Practical Technology

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You don’t need to ‘know’ Linux to use Linux


Lately, I’ve been noticing stories about how to use Linux you need to know half-a-hundred Linux shell commands and the like. Ah, what century are you from? Today, if you can see a window and handle a mouse, you’re ready to use Linux.

And no, I’m not talking about how we’re all already using Linux in devices like the TiVo or the Droid smartphone and through Linux-powered Web sites like Google. I’m talking about using Linux on the desktop.

There is nothing — I repeat, nothing — that requires any special knowledge to use Linux on the desktop today. If you’ve already mastered Windows XP, you’ll have little more trouble moving to a Linux desktop like Red Hat’s Fedora 12; Novell’s openSUSE 11.2; or Canonical’s Ubuntu 9.10 than you would in switching over to Windows 7.

I’m not saying using Linux isn’t different from running Windows. It is. For example, you’ll need special software like Crossover Linux to run Windows-specific software.

The interfaces also aren’t the same — but then, Windows 7 and Vista’s interfaces aren’t the same as XP’s, and Mac OS X’s Aqua interface doesn’t look anything like the others. Besides, can any other operating system besides Linux let you set up the interface so that it duplicates XP’s look and feel? I think not!

What you don’t need to use desktop Linux is to learn dozens of obscure Linux shell (aka command line) programs to get work done. Neither do you need to know how to edit configuration files by hand to get Linux set up properly.

Sure, it can help to know how to use the Unix/Linux shell. I was writing shell (awk, sed, and grep) scripts to get work done in Unix, and later Linux, before many of you played your first game of solitaire on Windows 1.0. My point is, for ordinary, everyday use, you don’t need to know anymore about those things than you need to know how to edit Windows’ registry to run Windows.

I use desktop Linux every day, and I’m a Linux expert. Do you know how often I turn to a terminal to get to a shell to run commands? Maybe once a month, if that.

Between the two major Linux desktop interfaces, KDE and GNOME, Linux has you covered. For applications, many of the most popular applications, such as Firefox and OpenOffice, run just the same on Linux as they do on Windows. For other end-user programs, Linux programs such as Evolution for e-mail and Pidgin for IM are just as good, if not better, than their Windows equivalents. And again, you don’t need to know anything special to use them.

Installing new software on Linux isn’t any trouble either. Better still, major Linux distributors like Ubuntu are continuing to make installing Linux software easier than ever with programs like Ubuntu Software Center.

Don’t get me wrong: if you’re running a Linux server, you really need to know Linux’s technical guts. But you know what? If you’re running a Windows server, you also need to know Window’s version of the shell, the PowerShell.

No matter what desktop operating system you’re running, if you really want control over exactly what it does, you need to know how to manage its command line tools. But for day-to-day use, Linux’s graphical interfaces makes it just as easy to use as Windows or Mac OS X. Pretending that you need to be some kind of computer wizard to run Linux on the desktop today is just downright silly.

A version of You don’t need to ‘know’ Linux to use Linux first appeared in ComputerWorld.>

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