Core Linux Question and Answers For Beginners

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Jul 16, 2017
Updated • Jul 16, 2017

Linux, or GNU/Linux, is has grown in popularity exponentially over the course of the past ten years or so, and with that and the rise of users switching from Windows; there are a lot of questions that get asked.

This article, is simply a number of these questions, and the answers associated with them.

Feel free to post questions about Linux that you are curious about in the comment section below.

Is Linux Free To Use?

In short – Mostly. The vast majority of distributions used at home are free to use. It’s not really until you start getting into the server environments that you CAN run into distributions that require payment, but only if you want to use them. One of the beautiful things about the GNU/Linux world, is that you have plenty of options. An example of this, is RedHat Enterprise Linux, which is a system you must pay for.

In the alternative, there is CentOS which is a community run distribution based off RHEL. CentOS does not get the commercial support from RHEL and most updates are shipped to RHEL first before picked up in CentOS, however for all intents and purposes you could say that CentOS = RHEL for the most part. Another example would be SUSE, which is another paid distribution popular for servers, and OpenSUSE, a free community version of SUSE.

What is the difference between Linux and UNIX?

I could get very deep with this question, but for the sake of this article being for beginners I will try to simplify this, albeit at the expense of some detail.

Linux is a clone of UNIX, however they share no actual code. UNIX is a commercial system, and is copyrighted. Linux on the other hand, is free for anyone to use, modify, change, hack, tweak etc. They share many similarities such as Desktop Environments, An Init system (for those who did not switch to systemD in Linux), POSIX interface, and more. However, again, Linux is not UNIX, it’s just a clone.

What is the difference between Windows and Linux?

The main difference is that Linux is open source. ANYONE (Like you!) could download the source code, and do whatever you want to it. Windows is closed source and proprietary, you won’t be messing with the source code anytime soon, legally (leaks have just a few days ago!)

Another major difference is that there are MANY different distributions of Linux, and each has different features, and the community is constantly adding more. Windows, you get what they ship you. Yes, there are third party programs that can change things around, but you do not have anywhere near the same flexibility and customization options as you do with Linux.

Linux is also much safer than Windows. There are many reasons why, and that’s an article all in itself, but suffice to say that there is a reason people like Edward Snowden just to throw one name out there, don’t use Windows.

What is the relation between GNU and Linux?

Linux is actually not what many beginners tend to think it is. Linux is not what you see, what you click, or what you really interact with most of the time. Linux is not the operating system; Linux is the kernel. GNU is actually the operating system.

The GNU operating system was not originally designed to be used with Linux, but rather it’s own kernel called the GNU Hurd. However, once Linux creator Linus Torvalds released Linux into the world, it became commonly adopted by GNU users, and became the standard for use with the GNU OS. Nowadays, 99% of “Linux” systems you will ever touch, are actually more like GNU/Linux systems. This is why some people choose to call the OS GNU/Linux instead of simply Linux, because that would actually be incorrect when referencing the Operating System. However, for simplicity sake, many still simply call the entire shebang “Linux.”

What is a Linux distribution?

Because both GNU and Linux are free, many communities, companies and also individuals, have chosen to design their own GNU/Linux operating systems. Some use different package managers, some use different desktop environments, some are designed to be minimalistic, some are designed for specific purposes. A distribution, or distro for short; is the term used when describing one of these various Operating Systems. Rather than saying, “I use a community made version of the GNU/Linux Operating System called Linux Mint, which is based off another version of GNU/Linux created by the company Canonical; called Ubuntu.” We can simply say, “I use a distro called Linux Mint, which is based off another distro called Ubuntu.”

What are the most popular Linux distributions?

What variants/editions of Linux Mint are there?

Linux Mint is growing to become one of the most popular distros of GNU/Linux out there, and because of that there are multiple ‘flavors’ of the system, to appease people of different tastes.

At the time of writing this article, the current variants are:

  • Linux Mint 18.2 “Sonya” Xfce

  • Linux Mint 18.2 “Sonya” KDE

  • Linux Mint 18.2 “Sonya” Cinnamon

  • Linux Mint 18.2 “Sonya” MATE

  • Linux Mint Debian Edition 2 “Betsy” which is based on Debian, rather than Ubuntu.

What variants/editions of Ubuntu are there?

Ubuntu was and still in many ways is, the reigning champion of the GNU/Linux userbase. Just like with Linux Mint, there are numerous variants of it, to appease multiple different crowds.

  • Kubuntu — Ubuntu with the KDE Desktop Environment

  • Lubuntu — Ubuntu with the LXDE Desktop Environment

  • Mythbuntu — Used for making your own home theatre using MythTV

  • Ubuntu Budgie — Ubuntu with the Budgie DE

  • Ubuntu GNOME — Ubuntu with the GNOME Desktop Environment

  • Ubuntu Kylin — Ubuntu specifically made for users in China

  • Ubuntu MATE — Ubuntu with the MATE Desktop Environment

  • Ubuntu Studio — Designed for Editing and Multimedia, commonly used for audio/video production environments.

  • Xubuntu — Ubuntu with the XFCE Desktop Environment

Where do you get Linux support?

The best places to get support, are the website forums for your specific distribution, but also the FreeNode (( IRC Network. There are channels for almost every Distro, and the community is almost always willing to help!

What are the top websites/channels to learn Linux? is a great source for Linux information! (Shameless plug)

Other great sites are:

Final Words

Hopefully this will help the newly arrived Windows refugees, future Linux Neckbeards of Power, and the curious console junkies, a little bit more about the basics of things. The world of GNU/Linux is huge, deep, intricate, and downright mindblowing if you submerge yourself deep enough into it; but thankfully, you don’t really have to nowadays either, with how awesome and userfriendly it has become.

