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No, Linux is not a comic strip character


Netbooks galore - some netbooks are shipped with Linux-based operating systems
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

You've heard of it, maybe even seen laptops or netbooks at the store that are running it, but you're not quite sure what to make of Linux-based operating systems or if you should even bother learning more about them.

If you haven't taken a serious look at Linux recently, there's never been a better time than now.

First, a teeny bit of history. The Linux kernel (a "kernel" is a central component of an operating system) was first developed in 1991 by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish computer science student. The kernel was eventually made available under the GNU General Public License and has thus spawned a host of different Linux distributions - commonly referred to as "distros" - based on the kernel. Linux has its roots in Unix - an operating system first developed in 1969. Apple Computers' Mac operating system also has its roots in Unix.

There are many very good Linux distros out there, which are available free to the masses to download and install on their computers. They range in nature from the server variety, to bare-bones/light, to robust, full-featured and powerful.

Here are several reasons why Linux is worth your attention:

  • Cheap, as in FREE. These days, people are looking for ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of the family budget. Linux offers a cheap, but solid alternative for your computing needs.
  • Security. No need to worry about viruses, adware, or spyware. No need to run anti-virus programs that hog resources and get in the way.
  • Lots of apps. With Linux gaining in popularity, more and more applications are being developed for it all the time. Most distros come with the most popular apps pre-installed, with hundreds more available to download and install for free. Linux can do most, if not all of the things (short of playing your favorite PC games) that you could do on a Mac or Windows PC.
  • Low maintenance. Windows users have come to accept regular hard drive defragmenting, disk cleanup, virus scans, and registry repairs as normal part of maintaining a healthy PC. Those things aren't normal for Linux users!
  • Variety. There are many different Linux distros to choose from, all of them with their own unique features and appeal. The great thing about them is that since they're free, you can try as many of them out as you want to find the one that works for you!
  • Support. Most major Linux distros have a good user base and healthy support communities. Chances are if you have a question or problem, you can find an answer on the internet in one of the many Linux support communities, wikis, and forums out there.
  • Hardware compatibility. Huge strides have been made in this area in recent years. Most hardware is supported by all the major distros, and it's easy to find out if your hardware will work.
  • Stability and speed. Will likely make better use of your hardware and do more with less.  Won't slow down over time.
  • Plenty of eye candy. Highly customizeable interface which can be modified to include all the transparency, animation, and frills you could possibly want.

Here are some good distros to start with:

  • Ubuntu - perhaps the most popular Linux distro out there, and for good reason. Perfect for Linux beginners.
  • Fedora - developed by the folks behind Red Hat - an enterprize grade OS. A great distro that is usually one step ahead of the others in terms of features and advancements. If you like to be on the bleeding edge and are okay with running into the occaisional bug or glitch, this distro is for you.
  • openSUSE - founded by Novell, this is a solid and popular distro with some useful, uniqe features.
  • Mandriva - 3 million users can't be wrong.