Last month I gave a brief intro to this series about Linux, and as was mentioned at the end of the last post, today’s article will cover some key facts for Windows users to understand about Linux that will make comparing the different distributions easier, and then talk a bit about Linux Mint (my distribution of choice).
1. Distribution (distro): unlike Windows, there are many different ‘flavors’ or ‘versions’ of the Linux operating system. Each distribution will have its own unique quirks, but many of the different versions have much more in common than not. All distributions share the same core -called the “Linux Kernel”.
2. Desktop Environment: another major difference in user experience between Windows and Linux is that while Windows comes with one user interface (start button, windows explorer, etc…), Linux has dozens (and maybe even hundreds) of desktop environments to choose from. Some of the top ones are: Unity, Gnome, KDE, XFCE, OpenBox, MATE, and LXDE.
3. Terminal: unlike in Windows where the “Command Prompt” is virtually never touched, Linux makes heavier use of its Terminal: a screen to input text commands directly to the operating system. Although most mainstream distributions are far enough along that you should only rarely have to touch the terminal, learning how to master it can actually save you lots of time. While graphical user interfaces look pretty and are less intimidating to inexperienced users, nothing beats the efficiency and raw speed of working via text commands. Also, EVERY Linux distro is going to require at least some use of the Terminal, so bear that in mind whenever considering moving over from Windows.
4. Repository (Repo): Whereas most Windows software is downloaded as files off of the internet, Linux distributions use what are called “Repos”. A repository is a collection of software. Rather than downloading individual files from websites, a few simple commands on the Terminal enables you to automatically download and install software to your Linux system. This makes keeping up with software much easier than managing individual files, and since software is constantly updated in the repositories you don’t have to worry about manually updating/reinstalling software to get new versions.Think of repositories as being sort of like “app stores” in iOS or Android. However, if you still prefer to download individual files and run them manually Linux supports that as well.
5. File Structure: on Windows you have the classic file structure that always starts with “C:\”, also called your “c” drive. However, Linux does not operate this way. In reality no computer actually has a “C:\” drive, it’s just something that Windows made up and happens to be on every computer that they make. However, Linux just puts its operating system files onto the hard drive, giving you a very accurate idea of where files are actually located within the operating system.
- Distribution: Mint is currently one of the most popular Linux distributions in terms of monthly downloads. Mint is based off of Debian (another Linux distro unto itself), and thus shares some traits. However, some the defining characteristics that make Linux Mint a great choice are:
a. Large User Base: if you have problems, chances are you can easily find a solution online where somebody else had a similar issue. I have yet to come across a problem that did not already have a solution.
b. Intuitive Install Process: Mint uses a guided install process that is intuitive for the most part, and manages the complexity of system install well.
c. Complete Package: Linux Mint, right out of the box, offers a complete experience: email, internet, office software, graphics software, music players, messenger apps, etc. This makes Mint an excellent choice for those who are new to Linux, or people who like to have a completely functional system from start up. Also, Mint does an excellent job of installing drivers and managing your computer’s hardware, meaning that minimal tweaking and ‘fixing’ will have to be done to keep the operating system running at peak performance.
Desktop Environments: Out of the box, Mint comes packaged with 3 main desktop environments to choose from: MATE, Cinnamon, and XFCE. If you are used to a Windows machine, MATE and Cinnamon are the closest parallels and offer very solid functionality. Out of those two, if you really want slick looking graphics, go with Cinnamon. XFCE is nothing like Windows in terms of layout, however it is lighter weight on system resources than either of the previous two, and anyone who doesn’t care about eye-candy and just wants raw light-weight performance should look here.
- Terminal: out of all of the distros, Mint does not require as much use of Terminal as some more advanced or minimal distributions. However, it is always there if you want to learn it (believe me, its so much more efficient than using the mouse).
Repository: Mint has a very good software repository. I have been able to find almost all the software I need in it. Also, while you can use Terminal to download or update software, Mint included a very handy software center that you can search for, and download, software through.
For somebody moving from Windows, Mint is probably one of the best options: offers a robust and fully featured system out of the box and also includes 3 highly functional desktop environments 2 of which are very reminiscent of Windows. Finally, the ability to complete many tasks without using Terminal, and the extensive software available through its Repository, make Mint an excellent choice for those looking to get their feet wet in the Linux pool for the first time.