What about you? How did you get started into the world of GNU/Linux? Tell your stories in the comments!

Core Linux Question and Answers For Beginners
Article Name
Core Linux Question and Answers For Beginners
If you ever wondered if Linux is free, what the different between Linux and GNU/Unix is, and where to get Linux support, you come to the right article.
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  1. Dave said on September 5, 2017 at 5:03 am

    Wanted to give a shout for Debian Linux…have used it for about three years now. So calm, stable, low maintenance. Updates generally take a minute or two, I just upgraded to 9.1 ‘Stretch’ with the Gnome desktop. I have Windows 10 on another hard drive –it works well but have hardly used it at all. Beginners may want to do Mint first. Debian (on which Mint is based by way of Ubuntu) may take a little more tweaking but once I have it the way I want it, have never used a more reliable operating system. My computer skills are minimal. There is a learning curve but nice to have more control over my own computer. With Windows the hard drive is almost always going…doing…I know not what! With Linux it quietly awaits my command. Seems like my stripped down version of xp was like that back in the day.

    1. Jen said on December 28, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Ditto. Began my Linux use on SuSe 4.2 in the 90’s but slowly migrated back to Windows due to ease of use and aesthetics. On and off for many years I’ve tried loads of distros. Mint is probably the closest to a Windows experience I have tried. But I’m using Debian, and sticking with it now, for myriad reasons.

      Couldn’t agree more about your “hdd experience”. It got to the point with Windows 10, and security/privacy issues, that I now just run Debian. No dual boot. And it’s great!

      I’m not a professional, nor particularly advanced in my use though I do know my way around the command line. Whene I began with SuSe in ’96 I really struggled with cups etc, never mind not being able to get online. Steep learning curve, but at least it gave me a grounding.

      Nowadays, I don’t see why any distro doesn’t have millions of users. It’s all so simple.

      For me, the best reasons for using a GNU/Linux box is security and privacy, which in this day and age, should matter to us all.

  2. Lee said on July 17, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Cant speak to all distros but at lest some of them a person can easily add different Desktop Environments to there current install with just a simple command. Then just pick the one you want at login.

    BTW a great place to get an overview of the different DEs is youtube.

  3. Al CiD said on July 17, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    I think saying Linux is an Unix-Clone is wrong and does not respect Linus Torvald´s (and a lot more peoples) work…
    Unlike BSD Linux is an Unix-like Kernel…

    You are free to modify a lot in Linux like many distributions do, but if you are happy with your system you don´t need to do it.

  4. ivanionMe123456 said on July 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I’ll be short. You can use only Linux Mint KDE like your HOME desktop OS. Otherwise you will get headache.
    That’s it.

    1. Alan Robertson said on July 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      Nice try! Popcorn on standby…. And yes, KDE is a great desktop but it is only one of many which are all just as good depending on your requirements.

      For those who are new to Linux there are many desktop environments. As to which is best, it’s entirely up to you to decide – how they function / memory overhead / aesthetics etc. My advice to anyone trying Linux is to download an ISO with the desktop they would like to try and see how you get on. Then you can make your own mind up as to which one won’t give you a “headache”.

      Some common desktop environments are (in no particular order and by no means conclusive):

      KDE Plasma
      Unity – Not sure if this will be developed further. Fork time?

      As far as Linux Mint goes, it comes with Cinnamon, MATE, XFCE and KDE. All of which suit different people’s needs and preferences – there is no “only” desktop environment. You can even have multiple desktop environments installed on the same distribution.

      1. Alan Robertson said on July 17, 2017 at 4:58 pm

        I’m pleased for you ivanionMe123456 / AnonNonNon – it sounds like you have found the distro and desktop environment that works well for you after lots of distro hopping. At least for now ;-)

        That’s the beauty of Linux over Windows – free to choose, free to theme and free to customise to your hearts content, and as everyone has different tastes and needs, they’re also free to choose what they prefer too.

        Linux allows you to control all of your hardware the way you want it to be, unlike Microsoft and Apple that lock everything down so that it works the way they want it to be.

      2. Sinon said on July 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

        Unity 8 has already been forked now and some post fork development has started with both.

        Yunit – the desktop fork

        Unity8 (Ubports) – the mobile fork

      3. AnonNonNon said on July 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm

        I’ve tried ubuntu, linux mint, manjaro, opensuse. I’ve tried xfce, unity, gnome 2, gnome 3, mate, cinnamon, lxde. And I’ve tried them for several month per OS and DE. I know what I say.

        KDE is buggy but it’s only choice. Ubuntu have not got some necessary stuff by default if we compare with Linux Mint. That’s why Linux Mint KDE is only choice.

  5. Darryl said on July 17, 2017 at 4:15 am

    I wanted to try something ‘not Windows’ just before Windows 7 came out. I have a friend who knows Linux and I got him to set me up with a dual-boot – Vista and Mint. So I could use either one any time I liked. I set out to figure out Mint, and to my surprise it was pretty straight-forward. After using Mint daily for a month or so I booted back into Vista to do updates. It took so long to start, was so slow to update and so frustrating to sit around waiting for it all to happen that I booted back into Mint and never used Windows again. And I don’t regret it for one second. I’m just a general user, nothing fancy, no command line stuff, and it all just works. I’ve since gone dual-boot with Manjaro and Mint because Manjaro is a rolling distro and will never be out of date. So far, so good.
    My mother is in her 90’s and was still using XP, so I moved her to Mint as well. And after about a month of her asking questions, they stopped. She was using Mint without a problem, even to the point of doing her own updates. That also freed up a lot of the time I spent remoting onto her computer to fix it or walking her through something simple over the phone.
    So if you’re unsure, try a dual-boot and see what it’s like to use Linux. If you like it, excellent. If not, you have Windows still functioning on your computer and you can go to that whenever you like.

