Despite its enormous popularity as an enterprise server powering mission-critical operations at thousands of organizations including the likes of Google, IBM and the Amazon, the Linux operating system has failed to make headway with consumers.
By the way, the NSA snoops on all of us with the help of powerful Linux computers.
Linux’ failure with consumers is largely due to the perception that the computing platform is too complex for average Joes to handle.
Since I’m not much of a believer in conventional wisdom, I set out to find out if Linux was really a hard nut for non-geeks to play with.
Now some of you might be wondering why anyone should care about Linux. Fair enough.
Two of the biggest advantages of Linux are that it’s free and more secure than your Windows computers, which are a favorite target of virus and other malware writers.
After some hands-on research, I’m happy to report that installing and running Linux on your Windows PC is not a big deal.
Provided you know how to do it.
Just in case you’re curious, I conducted my Linux experiment on a PC running Windows Vista Home Premium Edition.
There are multiple flavors (a.k.a. distributions) of Linux. A dizzying array that includes Fedora, Ubuntu, SuSE, Debian, CentOS, RedHat (commercial version of Fedora) and many others.
I chose Fedora to tinker around with since it’s the backbone for RedHat, a Linux distribution popular with medium and large enterprises.
Thousands of organizations in the U.S. and outside have deployed Red Hat Linux systems.
Linux Simple & Cheap
I will now explain how even non-geeks like you can install and play with Linux on your desktop computer without disturbing your existing Windows configurations.
Plus, there’s the added incentive of spending less than a dollar on the whole exercise.
The starter way to play with Linux is to install the operating system on a DVD, not on your computer’s hard disk.
You need a PC with broadband Internet connection and a writable DVD (DVD-RW, or DVD-R), which costs $5 for a pack of 10 at Best Buy or Staples stores in the U.S.
Before you can discover the marvels of the command line (a non-graphical way of interacting with a Linux computer by writing commands), I’d recommend you start with a graphical user interface based Linux.
It’s like dipping your toes in the water to test the temperature before taking the plunge.
I picked the free KDE desktop.
There are other graphical user interfaces for Linux like GNOME. But my understanding is that KDE is the popular one.
Here are the three steps you need to take before you are ready to play with Linux:
1. Go to the Fedora Project web site and download the Live Image of Fedora 19 KDE Plasma Desktop Spin to your Windows PC. If you’re not sure whether your PC is a 32-bit or 64-bit, download the 32-bit version. What you download is known as the ISO image of the Fedora Linux plus KDE user interface.
2. Burn the ISO to a DVD-RW by using a image burning software. If you’re looking for a free one, there’s ImgBurn. Mac owners can burn the ISO to a DVD via the Disk Utility tool without having to download a separate piece of software.
3. After you’ve burned the ISO image to the DVD, place it inside the DVD tray of your Windows PC. Now Boot (restart the computer) with the Linux DVD inside the PC. During the booting process, keep hitting the F12 key on your PC. This will give you the option to boot the computer via the Linux DVD instead of the Windows operating system resident on the hard disk. The PC will boot to the Linux operating system in half a minute.
Voila, you’re now ready to play with Linux.
You can surf the Internet, check your e-mail and do many of the everyday things you’d on a Windows PC.
No need to download separate drivers or change any settings.
The KDE/Fedora Linux software you downloaded includes the Konqueror browser.
Despite the Linux software running off the DVD, I felt it was faster than the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system which was on the hard disk of my PC.
The Linux DVD also contains other useful software like word processor, spreadsheet, personal information manager and some games.
If you follow my instructions carefully, you should be playing with Linux on your PC without disturbing its configurations in any way in less than 60-minutes and spend less than a dollar.
By the way, when the DVD boots up and brings up the Linux desktop on your PC it gives you the option of installing the operating system on your hard drive.
I’d strongly recommend you ignore the suggestion until you get a better feel for Linux and learn more about creating partitions.
Failure to heed my warning might irretrievably mess up your Windows computer and you could end up losing precious files, e-mail, pictures and other data.
Of course, there are some limitations with Linux on the desktop.
There’s just not as many consumer software applications written for Linux as there are for Windows or the Mac.
For instance, I ran into difficulties in finding plugins for the Konqueror browser.
But as more consumers embrace Linux on the desktop there will be more applications and plugins for Linux systems.
I encourage you to give the free Fedora Linux plus KDE a spin.
It won’t cost you much.
Didn’t I say at the outset that it’ll cost you less than a pirated Bollywood or Kollywood DVD. 😉