Looking for info on Linux

I considering investing some time and effort into learning Linux. I have an old PC which I’m not using and I’m thinking on installing Linux on it so I can learn it without losing the use of my current computer (which is Windows based). Anyways I have several questions.

First, is this worth the effort? I’ve heard some people say Linux is superior to Windows but I’ve rarely heard the reasons why. If my understanding is correct, Linux uses less memory than Windows and is customizable. Are these worthwhile advantages? What are some of the other advantages? Please bear in mind, I’m not technically oriented, so reasons such as “Linux’s fractional modulation is twelve times as bipolar as Windows so the indefinite articulation is obviously going to be more algebraic” will not really help me. I’m also not interested in opinions such as “Bill Gates in the anti-christ so Linux is better.” Gates probably is the anti-christ but I’ll leave that area to the Justice Department and various religious authorities.

Second, how difficult is learning Linux? I have essentially no experience with programming (the last program I wrote was in Fortran). I’ve looked at books like Linux for People Without Enough Branches on the Family Tree and it seems pretty complicated. Is it as bad as it seems or is it relatively simple once you get past the jargon?

Third, if I learn Linux, what will I do with it? I realize all knowledge is good, but would I be better off putting this effort into learning to speak Japanese? Is it possible (or desirable) to run a home PC off Linux in the real world or have we already become a Windows based world? If I go to the store and buy a new game will I be able to run it on a Linux based computer without days of modification?

Fourth, what is the relationship between Linux and Unix? (Keep in mind my technical ignorance.) As I understand it, Unix is the language that Internet systems operate on and Linux and Windows are programs for translating Unix commands into semi-comprehensible language.

Fifth and final, if I do jump into this, what are some products I should be looking for? I’ve seen a cheap packet at Sam’s Club that offers what is supposedly a start-up kit of Linux programs and manuals, but I’d like to hear recommendations.

Hello Mike King
Try looking at this link and I think you will find some of the answers you are looking for.

Linux was developed out of the unix operating system.
I also am thinking about giving it try.
One of my ham friends is the sysop of a amature packet radio ( wireless computer network ) BBS/internet gateway and he swears by it.
As I understand it,linux is not the easist operating system for a casual user to master.

Good Luck
t lion

" I Wonder What Happens When I push THIS Button? "

Linux is a flavor of Unix.

It really depends on what you want to do with that computer. It sounds like you just want to play with it, and you won’t lose your other PC while your doing it, so probably the answer is ‘go for it’.

The language is currently more suited to programmers/hackers having a way to do what they need to do easily and without paying homage to Bill or his ilk, while Windows is more suited to Joe user running word processors.

If you have even an inkling to learn more hackish stuff like this, it is probably worth it to play with linux. You can install and wipe linux many times on your system and get all kinds of fun knowledge out of it - remember that unix is used by most of the internet infrastructure so you’ll be well on your way to being the next OpalCat.

As for me, I’ve got one machine running Windows NT for doing work related stuff on, one PC running linux acting as my firewall to keep the bad guys from coming in through my DSL connection, and one more PC sitting under the bed waiting to have its guts reconfigured so I can install linux and make it a web/name/mail server. Oh, and a Mac for my wife. The firewall protects the PC and Mac from hostile forces and provides much fun for geeky me.

So, if you like to play and learn, go for it! If you are thinking “The kewlest gamez and warez are on linuX!!1!” maybe it isn’t for you.

Hehehe! You nailed the biggest Linux advantage there. :slight_smile:

But seriously, “advantages” mean different things to different people. To an end user, an advantage might be something like being able to walk down to Comp-USA and chose from among 57 different flight simulators. To someone like me who writes operating systems for a living, an advantage might be something that lets me provide system-level benefits, like stability, or better programming interfaces, to applications. Windows has many of the first sort of advantages for end users, while Linux has more of the underlying technical advantages that are of more interest to programmers.

So the answer is a big fat “that depends”. It sounds like you can dedicate a machine to Linux, so you can do it without losing any of the utility of your PC. Your only costs will be a few bucks for (say) a Redhat CD and some time to dig into it. If you want to learn about it, I’d say go for it - there’s not much to lose, and Linux can run pretty well on small machines that Win98 would be cramped in.

As for how easy it is to use, again, that depends. Traditionally Unix variants have been on the arcane side - extremely powerful for tech-heads, but not all that friendly to casual users. However, that is (slowly) changing as better interfaces become available. KDE (a window manager that runs under X11 on Linux) may be worth looking into.

However, I will venture that unless you look into the OS programming interfaces for both WIN32 and Linux, and have the background to digest the architectural differences between them, the advantages of Linux may not leap out at you through casual poking around at a user level.