  6. Frankie said on July 17, 2017 at 12:14 am

    @Johnny – Ok, can agree with that. :)

  7. Alan Robertson said on July 17, 2017 at 12:10 am

    There’s some very valid points raised here with both the Windows and Linux camps. Disclaimer: I’m a Linux user. I have also used Windows for over twenty years and Mac OS too.

    This article is primarily aimed at new users of Linux, or more specifically, Windows users who might be looking to try Linux. Everything that follows is based on that assumption.

    Q) I’ve heard of people talking about Linux but I have never tried it and I wondered, what is it?
    A) It’s just another operating system like Windows, Mac OS or Unix.

    Q) Yeah, I get that smarty pants, but what’s it like?
    A) Imagine letting a bunch of programmers loose from their Windows overlords and they were free to create what ever they liked. The result is a hotch potch bag of spanners where things break regularly and a lot of squabbling occurs.

    Q) That doesn’t sound very good – how can that possibly be better than Windows?
    A) Well, despite the persistent arguing over who has the best distribution (hint – my distro is better than all of your distros!), it does allow people to create some really good software.

    Q) Like what?
    A) Well, (quick head scratch), there’s Libre Office. It usually comes bundled with most distros and it’s free to use.

    Q) Libre what now?
    A) (oh yeah – I forgot Windows users use Microsoft Office and they have to pay). It’s like a free version of Microsoft Office.

    Q) Ha ha ha, I’ll bet it’s a pile of poo. How can you possibly offer a free version of Microsoft Office and change its name? It must be free because it’s rubbish.
    A) Actually, you should try it. For starters you can create a Word file in Windows, open it in Writer, edit and save it, and then re-open and edit it in Word – with no noticeable difference. The same is true with Excel and Calc or Powerpoint and Impress.

    Q) No noticeable difference at all?
    A) Pretty much, like for like 99% of of normal users. If you are one of those geeky Windows types then maybe you might find that really weird exception to the rule, but generally speaking if you install the Microsoft core fonts in Linux from the software manager then you’ll be fine. So, remind me again, how much is your Windows Office 365 subscription again?

    Q) Very funny. Is that it though – just a free version of Office?
    A) Well, there’s plenty more software like Firefox or Thunderbird.

    Q) Firefox, who uses that these days, and what the heck is Thunderbird?
    A) True, but you can also install Chromium or Opera or, if you must, even Chrome. So pretty much every major browser except Internet Explorer or Edge, which nobody uses out of choice anyway. Thunderbird is an email client – kind of like Outlook in that respect. It’s the one application that a lot of Linux users use but will deny they do because it makes them sound old and they want be with the cool kids using Evolution, Kmail or Geary.

    Q)You mean there is more than one email application?
    A) Yes – the usual. Someone falls out with someone else about the direction where the application development is going, throws a wobbly, forks it and makes their own version which is how they want to do it, or they just write their own version from scratch.
    Q) Fork what now?
    A) It’s a common thing with Linux. The Windows response with development is “do as I say” and so old cruft just keeps on getting recycled. They then wrap a ribbon around it and punt out the “new” version to their users while hiding the overall cost with a lot of additional charges. Linux, on the other hand, adopts a more rag tag band approach to doing things. If someone doesn’t like what they are being asked to do, then they’re free to take the existing application and modify it to what they like and if enough people like it then they start to contribute to the project.

    Q) It doesn’t sound very organised. How does anything get done?
    A) Well, you’re right there. It’s sort of like chaos theory where nothing is really planned or organised, but somehow things come together and after a lot of arguing eventually things get done. We do have some leaders though. We have Richard Stallman who insists everything should be free – not just open source. He’s eccentric and holds ideals that are impossible to live by with a non wavering compromise which kind of sets the bar that everyone tries to adhere to but usually fails in the process. Still, you gotta try! And then there’s Linus Torvalds who, by his own admission, isn’t a people person. He takes throwing a wobbly to a whole new level and usually gets his own way. By in large, though, the community usually sorts itself out – just bring the popcorn to any of the flame wars that kick off online.

    Q) I’m not convinced – does Linux have any advantages over Windows?
    A) Security is one. Pretty much anything that a bad guy can do in Linux will require you to put a password in and if you don’t know it, well you can’t do it. Then there’s open source – lot’s of people can view the code to check that it’s doing what it should be, sans malware. Truthfully, though, that’s a load of bull pats as nobody checks the open source code prior to using it. However, if a problem is found then you are able to check the code and make changes to fix it. You can’t do that with Windows.

    Q) Yeah, but if you didn’t let anybody see the code then it would be more secure wouldn’t it?
    A) Well, if that was the case, how come there are so many Windows exploits? If you are determined enough then somebody is going to reverse engineer their code.

    Q) Okay, what else?
    A) Well then theirs LUKS encryption which you get as standard unlike Windows where only a select (paying) few get Bitlocker. There’s also a lack of malware – providing you stick to the software in the repos and keep you operating system up to date, and unlike Windows you can choose when to do this when it is convenient. And let’s not forget the lack of serial numbers, activation hassles and updates that break your computer.

    Q) But you said Linux is a “hotch potch bag of spanners” – isn’t this just the same as Windows?
    A) Sometimes, but they usually get fixed quickly by undeservedly flaming the programmer until it all works properly. By comparison, Windows just shrugs its shoulders and waits to see just how much flak is flung back. If they get sufficiently harassed then they wait another month for patch Tuesday and fix it, otherwise, who cares!

