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Getting Started With Linux: A Beginner’s Guide

Linux is a powerful open source program. Are you ready to get started?

Linux is a powerful open source program. Are you ready to get started?

Thinking about switching to Linux? Well, chances are, you're already using it in some form. While Linux is often thought of as a niche OS, in reality, it's everywhere you look. Indeed, you'll find it in everything from cars, to phones, supercomputers, and refrigerators. It also runs much of the internet (around 60-70%) and even much of the world's stock exchanges.

But Linux also provides some of the most reliable operating systems (OS) for desktops and laptops. And here, you'll find all the information you need to start using Linux on your personal computer.

What Is Linux?

The term Linux does not refer to a single OS but a family of Unix-like systems based on the Linux kernel. These distributions or 'distros' of Linux number in the hundreds, if not thousands. That's because, due to the open-source nature of Linux, anyone with enough skill can use, edit, modify and redistribute the system to their liking.

As a result, there are many different flavors of Linux to try, each packaged with its own tools and applications. But don't fret—we will guide you through picking the right distro for you later. For now, though, let's look at why you might want to switch to Linux in the first place.

Why Use Linux?

Reason #1: It Works Well on Older Hardware

Most Linux distros are lightweight when compared to Windows or Mac OS. In other words, they don't require as much CPU or memory to run. As a result, they tend to run well on older hardware that may struggle with other operating systems.

Some Linux distros like antiX Linux or Tiny Core are even more lightweight and can run on some truly ancient hardware. So, if you've got an old laptop lying about gathering dust because it can't run anything past Windows 10, Linux might bring it back to life.

Reason #2: Flexible and Customizable Interface

If the idea of configuring and customizing the look of your operating system, then Linux will be to your liking. That's because while Windows limits you to a single user interface, Linux lets you choose from a multitude of options. Indeed, everything from your icons and your panel to your dock launcher can be tweaked to meet your needs.

Reason #3: Security

With strong encryption features and security options as standard, Linux is a fantastic option for those looking to keep their system and data safe. And the focus on security means that only the most specialized users need to bother with anti-virus software. That is not to say that Linux is invulnerable to attack. But for the most part, all you need to worry about is keeping your system updated.

Reason #4: It Is Open Source

There is another, more ideological reason people choose Linux: It's open source. But what does open source mean? Contrary to what you may have heard, it does not necessarily mean it is free (though most Linux distros are). What it means is that the underlying code can be viewed, shared, modified, redistributed, and used for any purpose.

What this means in practical terms is that, unlike with proprietary software, you do not have to worry about a company going bust and taking all of your data with them. It also means that it is much less likely that your computing activity gets recorded or influenced to advance someone else's interests. And because most Linux distros are free, they've become a popular choice for charities, developing nations, and schools.

Reason #5: It Is Easy to Use

One misconception that puts people off Linux is that you must be tech-savvy to use the system. But today, this could not be further from the truth. Contrary to what you may have heard, you do not have to be an expert-level hacker or master the command line to use Linux. Instead, you'll find that most distros today are user-friendly.

No, you don't need to be a hacker to use Linux

No, you don't need to be a hacker to use Linux

Picking Which Linux Distro Is Right for You

As mentioned before, the modern user has a plethora of different Linux distributions to choose from. But this begs the question: Which one is right for you?

The truth is that most new Linux users will inevitably find themselves trying a few different distros before finding the one that is perfect for them. Nonetheless, here are a few questions worth considering when deciding where to start with Linux.

1. What Support Is Offered?

Most Linux distributions you'll come across today have active communities online who are often willing to help if you run into any issues with your chosen OS. Many also have documentation and manuals to help you set up and navigate the system. However, this isn't always the case, so it is always worth checking if a distro has an active community and guides if you suspect you will need them.

2. Does It Meet Your Specific Needs?

Many Linux distros come with their own unique features, software, or quirks. Furthermore, many distros cater to a specific field or users. For example, Kali is specifically catered toward security research and hacker culture. Meanwhile, Red Hat is designed more for businesses rather than individual users.

3. Is It User Friendly?

As mentioned, most distros today are easy to set up and use. And the likes of Ubuntu, Fedora, and Linux Mint won't take the average user long to get set up with. Other distributions like Linux Lite are even more user-friendly still.

On the other hand, those looking for a more hands-on approach with their OS might prefer something more UNIX-like like Arch. And while this certainly isn't recommended for beginners, jumping into the deep end with Linux can be a great way to learn more about how Linux and other Unix-like systems work.

How to Install Linux

Step 1: Download Your Chosen Distribution

Once you've chosen which Linux distro you are going to use, the next step is to head to their website. From there, you will need to download the ISO image you'll need. Once downloaded, you can burn that image to either a USB or DVD. Do note that booting from USB is much faster these days. Also, if you plan on running your OS on a laptop, it may be your only option since most modern laptops no longer come with a DVD driver.

Burning an ISO image to a USB will require a specialized program such as Rufus or UNetbootin or Universal USB Installer (your distro may recommend a specific program). The actual process is straightforward—simply download the software and follow the instructions.

Step 2: Boot Linux

Whether you install your ISO image onto a USB or DVD, the next step is to boot your new system. To do this, you will need to restart your computer with the USB or DVD inserted. From there, your Linux OS should automatically boot. If not, you will likely need to enter your UEFI or BIOS (typically done by hitting the Del or F12 key during startup) to change your boot order or boot manually. Be aware that you may also need to disable secure boot from here as well.

Once you've booted Linux, you will likely be able to try it out in a "live" environment. What this means is that the OS will run entirely from your USB or disc without needing to install it on your hard drive. Running Linux this way can be a great way to get a feel for your chosen distro, without committing to installing it on your hard drive.

Step 3: Install Linux to Your Hard Drive

If you wish, you can leave your new OS on your USB or disc to boot up whenever you fancy playing around with it. But if you want Linux to remember your settings, files, and downloaded software, you'll want to install the OS. Thankfully, doing so is easy to do on most distros.

To install Linux, launch the installer provided within the live Linux environment. From there, you will have a few options to choose from. You can either replace your current OS with Linux or install it with a dual-boot configuration.

Final Thoughts

While there's a lot to learn if you want to master Linux, it has never been easier for new users to get started using the OS. So, if you are looking for more customization, freedom, or security from your operating system, it might be time to find the right distro for you today.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Mike Grindle