Answers to commonly asked Linux questions — Linux beginners guide, part 2 [Guide]

This article is part of our ongoing series aimed at teaching the everyday Windows users about Linux, providing reasons to switch, and helping people making the switch.

Last week I gave you a few good reasons as to why you should consider Linux over Windows. Now, before we jump into choosing the discussion of finding the right distribution for you and how to set-up things such as dual booting and installing the system, one would find it very helpful to have a little bit of an understanding of the operation of system and how it works.

Based on common questions about Linux and what the wonderful people who commented in the first article in this series, we composed a list of frequently asked questions to try to help you understand Linux better. So this article aims to explain the very basics of Linux by answering a few commonly asked questions. Read on to learn more.

Linux FAQs

What is Terminal? Do I have to know programming to use Linux? I read a lot about command line.

Have you ever opened Command Prompt in Windows? Terminal in Linux is similar… but better. Terminal offers you a whole different experience than the Command Prompt of Windows. It may sound odd to a Windows users but one will find using text-based commands in Terminal are both faster and easier than graphical tools; for example, the command $ sudo useradd john is faster than clicking on numerous boxes and options to create a new user. Of course, you can avoid Terminal as much as possible if you are really scared of command line but really Terminal is a tool that makes Linux easy-to-use (as odd as that may sound).

To put it simply, you will be using command line a lot in Linux. Don’t worry, it isn’t as hard as it may sound.

What are Linux distributions and why are there so many?

Linux distributions — often referred to as Linux distros — such as openSuse and Ubuntu are both Linux operating systems though they are very different. You see, every operating system has a base, known as the kernel. Much like Windows kernel and Mac kernel, the Linux kernel is the foundation of the system that communicates with the hardware and allocates resources for use by other portions of the system. Linux distributions (e.g. openSuse, Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, etc.) use the Linux kernel but build different customizations on top of it. They are all Linux but the end result is you essentially get a variety of different versions of Linux — and that is the beauty of Linux, if you don’t like one distribution you can switch to another. Think of it like the difference between Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, etc. — they are all Windows but they are different versions of Windows.

I have included a chart below that helps to you understand how the Linux system is organised. As a side note, the chart was made using LibreOffice Draw, a free and open source programme. Even though the chart below is a very simple diagram please, feel free to share, change and redistribute it if you want (with due credit to this article, of course :-)!

Simple explanation of the Linux Layer - Justin Leroux

How good is Linux, you get what you pay for right?

Just because Linux is free doesn’t mean it is not a durable and useable operating environment. There are very brilliant minds that work on Linux; some for free, while others are paid. You may not know it but it is estimated roughly 1/3 of the machines globally run Linux. No, not 1/3 of desktops and laptops but machines in general — many things use an operating system nowadays and Linux is often the one powering it. A multi-billion dollar US Navy ship uses Linux. Many ATMs use Linux. Many websites run on Linux-based servers (dotTech included).

Often free is associated with substandard quality. In the case of Linux, that simply isn’t true.

How do people who work on Linux make money?

Frankly, some of the people working on Linux don’t make money; they do it because they want to. In fact, most of the people that contribute to Linux don’t make money from Linux because they do it as a hobby or passion rather than a day job. However, there are companies and programmers who put food on their table thanks to Linux. How? Well, some companies, such as Canonical who maintains Ubuntu, generate revenue in other ways. For example, they offer (very expensive) support programmes on a subscription basis. Other companies and organizations rely on membership fees or donations to pay programmers to work on Linux.

How can Linux be almost virus free?

As we said before, there are two reasons.

First of all, there simply are less viruses that target Linux because there are less Linux consumer machines (i.e. desktops and laptops) than Windows. It is easier and more profitable for scumbags to infect Windows desktops and laptops than Linux, purely due to size. What compounds this advantage is malicious code written for one Linux distro may not work on another, e.g. Debian systems cannot “attack” a Redhat system. So to attack *all* of Linux with one virus is nearly impossible.

