From home appliances to your smartphone to computers or servers, Linux is everywhere.
Curious? Read on to get started with Linux today.
What is Linux used for?
Linux is arguably the most popular operating system to exist.
An operating system is software that is responsible for coordinating different hardware components on a computer. On the operating system, we can then run other software that we use daily, such as internet browsers or office editors.
Linux operating systems are made up of a few components, including but not limited to:
- Kernel – The core of the operating system that interfaces between a computer’s hardware and software, managing resources such as CPU, memory and peripherals.
- Shell – A command line interface for users and applications to interact with the kernel to achieve various functions.
- Desktop Environment – A graphical user interface (GUI) for users to interact with the computer. Most desktop environments include a basic suite of applications such as file managers, configuration tools and internet browsers.
- Applications – The software that is what makes our computers useful to our lives. Modern Linux distributions have centralised pools of software, known as repositories, from which a great variety of them can easily be downloaded and installed. For example, Ubuntu Linux’s Software Centre is a one-stop solution with applications to satisfy the needs of any regular user.
Why get started with Linux?
Whether you are a curious beginner, maker enthusiast or mid-career professional, learning Linux will have its benefits for you.
1. Linux is Free to Use
Yes, it costs absolutely nothing to download Linux on a compatible computer and get started right away! In fact, this is one of the key reasons that Linux has thrived as the most popular operating system for servers in the past decades.
2. Flexible and Powerful
3. Open Source Community Support
Linux is open source, which means that absolutely anyone can get their hands on its code for their own projects, or even just for learning. Not only that, many developers from around the world are sharing their work online for free!
For this reason, you can find code or even whole projects developed for Linux that you can reference and adjust for your specific needs. You can even get answers to your specific queries from an experienced community of developers by simply asking online.
4. Customisable, To the Core
The flexibility of Linux lies in its customizability. Don’t like it? Choose from one of the many available alternatives or simply build your own! You can change every aspect of the operating system, from the desktop environment right down to the kernel.
If you are interested in developing your own custom Linux kernel, you might want to check out our Beginner’s Guide to Embedded Linux, where we also discuss some resources to develop custom kernels on your own hardware.
5. Personal Projects
These days, it isn’t uncommon to build your own smart solutions for your specific needs. Edge computing devices are becoming increasingly popular, enabling high-tech solutions to collect, compute and transmit data that might be difficult or costly to reach.
These devices are commonly run on none other than – you guessed it – Linux! But such applications are not exclusive to business-critical operations: These days, almost anyone can pick up a Linux device at a low cost, such as the popular Raspberry Pi 4 to create their very own IoT projects.
Linux Distro? What’s that?
Linux distros, short for Linux distributions, are different “flavours” of Linux that have been customised for specific needs and made available for end-users. Most distros can be downloaded and installed at no cost.
Some popular Linux distros include Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, Manjaro and Elementary OS. Each Linux distro offers a unique experience through a different desktop environment. For example, Ubuntu comes with a GNOME desktop while openSUSE comes with the KDE desktop.
There are also Linux distros that do not come with a desktop environment. These are what we call server operating systems.
You might spend some time choosing a Linux distro that suits you, but don’t forget that you can install another distro fairly easily! If you are new to Linux, definitely take a look at our recommendations for the Best Linux Distros 2020 for Beginners.
4 Ways to Start Using Linux
1. Try Linux with a Live USB Drive
One low-commitment way to get your hands on linux is with a live USB drive. You will need the following:
- A Linux compatible computer
- Linux distribution image of your choice (ensure that it is compatible with your computer’s hardware)
- USB Flash Drive (Minimum 8GB recommended)
- A disk-writing utility, such as balenaEtcher (Windows / Mac / Linux)
First, insert your USB Flash Drive into your computer, and follow the instructions on your disk-writing utility to flash the Linux distro to your USB drive.
Note: Ensure that you have selected the correct drive for flashing. Otherwise, you may lose data that is important to you.
Next, you will need to restart your computer to boot from the USB Flash Drive. If your computer does not automatically boot from the external drive, you may have to boot into your UEFI to select it.
For desktops, pressing the Del or F12 key before Windows starts booting will generally do the trick. However, the process on a laptop may vary across make and model. For the best results, consult your PC’s manual or perform a quick internet search for instructions specific to your PC.
Once you are booted into the drive, you will be able to try Linux as if it has been installed on your computer. However, please take note that if you reboot the system, created files and installed applications will be removed.