    Q) Hmmm, what about hardware? I have a printer – will this work?
    A) *Sigh* Windows users! Let’s look at the two scenarios:
    1) Windows. Device manager, unrecognised device, search Microsoft update, search Google, search manufacturers website, what do you mean “It’s Legacy” it’s only two years old, find drivers and download, install drivers, test device.
    2) Linux – Ubuntu / Mint based. Plug it in and turn it on, drivers are installed automatically. Done.

    Q) Okay, so the distribution is free to use, the software is free to use, it’s more secure, has less malware and things get fixed reasonably quickly, but what about my Windows software? Can I run this in Linux?
    A) If you are into migraine headaches there’s always WINE which will attempt to run Windows software badly in Linux. It’s hit and miss and can be a real pain to setup. Honestly speaking, if you are in this situation then just use Windows until you can get a better solution worked out, or use both Windows and Linux.

    Q) Okay, Id like to try Linux. How do I go about this?
    A) Well the first decision is to decide what you want from Linux as each distribution is different, but as you are new to Linux I would try Linux Mint or Ubuntu as they are both user friendly and easy to install.

    Q) So, I like download a distribution and then what?
    A) In the past you would write the file to DVD and boot from the DVD. These days you can use Etcher or Unetbootin or Rufus or any other ISO to USB writing software. Then you go into the computers BIOS and tell it to boot legacy and select the USB drive to boot from. It then starts up, gives a chance to test it to see if works for you, and if everything is okay then you can install it.

    Q) That doesn’t sound too hard. I remember talking to people and they said that I had to partition everything and type commands in and stuff. Are you certain I won’t have to do that?
    A) Well, if you installed Arch Linux then, yes. Stick with Linux Mint – it’s easy to install.

    Q) Is there anything else I should know about Linux?
    A) It’s quiet on the network, which means it’s not going to clog up your internet connection, unlike Windows which is sending everything that you do back to Microsoft. And I mean EVERYTHING.

  8. Anonymous said on July 16, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    I’ve been using Lubuntu from a LiveCD every day for the past 2 weeks, & it has been an interesting learning experience. It seems that Linux as an OS has some quirks (or shortcomings ? or bugs ?) related to basic tasks & functions that would affect most end users regardless of which OS environment they are accustomed to.

    Another thing I observed is that there exists a very wide range of Terminal console commands (ranging from lookalikes to totally dissimilar ones) that supposedly perform the exact same function not possible via the GUI, but the commands may or may not work — I suppose, depending on either the distro or the version number of a particular distro that one is using.

    The seemingly infinite (?) range of commands for the exact same function gives me the impression that it is actually possible to spend a long time playing with Linux (ie. try out lots of different permutations of long complex commands) day after day, year after year — as opposed to getting actual work done.

    For instance, I found that while USB SATA HDDs can be detected by manually mounting them via the File Manager GUI, Lubuntu can’t see any of my USB flashdrives at all. I had to test a long list of various recommended console commands, before finally finding one that successfully mounts my flashdrives. However, the command’s syntax is so complex that I’ve forgotten what it is ! This is definitely not very user-friendly, since the command must be repeated for every mount & dismount of any USB flashdrive.

    Another basic example is changing the primary DNS of the network connection. Lubuntu automatically uses my ISP’s slow & buggy DNS as primary DNS, & refuses to fall back on the secondary DNS servers (which are thus rendered useless, even though I am able to specify whatever I want). Despite days of research & numerous attempts via the GUI & Terminal console, I have not succeeded in setting or changing the primary DNS server.

    Other than the aforementioned issues, one notable bug that I notice affect many Linux users is that the network connector may randomly fail to wake up after the system resumes from Suspend (ie, Sleep). Again, there are many console commands that supposedly force the network connector into a wakeful state, but so far none works on my system. The only working “solutuon” I accidentally discovered is (ironically) not a command, but to log out & back in again.

    1. Anonymous said on July 17, 2017 at 5:37 am

      I have never had any problems with flash drives except with a faulty drive that windows wouldnt recognize either. Plug one in and look in disks and see if it is listed there, main menu > Preferences > Disks

    2. Lee said on July 17, 2017 at 5:25 am

      For DNS go to main menu (bottom left) > Preferences > Network Connections > Double click on network you want to change DNS on. After the network settings window opens click on IPv4 settings tab. Next to method click on the drop down menu and select “Automatic (DHCP) addresses only”. Now look down a little further and you will see a place to enter your prefered DNS servers. Seperate them with a coma like,, And IPv6 tab is done same way or maybe change to igore if you dont use it.

  9. Rotten Scoundrel said on July 16, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Well, this seems to have opened a can of worms, so let me add a worm or two. I and thus, our family, are recent newcomers to Linux. But now we are total Ubuntu converts, well, we would be if I could get our two remaining windows Tablets (ASUS and Lenovo) to run Ubuntu.

    In the early days, as in mid last year, I began using different distros and while I like Mint the best of them all for look and feel, it kept running up against small brick walls in the way it operated. I evetually turned back to Ubuntu as it had far fewer issues. To be fair to Mint, the issues I experienced could be ironed out at the Command Line Interface (CLI) using Terminal. But, that then required some CLI knowledge and to a newbie, it got frustrating fast as I had to go searching. And, as Appster points out there are significant differences between distros.

    I found that Ubuntu had far fewer such issues so settled with it. But I still run foul of some things and the next major problem is that there are a zillion ways to do the same thing. AND mot of those ways you find are written by people who have no idea how to write technical assistance articles. They mostly assume you already know a lot about Linux. Couple that with mindset that we should be suffering at the CLI in order to better understand Linux, most help forums are less than helpful. In fact, most comments I find are more dismissive than helpful with things like links to a wiki that depicts the basis if the Linux world.