Secondly, because Linux operates very differently. It assess each programme and its function to see what sort of system access the programme or function needs. If the programme requires access to high risk sectors of the system or sensitive user information, Linux will suspend the programme and prompt you to authenticate with the admin (aka sudo or superuser) password. If you don’t authentic, the programme or process is killed. So even if someone wrote a virus for Linux, it will often not function as intended until the virus creator knows your admin password.

I heard Linux is just hard to use and not worth my time. Is that true?

Yes and no.

As mentioned before, if you want to use Linux than you should be willing to get comfortable with command line. Sure, you can use Linux without command line but that is kind of pointless because Terminal is a major part of Linux. For some people, command line strikes terror into their hearts and for them I would say Linux is hard to use. For most people, however, learning a few commands will not cause you cancer and neither will Linux.

Indeed, Linux can be much easier to use than Windows or Mac but because you might have grown up using Windows (or Mac) all your life, you will have adjust to a new way of doing things.

So Linux isn’t so much “hard” as it is “different”.

On the brightside, one thing you will find right away is a HUGE online support network and excellent forums for Linux. If you a have question some one has already asked it, Google or DuckDuckGo are your friends. If you need help let us know, we will be more than happy to try and answer your questions, right here on dotTech!

I heard maintaining a Linux system is a nightmare?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Updating Linux is a piece of cake. Maintaining a Linux operating system is one easiest thing in the world.

You will never need to defragment the hard drive or worry about updating the individual programmes. Because the way Linux is designed, the updater programme will update all of your programmes for you. The only time you will need to reboot after an update is when the kernel itself is updated…  and with Linux’s superfast boot times, you will be rebooted before a Windows users can open Internet Explorer.

And, yes, you did hear right: no more defragmenting your computer! Linux is designed so well that your hard drive is always organised the most efficient way and you will never have to sit for an hour waiting on the system to boot due to an update installation.

What about gaming?

Gaming is where Linux takes somewhat of a hit.

Linux has always been a bit slow in the gaming industry because it’s not the most popular operating system and many developers simply don’t support their games on Linux. Fortunately, this is changing for the better such as Valve releasing a Linux-supported version of Steam. Also, often you can install some Windows-based games on Linux using WINE.

WINE? Alcohol? I’m in!

Whoa there tiger, WINE isn’t alcohol related. WINE stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator and it allows you to run Windows programs and games on Linux. Using WINE, you literally install Windows programs and games on Linux and run them.

Of course, installing the programs or another operating system in Linux is not a simple task and some programs and games simply won’t work using WINE. However, many Windows programs and games do work — so don’t worry, you can run your beloved Internet Explorer 6 in Linux if you want.

Speaking of games, for those interested in running Windows games on Linux, you need to check out PlayOnLinux.

I would to try Linux but I am not sure about dual booting?

In the past, dual booting Windows and Linux was nightmare and it required knowing all about partitioning and disk allocation. However, that is no longer the case. In today’s world, dual booting Windows and Linux is a breeze. In fact many of the Linux distributions such as CentOS, Ubuntu and OpenSuse offer to automatically re-size the Windows partition and take care of all the setup for you. For example, Ubuntu will ask you if want to use the whole disk or install alongside Windows. The process is very easy and fairly risk free — but always backup your documents first. You can even “install” Ubuntu as a program inside Windows using Wubi and easily “uninstall” Ubuntu if you no longer wants it. Yep, it is as easy as installing a program.

And don’t worry, even people with Windows 8 and 8.1 can dual boot with Linux. In fact, they may have a bigger reason to do so. :-)

What about Netflix? I love my Netflix.

Netflix shows its videos and movies using Silverlight. They have made it very clear they wont support Moonlight, the open source Sliverlight that runs on Linux. But don’t worry some very smart people figured out a way to watch Netflix on Linux.

What about my dear Windows programmes? 

This is actually what hurts Linux the most: compatibility.

First of all, I highly recommend new Linux users always dual boot Linux alongside Windows. This way, if you ever have the need to use a Windows program that isn’t on Linux, you can simply boot into Windows and do your thing.

