Ultimate Linux FAQ for newbies

Beginners to the Linux World supposedly have lots of questions in their minds. They’re entering into a new world; a world beyond Windows!
I get frequent questions from the Linux newbies. This article is dedicated to those new to Linux world. I added the conversational style to this FAQ, for the beginners to the Linux world could easily relate them, and would get their questions answered in a sequential order.
Welcome to the Linux world!

I want to use Linux. Where can I download it from?
– You can download any Linux distro from their respective sites.

Sorry? Linux distro?
– Yep. Linux is a kernel, not a complete operating system. To put it simply: a kernel is the core of an operating system. A kernel is to an operating system, what is nucleus to a cell. Therefore, you cannot use the Linux kernel directly. You have to use a Linux kernel based distro.

Come again? What is a Linux distro?
– Oops! Totally forgot. Well, a Linux kernel based operating system consists of a few things e.g a package manager, a shell, a desktop environment, an init system, etc. A Linux based operating system consists of different modules. A Linux based operating system maintainer or distributor put all the necessary stuffs together, and distribute them as a complete operating system. That’s why Linux based operating systems are called Linux distributions, aka Linux distro.

Okay, got it. So where can I download the Linux distro from?
– There’s no ‘the’ here, for literally thousands of Linux distros are available; thanks to the free and open source nature of the Linux kernel.

Thousands of distros? Wow! How do I choose one? Or, what is the best Linux distro?
– There you go! As you’re entering the Linux world, you should ‘always’ bear in mind that, there’s no ‘best’ here. ‘Best’ is very subjective. It’s all about personal choice. What is best for me, could be the worst choice for you. That could happen. It all boils down to personal choice.

But there should be a distro which is most preferred by a Linux beginner, right?
– Yeah, there is! But I’m sure not every Linux enthusiast would agree on this subject. But most of them would agree that, Ubuntu is the best choice for the beginners; though I recommend Linux Mint. But of course, depending on your choice and hardware specs, you might want to use an optimal desktop environment that suits you need.

You say, desktop environment?
– Yep. To put it simply: a desktop environment is the interface that you interact with in an operating system. A desktop environment consists of a window manager, a file manager and other essential front back-end applications. Popular desktop environments are GNOME, Unity, Cinnamon, KDE Plasma, Xfce, MATE, LXQt, Pantheon, etc. Sometimes, minimalistic-loving users prefer a window manager. They find a desktop environment bloated. Popular window managers are Openbox, Fluxbox, i3, awesome, xmonad, etc.

So how do I get a desktop environment?
– Most popular Linux distro comes with a default desktop environment pre-installed. I suggested Linux Mint, which comes with in-house developed Cinnamon desktop. Cinnamon is a modern desktop with the traditional interface. Windows refugees would easily make them at home with this familiar environment. Another choice for a newbie is Ubuntu, which comes with the Unity desktop environment. Unity is a touch screen optimized, mobile-like interface. It’s a great interface, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Users who prefer a familiar traditional desktop with a menu for launching applications akin to Windows; that comes with a start Menu, a panel, etc. would not refer the Unity interface. Nonetheless, Unity is a great interface if you don’t mind a brand new concept of using your desktop.

So, I can only use those desktop environment in these Linux distros?
– No. As I said, these are the default desktop environments. You can install and use almost every desktop environment in these Linux distros. You needn’t stick with the default one. You can even install several desktop environments in a Linux distro. But it’s not recommended. That’s why both Ubuntu and Linux Mint come with different flavors, i.e. separate editions with different desktop environments. And Ubuntu, Mint are not alone. Almost every Linux distro offers you the choice to choose and use any desktop environment and/or window manager you like.

Where can I get the list of all the Linux distros?
– You cannot. No one bothers to keep a track of every Linux distro ever created or, developed. But I can point you to DistroWatch, which ranks top 100 Linux distro based on clicks-per-day on that particular distros’ page on DistroWatch. It doesn’t necessarily mean how popular a distro is, but it’s surely respected as a de facto for measuring popularity of a distro. You can find if a distro has a new release, frequent newsletters on the distros, etc. on DistroWatch. You will have idea about any distro you like: it’s origin, and details that you should know before getting it.

Can I use Windows’ software/applications in Linux distros?
– Most popular software/applications have great cross-platform support. Probability is, software/applications you are using on Windows, are available for Linux platform. Here are some categorized applications that are available for Linux:

Web browser: Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Maxthon, etc. No Internet Explorer, though!

Office Suits: Microsoft Office supposedly doesn’t support Linux platform, except Android. But you can use WPS Office Suits, which looks and feels like Microsoft Office. You can say it’s a MS Office Suit. I recommend LibreOffice though. LibreOffice is 100% Microsoft Office compatible; you can edit your Microsoft Office files here. LibreOffice is even better than Microsoft Office Suits; it’s free and open source, comparatively lightweight, customizable, easy to use and developed by a worldwide community.

Media Players: VLC is there! I don’t think I should be naming any other media players. VLC is the de facto media player today! As for music players, Linux platform has couple of awesome music players. Choose the one that suits your need.

Gaming: Steam is available for the Linux platform. You can play thousands of games online using the official Steam application. Other online and offline games are also available for Linux platform.

Other popular applications: Every day-to-day use applications are there in Linux world. Skype, Viber, etc. are also available in the Linux world. You can find even lots more applications in here.

