Tue 11 February 2020
Recently I have had a few people approaching me about Linux, asking me why I use it, if it's better than Windows, etc. I've been using Linux as my primary OS for over a decade now, so I feel I am reasonably qualified to tell you about Linux, and what it's like to use.
What is Linux?
I feel this is an important first one to cover, Linux is a kernel. In most circumstances it sits in the background and you'll never see or interact with it. You've probably used Linux before without even knowing it, for example, Android runs on the Linux kernel. To use an analogy, think of it like the engine of a car.
What is a Linux distribution?
A Linux distribution is the Linux kernel, along with a bunch of applications to make the computer usable. A typical distribution will ship with a graphical environment and some sensible default apps like a web browser, office suite, etc. So to continue the previous analogy, a Linux distro is the whole car. Examples of popular Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Manjaro, and Debian.
Popular Linux myths
Linux is hard to use
This isn't true, although it does depend on what distribution you choose. Some distributions such as ArchLinux are designed for experienced users and developers, while other distributions like Ubuntu and Manjaro are designed for normal people.
I have to know the command line to use Linux
Almost everything is available in the menus and there's usually some sort of app store for installing new software. Advanced users will often use the command line as it's vastly quicker. To use an example, lets say you want to install Firefox. You click the menu button, click on the software store, search for Firefox, click install. An experienced user will press ctrl+alt+t and type sudo apt install firefox. They'll probably be done installing Firefox before you've opened the app store.
Linux is bad at gaming
Linux is actually very good at gaming, for example, when Valve ported over Left 4 Dead 2, they reported a whopping 315fps on Linux, vs 270fps on Windows using the same hardware. Linux is lightweight leaving more of your computers resources available for the games you want to play. The problem however, is much like you wouldn't put an xbox game in your playstation and expect it to work, you can't put a Windows game in your Linux PC and expect it to work. The game has to be ported to Linux in order to work, and the people who produce games are notoriously bad at porting games to Linux. There are also tools like Proton which act as a compatibility layer to allow some Windows only games to run on Linux. Overall you will have access to less games overall, and thus I don't recommend Linux if you are mainly a gamer. But not because Linux is bad at gaming, instead because the people who produce games are bad at porting games to Linux.
Linux can't get viruses
Not true, Linux technically can get viruses. That said, good luck finding one. Linux having such a small market share means that people who produce viruses and other malicious software (malware) typically target Windows, and much like Windows games don't work on Linux, Windows viruses don't work on Linux either. Your chances of bumping into a virus on Linux in the real world are so astronomically low they may as well be zero, which is where this myth comes from.
Linux is hard to install
The install process for Linux is typically very similar to that of Windows, if you can install Windows, you can install Linux without any issues.
Being able to run Steam means I can run all the games that are available on steam
Unfortunately not true, Steam runs on Windows, OSX and Linux, but the games available on Steam do not need to run on all three platforms.
Frequently asked questions
What distro should I use?
This is a largely personal preference question, different people will give you different answers. There is no right or wrong here. That said, if you're just looking for a typical desktop experience with a web browser and an office suite Ubuntu is a good choice. If you want to try out Linux gaming or consider yourself a slightly more advanced user, I'd recommend Manjaro.
Can I run Photoshop?
Adobe don't support Linux right now, it also doesn't run well under any compatibility layers, so the answer sadly, is no. The best alternative right now is GIMP, depending on what you use Photoshop for it may be a suitable replacement.
Can I play this game on Linux?
If it's on Steam, head to the games page on the steam store and scroll down to system requirements. If it has a "SteamOS + Linux" tab, you're in luck and it has been ported. If not, don't give up hope yet. Search for it on
ProtonDB and see if it is listed as working there. Everyone keeps saying Linux is free, but Windows came with my computer - why do I care?
The price of your Windows license was included in the cost of your computer, your computer would have been cheaper without Windows. Many manufacturers refuse to sell computers without also bundling in a copy of Windows, which is incredibly frustrating for Linux users, as we have to pay extra for something we have no intention of using.
What is Linux great for?
Most Linux distros are very lightweight and fast. That old and slow laptop you've relegated to a cupboard would probably become reasonably fast again running Linux.
Novice users typically just want a web browser, they want to read their email, browse Facebook, shop on Amazon and eBay, etc. Ubuntu is perfect for this, it's free, ships with a web browser, it's lighter and faster than Windows, and they aren't going to accidentally get a virus or mess things up while using it. I've put many novice users on Ubuntu and rarely hear any complaints.
As well as novice users, programmers also find themselves at home on Linux. Many of the tools they need are built in and ready to go, and getting additional tools is quicker and easier than on Windows. Linux is a great place to learn too, as everything is open source and you can look into how things work, and even get involved with fixing bugs or adding new features to anything that interests you.
Linux absolutely dominates the server market, with 96.3% of the top 1 million servers running Linux. If you're looking to host something, be it a website or a game server, Linux is the best choice.
People with a certain set of morals
A lot of Linux users believe in the 3 software freedoms. Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose. Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish. Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute and make copies so you can help your neighbour. I personally believe that freedom 1 is very important. It's important for education, I've long grumbled at how we teach kids how computers work using computers where they aren't allowed to know how they work. I also feel it's important for safety and trust. I'd like to be able to know what software is doing with my computer, with my data, in my home.