That said, however, whether we like it or not, most of the world uses Windows. So not being able to run Windows programs on Linux is really a big issue. Luckily, many popular Windows programs have Linux versions or compatible Linux alternatives. For those that don’t, as already discussed, we can use WINE. If that still doesn’t work, you can install Windows virtually using VirtualBox in Linux and run Windows whenever you need your specific Windows programs.

However, frankly speaking, you will have to learn to let go of some of your Windows programmes if you want to use Linux. There really is no other way around it.

Parting Note

Now that we covered all of that, in the next article we will help you choose the right distro. Choosing a Linux distribution is like buying a well-tailored suit; when you find the right one, it’s a beautiful thing.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below if you want clarifications or simply want to provide your input; and we will make they are answered and please let us know if you like to see some how to articles on a subject or programme in the future.

Share this post

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

46 comments

  1. DoktorThomas™

    While not the aim of your article, I was happy to learn about NetFlix’s infatuation with SilverLight/MSFT. Another reason, besides bad c-level management, to avoid NetFlix like the plague (that’s bubonic plague for all the non-readers in the faux video-stream era). Some bad designs never seem to die off … just like the Plague. ©2014 All rights reserved.

  2. Emrys

    Any clue? Bleachbit left this….[Errno 13] Permission denied: ‘/root/tmpd3JGMCdHoL0TBn18.ozpoIZXOnSX7PY4kOqxwZ5oC-2kwIMDBcOHdDsxFgjXSM5DqJGpiAYcumXZ61KSMv _Qtulp.iiQBqPBIhQaDBNUr424aUReMDnM3VoSo04Cm9UkO6Sf4PNnFIQVaPgPaHePwbB_1a7UwaEyate3hnfgJWy_9kh3Jd8NAMScTtH6U6nS-OFuRd3wVNrjdBYO0HXs5rR1LqJYC3L2c1rZPxTinA-9PO9srQhrnc9R7F’

  3. Pohanginapete

    [@Justin Leroux] Unfortunately, the current version of GIMP still doesn’t support 16-bit per channel editing. That might not be a big deal for many people, but for anyone serious about processing photographs, it’s a huge disadvantage. (Apparently 16-bit editing will arrive in GIMP version 3.)

    Anyone know if (and how well) Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 5 work in Linux? I know WINE would be necessary.

  4. hadi

    do not worry about grub. in fact, do not worry if you don’t like a way to do a on linux.
    one advantage of linux over Windows (which i think Justin should have added) is that you can do things in various ways and achieve the same result.
    Want an example?
    install grub-customizer, a graphical interface to ajust all of grub settings on a simple UI! you don’t even need to edit a config file or type any text.

  5. Justin Leroux
    Author/

    Grub is installed when you install your Linux distribution and it will automatically find other systems including Windows and offers the choice to boot into them as well. Dual booting will be covered in the next article. Hopefully that helps a little bit David C.

  6. David C.

    [@vandamme]
    Thank you, vandamme, for recommending Grub. Although you make it sound so simple and appealing, everything that I just read about it online makes it sound so confusing and labor intensive, with a great deal of knowledge and various command line statements that’s required. Even if I did get through all of that, there are apparently so many variables that might cause it to not work at all, especially if various Windows OS are located on non-primary hard disks, requiring some of them to be hidden, etc. Ugh!

    Even though I consider myself to be an advanced Windows user, I’m beginning to think that Grub and Linux might not be worth all of the hassle, especially since everything appears to have a steep learning curve, but I will still keep an open mind and wait to see what else I learn from Justin’s Linux articles and other comments.

    I think part of my problem is all of the command lines that you either have to know or you have to find and enter correctly in order to hopefully accomplish what needs done. Although I don’t mind command lines, it’s a huge turn off when you have no clue as to what needs done for your specific tasks.

