Inspired by ever increasing publicity and debate I’ve decided to write a post on Linux Operating Systems and Free Open Source Software (FOSS).
For the uninitiated, the Linux Kernel is a bit of code at the heart of any Linux system, be it Ubuntu (a popular desktop Operating System), Android (Google’s mobile phone Operating System) or what runs inside everday gadgets (like this)
The Kernel is like the foundation Lego brick that any Linux system uses at it’s core. That’s why Linux can look and feel different depending on it’s release. It could look like a mobile phone, it could be a media player or games console, or it could be an Operating System a little like Apple’s OSX or Microsoft Windows.
Here’s a few things that make Linux and FOSS different from OSX and Windows:
- It is free (“as in beer” / £0)
- It is free (“as in freedom” – I’ll explain further in a moment)
- It’s stable (Nasa/Google/NSA etc all rely on it)
- All the code is “open” to explore and change
- The transparency/openness breeds trust.
- Don’t like it? Change it! (Wikipedia model)
- And finally – Microsoft are criminal – just look at the fines
To give a little added insight – the first mentioning of the term free means just that – it costs nothing. Although this does not apply to all FOSS products it is common throughout Linux OSes and FOSS. “How do the companies/programmers make their money?” you may ask – well, it’s usually through services (such as support) rather than the product (the software).
The second mention of being free refers to freedom. Those behind FOSS wanted to allow things to flurish in the open and they knew that keeping ties on how this would happen hindered that development. The result is a vast array of different people trying to achieve frequently similar aims. They can do this together by joining Open Source projects or they can take different routes like the major desktop interfaces, KDE and Gnome. Those two do roughly the same job but in different ways. This gives the user total freedom to choose and the choices often seem endless.
But, as with everything that has quality to it – the critics rave, people on the internet catch on and in no time at all – it’s a hit
For most people – this is the entry point for using Linux OSes or FOSS. If there enough other people using it you can get answers to questions in Forums or on official support sites and, hey “that many people can’t be wrong” has some truth to it.
To dip your toes in to FOSS as a Mac or Windows user try the following:
Open Office – If you have used Microsoft Office before (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) this software is deisgned for the same purpose – word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows and so on. It will save to open formats like .odf as well as being able to save as or open .doc files (as created by Microsoft Word). If you have ever felt the need to pirate MS Office just to open and work with files, here’s your opportunity to try a different approach.
Firefox – I’m guessing you’ve already heard of this high flyer. Firefox is one of the most highly used web browsers on the internet today and it’s all open source. It is easily expandable through the use of add-ons – which, are more simple to create as developers have access to as much or little of the open source code as they would like. Thanks to it’s transparent code it has also seen development of better security at it’s core than closed rival Internet Explorer. This has come in the form of companies and individuals all providing feedback when they noticed something in the code that could be improved.
7-Zip – When you receive a compressed file you need to decompress it. Windows has a program built in to Vista and Windows 7 that does this for you sometimes. Well getting a copy of 7-zip lets you open and create compressed files of all types! Finally you can have one great application that you know will handle all variations of compressed file.
VLC - This is an all-round video and media player. As with Open Office and 7-zip the power of this application comes with it’s ability to play all manor of file types without the need for additional codecs. VLC is soon to be releasing a video editor as well, building on the success of it’s media player.
For the more adventurous among you I can suggest 3 ways to try out Linux based Operating Systems.
Wubi - It’s an acronym for Windows Ubuntu Installer (you’ll find a lot of acronyms used as FOSS names) and with it you can install a copy of Ubuntu alongside your Windows installation with the same ease as installing any Windows application. This has to be the easiest way to try Ubuntu (or any Linux OS).
LiveUSB / LiveCD – Simply put this is an install disk which can sit on either a CD or a USB stick. But it’s more than that! You can also try the whole Operating System before you install it So, to achieve this just grab a recordable CD or a USB stick and use the appropriate link in the title of this paragraph. The USB link will take you to a program called LinuxLiveUSB – this manages the process of putting a LiveOS of your choice. I’d recommend Jolicloud/Ubuntu/Fedora/Mint from it’s list of options as they are great for beginners to get going. If instead you don’t have a USB stick click any of the following to get the .iso file (this is a CD Image ready to burn to disc) Jolicloud, Ubuntu, Fedora or Mint – please note that if you use the Mint link you’ll need to click on a link in the list of “Mirrors”. The Live method should let you get started with the Operating System as a whole, although if you would like to make certain changes and then come back to those changes when the machine is rebooted look for the “persistence” options. Jolicloud / LinuxLiveUSB and Wubi should offer simple set up of this.
Virtualisation -Virtualisation refers to the ability to install an Operating System within a virtual environment that replicates a normal install. Think of it as a testing environment which is like a spare machine you have lying around. The only difference is the spare machine is a program on your current Operating System – in this case we’re using Virtualbox. This allows people to try one or more versions of different Operating Systems and figure out the pros and cons without having to continually reboot. The virtual environment will be accessible inside your current OS! If you have ever seen a Mac user using Windows inside their MacOS then this was how it was done. Just as with the LiveCD option you will need a .iso once you have Virtualbox installed, so go ahead and use of those above links to download that file and install it in your new virtual environment.
I’m going to end this post here but stay tuned and I will continue from where I’ve left of and provide more news of where Linux and FOSS is going next.
Thanks for reading this far – now get back to work!