Operating System

There are more than Windows

The Operating System, or OS is the control program on a modern computer. It controls how the computer operates, what programs and hardware devices it will run and specify the "look and feel" of its user interface. It also controls if and how many programs can be run at once, how much memory and disk space they can use and what other computer parts they can access.

The typical personal computer comes with Microsoft Windows for its operating system but that is not the only choice. If you buy an Apple it comes with OSX. If you build your own computer it can run either of both. The OS adds between $100 and $300 to the retail price of any computer, because the manufacturer buys the OS from Microsoft or Apple and the price is passed along to you.

There are also free or Open Source operating systems like Linux. Linux will do everything that Windows or OSX but it is free and reduces the cost of a new computer or laptop by $100-$300. Every computer capable of running Windows will run Linux.

For years, Linux had a reputation for being too complicated for the average user because it required programming to install new programs. Fortunately, that is no longer true. Linux has vast libraries of free software (over 40,000 programs) that may be installed with a mouse click.

Many popular programs from Windows or OSX are standard with Linux. Become familiar with the Windows version of Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Skype, Picasa, VLC Open Office or Libre Office by clicking on any of the links.

Linux is far more secure than Windows. Most web servers on the Internet actually run Linux because of reliability. With Linux you do not need anti virus, malware or spyware software. Many corporations now use Linux because of reliability.

A little about Linux

Linux was written by Linus Torvalds functionally based on a single user version of Unix, a proprietary AT&T operating system. He made the source code available through the GNU General Public License. As a result, there are 100's of different Linux operating systems available today. Each written for a very particular audience. It can seem confusing, but some of the distributions or distros were designed specifically for the novice user so we will concentrate on these.

For a complete list of the free specialized distributions see Distro Watch. You can also download CD's any distro there.

Linux for the new user

If you're interested in email, browsing the web, video, music and the occasional text, spreadsheet or PDF any of these are great choices:

You can download a CD ISO from DistroWatch or buy a CD for $6 from OSdisc.

Using Mint

Below is a typical Linux Mint desktop from release 15.2.

Mint desktop

Looks a lot like Windows, doesn't it? It also acts like Windows. Note the familiar programs like Firefox, Thunderbird, Trash, Computer, Picasa and Skype. The Text Editor is just like Notepad. Network Services is like Network Neighborhood. Mouse clicks are the same as in Windows; Right, Left, Double, Single.

The little gear in the lower left corner of the screen acts like the Windows Control Panel. You can adjust how things look and install any of the over 41,000 free programs.

Be aware that Linux Mint will not run Windows programs because the API's are different.

There is a program under development by the Free Software Foundation called ReactOS that has all Windows API's. So it will run Windows programs. It is currently in the Alpha stage of development, so it is not ready for general use yet.

When it is released, it will look like Windows NT, W2K, XP and run every program that they ran. Best of all, it will be free!!!

Look for ReactOS to appear on FSF.org or DistroWatch.com.