What is Linux?

Linux is a powerful, free, and open-source operating system running on millions of computers around the world. It rivals major for-profit operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OSX (Max OSX is, incidentally, based on BSD UNIX, itself an open-source operating system). I have been using Linux since 1997, when I finally tired of Windows 95 and its habit of eating my academic papers at critical moments. Linux is stable, running for months without need for intervention. Linux is simple, built on a modular philosophy that allows layers of complexity to be added. Linux comes packaged in many different “distributions”, or flavors. These are just different ways to wrap up the core operating system with powerful utilities. Here are my picks:

Get Ubuntu Linux, my favorite flavor of the GNU/Linux operating system. It installs from a thumbdrive!

What is open-source software?

Open-source software (OSS) is software which is developed by a single, or group, of talented and creative programmers who want to solve a problem. For instance, in the face of the super-expensive office software like Microsoft Office, a dedicated team of programmers have written LibreOffice, a free and open-source alternative. What makes OSS special is that once released, people who use it are free to modify it for their own purposes, so long as they make their changes available to the community and they don’t try to make money off the original work. This simple philosophy has resulted in operating systems like Linux, and other excellent software, such as:

  • GNU: a suite of UNIX-like tools for editing files, reading e-mail, browsing the web, etc.
  • KDE and GNOME: These are so-called “desktops”, providing tools like windows, window management, and themes, as well as graphical toolkits and interfaces.
  • Firefox: If you’re not using Firefox, you should be. This is a powerful, fast, and light-weight web browser. It’s more transparent and modifiable than Internet Explorer, and a lot more secure. I also recommend the Chrome Browser – fast, light, beautiful.

What’s on my desktop?

My Desktop, circa July 2012.

Currently, I run Ubuntu Linux 16.04. My desktop suite of choice is GNOME with UNITY. I used to hate GNOME, but the integration of system tools (software updates, hardware information) and simple applications (Rhythmbox music player, Thunderbird email client) into the desktop experience is great.

I often use LibreOffice for all of my office documents, like presentations. I recently switched to the Beamer/Latex class for slide development, and now prefer that for presentations. I use Latex, the document formatting system, to write all of my scientific papers, and Emacs to take scratch notes. I use Atom to do software development. I use Skype for internet telephony, Firefox and Chrome for web browsing, and Thunderbird for e-mail. Dianara is my social media desktop application of choice for the network, and I use websites otherwise.