Linux is an operating system (OS). That leads us to explain what’s an operating system!
What is an operating system?
Except if you have lived on the moon, you may have already used or, at least, seen a computer with Windows. Windows is the operating system provided by Microsoft. Windows is a graphical interface that makes the things very easy to use for you as a non-technical guy. When I say “the things” I mean almost everything in your computing usages:
- launching a browser to connect to the Internet
- storing your files
- finding your files
- launching your favorites text editing tool (if you use Word, it is another software that provides a graphical interface for editing your texts)
So you can see Windows as an intermediate between your computer core and the programs that you want to use. Your computer understands programming language only. It doesn’t know by itself that when you double-click on this beautiful icon (on the image below) it has to launch the associated program. Windows role is to translate this double-click in a language that the computer can understand. So it shows you some icons (browser, text editor, etc), options (search field in your folders window for example) and commands (double-click for example) and translates your actions into information that are understandable for the computer.
An example of Windows 10 desktop
The programming language that is used by a computer is very very complicated, and without an operating system it would be a pain to use. Imagine you are in a restaurant, in a foreign country where they are speaking a language you don’t know, you wouldn’t be able to eat or, with some chance, yes but surely not the meal you were looking for. Now imagine the same thing but with a friend of yours besides you who speaks both, yours and the local language. You would surely tell him the meal you want to order and let him order it for you. Windows, or any other operating system, is this friend beside you translating your order to the computer.
What are the differences between Linux and Windows?
Linux and Windows do the same things: Allowing you to run your favorite programs without using the complex computer language.
So what are the differences between Linux and Windows?
The differences you don’t see, they are in the way the OS is coded. Linux is completely different in the way it is coded and, as every OS, it interacts with the processor, the memory of the computer and its peripheral devices. Thus, Windows and Linux don’t have the same architecture. It is not a visible difference in terms of graphical interface but it is a big difference in terms of functioning. That’s why a program made for Windows is not compatible with Linux and reversely (for example you cannot install the Office package you have bought for your Windows OS on a Linux OS). It’s the same for the operating system of a Mac computer, named Mac OS X. Mac OS is closer to Linux OS than Windows though, as it is based on Unix (another OS, created in the 60s) from which Linux got inspired. That’s why MacOS and Linux have the same kind of architecture, but not the same philosophy.
Linux is an open-source software, Windows is not. That means you can access all the parts of the source code of the operating system while you cannot on Windows. This allows you to configure your OS as you want, especially to adapt its performance to your needs. This is not possible on Windows. Of course, this kind of changes require good knowledge in Linux OS but we will see in the next articles that it can be very useful even if you just know a few things.
The licenses are not the same. Linux software is based on a GPL license, and you can install it for free on as many computers as needed. Windows license doesn’t offer this option!
As an open-source software Linux has a great community you can count on if you are looking for information. We will see that later on.
Using command lines is another difference between Linux and Windows. As for Windows, even if you have a graphical interface on many Linux distributions (see below what that means), one of the main interests of Linux is to use command lines to execute some actions. You currently don’t know how to use that? No worries we’ll also see that later on, and you won’t do without that anymore! Just see command lines as a list of commands that you manually write to tell your computer to do some specific action. “mkdir” is, for example, a command to create a folder on your computer. That’s the same thing as on the image below, just by writing a command instead of clicking:
Windows has also command lines but it is very restrictive compared to Linux. You don’t get what’s the interest for you to use command lines? Just an example: I’m sure if you are using Windows you have already encountered a bug with a program which you were not able to stop. On Linux you can use the command lines to stop your program, save your files and thus resolve all your problems. Smart, right?
What is a Linux distribution?
You have noted that when you install Windows it comes with a small package of simple additional programs (a browser, a text editor and other simple programs). If you need more you have to buy or download other programs. A Linux distribution is a package made by a distributor that includes a set of components chosen by this distributor:
- the Linux kernel (the core of the Linux OS): It can be very light or advanced. A light kernel will not recognize a large set of peripheral devices for example. This allows to have just the essential functions for a specific need and thus be assured to not have bad interactions between two programs that could be available by default in a package. If you use your computer on a daily basis you better choose a specific distribution with a good list of programs in its package.
- the graphical interface: Some Linux distributions are not delivered with a graphical interface. There is not a desktop on which you have a list of icons you can click on to open the programs. With these distributions you will have to use the command lines to use your programs as there is no graphical interface. But many ones provide a strong graphical interface that will make them work like Windows in terms of everyday use, and make them usable by users without any technical knowledge.
- the programs: For a specific Linux distribution all the programs of this distribution are in a specific repository, a “repo”, of this distributor on the web. This ensures you that you will install only secured official programs. It is also easier as you just have one source for all your programs.
What are the main Linux distributions?
For computer usages, here are the main ones:
For server usages:
Note that you can install a distribution for computers on a server and reversely (remember what we have seen in the first courses, a server is a computer!), however servers and computers have different kind of usages and needs, that’s why there are different distributions. Each one is better adapted to a specific use, server or computer. For example a server could be slowed down if it had to load a graphical interface, while it would be easier for you to have a graphical interface on your computer for your day to day use.
How to choose a Linux distribution?
I’m not going into further details now, but here are a few advices: I suppose if you are here that means you don’t have a good or just a small knowledge of Linux (yet). In this case, just use a Linux distribution with a modern graphical interface if you want to run it on your computer (Deepin with Deepin’s Deepin Desktop, or Ubuntu with Ubuntu’s Unity), and whatever you want in terms of server distribution from the list above, but I would suggest CentOS as it includes “out of the box”, all the programs required by a server.