Linux First Steps

Just want a working PC running Linux, and couldn't care less about the difference between free software, open source or how GNOME 2.30 compares to KDE 4.4? Start here.

By , ITworld |  Operating Systems, Linux

Every now and again someone writes me and asks me "What's the best way for me to get started in Linux?" Over the years, I've answered in several different ways, but here's the summarization of my thoughts.

[ See also: Linux School: Getting started with Linix ]

First, most of the people who write me aren't interested in the fine details of Linux. They are just sick and tired to death of Windows' endless security problems or its costs. Indeed, most of them aren't that interested in learning Linux. They just want a cheap operating system that will let them read e-mail, browse the Web, and run some office applications without worrying about malware.

So, here's what I tell people who just want a good, working PC, and couldn't care less about the specific differences between "free software" and "open source" or how KDE 4.4 compares to GNOME 2.30

If they're not sure they want to make the change to Linux from Windows, and it is a major shift, I recommend that they first try a taste of Linux. There are lots of ways now to sample Linux without committing to it. These include: Using a pre-installed instant-on Linux that may already be on your laptop like Splashtop; adding a Linux distribution like Presto or Wubi to your Windows PC; using a live Linux CD, DVD, or USB-stick to give Linux a test drive; or installing and running Linux in a virtual machine like Oracle's VirtualBox. They're all relatively easy to do, and won't cost you a dime.

If after playing with Linux, they want to really give Linux a try, my usual suggestion is to buy a computer with desktop Linux pre-installed on it. I do this because while installing Linux on a PC, or just trying it out while leaving Windows untouched, has never been easier, you can't beat hitting the on-button for ease-of-use.

At one time, finding a PC with Linux ready to go on it was really hard. Unfortunately, it's still not as easy as driving down to your local Best Buy. While from time-to-time some major retailers have offered Linux-powered laptops and netbooks, none of the big box stores are currently offering Linux.

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