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Monday
Feb132017

Linux has FINALLY Grown Up

Before you start wondering WTF the MacTexan is doing talking about Linux, let me ask you a couple of questions first. 

  • Do you have an old computer lying around that’s just too slow or otherwise too out of date to run Windows?
  • Have you ever questioned why you keep forking money over to Microsoft?
  • Would you like a very stable computer that doesn’t require antivirus software and who’s operating system includes everything you need right out of the box?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these questions then I highly recommend you download your Linux distro of choice and get busy. In a couple of hours, you’ll have a mature, polished operating system installed complete with a photo editor, music and movie player and a complete office suite.

A couple years ago I wouldn’t make that recommendation, but there are now three or four Linux distributions I would feel comfortable installing for my parents. They are that stable and that user-friendly. OK, OK. Why does the MacTexan recommend Linux? Three reasons:

  1. It’s good.
  2. It's based on UNIX.
  3. It's FREE!

Before you start swearing, I still believe macOS is the best desktop operating system in the world, but let’s face it, the rather expensive cost of entry is beyond what many are either willing or able to pay. Even if you already own a Mac, having a second computer in the home is handy and becoming more frequent than not. If you are a Mac geek (like myself), then setting up and using a Linux machine is a snap. Since both OSs are based on a UNIX variant, their terminal commands are 90% identical. There’s even a Linux distribution called Elementary who’s GUI is so similar to macOS you have to look closely to distinguish the two. So, even if you are a Mac geek, that doesn’t mean tech must originate in Cupertino to be cool. Linux has been cool for some time, but you needed to be a command-line wizard to make it work properly. While I must admit to spending quite a bit of time in the Linux terminal, it’s by choice, not necessity. For the most part, today’s popular Linux distributions simply install and run.

 

Ubuntu is by far the most popular Linux distribution and that’s important if you like to customize the GUI and task the machine for more than typical desktop use. You see, unlike commercial operating systems, Linux distributions are open-source. That means the OS is developed and maintained by its users or its “community”. The more popular an open-source project is, the more people develop software for it and the more people are available for support. I’ve never run into a question about Ubuntu I couldn’t answer quickly with a simple Google search that points me to one of the many hundreds of Linux forums where my question is being discussed.

My favorite Linux distro (Linux bit-weenie shorthand for “distribution”) is an Ubuntu variant called Ubuntu Mate. If you’re a competent Windows XP or Windows 7 user, Ubuntu Mate is a slam dunk. If you have an old Windows XP or Windows 7 machine sitting in a closet somewhere that, like most old Windows computers, got so slow over time as to become unusable, then Ubuntu Mate can breathe life back into it and make it a very functional computer again. Mate is designed from the ground up to be “lean and mean”. If you have a ten-year-old Pentium or Core Duo computer that will barely boot Windows XP, I guarantee Ubuntu Mate will make the old machine sing again. Also, Mate’s GUI is so Windows-like you will be immediately proficient.

All the above-mentioned Linux distributions come with everything you need to be productive as soon as you finish installing them. All include a web browser, photo editor, music and movie player, an email application and a complete office suite that both reads and saves files in MS Office formats. If you need more, there are tens of thousands of open-source software titles available for free download. Some are names you’re familiar with like Firefox, Chrome, VLC, Dropbox and Skype to name a few.

All Linux operating systems are more secure than Windows for a couple of reasons. First, their kernels are based on UNIX, built from the ground up with security in mind. Second is the “security by obscurity” model. Simply put, there are so few Linux computers compared to those running Windows that the bad guys don’t spend much time trying to exploit them. I’ve been running an Ubuntu machine on my home network for over ten years. I’ve never installed antivirus software and the machine has never been compromised. Of course, your results may vary.

I’m a long way from calling 2017 “the year of the Linux desktop”, (lots of geeks have made idiots of themselves with that pronouncement) but I do think it’s time for “normal” computer users to give Linux a try. I won’t go so far to say you should wipe your Mac or Windows machine (well, maybe Windows) and replace its OS with Linux. But, it is a shame to let an older PC or laptop languish unused in the back of a closet or in a junk drawer when all it takes is an hour of your time to revitalize it. Yes, unless the old machine has physical problems, there is definitely a Linux distro that will turn it into a like-new machine. That’s been true for some years now. Today, the difference is you don’t have to be a geek to make it work.

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