    To those who enlightened me by explaining that you’re switching to Linux because Microsoft is ending support, thank you. However, please understand that that might be a good reason if you’re using Windows XP, but for those of us who use Windows Vista and/or Windows 7, I don’t see that as another reason to make the switch to Linux, but at least I now understand why so many are interested in making the switch.

  7. Justin Leroux

    Hello everyone,
    Some of you have been posting about wireless issues on some Dell laptops. This is a common problem on some dell models and has to do with broadcom firmware. I will make sure the solution is in the next article or if you cannot wait please email me at justin@peerlinux.org and we will get it going for you.

  8. David C.

    Justin,

    Your Linux articles intrigue me and I love how you’re taking the time to explain everything from a beginner’s viewpoint. However, it would be even better if you put more effort towards proofreading before publishing, but thankfully, it’s not too hard to decipher what you’re trying to say during those minor blunders.

    I think anyone would want the best of anything, and when it comes to operating systems, I know there are those that declare that Macintosh is the best, but then the rest of us say there’s no way were spending that kind of money. Sure, Windows isn’t cheap either, but when people like you adamantly try to convince the world how much better Linux is, I for one want to learn more.

    Since I’ve grown up using all versions of Windows (I’m strongly avoiding Windows 8) and some DOS, I tend to question why Linux would actually be better for me, especially considering that I use so many Windows programs. Sure, Linux is free, the boot speed is unmatched according to your statements, and it’s practically immune from viruses and malware, but if we already have a Windows PC and we’re using free virus and malware protection software, what other reasons should I consider for wanting to make the switch, or to at least dual boot with it? My current thoughts are that maybe Linux would provide a faster and more secure user experience for basic everyday tasks, such as emails and Internet usage, which might be reason enough, but my wife and I are so used to Windows, I’m struggling to consider what other better reasons or advantages there might be. If you understand what I’m trying to say, could you please help us to understand your point of view for wanting to make the switch? Maybe my wife won’t like it so much, but considering she always relies on me for help anyways, I don’t mind learning something new.

    By the way, is it possible to setup a boot sequence that would allow me to choose from Linux, Windows 7, or Windows Vista, or is it only possible to setup a dual boot configuration with two of those operating systems on one PC?

    I’m learning a lot and I look forward to more of your interesting articles. Thank you for your time and expertise.

  9. vandamme

    [@Tom] “butt ugly”?? Are you running LXDE, or Ubuntu and you hate orange?

    I like the simplicity of Mint Cinnamon at work, but at home I have openSUSE with a theme called Steampunk. KDE is slick and polished. The only one I like better (for looks) is Enlightenment, and it’s faster too.

    I just guided my brother (an Apple fan in Holland) through his first Linux install, Lite, and it went OK (more or less). For a beginner I’d stick with Zorin or Ubuntu.

  10. Tom

    I’m a PCLOS user… almost from the beginning. One, non tech comment I have for those thinking of shifting from Win or Mac, is that Linux various desktops, and proggies are “butt ugly”. I’d best describe it as “clunky, for a long past 1990s PC era. Little effort is put into cosmetics. Sure, you can fnd show “show” desktops, but these often involved hours of discovery, and tweaks and the addition of obscure, semi-compatible apps.

    That said, Linux has powerful ways of editing, video manipulation, web-filtering, etc, etc, that either aren’t available on Win/Mac, or would cost quite a lot to acquire.

    If you’re new find a starter distro with a friendly community. Stay well away from the RTFM distros unless you have a confidence to go it alone, or spar daily for assistance.

  11. vandamme

    [@sl0j0n] If you have the room and don’t need to save files, put it on a CD or DVD. There are some that fit on a CD, like Puppy, Lubuntu, Bodhi, and you probably have tons of CDs laying around like I do.

    On a flash drive, the 16 GB would be more than enough. I use 2GB drives, which hold just about any ISO, but not much room for data files.

