from Otter's Holt
I know it's cliche at this point, Linux seems daunting as a platform, but please hear me out when I say it's so much better in the modern day opposed to how it was 10-20 years ago.
Sure, the Year of The Linux Desktop is almost a meme within the Linux community at this point, but with each year that goes by, that question cements itself further into my mind: “Why isn't it a much more popular platform?“.
The obvious answer here is that Windows and Mac OS X both have their place as the operating systems nobody feels the need to replace or even know that they can replace at all. That's completely understandable, it's unrealistic to expect everyone to know these types of things when your computer is looked at more as a tool you just use for browsing Facebook or word processing.
But, if you're one of those people that consider yourself even slightly tech savvy (and I mean even in the slightest), then it might be worth a shot, even if it's running off of a spare hard drive or a small 4GB USB stick. We're getting to a point now where it's no harm to give it a shot, even without making changes to your current system.
What Even is a Linux, Anyway?
Chances are you're running either Windows or Mac OS X if you're asking this question. Linux is basically what those are, a low-level program responsible for being the intermediary between your hardware and programs you intend to run (software).
There's a catch, though (depending on how you look at it) – Linux, while not pre-installed on nearly as many devices as Microsoft and Apple's OSs, is completely free, ditching the requirement to pay £120 to Microsoft or drop several thousands on a device that runs Mac OS X.
It might seem impossible for an entire OS to be free, but Linux is part of what we call 'Free and Open Source Software' (FOSS), which is self-explanatory. FOSS is free and the source code (the lines of code that make it up) are available for anyone to see or modify should they deem it appropriate.
Despite the premise of creating software for free without any type of guaranteed financial gain or support may seem unrealistic at first, if Linus Torvalds created an entire kernel without even expecting a penny in return (as well as a variety of other developers on smaller or similar scale), I'm sure the argument of the only motivator being financial gain is a bit of a flawed one.
Before I go any further, I must clarify one thing. Linux isn't an Operating System per-say, it's what we call a Kernel. A kernel is a piece of software that sits between applications and your physical device hardware, acting as line of communication between the two.
When I mention Linux as an operating system, I mean the large variety of operating systems known as “Linux Distributions”, which contain the Linux kernel but offer their own sets of software or intended use-cases. If the names Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint or – let's not forget – Android ring any bells, these are examples of operating systems which utilise the Linux kernel (albeit modified).
A few popular desktop Linux distributions I can name off of the top of my head are
- Linux Mint
- Arch Linux (Not recommended for new users)
A few of these distributions share similarities. For example, Ubuntu is based on Debian. But Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. Manjaro
and Antergos are is based on Arch Linux and aims to make a pretty rough distribution really easy for new users.
Confusing, I know, but this is all based on the fundamental core of what Linux (and FOSS as a whole) stands for. Anyone and ANYONE can modify, change and redistribute other Linux distributions (or even make their own: Linux From Scratch (Seriously, this is advanced level stuff that not even a majority of Linux users will probably ever attempt))
Don't feel embarrassed about what distribution you pick, in reality distribution does NOT matter.
(unless you choose a highly specialised distribution such as Kali Linux, which is intended to not be used as a daily driver)
Linux is a bit of a shaky subject and it's a lot to go through, so I think I'll link you to someone who explains Linux very well: Anthony from Linus Tech Tips.
This video goes over Linux Gaming, but overall I feel like benefits to gaming translate pretty well to general usability.
If you're not ready to take the plunge yet, remember Linux distributions are often able to be installed directly onto USB drives or external hard drives as if they were your primary boot device. Just select the device as a boot drive when starting up your system.
When you're ready go back to Windows or Mac OS X, shut down completely, remove the device and start up again. (If you selected the drive from a boot device selector when you first booted, you won't even need to unplug it, just reboot.)
I hope this convinces you to give Linux a shot. Personally, I feel like the Year of the Linux Desktop phrase is due to become less of a meme and more of a legitimate claim.
All the best, -Matt, OtterGauze