About 16 years ago I first dabbled with Linux, if I’m remembering correctly it was a Knoppix Live CD. Even though I love tech and computers, this all seemed like an alien landscape to me!
At that time, using Linux was a lot less user-friendly than it is today, to do things that were considered very basic or straightforward in Windows seemed vastly more complicated in Linux.
That no longer appears to be the case, Linux (at least the popular distributions) now almost looks like using a Mac or Windows 10.
Is Linux worth trying out?
In my opinion, yes, it’s definitely worth trying out, mainly because the majority of versions (or distributions are they’re called in Linux-speak) are free.
You can download the installer file (usually an ISO file) and use some software to create a bootable USB key.
With this, you can boot your computer from the USB key and try out that version of Linux without ever having installed it on your computer’s hard drive.
Now, to be fair, this isn’t possible with all distros (distributions) of Linux but for many of the more popular versions, it is.
For the most part, Linux distros are free. There are some exceptions to this but in those cases you are usually paying for support and not the Operating System itself.
As mentioned previously, you can often run Linux on older hardware, so if you have an old laptop or PC then you can extend the lifespan of the device.
This is really useful if you just need basic functionality like web browsing, email, office programs and the like (which are also free) it will keep costs down for you.
Although Linux can have quite a steep learning curve (depending on the version), it has a lot of very powerful features.
Similar to the Apple Mac OS, Linux tends to be less vulnerable to viruses and malware (although they do exist) when compared to Microsoft Windows.
There are also a lot of programs available for Linux and the cost of these is generally free, as in zero dollars.
You may not be able to find all the programs that you are used to on your Windows PC or Mac but in general, you’ll find something that will do the same job. However, you will often find equivalent software on Linux that will do a similar job to what you’ll find on Windows or Mac OS.
Take, for example, office applications. On a Windows machine you’d probably use Microsoft Office, however, on a Linux machine you could use Open Office or Libre Office (one of these usually comes built into the Linux installation).
Open Office will do a lot of the things that MS Office will do, including word processing, spreadsheets, etc.
You can also save your files in the same format as the MS Office system so they can be opened there. And it’s free!
Can have a steep learning curve
Even though this isn’t quite as applicable as it was in the past, Linux can be a lot more complicated than using Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS.
Again, it depends on the version of Linux you choose to use, but a lot of the more popular versions (Ubuntu, Mint, Debian) are going to be much more familiar to Windows and Mac users.
Quite a few of these versions of Linux will look extremely similar to said users, although for Windows users the programs may seem a bit off, and for Mac users, the inclusion of a start button menu might take a bit of getting used to.
Another thing that may present issues for users who are more familiar with Windows or Mac OS is that the Terminal (very similar to the Command Prompt in Windows) plays quite a large role in Linux.
With the more modern distros, the GUI (graphical user interface) is a lot more prominent, however, you’ll likely find that there are quite a few things that require you to run commands from the Terminal to achieve.
The same can be said of Windows of course, but the average Windows user can generally get away without having to access Command Prompt or Power Shell.
With Linux however, it’s probable that the user will need to access Terminal often enough. Also, the commands in Terminal are case sensitive, so you may find a command that you’ve typed in doesn’t work because you forgot to use an upper case character in the middle of the typed command.
Not great for gaming
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of games available for Linux, just not at the level of what you’ll find available on the Windows platform.
The OS tends not to be geared towards gaming, however, it is possible to play modern games on it.
There are some different Windows system emulators that will allow the user to play some Windows games within Linux. However, please bear in mind that not all games will work, but the system is constantly developing and expanding.
To be fair, most people don’t go for Linux for gaming, a lot of people who use the OS are passionate about the system. In some ways, this is similar to Apple Mac devotees, they are passionate about their chosen system and tend to be loyal to the brand.
Can work well on older machines
One particularly nice aspect of many Linux distributions is that they will often run reasonably well on older hardware. Now, in fairness, this isn’t always the case but more often than not it is true.
The way Linux code is written, it tends to work a lot more efficiently than Windows, this is also the logic behind the relative lack of virus on the Linux platform, it tends to be a lot more secure that the Microsoft systems.
Although lately, it’s fair to say the Windows works a lot better than it did in the past and tends to be a lot more secure out of the box.
Linux will run quite well on some older hardware, so even if you have an older generation CPU it should be able to handle the OS decently.
Obviously, if you try to run it on some ancient Windows XP machine then it may struggle, but if the hardware is up to around 5 years old then it should work fine.
Test it in a VM
This is probably the easiest way for you to test out Linux and to see if it appeals to you.
Now, to have this work effectively then you’ll likely need a PC that’s a bit more powerful than normal. The reason being is that one PC will effectively be running as 2 computers.
The first step is to check in the BIOS of your physical computer to ensure that virtualization has been enabled.
If this isn’t activated then you’ll be locked into using the 32-bit version of the software.
Next, boot your computer into Windows (this example is based around Microsoft Windows machines), open a browser and download software called Oracle VM Virtualbox.
You’ll need to download the ISO (this is basically a software version of the install CD) for the version of Linux that you want to test out.
As noted previously, it probably makes more sense to go with one of the more popular builds like Linux Mint or Ubuntu.
Once you have Virtualbox installed and opened, you’ll want to configure your first VM, I’d suggest allowing a minimum of 2 gigabytes of RAM and about 80 gigabytes of hard drive space.
This should be enough to play around with the system, and you can change this further down the line if you want.
You’ll need to change the settings on the VM’s optical drive and in those settings you’ll select the Linux ISO that you previously downloaded.
At this point, you should be good to go on powering up the virtual machine, if it has been configured correctly then you should see the virtual machine booting.
You’ll be presented with the boot screen of your chosen version of Linux and can then install on your virtual hard drive.
Generally, you can just click next, next, next, etc.
After a while (depending on the speed of your computer) you should find that Linux has been installed on the VM, it may then reboot, once that’s done then you’ll be ready to go with your new Linux virtual machine.
You’ll probably need to configure some more settings such as administrator user name and password but it’s all fairly straightforward.
Now you can go and have some fun playing around with your new virtual machine, do some testing and see how you like the look of the Linux OS.
Bear in mind that different distributions of Linux can look very different, some of them don’t even have a desktop or icons and are completely text-based, but those versions tend to be more specialist type versions.
Enjoy testing out Linux, I’d be hopeful that you enjoy it and that the experience will encourage you to try out some more distros.