    New users coming from Windows need help not a two year course in Linux before than can swap over for day to day usability.

    An issue I just recently went through to get one Ubuntu to access files another Ubuntu. I was pushed pages of dribble including the “Official Ubuntu Documentation” pages. The instructions for all, failed at some point.

    I finally stumbled upon that answer and it was already there to be had very simply. Had just one of the morons (“learn Linux” zealots) on the forums been encouraging they **could** have mentioned it.

    Instead of online-pages of conflicting CLI instructions, all I had to do was right-click in the Ubuntu File Explorer (Nautilus) and select the “Share” tab. In there, select “Share this Folder” and I’d be presented with a question, “Do you want to install the apps needed to Share?”. I clicked “yes” and waited. Did the same on the other PC and viola, Sharing.

    Getting valid, concise and simple help is the problem that I see with any and all Linux distros. It will NEVER make it to the Prime-time while there are these “learn Linux,” idiots in the majority out there.

    Ooops, just fell off my soapbox, but am never going back to windows.

  10. Wile E. Veteran said on July 16, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    This article, like the vast majority of articles about GNU/Linux, strongly emphasizes the ability to “get the source and modify it” whereas the vast majority of people who use computers don’t give a flying fig about source code or programming. They are not computer enthusiasts, they are not developers, they simply want to be able to use the applications which allow them to do the things they want to do ether professionally or as a hobby and that very rarely involves writing or modifying code. They don’t care what OS they’re using as long as the applications they want to use are available for it. They’re never going to search out the “perfect” distro.

    Writers want to write their articles, stories, biographies, poems, or whatever. Engineers want to do CAD or analysis. Artists and graphic designers want to draw, paint, and design. People interested in genealogy want to trace their family history and compile the evidence and results they find. Academics want to do scholarly research, compile their notes about what they have found, and write papers for other academics to read. Investors want to crank their spreadsheets. Gamers want to play top-notch games. &c. &c. &c. Very, very few are going to develop or modify the applications they want and need, they just want to USE them. To paraphrase something from the 90’s, “It’s the applications, stupid” and that is precisely where the GNU/Linux (and BSD) communities fall down.

    Yes, there are applications for GNU/Linux that do many of these things but with (very) few exceptions, they lack the ease-of-use, features, and support that applications on Windows and macOS enjoy. The GIMP is a powerful program but it cannot do everything Photoshop does, it’s a pain to learn, and often a pain to use so far fewer people use GIMP (or Krita or MyPaint) than use Photoshop. LibreOffice is quite good but still has usability, feature, and stability shortcomings compared to MS Office and, whether the FOSS community likes it or not, the world runs on .docx/.xslx not their ODF equivalents and that is not going to change. There are many, many, many other examples but you get the picture (I hope).

    Most people do not have software development skills and do not need them to pursue their professional or avocational interests. Even among those who do, does anyone *realistically* expect someone to download the source to LibreOffice, study the programmatic structure, subroutine interactions, and coding style enough to understand how it all works in order to make a few small changes? I’ve been developing softwarefor 50 years, from physics simulations to real-time control systems to global business-critical support systems for a huge multinatational manufacturer. I have used, developed for, and administered UNIX and UNIX-like systems since Bell Labs Version 6 and I wouldn’t want to do it so how can anyone expect my artist friend who has no development skills at all to “download the source and modify it” to add a feature she wants to a graphics program? Especially when Photoshop already has it.

    GNU/Linux has a great story to tell about security, stability, and privacy but without the “applications, stupid” it will never, ever be used by more than a small percentage of the people who use computers (including tablets and smartphones). Rather than putting enormous amounts of time, energy, and talent into Yet Another Distro (or Yet Another Text Editor), the FOSS community needs to direct its attention and talent to *applications* that match or exceed in quality, ease-of-use, support, and stability what one can get for Windows/Mac. Otherwise, GNU/Linux will forever remain a toy for the enthusiasts who only talk to each other about how great it is but never listen to the market.

    1. MdN said on July 16, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Argh. When Windows gets tabs in the file manager (or in Photoshop for that matter), “always on top” for opened windows, customizable panel(s), a central update system or even a dock as good as Plank we can talk about apps and ease of use. Going to Windows from Linux feels like going to a war zone, aesthetically too. And having to use silly patches on Windows just to change the theme or icons into something less vomit-inducing to make the interface get out of the way? Blasphemy, I guess.
      Good point about modifying the source code, though. Never heard of anyone doing that.

    2. Sir Pixelot said on July 16, 2017 at 7:23 pm

      I totally agree. I have used Linux Mint (and other Linux distros) from time to time, but I always end up removing it and going back to Windows. As you mentioned, the limited software choice and less ease of use are just a few reasons why I struggle with the OS. Linux Mint also falls short on fonts which visually impair the OS for users who have grown accustomed to Windows Cleartype/Directwrite font rendering. I usually just end up installing Windows fonts in Mint, however, they don’t look as good as they would in Windows.

  11. Kyle said on July 16, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    I recently switched to Linux and have been a proud user ever since. I installed Linux Mint, played with it’s commands, customized its look and eventually learned to love it, I learn something new every day. Support is always a google search away. Linux feels very personal when you’re accustomed to it since you have total control over it, you can experiment and modify stuff – it’s like a Swiss army knife. I am planning to explore other distros like Manjaro and possibly Arch Linux and already tested out a dozen more in Virtualbox.

    Linux has something for everybody and when shit hits the fan with other OSes (ex Windows 10), you can always rely on your best buddy Tux, then you’ll appreciate the hard work of the people behind Linux. I think I found the perfect OS for me, you should too! :)

  12. Mark Hazard said on July 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Is Xubuntu the easiest edition for Windows users to try, either for Linux distros in general or Ubuntu editions in particular?

