Why not Linux?

Like most operating systems (OS for short), Linux has its advantages and disadvantages, and may be better for some users than others. But it’s largest problem, by far, has nothing to do with any sort of software or hardware- it’s its PR. Despite the fact that the public perception of Linux hasn’t changed too drastically, its usage has- Current estimates suggest that about 50% of smartphone users use Linux, except a very specific distribution of it created by Google called Android. And, while the market share still isn’t that great (this is an understatement), you can buy laptops with Linux distributions preinstalled, such as the Asus Eee PC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asus_Eee_PC). Dell has also teamed up with Ubuntu, one of the more popular Linux distributions geared towards a mass audience, to make high-end Linux PCs.

A typical Linux device.
Linux, on MY smartphone?

The most interesting updates in the Linux world, however, have actually been happening just this month- The developers of Ubuntu, Canonical, are pushing to release a phone/computer hybrid device called “Ubuntu Edge.” While other smartphones are able to plug into monitors for specific purposes, this phone, unlike others, will be able to double as a complete desktop featuring the Ubuntu desktop OS. For those who are interested in specs, it will feature at least 4GB of RAM and, unlike other smartphones, a massive 128GB hard drive, allowing it to have enough space for most uers’ desktop needs. It has already been highly praised- CNET awarded it best of at Mobile World Congress. And, in true open source fashion, Canonical is trying to raise the money necessary for a full launch by crowdfunding the project.  Their goal is to raise a whopping $32 million which, if successful, would break the record for the most money ever gained through crowdfunding. As of the end of July they have received just over $7 million, with a deadline of August 21st.

Ubuntu Edge
The Ubuntu Edge

If you’re interested in taking a look at Ubuntu or Linux, the process of trying it out is unusually simple, even for users who are not used to installing operating systems. If you’re on Windows 7 or earlier, you can run “Wubi” (Windows-based UBuntu Installer) to make your computer dual boot into Windows and Ubuntu, very similar to using Bootcamp for Mac to use a Windows OS. To do this simply download the installer from the link provided, open it, choose how much space you want to give your Linux partition (you won’t need more than 10GB), give a username and password, and click “Install” and let it run. When it finishes you will be asked to restart your computer, and instead of booting straight into Windows it will ask you which operating system to boot into. That’s it! Alternatively, if you want to give Linux a run without actually installing anything, you can download an Ubuntu Live CD, which, when inserted into your computer, can be run at boot to load Ubuntu instead of your normal operating system. Not only is this process fairly straightforward as well, but it will work on any operating system. Check out the instructions and see if it’s something you’d want to do! Shouldn’t even take too long.

The Wubi installer

Even if difficulty isn’t an issue, the question remains- why bother trying Linux in the first place? Depending on what you use your computer for there is a good chance that you don’t really “need” it- for doing things the vast majority of people use their computers for, such as checking email, social media, and your job or schoolwork, any operating system will work fine. But just because you don’t need it doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving it a shot. The reasons for this are numerous- for one, I find that, as a Windows user, it has many of the advantages of Mac without any of the price, such as never having to worry about viruses again (Who would want to make viruses for the operating system they actually use?). Additionally many GUI (graphical user interface) features on Mac, such as virtual desktops, mouse gestures, and more, are available as options. And, very much unlike Mac, Linux prides itself on making everything free- you can do just about anything you can do on the other platforms using free software.

Although my reasons are many, I think possibly my favorite aspect of Linux is its visual customization options, something that you don’t really get on Mac or Windows. Feel free to take a look at some examples of different themes freely available, or even watch some videos of the more fancier (often completely unnecessary) desktop visualizations you can do.

Example Linux theme

While one might assume that you would need to have significant Linux or command line experience to get these up and running, the truth of the matter is that it is very straightforward. For example, to install different themes you simply need to download a file (many of which available on the website linked) and either open it to install or move it to a certain folder- from there you just go to the theme options and select it. Many of the fancy visualization animations in the youtube video are available as checkbox options through a program you can download in the Ubuntu web store- no programming required! Linux’s customization options are much greater than just visual elements, however- manipulating the interface to make it cater exactly to your needs and desires is exactly what Linux excels at the most. Other reasons, less about the operating system itself and more about personal motivations, such as improving your understanding of computers, adding the word “Linux” in a couple places on your resume, improving your troubleshooting skills (luckily any questions you have are probably already discussed online, and the ubuntu forums are extremely friendly if you can’t find anything), and learning how to search online to find answers to your questions, make the project easily worthwhile as well.

At its heart the reason I like Linux so much is simple: When I use a Mac computer, I feel like I am using Apple’s operating system. When I use a Windows computer, I feel like I am using Microsoft’s. But when I use Linux, I feel like I am using my own.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or send an email to fkramer2 (at) illinois.edu.

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