by a support contract charged at commercial rates.
Choose and Download a Linux Distro
The first step is to choose the Linux distribution you’ll want to use. But don’t waste too much time here. The choice of which distro to use is largely dictated by personal preference – what best fits your needs and objectives. And you’ll only decide for yourself which one(s) best fits your requirements. So it’s best to dabble wth a few distributions.
But here’s a few pointers. If you have never used Linux before, you probably want to choose a distro which has a simple but polished installation, which installs and configures applications using a slick graphical interface. Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, and Debian are popular choices among newcomers. Your desktop environment should come with common elements, such as a taskbar/dock, an application menu and a system tray. There’ll be a collection of system utilities which help you configure the system to your needs. Linux distributions are listed at LinuxLinks.com.
Fortunately, it’s easy to experiment with Linux without affecting your current operating system. The video below illustrates how to write Linux distributions to USB drives. There’s a really simple cross-platform open source utility perfect for this task. It’s called Etcher.
With Linux written to the USB drive, you can then boot your system and take your first steps with Linux. This method allows you to experiment with Linux in a “live” environment. This means the operating system doesn’t need to be installed to your PC’s hard disk. If it doesn’t boot, change your BIOS or UEFI firmware boot order, or select a boot device during the boot process.
Once you’re ready to commit to Linux, you can install Linux to your hard disk. You may want to remove your existing operating system and replace it with Linux. But many users opt for a “dual-boot” configuration, where Linux and Windows reside in separate partitions on their hard drive. You then decide which operating system to start up when you boot your computer.
Another Way of Exploring Linux – Virtualization
If a “dual-boot” configuration seems a little daunting to start with, there is another option. With open source virtualization tools like VirtualBox, you can run multiple virtual machines (VMs). They offer a slick way to run different operating systems on a single PC at the same time. What better way to try out different Linux distributions, and this method doesn’t disturb your current operating system.
The video below introduces you to VirtualBox, taking you step-by-step through the process of downloading and installing VirtualBox, and then moving on to creating a virtual machine on Windows to make a virtual environment to run Ubuntu without putting your Windows operating system in any peril.
It’s easy to clone virtual machines, to share information between Windows and Linux, and much more.
VirtualBox Guest Additions
Virtualization can add a performance overhead, although its effect is diminished if your processor has virtualization support built-in. The VirtualBox Guest Additions offers a useful way to enhance the integration between host and guest systems and improving the interactive performance of guest systems. Better video performance, support for shared folders and seamless windows are just a few of the advantages.
This video shows how to install VirtualBox Guest Additions with Windows 10 as the host system and Ubuntu 17.10 as the guest system, highlighting a few idiosyncrasies on the way.
Install More Applications
Most Windows applications are installed by using a web browser, visiting the developer’s web site, and downloading the application. Linux offers a centralized way to install software, using a software store application. In Ubuntu, this application is called, unimaginatively, “Software”. Ubuntu, like other distributions, offers its own software repositories. The repositories provide software that has been compiled and tested with the distribution in mind. Think of the software store application has an app store, like Google Play.
But variety is the spice of life. And that concept certainly applies to Linux. There’s lots of other ways to install software outside of a software store application.
The next video provides a gentle introduction to software installation in Linux. First, it offers a brief glimpse into Ubuntu’s software store application. It then proceeds to show you how to install an application at a command line. And the video closes by revealing a few quirks with the Ubuntu distribution when installing applications using the Synaptic package manager.
If you’ve no experience with Linux, it’s best to cut your teeth with the software store application or a package manager. But learning how to install applications from the command line is a very useful skill. It offers a very efficient way of installing lots of packages with a single command. And if an installation doesn’t proceed normally using a graphical interface, the command line helps to determine what the underlying issue is.
There are some heavyweight applications which have to be installed outside a distribution’s package manager. And there are plenty of proprietary software; Google Chrome and Spotify are a couple of examples. With proprietary software it’s often necessary to download it from the developer’s official website, but you’ll need to check the program you download works with the distribution you are using.
And there’s tens of thousands of open source applications, tools, and libraries where there’s no specific package for the distribution you use. In this situation you can compile the source code. While this can be a daunting exercise for a newcomer to Linux, it’s definitely worth learning the process. For example, there’s tons of useful software that can be downloaded on GitHub, a popular Web-based Git version control repository hosting service. I’ll cover compiling software in a forthcoming video.
Have fun with Linux. Please share your experiences in the comments section below.