Table of contents
- What is Linux?
- Where do we encounter it?
- What makes it special?
-... And what exactly is Linux Mint?
II. Technical Aspects
- Installing the operating system
- Hardware drivers
- Your computer's performance and resource consumption
III. Everyday Use
- Accessing your programs and files
- Online Security
- Gaming and Multimedia
- Office Work
- Installing additional software
What is Linux?
When we hear the name „Linux“ we usually think about an operating system for nerds and other people with too much free time. Well, that's only partially true since Linux itself isn't an operating system. Linux is a core for operating systems which are built around it1
Yet all Linux based operating system are very similar in use and are all referred to as „Linux“ - even though the correct term for these systems would be „GNU/Linux“ (while, as already mentioned, only the core itself is called Linux) because they are all released under the GNU Public License2.
The history of Linux dates back to the early nineties when Linus Torvalds, a student of computer science and a member of the Swedish minority of Finland started to write his own little operating system core just for fun.
Later he mentioned this operating system core on a newsgroup and he also added the possibility of releasing it under the GPL - eventually he did so.
The early nineties were also the era of the early Internet and people all over the world showed interest in Linux and it quickly progressed. Due to the open nature of the GPL everyone could download the source code of Linux and add, remove, fix or improve things. More and more developers gathered. Linux “Distributions” - the various operating systems based on Linux - created and spread throughout the Internet3. Today big computer companies such as Hewlett Packard or Intel have paid employees who contribute to Linux because these companies rely on Linux based technologies so every progress in the Linux world is in their very own interest4 5.
Where do we encounter it?
Today, around 25 years later, Linux basically runs the modern world. It's everywhere.
When you fire up your computer's Internet browser and connect to a website this website is most likely run on a Linux server6. All the big services, such as Facebook or Google heavily rely on Linux7 8.
If you go to an electronics store and buy one of these fancy and new mobile phones with Android or Tizen - well, you've just bought a little computer running Linux because both, Tizen and Android are based on Linux9 10.
Look around your living room. Do you have a device to watch DVD's11 ? A device to record TV shows to a hard drive12 or a little media center computer which you use to stream MP3's and movies from your PC or laptop13 ? Do you have a modern TV which allows you to browse and open media files from your pen drives or even has the ability to access the Internet in order to show you the news or the newest videos from Youtube14 ? Congratulations, there's a big chance that these devices run Linux based software.
But that's not the end. Linux can also be a part of security mechanisms15, medical devices or even run the war ships of the US Navy16. But you can also run one of the many Linux distributions on your computer which you use at home or at work. In fact there's nothing Linux couldn't do or run or be a part of.
What makes it special?
Linux operating systems are very special because everyone around the world can contribute to them. You can download the source code17 to your computer and, as already mentioned, edit it. This way Linux basically belongs to everyone - or better said: everyone can adapt it and the distributions around it to fit his needs. This way Linux is extremely adaptable and can run on a wide range of hardware because everyone can also add his own hardware drivers to the core.
That's also the reason why Linux is so wide spread. Only because Linux is available to everyone it could be adapted to your desktop computer, your TV, your mobile phone or your war ship - if you have any. It's so adaptable that there's only a minority of the top 500 super computers which does not run Linux.
This special concept enabled Linux to conquer our modern world. It's nearly everywhere and we won't get rid of it for the next decades to come.
And what exactly is Linux Mint?
In the Linux world there are hundreds of Linux distributions who are constantly improved, updated or released. These distributions target different audiences such as developers, server administrators, hackers, children, or normal end users.
Linux Mint is a distribution of Linux which targets normal end users. It provides a traditional user interface which is called Cinnamon. Additionally there are other “flavors” of Linux Mint which provide similar user interfaces which target high end
computer (such as KDE) or low end computers (such as XFCE or Mate)18.
Fig. 1: The standard desktop of Linux Mint 17
illustration not visible in this excerpt
For this essay I have chosen Linux Mint because of the traditional user interface it features and because it targets the normal end user who only wants to finish some office work, browse Facebook, play some arcade game, and listen to his extensive collection of illegally obtained MP3's.