  12. sl0j0n

    Hello.
    I’m still learning Linux, but I think its great.
    Now, I want to boot from a flash drive, so I can carry my PC in my pocket. [I LOVE that idea.] I’ve got 1 64GB USB2 drive, a couple of 32GB USB2 drives, and 1 16GB USB3 drive [Super Talent DramDisk].
    I think Ubuntu might be the better choice because I may want to boot from almost any ‘ole computer, but I’m not sure about which flash drive would be better.
    Any suggestions?
    TIA

    Have a GREAT day, Neighbors!
    [And thanks bunches for the Linux articles.]

  13. AT

    [@pedro-rafael] GIMP is a very popular editing program. If you add in the plugins and URaw, you can edit RAW files. It is a good alternative to Photoshop, but GIMP is different and some relearning is required. The problem lies with the image editing process and proceedures. Those who started on GIMP or other editing software find the transition to Photoshop easier than those who learn on Photoshop first and then transition to GIMP. Photoshop has made many things automated, whereas GIMP is more hands on.

    Photoshop’s biggest advantage is the shear number of third party plugins available. GIMP has fewer but does support PS plugins as well.

  14. vandamme

    [@hkp] If something doesn’t work, you start with the instructions on the Ubuntu site (read about ndiswrapper driver for your wifi card), then go to the Ubuntuforums.org and search there. Usually many people have already had – and solved – your problem.

  15. vandamme

    [@pedro-rafael] If you just want to edit photos, there are plenty of good editors for Linux. XnView is what my wife uses (pretty simple). DigiKam and ShowFoto come with openSUSE, and I’ve been playing with the filters like in-painting, liquid rescale and local contrast. Perhaps even Ashraf would be amazed by my pictures of Hawai’i. But when I need to do heavy retouching, Gimp is the best. Takes getting used to, though.

  16. Justin Leroux
    Author/

    [@pedro-rafael] There are many different photo editors as I have said and I used to use PaintShop pro too. I will make sure to make an easy guide to all the photo editors. Gimp has gotten better with version 2.8. Having said that Shotwell is a great basic editor.

  17. pedro-rafael

    [@Justin Leroux]
    Thanks Justin. I have tried Gimp three o four times and I do not feel confortable with it. I have used Helicon, PS, Zoner…, and some others, but my heart is with PSP (Jasc). Enough and more for my needs. Is there Gimp the one for Linux. Suppose there will have some…

  18. Justin Leroux
    Author/

    [@hkp] There are some issues in Ubuntu with a few select Dell Laptops. Under the Ubuntu control panel you should find an option showing “Additional Drivers or Restricted Drivers” under that you might find a broadcom driver and if so please enable it and reboot. If not please open a terminal window and run lspci. This will show a list of devices. You can post the results here or e-mail me at justin@peerlinux.org.

  19. Justin Leroux
    Author/

    [@pedro-rafael] That is a good question. There are many great powerful image editors. I personally and professionally use a programme called GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program. It has many of same features of PhotoShop and even more plugins. I use when preforming digital forensics. I will make sure to make a tutorial for GIMP in the future.

  20. BPNelson

    I put Linux on an old laptop so I could experiment with it. I have tried several distros and, to date, have found Mint Cinnamon and Peppermint to be my favorites. I look forward to your next article that will further discuss other
    distros and how to choose the one best for you.

    Linux is a learning process, but then so to is Windows 8.

  21. hkp

    Thank u for this series on Linux…

    I’ve just installed Ubuntu 13.10 with the existing Windows XP on my Dell Inspiron 2200 laptop. (dual boot)

    Unfortunately, I’m UNABLE to establish wireless connection (only ethernet connection works on the Ubuntu!) NO wireless options showing; ONLY ethernet option available…
    Can u please help?!

    (BTW, BOTH wired and wireless connections still work well on the XP side…) Thank you!

  22. Commonkore

    I’m thrilled with this series on Linux. I’ve been curious about Linux for some time and this is a great way to learn some of the basics and I am looking forward to installing this operating system but want to wait until I have the benefit of your very helpful articles. Thanks for for authoring them and thanks to dotTech for the platform for getting this information to us.