2 - Getting Started with Linux

These guides will get you started with Linux, the free operating system. It will start with the process for choosing a distribution that is right for you, continue through the installation of an example distribution called Ubuntu, and walk you through how to customize your new system.

What is Linux?

Linux is a computer operating system founded by Finnish computer scientist Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s. Originally started as a hobbyist platform, Linux has today grown into a stable and user-friendly operating system through the advancement of its various distributions. It is used for every task that can be accomplished with a competing operating system like Windows or Mac OS X, and can deliver most of them with increased speed and customization options.


Linux comes in various flavours called distributions. Unlike Windows or Mac OS X, which are two operating systems that are produced officially by Microsoft and Apple, a Linux distribution can allow for nearly unlimited levels of customization and tweaking. These distributions are built around the Linux core (referred to as the kernel), which standardizes many aspects of its operation. Other than the core, the communities that build these distributions can structure them exactly in the ways that they want. This leads to a tremendous level of variety, which can be shown in the user bases that these distributions attract. More advanced users might prefer certain distributions, while other ones are geared more towards basic users or ones that don’t care as much about customization. Linux gives users the power to choose exactly how they want their computers to work for them with the distributions model.

Free Software

Linux is based on the Free Software (FLOSS) philosophy. This means that Linux is produced by members of the software community, who can see its code and internal operations and modify them however they see fit. Most end users do not need to customize their operating systems to this extent, but they still benefit from this philosophy when they use their Linux distribution. The fact that there are many different flavours of Linux for different tastes and use cases attests to this. It simply would not be possible to do this with other operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X, because these OSes do not open their code to the public to modify and improve upon.

REALLY Free Software

Linux distributions for personal use are generally free of cost. Yes, that means you can install and update the operating system whenever you want free of charge. This is a facet of the Free Software philosophy — as any user can compile and edit the code for the operating system, it doesn’t make sense for them to have to pay for it. The goal of Linux distributions are to provide the fastest and most usable systems for the benefit of all users, and not necessarily to make a profit. Linux systems are therefore great options for people dreading the expensive costs of upgrading their computers to the newest version of Windows or OS X.


  1. Choosing a Distribution - shows a list of some of the most popular Linux distributions, and compares their strengths
  2. Installation Project: Ubuntu - walks users through the installation of a widely-used Linux distribution called Ubuntu
  3. Ubuntu: Using and Configuring Your New System - shows users how to accomplish simple tasks in Ubuntu, and what functionality might be different from their other computers
  4. Securing your Mail, Internet and Chat Applications - sets up internet browsing, email and chat applications with the latest in security and privacy-enhancing tools
  5. APPENDIX: Popular Software & Open File Formats - explains frequently used software packages and their comparable applications in other OSes