Today Linux Mint is regarded as one of the 'easier' distributions of Linux because the operating system tries to not bother the user with anything complicated to set up or install. Using Linux Mint also provides a rather similar experience to using Windows 7. That's the second reason why I have chosen Linux Mint for this essay. Windows 7 and Linux Mint both provide a traditional yet not archaic desktop experience. For example it would be unfair to compare Linux Mint to Windows 95 or compare Arch Linux (a distribution which targets Linux professionals and enthusiasts)19 to Windows 8.1 simply because these systems are either too modern, too different or too chronologically distant from each other. Windows 8/8.1, for example, added features to the user interface20 which we might never see in a Linux OS.
And since I will use this essay to check if Linux is a better desktop operating system than Microsoft Windows the two competitors, Linux Mint and Windows 7, simply provide a fair comparison.
II. Technical Aspects
Installing the operating system
The installation of both, Windows 7 and Linux, is fairly easy as both operating systems provide a graphical installer which guides you through the process of the installation and can be controlled with computer mouse. In fact all you need to do is to burn a DVD with the respective operating system, open your computer’s disc tray, put in the disc and restart the computer. Yet Fig. 2 The graphical installer of Linux Mint there are still differences.
One big difference between Linux Mint 17 and Windows 7 is that Linux Mint 17 can boot into a “live environment” where you can try the operating system before installing it. If you don’t like it you can simply turn off your computer and remove the disc. If Linux Mint appeals to you, you can just double click an icon on Mint’s desktop which will start the graphical installer. Windows 7, on the other hand, gives you no such option. A Windows 7 DVD will boot directly into its installer.
Fig. 3 Linux Mint's "Live Environment"
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Both installers basically do the same thing.
You will be asked to choose on which partition you want to install your operating systems. Additionally both installers enable you to create or delete partitions if necessary. You will also be asked to choose your display language and keyboard layout, your current time zone and to provide a username and a password which you will use to log in to your system later.
1 “Linux”, 16 February 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux
2 “Linux”, 16 February 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux
3 Dave Hayward, The history of Linux”, http://www.techradar.com/news/software/operating-systems/the-history-of- linux-how-time-has-shaped-the-penguin-1113914
4 „Debian Partners“, 16 February 2015, https://www.debian.org/partners/
5 “Linus Torvalds defends his right to shame Linux kernel developers”, 16 February 2015, http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/07/linus-torvalds-defends-his-right-to-shame-linux-kernel- developers/
6 “Usage share of operating systems”, 16 February 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems
7 “How Does Facebook Work? The Nuts and Bolts [Technology Explained]”, 16 February 2015, http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/facebook-work-nuts-bolts-technology-explained/
8 „How Google uses Linux“, 16 February 2015, http://lwn.net/Articles/357658/
9 “Tizen”, 16 February 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tizen
10 “Android is Based on Linux, But What Does That Mean?”, 16 February 2015, http://www.howtogeek.com/189036/android-is-based-on-linux-but-what-does-that-mean/
11 „Toshiba HD-A1 Review“, 16 February 2015, http://www.ign.com/articles/2006/06/03/toshiba-hd-a1-review
12 „VDR“, 16 February 2015, http://wiki.ubuntuusers.de/VDR
13 „Linux als Home Entertainment Server mit UPnP und DLNA“, 16 February 2015, http://www.linux- magazin.de/Ausgaben/2013/01/Videostreaming
14 „So hacken Sie Ihr Smart-TV”, 16 February 2015, http://www.pcwelt.de/ratgeber/So-hacken-Sie-Ihren-Smart-TV- 5899304.html
15 16 February 2015, http://www.zoneminder.com/
16 “The Navy’s newest warship is powered by Linux”, 16 February 2015, http://arstechnica.com/information- technology/2013/10/the-navys-newest-warship-is-powered-by-linux/
17 kernel.org, 16 February 2015, https://www.kernel.org/
18 Linux Mint Homepage, 16 February, http://www.linuxmint.com/
19 Arch Linux Homepage, 16 February, https://www.archlinux.org/
20 “Windows 8 Metro UI: A Bold New Face for Windows”, 16 February 2015, http://www.pcworld.com/article/251340/windows_8_metro_ui_a_bold_new_face_for_windows.html