Can I use Adobe software/applications in Linux?
– Adobe hasn’t released their popular software, e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator, Reader, etc. for the Linux platform. You can use the Flash Player though. It’ available and supported for the Linux platform. And of course, other alternatives to Flash Players are available in Linux world.

If some proprietary software/applications aren’t available for Linux platform, they how would we use them?
– You can use WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator), which allows you to run Windows’ software/applications in Linux. You can run popular software/applications in Linux easily. Some of them work perfectly, some do not. But I personally recommend not using Windows’ software through WINE. This way it wouldn’t feel native. My suggestion is to use the Linux version of the software, if, of course, it’s available for Linux. If not, then try to find alternative software. Sometimes alternative to proprietary software/applications is better than the mainstream software/applications, e.g GIMP is a Photoshop alternative. You can do ‘almost’ everything in GIMP and even more that you can do with Photoshop. You can use Inkscape as the Illustrator alternative.

Where can I get help if I get stuck in any Linux related problems?
– From any Linux related issues, first do use your preferred search engine. Search for the solution to your problem/s; there’s a good chance that someone might have encountered it before you, and did find a solution. Do an extensive search. If you fail finding the solution using search engines, then go for different forum/s. Nowadays, every distro has their own forum. Register in your distros’ forum, ask for help. Linux community is well known for helping each others. That’s how Linux is developed. Some popular distros even have their ask and answer sites, as well as the forum. Some have IRC channel support.

What is the Linux counterpart for Windows’ EXE file/s?
– Windows’ files ending with .exe are the executable files. You can install applications from these .exe files. You can use distro specific software center for installing software/applications, or download binary files from the Internet and install them. Binary files are somewhat akin to executable files in Linux. Two popular binary file formats are available for Linux: .deb and .rpm. Debian and it’s derivatives use .deb binary file format and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and its derivatives use .rpm binaries.

You said something about derivative/s?
– Yeah. Derivatives are known as the derived distro from a ‘mother’ distro. Most of the Linux distros are open source in nature. That makes in easy to derive a distro from that distro. Debian has most numbers of derivatives’ distros. Some popular Debian derivatives are Ubuntu, Linux Mint, elementary OS, etc. Fedora is another popular distro which is the community edition of Red Hat. openSUSE is another distro, which is the community edition of SUSE Linux.

Out of all these popular distros, why did you suggest Ubuntu or Linux Mint?
– Ubuntu and Linux Mint both started with the beginners in mind. Ubuntu has made Linux easy for the average Joe’s. Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu. Linux Mint got much of it’s popularity when Ubuntu introduced their Unity desktop. Many Linux users’ didn’t like the Unity interface and thus migrated to more familiar desktop in Linux Mint. But this doesn’t mean Ubuntu is hard to use. Ubuntu is equally easy to use like Mint, but it’s Unity interface alienate some users for it’s mobile-like interface. You can try o both of them and choose for yourself.

Why not try other distros?
– You can try any of them and choose which one suits you best. It doesn’t have to be just Ubuntu or Mint. You can choose any desktop environment. In Linux world, you’re the master. You can choose for yourself. Just don’t go around asking ‘which one is better or best’. As I said earlier, ‘best’ is very subjective, and thus vary from persons to persons. My suggestion is to try the ones you like, and see for yourself which suits you best.

How can I try several distros? This way I have to install each of them, wipe them out and install them again.
– Apparently it’s not the case now. The situation is much better now. You can try almost every distro from a CD or USB device without installing them on your computer. You don’t need to install each of them. Just try from a USB. It feels like you’re using them installing in hard disk. You won’t notice any difference. The benefit is, you can try everything and see if you like it. If you do, stick with it, or you can try another. Just don’t distro hop. Distro hopping becomes a habit for many Linux users. Coming from the Windows, they suddenly get so many choices to choose them and thus couldn’t decide for themselves. They become distro hopper afterwards.

How much disk space do I need to install any Linux distro?
– You’ll be amazed that there are Linux distros which only requires 55 MB disk space! But, of course these are not for regular use.Most popular Linux distros would require you to have at least 5GB of hard disk space. But it’s better if you can allot more disk space. You can learn which distro requires how much space and other requirements in their distro specific page.

Are modern video cards or graphics cards drivers support Linux?
– I have recommended Ubuntu/Mint for a reason. They do come with excellent proprietary graphics card support among other Linux distros. It’s plug and play!

Does Linux support this-and-that hardware?
– There’s a good chance that your hardware is already supported in Linux platform. Almost every hardware you can think of is plug-and-play away! Just plug them in, and use them. It’s that easy. You don’t need to download drivers for any hardware inserted in your Linux machine.

Do I need you use any anti-virus software in Linux?
– Nope. Linux distros come with their central repository of software/applications. You are safe when you only use software downloaded and installed from those central repositories. You won’t need to use software downloaded from the Internet.

How do I install software in Linux distros?
– As I said, Linux distros have their software repositories which houses all the available software/applications for that distro. You can download and install software from their repository using the package management tools. Even easier is to use the software center. Popular Linux distros come with software center, from where you can easily install software/applications. It’s that easy!

These are the FAQ I can currently think of. I believe these non-technical FAQ will help a Linux beginner get their questions answered. I’ll update and add more FAQ to this list if needed. If you have a FAQ in mind, do suggest to add. Happy Linuxing!

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