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.

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