    1. MdN said on July 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      That would probably be Mint as in some ways it’s trying to be a “Windows wannabe” in look, feel and functionality. However, Xubuntu (which I’m using) is easy to install, use, well supported and light on resources. Sometimes I think that Xubuntu is what would happen if Apple released a simple OS like Windows XP. Trying is not too hard – I got a PC with Xubuntu on it, and I could use it right away, though it took me a few weeks to be confident around it. Like when I switched to Android, takes a while to get used to, but it’s still a computer, you just use your mouse to point and click and a keyboard to type. Everything I needed to know would show up in search results, pages such as AskUbuntu already have most of the answers covered.

      On another note, whenever Linux gets mentioned there’s always someone who’s a hardcore Windows user and finds flaws, conspiracies and excuses because his own favorite software can’t be 100% replicated. Who cares. We’re not all programmers. I just want a PC that I can turn on and use with ease and pleasure. Linux runs on most servers, it’s used by Google, Facebook, Tesla, SpaceX, Amazon, NASA, NSA, etc, etc, and they aren’t complaining.

  13. JFP said on July 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm


    There is a typo in the Elementary link: :)

    Nice article.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on July 16, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Thank you, corrected!

  14. Gawain said on July 16, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    please check your opensuse link. One too many characters in the URL.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on July 16, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Thank you, corrected this as well.

  15. Will said on July 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    The Nightmare my friend is Windows software and it’s iron grip over the PC world!
    You jest of course about insecurities in LInux when compare with Windows systems. Windows is and will continue to be a crackers paradise.No OS is 100% secure but Linux is light years beyond Windows security wise and in almost every other way except in gaming and that is slowly but surely catching up. Most Windows exorbitantly priced software has at least compatible and free equivalents in Linux.
    I,like most,started with Windows and continue to keep,reluctantly,Windows 7 solely for my Grandchildren’s games.
    I,now retired, fix friends and family computers software and hardware wise and most importantly install OS’s and instruct in their use for elderly and disabled people,some whom never used a computer in their life. Guess what I install ???
    Yes ,Linux! Most folk want their computer for web browsing, shopping emails ,Skype etc., and very quickly people are at ease with the updating and use of Linux and yes I started when it was all command line but NO LONGER !!!
    candidly,it’s up to you whatever you use on your own kit but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s rarely or perhaps never that you personally have used Linux in your life!.
    I have been through most Distros and personally highly recommend PCLinuxOS for it’s particular ease of use,rolling updates and great support on it’s friendly forum for all,advanced or those beginning their change from the ” maintenance nightmare” of Windows.

  16. Lee said on July 16, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Removing the DE and ignoring the 32/64 bit part of the equation what is the difference between distros?

    1. dmacleo said on July 16, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      personal preferences mostly?
      but I will say on my older i5 based dell inspiron 1765 laptop ubuntu and other deb based distros do not work with wifi out of the “box” ( I also have cat5 so can fix if needed) while all mint cinnamon versions always work.

    2. Tim said on July 16, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Security support and duration of support. Quality control. Installation software and the upgrade process.

  17. Appster said on July 16, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Honestly, I don’t care about Linux at all. Its greatest strength (diversity of distributions) is also its greatest weakness. There is not “one” Linux developers can write their applications for. The incompatibilities between those distributions are severe, which makes it a maintenance nightmare. OpenSource has advantages (such as the quick exposal of spyware), but also disadvantages, such as decreased security. If everyone can have a look at the source code developing trojans and viruses is a trivial task. “Security through obscurity” is what makes Linux appear to be secure at the moment. Malware developers just don’t target a platform almost nobody uses. Have a look at Android… Due to its OpenSource nature and lacking update support by the manufacturers it has become a malware paradise. Same thing would happen to Linux eventually. Granted, Linux has overtaken the server market, since high adaptability is a criterion there, but I doubt that it will ever overtake the desktop market the way it is now. It will remain in its obscure niche deprived of major software.

    Now you can throw your nonsense at me all you like, but that’s the way it is.

    Hence those Linux articles catering to a very small minority are just annoying. Even macOS should get more attention here if we go by its market share.

    1. Doc said on July 17, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      “Security through obscurity” is MASSIVELY more of a problem in a closed source environment; open source makes obscurity impossible since anyone and everyone can view and audit the code. So, chill out!

    2. Danie said on July 17, 2017 at 7:25 am

      There are also now Snaps and AppImages packages that commonly install across different distros for the reason of the distros often being different.

    3. zero said on July 16, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Sorry if this has been said before, I did not read the long comments above. I just want to give my opinion.

      The reason Android become malware paradise is the same reason why Windows is virus paradise. It has the largest user share and easy to install apps.

      The reason Mac and IOS don’t become paradise is the opposite of the reason above, because they have small user base and hard to install apps, especially for IOS.

      Why Linux can’t gain market share is also the reason why Mac gaining market share: Linux has too many versions while Mac only has one version. It’s also easier to update software in Mac while in Linux you sometimes has trouble using the package manager such as dependency error.

      Mac surely is gaining user but the biggest reason they can’t beat windows are the price and games. With Mac you can’t make custom pc, this is really fatal in corporate environment because custom pc will greatly cut down cost. Compare a $500 pc with $1000+ mac for whole office, you don’t need a calculator for that.

      Last thing, why LInux is big on server market is because it’s free not because of security or anything.

