Introduction to Linux

Things to know:

why linux?

what are "distributions"?

Linux comes in many "distributions". You can think of them like different flavors. They are all basically the same underneath.

Popular Linux distributions these days are:

what is "dual-boot"?

This means you have two operating systems installed on your hard drive, such as Windows and some linux like Ubuntu or Fedora.

Only one of them is "awake" at a time. When you are booted into one and working in it, the other one is entirely inactive. They do not affect each other at all, and cannot "see" each other.

applications on linux

installing applications

Installing applications on linux is pretty easy. And all are free!

All flavors (distributions) of linux have a "package manager" which will download and install the program you choose from the list. You do need to be on the internet to use it.

what applications run on linux?

Windows Linux
Office applications:
Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint Open Office
Publishing programs (PageMaker, QuarkExpress, etc.) TBD
Tally No Tally for linux! But you can run it inside a "Windows emulator" in your linux.
Music and Video players (like Windows Media Player) many! One popular one is Totem
iTunes Rythmbox
Burn CDs and DVDs many!
Photoshop The GIMP
Picasa F-Spot
Advanced graphics, video, and sound editing Ubuntu Studio
Yahoo Messenger, Skype, etc. Get linux versions from their websites.
Web browsers Firefox, Opera, Konqueror, and more.
MS Internet Explorer, naturally not. But you didn't want those viruses anyway, right?
Email: Outlook, Thunderbird Thunderbird, Evolution, alpine
File Transfer: Filezilla Filezilla
Torrent applications Azureus, BitTorrent, Transmission


"Drivers" are the programs that run the printer, screen, and other hardware on your system.

If your computer has special chips inside (example: the Nvidia graphics on HP laptops), or special hardware (example: an advanced printer), the Linux installer may not have the drivers for them. You may need to download those separately.

This is not usually difficult. There are many websites and forums on these topics. A google search will find them, and downloading and installing is fairly automatic.

nvidia drivers for linux

the shell

Actually, "shell" means, the program you use to communicate with your computer: see, copy, and delete your files; run your programs, etc. So the graphical interface that you are used to, with folders and icons, is a "shell" — a graphic shell, or GUI (Graphical User Interface). Microsoft calls it "Windows Explorer"; KDE/linux calls it "Konqueror".

But we don't usually think of that as a "shell" — when we think of "shell", we think of command line (CLI) The command line shell on linux, is like the DOS prompt (cmd) in Windows — but much more powerful.

You don't need to know the command line to use linux, but sooner or later you will find it can be very useful. Some of us even do most of our work through this shell, and rarely use the GUI at all!

A very good introduction to shell commands is at

Trying it out: live cd

Your linux cd (or dvd) will be what is called a "live cd". When you boot from the cd/dvd, linux will first be running from the cd (not installed yet).

You can try out different things with linux this way, without installing. You can try different distributions and see which you like best, before you install one.

Then if you want to install linux, boot up from the distro cd you want, click the "install" icon on the desktop, and follow the prompts.

Using Linux

Your linux desktop may look a little different, but it does the same things as Windows. Click around and try things. Here are some pages to guide you through it.


Switching from Windows
Complete information on switching, installing, and using. This link is from Ubuntu, but the princples are the same for all.

before you install

We are assuming that

Do these things:

Installing Linux on the same computer as Windows usually goes smoothly. But rarely it has happened that Windows gets wiped out. So:

install linux

After booting from your linux cd/dvd, click the "install" icon on the desktop, and follow the prompts.

Installation looks slightly different in the different distributions, so it is difficult to give step-by-step instructions on this page!
But you can go here:

making users

The 'root' user:
When you install, it will ask for a password for 'root'. 'root' is the administrator user. You need this to install programs and do other things in linux. We don't do actual work as the 'root' user though - 'root' is very powerful!

Other user accounts:
You can make accounts for several people in linux, and they are much more secure than Windows. One user can never see or change another user's files. Make sure that every user has a password.

choosing programs to install.

Ubuntu will install the programs by default. Afterwards you can get more programs with the Package Manager.

Fedora gives you choices. It can take a lot of time to go through all the choices of programs that the installer can show you! Better is to choose the type of machine you want to have: It will give you some choice like user, server, developer. Then later it is easy to install additional software when you find you need it.

After you install, go to the Package Manager and apply all updates.

The Package Manager works pretty much the same in all linuxes — but here are links to some details:

Know more

Complete information on installing and using FEdora.
Complete information on installing and using Ubuntu.
More about Linux
Details on installing, applications, converting from Windows, etc.