Hope this helps answer your question.

peas on earth

Prepare for some truly weird but hopefully helpful analogies.
Unix is the DOS of powerful networks.
X Window is the Windows of Unix.
Linux is a type of Unix much like PC-Dos and MS-Dos were types of DOS.
To make things even more confusing many different companies offer Linux. They are all based on the same or similar kernels. The kernel is the basis of an operating system. But because all the companies sell different configurations and addons you can’t just go to the store and choose the type with the highest version number to get the newest version. Ask around before choosing a brand. And make sure you get the newest kernel, it will solve many problems.
Personally I’ve been using Redhat 6.1 which works very nicely for me. I’d suggest KDE for XWindow instead of GNOME. Make a CD with the instal on it because until you learn what you’re doing reinstalling is easier than trying to fix your screwups.
By now you’re probably saying this doesn’t seem better than Windows, but wait, it gets worse. The cryptic error messages of Windows are gone but only to be replaced by core dumps. Core Dumps are what happens when Linux crashes. They are memory files written to your disk in seemingly random places, sometimes reaching the incredible size of 100+ megs. Linux isn’t meant for gamers and the games that are made for it often enjoy the support of only one video card or one brand of Linux.
If you’re still sticking with me I’ll begin to talk about it’s good side. Most versions can be downloaded free from websites but remember that although this sounds great, 28.8 is not the best speed to download a cd size operating system. I’d suggest forking over the cash if you don’t have a speedy connection and getting the extras that come with a boxed copy, like instruction manuals and free software.
Linux is compatible with Unix and Unix powers much of the web and networking platform. Learning Linux offers you a cheap way to get in on this rather cool area. Impress your friends with your newly learned technical knowhow. No matter what people say Linux really is meant not for the average consumer but for the technologically savvy computer whiz. Luckily you can learn as you go. And using a spare computer makes it so you don’t have to worry about losing anything to important as you screw around.
As a closing note I would say try Linux, learn Linux and have fun. But don’t lose that Windows computer just yet.
Now I’ve spent way too long typing but if you would like to know more or need help you are welcome to email me. I’ll answer what I can from here at home and once I’m back at college with my computer with Linux and friends who know much more than I I’ll be able to answer much more.

Apparently the empty lines I left between paragraphs meant nothing to the CGI that powers this board. Maybe I’ll sacrafice small children to it when I want empty lines again.

This is written from the perspective of a user who isn’t a programmer, but has toyed with computers enough that Linux looks interesting to me as an area to explore.

I went through several different distributions (read ‘boxed sets’) of linux before I found one that set up correctly on my Dell in a straight vanilla installation. I’ve bought books and read web pages and looked through CDs and directories for mysterious files just to get my modem to dial up. I still don’t have sound, because my Turtle Beach sound card is unsupported, as far as I can tell. Neither have I been able to get my 3com isdn modem working properly.

The problems I’ve had are as much, or more, my lack of knowledge with Linux than with the operating system itself. It’s been challenging and frustrating all along, and while there is a ton of documentation out there, there’s still very little handholding that will get you up the initially steep slope of the learning curve.

Now that it’s working for me as an OS, and I can do normal computer stuff on it, I find that it’s not as convenient or as powerful, from a features perspective, as Windows or Mac. There’s tons of software available for free, but the level of development isn’t up to those two. Features like drag-and-drop are sketchy; there are fewer wizards and those available are less reliable than in Windows or Mac.

The benefit, from my perspective, is that there will come a time when I don’t need any of the same sort of candy that’s in Windows to do what I want to do. At that point, Linux is much more powerful to the user because the whole system is open to direct manipulation and scripting. I know perl and python, and I’m getting the hang of java. Once I’m familiar enough with how it all goes together, I’ll be able to do much more with Linux than I ever could with Windows. Until then, however, I can only do much less with it than I can with Windows 98 or NT and whatever software I beg, borrow or steal.

As a learning adventure, it’s long and hard and offers far more at the end and along the way than any other I can think of. If you want to be a real power user, Linux or one of its kind is the way to go. If you don’t care much about the machinery beneath what you do on your computer, though, don’t bother. If what you’re interested in is results, you’re better off with Windows or Mac; if you’re interested in how it all really works, bother. It’s worth it.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Without meaning to beat too much on your analogies that obviously aren’t meant to be overly technical, I might offer a slight modification to this one to tune it up a bit.

Core dumps are what happens when programscrash, which is a bit different than Linux crashing. Linux is, overall, pretty stable (certainly much more so than Win95/98), but applications running under it may or may not be. Linux is an MP architecture, which basically means that it’s pretty hard (although still possible) for a bad user-space program to take out the whole system or a bunch of other applications. So a single core-dumping program under Linux generally has little effect on the stability of the computer.

A core dump lets you go in with a debugger and see exactly what was happening in the program when it died. This can be amazingly useful for application developers, and even for end users interacting with technical support.

peas on earth

As a bit of triva, the name ‘core’ refers to metal core memory that computers uses to use decades ago. Each bit of RAM was contained it its own little metal ring.

The outstanding feature of Linux is its stability and reliability, viz.:

% uptime
12:43am up 155 days, 14:42

This is a generic Dell PC running RH 6.0. And the last time it went down was for a system update, the system hasn’t actually crashed in 2 years of 24/7 operation using an average of 50% more virtual than physical RAM.

Oddly enough, I consider a Windows-type GUI a tremendous waste of my time. I use ten fingers (typing) instead of one to talk to my computer, and the job gets done much faster. Different strokes, eh?

Okay I understood a reasonable portion of what was said here. It seems that the consensus is that learning Linux is most useful as a gateway into learning programming in general rather than as an operating system in its own right.

Now the big question is whether I want to invest the effort. The problem, as always, is the consideration of my scarcest resource; time.

Anyway, thank you to everyone for your help.

Replying late, but a good place for learning Linux on the web is at:
They even have a ubb like this one there.

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Dennis Matheson — dennis@mountaindiver.com
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb — www.mountaindiver.com