As concerns about privacy and personal security grow, more and more people are moving away from retail operating systems (such as Windows and MacOS) and making the switch to Linux. If you are changing, or considering changing, to Linux, this article is designed to help set your expectations and decide whether or not Linux is right for you.
What is a Linux Distro (Distribution)?
The first and most important thing to note: There are many different kinds of Linux. These variations are called “distributions,” or “distros” for short. Though these distributions are all based on the same Linux Kernel, they are all different.
These differences range from minuscule to dramatic. Before you choose to make the swap to Linux from Windows or MacOS, you need to decide which distribution you intend to use. [You can find a semi-exhaustive list of these distros, and the differences between them, by following this link. ] These distros all have many similarities which we will be covering in this article.
Isn’t Running Linux a Very Manual Process?
Conventional wisdom would likely have you believe that Linux OSes demand that all processes be done manually. Run each line of code individually, download all dependencies for an app by hand, so on and so forth. There is a kernel of truth to this conception, but the reality is nowhere near as dramatic.
Certain processes, such as application or system updates, do have to be triggered by hand where other systems would start them automatically, but such updates will proceed automatically after you have started them. It may stop to ask for authorization, or for permission to download unfulfilled dependencies, but it is far from tedious or inconvenient.
Major Benefit of Running a Stable OS (fewer updates)
Which brings us to a related note: No automatic updates. Linux will not bombard you with constant reminders and push notifications demanding that you apply the newest system update; nor will it forcibly update your system without your consent or input. You have total control over when, or even if, your system will be updated.
Tangential to the above, Microsoft or Apple will monitor your operating system and certain files within to push the aforementioned automatic updates. Linux does not monitor your system and it does not push automatic updates. Since all Linux distros are open-source programs, there is no head company or corporation to send the data to in the first place.
Keep in mind however, that this only applies to the operating system itself; certain applications and internet browsers will still collect and market your data. If you start using Linux expecting it to be the ultimate internet/cyber privacy system, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
A Word of Caution for Linux Adopters – Apps
Before we close out this article, I must present a few words of caution regarding some other aspects of running Linux on your computer that may turn some people off. First and foremost is likely something you have already heard about: In a digital world dominated by Microsoft, not many applications, programs, or conveniences are designed with Linux in mind.
This is less true now than it was 10, or even 5 years ago, but it is still true. This does not mean, however, that most resources will be inaccessible to you if you use Linux. There are many third-party compatibility options that allow users to run “Windows-exclusive” software on non-Windows OSes.
The most famous, and most popular, of these programs is WINE (Acronymous for ‘Wine Is Not an Emulator), which has enabled POSIX-compliant operating systems such as Linux, MacOS, and BSD to run Windows applications since 1993.
Switch to Linux and Learn How Operating Systems Work
For many, a switch to Linux offers the opportunity to explore and have fun learning about operating systems and what makes them tick. But it can be challenging; even with myriad tools at your disposal, you will have to learn the basics of running code. It may seem intimidating at first (it was for me when I started), but you won’t need to spend hours upon hours pouring over textbooks and studying binary code just to run a weather forecaster.
Much like different regions of a country will have different accents to the same language, so too do Linux distros have different syntax for the same language. Many distros are designed to be fairly straightforward and user-friendly, specifically to help new users dip their toes into code.
But if you’re still stuck, the most important thing to remember is that it’s always ok to ask for help. Every distro will have a thriving community of users and experts who are more than happy to answer any inquiries and help solve any problems or obstacles you encounter.
Final Thoughts and a Recommendation
This is a very bare-bones overview of what to expect out of your experience when you switch to Linux — and with good reason. Your experience and issues moving forward will depend heavily on your choice of distro. Linux provides you the freedom to use and alter your computer however and whenever you desire, and for many, it’s worth every drop of sweat, blood, and tears. YMMV.
Here are a few final thoughts to keep in mind.
- You should expect problems, many of which seemingly have no reasonable or visible cause.
- If you’re willing to accept that responsibility, and the frustration it brings, then the freedom Linux offers you over your computer system is compelling.
- If you’re nervous, try running a virtual desktop software like VMWare Fusion, Parallels, or an open source option like VirtualBox. This will give you the option to download and install a Linux distribution on your own computer without a major commitment to changing operating systems. You can try it out and then decide if you want to completely dive into the deep end of the Linux world.