Why Linux is now a good choice.
I've been a Windows user since Windows 95, and I still own a Windows machine. Windows 7 is great, and if you're a gamer then Windows is the Operating System for you. If however you are like most people and use your system for downloading music or films, browsing the internet, writing letters or books, keeping a database of things or simply watching films or listening to music then Linux could easily replace Windows.
First question, why would I want to replace Windows? Perhaps it crashes constantly for you? Perhaps your computer has been ruined by a virus? Perhaps you just want to break free from Microsoft and save yourself some of your hard earned money. Either way, Linux is now at a place where it will make brilliant alternative to Windows, and this article will hopefully answer some of your questions that you may have regarding Operating System in general.
To many, it is perceived that Microsoft Windows is the only thing that works on computers. This a serious misconception and one that needs to be brought to the attention of the World. Windows is just something that lets you use your computer, you can do the same on a Linux system, only it doesn't cost you anything and once you pick up the basics, it's simple!
So, is Linux just a different version of Windows? No, it's different, it allows you to do the same things, but as I will show you soon, it's much more versatile than the Windows software you know and love.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, there are only a few things that most people really do on their computers, so I will now look at each of these and show you how and why the Linux alternative is generally the better option.
There are many different versions of Linux, but this article will deal with the most popular and one of the easiest to use called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is now at version 11.04 and overall the Ubuntu experience should be as smooth as using a Windows machine, but without the cost and the threat of virus etc. (more on that soon).
Browsing the internet.
The one thing that everyone does is browse the internet. On Windows you will have a version of Internet Explorer, plus many people download free alternative browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome. Also, they recommend that while using the internet you use an anti-virus program to stop your Windows machine becoming infected, plus anti-spyware and firewall software.
This is where the Ubuntu Linux experience is far better than anything Windows can offer. Ubuntu comes with Firefox 4 built in as standard, and the difference in speed between this build and the Windows build is quite phenomenal, Ubuntu's Firefox 4 just flies along at an unbelievable pace. Of course you can also download Ubuntu versions of Opera and Google Chrome, plus a whole host of other browsers.
One thing that is different in Linux in general is that there is no need for any anti-virus! Because of the way the Operating System is built, Virus' are almost unheard of in Linux, and as such it is perfectly safe not to use one, it's also safe not to use anti-spyware and the option of using a Firewall program is up to you. This all means for the end user that no computer resources are being used elsewhere, so even on the oldest computers Linux is stupidly fast!
Those concerned about watching Youtube or streaming music can also be assured that Ubuntu comes with all the codecs needed to allow you to do all this hassle free. Youtube is smooth and fast when on full-screen, even on the lowest spec computers, and you can stream any kind of music file (whatever a radio station uses etc.) with ease.
Recommended Browsers: Firefox 5, Chromium or Opera
Downloading Music or Films.
Again, just as simple in Ubuntu as it is in Windows. If you're a fan of bit torrents then Ubuntu comes with Transmission, a great little torrent client that allows you to manage your torrent downloads.
Downloading paid for music or films can be done via the Amazon store on Banshee music player. There is no iTunes in Linux, so if you're a user of iTunes, Amazon Store is your new shopping place. Also of note, if you have an iPod, Banshee will be your new friend, and the software is much better than iTunes. When you first plug in your iPod you can rip the tracks off the machine and Banshee will transfer them to your computers hard drive. Quick and simple!
Recommended Download Software: Transmission
Writing Letters and Office Work.
Many people get caught in the trap thinking that they have to use Microsoft Office or Word etc. This is one of Microsoft's biggest sellers, and they'd have you believe they are something a bit special. Well, look no further than Libre Office which is bundled with Ubuntu (or Open Office on older versions – essentially the same program). It is a fully compatible software suite that includes writing, database, power-point and excel functions, and look almost identical to them.
Libre Office can read and write .docx files that the new version of Word uses. I have used the software in a work environment and shared with Microsoft users and they have never been aware I'm using different software. So many people get duped into buying Microsoft's Office programs, when there is a perfectly good free version out there.
If you use Outlook then Ubuntu comes with Evolution which looks and acts very similar to it. It's a great program that gets better with every release. In a lot of ways I prefer it to Outlook, it's faster, it's less cluttered and it just works when you need it to!
Recommended Software: Libre Office 3.x, Open Office 3.x or Abiword
Listening to music or watching films.
Everyone has their favourite program for listening to music or watching films on their PC. Ubuntu comes with Banshee for listening to music and Totem Movie Player for watching films. Both do a brilliant job of this, and Banshee is one of the best music management programs I have ever used.
Also of course there is VLC which can be downloaded. A favourite of many Windows users, the Ubuntu Linux version of VLC is perfect for your audio and visual needs. The cream of the crop though is the new UMPlayer. This little program plays anything you throw at it, it's super quick and is one of the slickest pieces of software you will ever use. I have written a full review of it on my blog for those of you interested in it.
Recommended Media Software: UMPlayer, Banshee 2, Totem Movie Player or VLC
Art and photograph viewing.
We'd all like to own Photoshop but it's damn expensive. We have all used Paint and now how primitive that is. Some of us have discovered the delights of Photfiltre, but sadly not enough of us. So that's the Windows side of things, but Ubuntu has a whole wealth of visual manipulation goodies that just work and are free!
Gimp is program similar to Photoshop. Many people say it's as good as Photoshop, but of course it's free and constantly updated so in my books that swings it for me! Gimp can be as complicated or easy as you want to make it, and once you get used to the way it works, it really is a cool piece of software.
For viewing your photos there is Shotwell, which is a great viewer program. And of course there is much much more...
Recommended Software: Gimp and Shotwell
And there's more...
The one thing that confuses many Windows users is where to download new software. A lot of time you can download free-trials, a lot of time the free downloads are limited use and of course there is always the threat of malicious software giving you a virus or spying on your every move.
Ubuntu has a download centre where almost every piece of software available for it is listen. It is all categorised to make it simple for you to find what you need. What's more 99.9% of the software is perfectly free and available for full use with no constraints. Think of it as an online shop, where everything can be viewed before you download, and with just one click it will be downloaded and installed on your PC.
It's not just that everything is free, it's that everything gets updated on a regular basis and each and every program you download has been tested by people who enjoy using computers as much as you.
You know when you want to use a printer with your Windows machine, you plug it in and it doesn't work. You then have to find the driver that allows it to work, and if you're using a Windows 7 machine it's really hard to find the driver that lets your printer work. Well, in Ubuntu Linux there are no drivers... you plug in your printer or camera or wi-fi stick etc and it just works.
In fact, the saying I like to use when talking to people about Linux in general is “it just works”, because it does. As I said, if you're a gamer then stick to your Windows, but if it's something else you are after the Linux is something you really should consider.
14 May 2011.
[Updated June 23 2011]