      1. MdN said on July 16, 2017 at 8:19 pm

        There’s only one proper Linux version, the latest one, the rest are desktop environments on top of it. If you’re writing an app, you just have to make sure it works on every interface (desktop environment), which apparently isn’t too hard as they all do.
        Updates are automatic, you just confirm and forget. No idea how a Mac would be better than this.
        Of course servers use Linux because it’s free. And of course you’ll hear it’s because it can run for years without rebooting, fragmenting or slowing down.
        I get security patches within a day or two after discovery, again, it’s automatic. Android is running on an ancient kernel and I don’t see what it has in common with my computer or think it should be mentioned as an example of Linux but yeah, it does have its share of malware.

    4. Lumpy Gravy said on July 16, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      > Hence those Linux articles catering to a very small minority

      > … are just annoying.

      I also don’t understand why people keep talking about the “market share” of a product as if this had anything to do with their personal needs and interests as customers and users. Who cares about market share? Only easily manipulated, easily dominated, deeply indoctrinated conformists keep blathering such ideological nonsense.

      Regarding MS Windows … as a proprietary, closed source and partially undocumented operating system, Windows is and always will be inherently unsafe. If you look around on the pages of “Black Viper” or “The elder Geek” you’ll find that even competent people are racking their brains trying to figure out which Windows services do what, which Windows services establish network connections without asking and without giving any indication, which Windows services can be turned off and which can’t, etc. etc. Microsoft as well as Apple keep users deliberately in the dark about such matters because secretiveness is part of their business model. It is beyond me, why people go to such lengths as to install sophisticated firewalls and malware detection software while at the same time ignoring the undocumented built-in “features” of these deeply flawed operating systems. Standard GNU/Linux distributions have no dark corners because they are free, open and fully documented.

    5. asdf said on July 16, 2017 at 2:29 pm


      Please stop being so negative about something you don’t care about at all and enjoy life. Thank you.

      @Mike Turcotte

      Thanks man, great stuff for newbies. Again, people, don’t be afraid of Linux, give it a whirl, you just might like it.

      1. Johnny said on July 16, 2017 at 8:55 pm


        I think it’s a solid advice and I’m not sure if you understood it correctly. It’s not about impairing the freedom of speech or expression but about simple logic. Don’t go wasting your life on things you couldn’t care less.

      2. Frankie said on July 16, 2017 at 6:33 pm

        “Please stop being so negative…” – what a silly parroting of opinion from others who try to rule
        what can be said and what not.

    6. Henk van Setten said on July 16, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      I can agree with what you say about the disadvantages of the far too large number of different Linux distributions. In real life, many of those “competing” varieties are of interest for a small group of nerds only. For the general acceptance of Linux, in an ideal world, It would be great if most of these “minor distro” developers would just close shop and instead join the team of either Mint or Ubuntu — to help increase the flexibility and configurability of mainstream Linux systems. A little less anarchy, a little more organization, would that be too much to ask? I fear it is, but not from a user’s point of view…

      In the same way, from the same perspective of ordinary users (especially those migrating from Windows) it would be great if within the main Linux systems, the current (and for many, rather confusing) offering of installations with very different desktops would be sanitized. For example, in my personal opinion, it would be much be much better if Mint were available **only** with the default Cinnamon desktop — just drop all other varieties. And of course, developers should then work to make this single unified desktop much better, and above all, much easier configurable by individual users. Again, would that be too much to ask? Not from a user’s point of view…

      I also agree with your suggestion that the present degree of “security” in Linux is in part an purely incidental by-effect of (1) the relatively small number of Linux home users, and (2) the many small but confusing code differences between different Linux flavors.

      The conclusion we ought to draw here, is that Linux developers need to devote much more time and energy to make Linux really safe and fool-proof. For example (much more than they do today) these developers should recognize that average home users for their own safety cannot just depend on complex firewall instructions, difficult terminal commands, or time-consuming backup procedures. In other words, Linux developers should improve their already built-in security measures, and also focus on making them much more user-friendly. Yet again, we users still have much to ask, if not demand!

      But… as one of the slowly but steadily growing number of people who have begun to use both Windows and Linux at home now, I do most emphatically *not* agree with your statement that “those Linux articles catering to a very small minority are just annoying”. To be honest, I feel that this statement reveals a kind of short-sightedness that I in my turn find very annoying.

      For there is a global trend of more and more people getting fed up with the information and data-collection monopolies (and stealth practices) of the main commercial OS providers: Microsoft, Apple, Google. For the more aware Windows users, Linux is becoming something they are at least beginning to consider as a serious alternative. Even if for most people to actually start trying Linux is yet a bridge too far, some are beginning to view Linux as an option to escape (at least partially) from the clutches of the Big Three.

      The big challenge for Linux developers for the next decade might be to (on the one side) start cooperating enough to merge most Linux varieties into a few more unified, better organized, more user-friendly but still secure operating systems. While (on the other side) avoiding to make Linux into just another kind of big semi-commercial moloch that would rob users of the freedom to make their own decisions (like Microsoft, Apple and Google already do). In short, they will need to find a new kind of balance between two different evils: lack of organization, and over-organization.

      In the meantime, articles like this one are not annoying. On the contrary, they are a necessity, For all of us.

      1. sh said on July 17, 2017 at 12:51 am

        “drop what you’re doing, and contribute upstream” unfortunately does not work (work out well). For a given software application, upstream devs too often exhibit NIH Syndrome (not invented here) ~~ spurning attempts to have perfectly sound, perfectly reasonable, pull requests merged into upstream code. No hard feelings, I fork and scratch my own itch. Later, after examining “my version” as well as the upstream version, in pursuit of a lightweight (feature-limited) variant you too decide to fork. More power to you (us)!

