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 systems.

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 following questions.

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, links).

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.


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