This is a question you should really ask yourself before getting into
the world of Linux (GNU, to be exact) and other UNIX(-like) operating
If you have experience with other UNIX(-like) OSs, like a BSD or
System V, you can probably work with Linux. You can guess what to
expect because Linux is very similar to UNIX and BSD, and the question
shouldn't be too hard to answer.
If you have never worked with a UNIX(-like) OS before, and you heard
Linux was great, free, and stable, you should try to answer the
What am I going to do with my computer?
Do I want to create spread sheets? Do word processing? Do I want to
surf the web? Do I want to develop software? Play games?
If you want to use your computer for the sole purpose of playing games,
Linux is not the thing for you. There aren't many popular games ported
to Linux (that is, not the modern ones, like Half Life) and those that
have been ported (like Quake) are usually less stable than their
Microsoft Windows counterparts. Despite what Open Source advocates want
you to believe, it is not uncommon to have Quake crash on you just
when you're on a winning streak.
If you only want to do word processing and create spreadsheats, like that
which is done with the Microsoft Office suite, Linux may be a good choice.
There are many look-a-likes of the Microsoft Office suite of programs
out there, and some are quite good. Corel's WordPerfect has been ported
to Linux, and gnumeric is almost an exact replica of Microsoft Excel.
These programs are usually easy to install and configure, because they often
come with graphical installations (not entirely unlike Installshield
on Windows systems). However, before you can start to use these you must
have at least basic knowledge of your system to configure the
X Window System and navigate your filesystem. Linux is not suitable for
a quick start into the world of Office applications.
Surfing the web is almost the same as using Office applications. With the
difference that the availability of good graphical browsers is low. The
most popular, and functional, browser used on the X Window System is
Netscape Communicator. Mozilla, which is based on Communicator,
is still an ongoing effort and not yet ready for intensive use. There
are many text-based webbrowsers available for Linux though (w3m, lynx,
Using the Internet, however, is a different story. Linux features many
utilities found on BSD systems, the first system to implement TCP/IP
(the protocol on which the Internet is based). There are by default many
utilities available for use over TCP/IP. Programs to query DNS servers,
telnet clients, and of course a legion of so-called daemons which can
be used to set up your machine as a multi-user system, or a webserver.
If you want to develop software in C or C++ Linux is definitely the choice
for you. There is excellent documentation available for nearly all the
system calls, and you don't have to invest in expensive compilers before
starting to write code. The wide range of Open Source software available
for Linux is also a good help if you're a programmer. You can debug the
programs that don't work yourself, and you can borrow other people's code.
How much time do I want to spend learning?
Linux is a complicated system. The introduction of GNOME and KDE has made
management of the "desktop" so easy a monkey could do it, but configuring
your hardware, and installing software is sometimes still hard to do.
Learning how to do it right takes time. A lot of time. Not just for
trying out things, but also reading the documentation. If you have trouble
reading computer screens for a prolonged period of time Linux is probably
not the system for you. You need a great deal of patience, and persistence,
before you can utilize your Linux machine to its full potential.
If you usually "solve" problems by asking for help on USENET or IRC, Linux
is not your thing. You really need to read the documentation, or you'll
be going nowhere. A popular phrase used by "UNIX gurus" is RTFM which
means "Read The ... Fabulous Manual". If you ask a question on IRC which
has been documented several times before, this is the answer to expect.
When you start out with Linux, 90% of your time will be spent on reading,
and the other 10% on work.
Do I want to use cheap hardware?
A lot of modern hardware has been designed with the price in mind.
A new thing are the so-called "softmodems". These are modems, usually
PCI modems, which rely on the CPU to the processing of data. Most
new 56k modems are softmodems. A softmodem uses its own protocol to
communicate with the CPU. A driver is required to translate the signals
the modem recieves to something the CPU can understand and vice-versa.
Most hardware manufacturers still only supply the drivers for
Microsoft Windows and MacOS. They refuse to give out the specifications
to Linux developers, and this hardware can not be used with Linux. Other
software driven devices include parallel port scanners, serial photocameras,
and some joysticks.
But... Linux is said to be so good and stable, why do you speak
so negatively about it?
Linux is good and stable. You just have to know how to use it.
If you're new to Linux you can expect to crash it just as much as any
other operating system. If you know how to configure your Linux system
properly, and tweak it to fulfill your every need, Linux is great.
Unfortunatly, you won't know how to do that when you start, so it may
seem crippled, confusing, and more of that. Like I said before, it takes
time, but it's worth it. Linux is like smoking. Do it because you
like it, or because you're addicted. Just don't do it to be cool.
Back to Linux For Monkeys