        At the scale of an overall distribution, it’s been my longstanding observation that the “upstream” culture tends to be less tolerant toward (less accommodating toward) newbie users. This should be readily apparent to anyone who skims the Debian user forum, notes the tone and content… then skims the Mint or Ubuntu forums, noting the contrast. Same is evident for “Slackware vs its derivatives”; perhaps moreso, considering that Slackware upstream doesn’t even maintain an official bbs/forum. Same is evident for “Arch Linux vs its derivatives”. In fact, as far as I can tell, the same holds true among the BSD variants. Said differently: we can observe that “newbie” users tend to congregate around forums of the derivative distributions ~~ where they happily and busily engage in myriad, forty-seven-pagelong, bikeshed discussions regarding which wallpapoz (and moar iconz!) their distro’s next release should preinstall.

        Again I say — more power to you (us)!

    7. Tim said on July 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Chill man. Linux has a much greater market share among power users and developers than among the general population. Diversity is not Linux’s greatest strength, it’s the ability to customise it and make it do what you want. The diversity is an outcome of this. People tweak Windows to their own tastes too, but you can’t get communities around that because you can’t distribute your modifications very easily, and what you can do is very limited. Windows and OS X are using some ancient technologies (such as their filesystems) and there is nothing you can do about it. I don’t think you are correct to say that it’s hard to write for different distributions. LIbre Office, Chrome, Firefox are available for all Linux distros, and I could also point out that entire desktops, such as Gnome or KDE, which bundle lots of software, are also available everywhere. There is some effort to “package” software for different systems, but it’s not much work, and it is going away with new technologies such as Snap and Flatpack. In any case, desktop software is a dead end, which is why sales of Windows machines have been falling globally for 4 years, unlike sales of one leading Linux desktop, Chrome OS, and why Windows 7 still has such large marketshare. You are right. Linux will never win the general desktop market, although it will have some interesting niches, such as the US education market, and it is a very strong player in the scientific and developer market. If you go to a scientific computing or web developers conference, you won’t see many Windows machines. This is why Windows now runs Linux tools: it has lost dominance in two important desktop areas (plus education).
      Android doesn’t have a malware problem, except for users in Russia who prefer to risk cracked software to avoid paying for it. I don’t know anyone who has ever had malware on the Android device.
      “Security through Obscurity” is technical term which you don’t understand or which you are deliberately misusing. It refers to hiding potentially buggy software in the hope that the flaws are not found. It can’t apply to open source software by definition, but it could refer to Windows, where the software is not public, yet for 30 years people have found critical and extraordinary security flaws in it, as we have seen pretty dramatically lately.
      The worst security aspect of Windows if you are using old hardware that Microsoft has given up on. Mostly you can run recent and well maintained linux on the same hardware.
      But why would an ordinary user use Linux? It’s fun, it’s free, it has a great community and you get to stick one to the Man. If you want to learn to program, particularly in the areas which are the future of the industry, it’s actually the best choice, and will give you credibility. I’m not paranoid about privacy myself, but an OS free of corporate and government interference may appeal to some. There are millions of people who use it as their daily computer, so it clearly works.

      1. Appster said on July 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm

        First off I’m soory that I misused the term. I got my defintion from Jody Thornton here regarding Windows XP:

        “Yeah but security through obscurity is no strategy either. It’s like basing financial plans on hope. That’s no strategy.”


        I didn’t double-check it, but then, I don’t need to double-check every single word I say. Whatever.

        Here are some of my observations:

        – Not many people “tweak” Windows, at all. Windows is not meant for tweaking.
        – Apple at least is going to use APFS on their Macs from this year going forward, and is pushing hard to 64 bit and SSDs. Since Linux aims to support everything there is (including ancient hardware), I really can’t believe much in your statement. Windows may have similar problems, but has better driver support. Linux falls short in many areas here.
        – Chrome, Firefox, LibreOffice… are major projects. It is within their scope to work on every Linux distribution. That’s not the case for applications with more limited developer ressources behind them. The devergence of the distributions will inevitably lead to bugs, whereas there is only one Windows and only one macOS. Coding for all distributions is too much of a hassle and holds Linux back.
        – Desktop software is not a “dead end”. It won’t be going anywhere. Do you have any idea how bad broadband and WiFi access in some country is? This should give you a clue. Furthermore some tasks can be equally well done offline, like basic Office work. Someone might create a document offline and save it to some cloud storage if he wants to share it, but then the software responsible for the creation of the document still runs offline. Why should this change at all? The “sharing aspect” is already there. I wouldn’t make such bold predictions like the demise of the desktop, unless you want to be mentione in the same breath with people who predicted the end of the book due to eBooks, or the end of phone calls due to Skype, or the end of desktops due to tablets…
        – Sales of Chrome OS devices are minuscule when compared to Windows device sales, and have been for many years now. A breakthrough of this platform is highly doubtful at best.
        – Windows 7 is still going strong becausw Windows 8 and 10 are desasters. This is not related to end of Windows in general (which Linux fanboys have proclaimed for at least twenty years now).
        – The many attacks on Windows also mean that Windows had to improve dramatically over the years, while the Linux community was boasting about their security due to their very low market share, not doing anything about it. This year’s attacks were mostly related to people not updating their PCs frequently, which is not Microsoft’s fault. You know that, don’t you?
        – Android has a massive malware problem, even with apps coming from the Play Dtore. This is just one of many spectacular cases: I believe you are lying when it comes to the malware problem on Android, because it basically destroys your Linux/FOSS software in general is secure BS argument.
        – Microsoft has given up on the devices, because they were too old. Linux still supports them, yet you are claiming that Linux moves faster by far. See the contradiction?
        – I was not referring to scientific or development purposes. I was referring to the mass market.

  18. traveler said on July 16, 2017 at 8:13 am

    According to the Linux Mint website, version 18.2 is called Sonya. Serena was18.1.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on July 16, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Thanks, I corrected this in the article.

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