Ubuntu also offers a comprehensive guide for live USB booting on their website.
2. Install Linux as a Virtual Machine
A virtual machine platform such as VirtualBox will allow you to run Linux within your current operating system.
Although a virtual machine is not suitable for high performance tasks due to overhead, and may lack direct hardware access to components like your GPU, virtualizing Linux is one convenient way of trying out the user experience for yourself.
3. Install Linux Directly onto your Computer!
Once you are ready to dive into the deep end and install Linux on your computer, you can follow similar steps as USB live booting to perform the installation. During the setup process, you can choose to install Linux onto your entire internal drive or to partition a portion of it.
For beginners, it is recommended to partition your internal drive so that your original operating system is still accessible. That way, you can explore running Linux natively without worry.
4. Get your hands on a Linux computer!
The final best way to start with Linux is to buy a single board computer or SBC! These tiny, affordable computers are able to run a wide variety of desktop Linux distributions, giving you your very own dedicated experience with a Linux device.
Beginner Friendly Option: Raspberry Pi 4 (Raspbian)
From just $35, the Raspberry Pi offers a beginner friendly Linux experience. It comes with the easy-to-use Raspberry Pi OS, and has great learning materials and support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. As with all Linux systems, you also have the option to install another one of the many available Linux distros.
Click here to Learn all about the Raspberry Pi!
Desktop-Class Performance: Odyssey Blue J4105 Windows 10 / Linux Mini PC
If you are looking for greater performance, the Odyssey Blue J4105 Mini PC, with its powerful Intel x86 CPU, will have you covered. Furthermore, as many Linux distros are written for x86 architectures, you will find an unlimited number of customizations to explore for your system.
If you are looking for a small solution for your IoT projects, you may prefer the Raspberry Pi Zero / Zero W for its low cost and small form factor. Since the Raspberry Pi Zero / Zero W utilises Linux, you will also have access to many open source libraries and packages to get your devices up and running quicker and easier.
Learn more about embedded Linux with our Beginner’s Guide to Embedded Linux.
First Things to Try After Installing Linux
After installing Linux, feel free to explore the user interface and get a feel for the operating system. Because most Linux distros come with a basic set of software, you can immediately get started doing basic tasks like writing notes or adjusting your system settings.
Naturally, you will eventually need software beyond the basic tools offered by any Linux distro. First, ensure that you have configured your internet connection.
The larger, more user-friendly distros will offer an application repository with a GUI (or graphical user interface), which allows you to install new software pretty much how you would expect on other operating systems. For example, Ubuntu MATE offers their Software Boutique, which is shown below.
Another way to update or install new applications is through the Linux command line. The following command will update your computer’s database of available software, and then install updates to applicable software. This process requires superuser permissions, so it is necessary to use the sudo command.
sudo apt-get update && apt-get upgrade
Enter your password and watch your computer do its magic.
You can also install specific software with the Linux command line using the terminal. For example,
sudo apt-get install chromium-browser
will install the chromium internet browser, which you will find is a comfortable substitute for (and actually the mother of) Google Chrome.
Learn the Linux Command Line
The Linux command line is a very powerful tool and is not just used for installing new software. In fact, you can use it to explore or edit file directories, run applications, and even write code.
The Linux command line is universal – meaning that most of the commands you learn will work between different Linux distros and devices. To get started, we recommend that you check out 28 Raspberry Pi Linux Commands: A Quick Guide to Use the Command Line for Raspberry Pi.
For more advanced users, bash scripting allows you to execute a series of specified commands automatically with one file known as a script. This can be very convenient if you have many commands that need to be run repeatedly. Linux Config has a good Bash Scripting Tutorial for Beginners.
Build a Project
Sometimes, the best way to learn something is when you need it for a purpose.
There are many things you can do with a Linux device, especially small SBCs! You can create your own server to host a website, build a smart home or security system, or build your own retro arcade gaming machine.
Check out the articles below for some great ideas!
- Top 35 Raspberry Pi 4 Projects That You Must Try Now
- How to build a Raspberry Pi Robot? Kits and Projects to get started
Interested to keep going? There are many free online resources that you can use to further your learning of Linux!
- Introduction to Linux on EdX
- Linux Command Line Tutorials on DigitalOcean
- Linux.org Forum for Getting Started
- Seeed Forum for Device-Specific Questions
No matter if you need to learn Linux for work or are simply curious, there are many ways to get started with the exciting world of Linux. Let us know what you hope to achieve with Linux in the comments!