How are you reading this article right now? Recent trends say that you’re more than likely reading it on a phone; however, if you’re more the traditional type, and you’re reading this on a laptop (or, gasp, even a desktop), then you’re probably using either Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS. Those are both wonderful, modern operating systems, but they’re not especially great for ensuring your data isn’t being shared (especially in the case of Windows 10). For those of you who put a priority on privacy though, there is another option: Linux.
The History of Linux
The story of Linux begins in the early 1990s, in Helsinki, Finland, with a college student name Linus Torvalds. Frustrated by the state of Unix operating system licenses, he wrote his own operating system kernel, and released it under the GNU GPL, making it available for anyone to use and modify. Throughout the rest of the 1990s, other developers began building on top of this foundation to create the base of what we think of today as “Linux”. In those early days, Linux had a reputation for being incredibly hard for average computer users to install, let alone use every day.
Fortunately, a lot has changed in the intervening 20 years. When people think of “Linux”, they’re usually referring to a distribution, or “distro”. Anyone can create a distro, either built from existing Linux components, from new parts, or some combination. Many of the distros available today put an emphasis on considering the user experience, and are both easy to use and install.
How This Helps with Privacy
Due to the nature of being open source, all the various components that go into a distro are continually monitored and picked apart by the software development community. This ensures that there are no background processes running that could be monitoring your data and activities. Additionally, since there are so many different distro options available, if one had a reputation of taking user data, it would quickly be called out by the community, and it would likely be abandoned quickly. Compare this to Microsoft, Google, and others, who have entire business models built around harvesting and analyzing your personal information, along with being compelled to share that information with government agencies.
How To Get It
Every distro is a little bit different, but getting one on your computer is a fairly similar process no matter which distro you choose. It looks roughly like this:
1. Download an image (usually a .iso file) of the distro of your choice. An image is just what it sounds like, a “picture” of the operating system in one file.
2. Write that image to a USB flash drive using a program like the fantastic Etcher. (note: make sure to back up all of your personal files first, as installing Linux the easy way will overwrite everything on your hard drive)
3. Plug the flash drive into the computer you wish to install Linux on, and start/restart it.
4. Follow the steps on the installer.
5. Et Voilà! You now have Linux installed on your computer.
Which Distro to Get
Choosing which distro to install is a personal choice, and as you learn more about Linux, which distro you decide to go with might change over time. If you’re just starting out with Linux, you’ll likely want one of the distros that caters to newer users. At the time of this writing, some good options for new users include:
The operating system that you use is a crucial component of your privacy, as it sits in the background, interacting with every single piece of data you create on your computer. If you are on the journey to bringing more privacy and security to your digital life, using an operating system that you can ensure doesn’t misuse your data is one of the most important steps to protecting yourself. If you decide to take the plunge into Linux, a great resource for starting out is the Linux 4 n00bs Reddit community.
Hopefully you enjoyed this article! To get some more great Practical Privacy tips, check out my other articles!