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The Desktop Environment | Drivers | What is Linux?
Moving to Linux
[I]f you really want a desktop where you're in control, and not Microsoft or another cloud company, what you need is a conventional desktop Linux such as Mint 17.2. Windows is heading to the cloud and it won't be coming back.
— Cloudy Weather
Excellent Upgrade Path for Windows Users
If you're running an unsupported version of Windows and cannot upgrade without purchasing a new computer, consider installing Linux instead.
Linux will run on most XP or better systems without having to download special drivers but performs better on newer systems. Linux installations include most of the software casual users require such as Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and GIMP (high-end graphics).
Excellent Upgrade Path for Windows Users
The following resources will help you make the decision on whether the move to Linux is right for you.
- How to make the switch from Windows to Linux.
- Windows 7: replace it soon by an easy and free (no cost) Linux.
- Why and how to replace Windows 7 with Linux Mint.
- Lessons learned moving from Windows to Ubuntu.
- How to Move from Windows to Linux.
- Switching From Windows To Linux.
- 5 tips that make switching to Linux from Windows easy.
- 6 changes Windows users need to accept to when switching to Linux.
Linux is Everywhere
Linux has moved from obscurity. Linux Ubuntu and Linux Mint are now the third and fourth most popular home operating system installations (after Windows and Mac).
- Microsoft Linux is not what you thought (or hoped) it would be.
- Linux-powered System76 laptop allows users to avoid the Windows Tax*.
- 10 super sweet laptops that come with Linux pre-installed.
- 27 new Lenovo ThinkStation and ThinkPad devices come preloaded with Ubuntu LTS.
*The Microsoft Tax is the per-unit fee Microsoft charges manufactures for every system sold regardless of what operating system is installed. Users pay for Windows whether they use it or not when buying from most computer vendors.
There are various versions of Linux that have been developed (generally referred to as distributions or distros) including Mint and Ubuntu (see other distributions).
From Freedom Came Elegance
Linux Mint is community-driven and free to download for both personal and commercial use. Learn about Mint | Download Mint.
Linux Mint makes a good choice for those who'd like a distro that isn't constantly trying to change the desktop computing paradigm, but don't want to use abandonware. Mint is actively developed and both of its homegrown desktops are excellent.
— The Register
I recommend Linux Mint for those looking for an alternative to Windows or to continue running computers that no longer support the current operating system.
Linux Mint isthe 4th most widely-used home operating system behind Windows, Mac and Ubuntu. Once installed it includes a suite of commonly-used software including Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and VLC media player.
Windows users that cannot upgrade their computers or afford to purchase a newer version will find that Linux Mint is an excellent option — provided you don't need to run proprietary Windows software. Many Windows programs can be run under Linux using WINE. Be sure to read the FAQ before installing WINE.
If your Windows is no longer supported, I recommend backing up your data then doing a clean install of Linux (i.e., wipe out the Windows partitions and install ONLY Linux).
Current versions of Mint only install on 64-bit computers. 32-bit computers are rare.
- 2GB RAM (4GB recommended for a comfortable usage).
- 20GB of disk space (100GB recommended).
- 1024×768 resolution (on lower resolutions, press ALT to drag windows with the mouse if they don’t fit in the screen).
The Linux Mint Installation Guide takes you from download to post-installation and troubleshooting. Always install Windows first when running Linux alongside Windows.
- Choose the right edition: Cinnamon, MATE or Xfxe.
- Install Linux Mint.
- Linux Mint screen shots.
Check out or download Ubuntu:
- Ubuntu is community-driven, free to download for personal and commercial use and offers excellent support.
- Take the tour or download Ubuntu.
- Try Ubuntu without affecting your existing operating system and software.
- Ubuntu security notices.
Internet access is helpful
- 2 GHz dual core processor
- 4 GiB RAM (system memory)
- 25 GB (8.6 GB for minimal) of hard-drive space (or USB stick, memory card or external drive but see LiveCD for an alternative approach)
- VGA capable of 1024x768 screen resolution
- Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port for the installer media
How And Why I Made The Switch From Vista To Linux is an excellent overview of Ubuntu, albeit somewhat dated. This user's experience switching is more current.
Other Linux Distributions
Some of the better known distributions are:
- elementary OS is “the fast, open, and privacy-respecting replacement for Windows and macOS.”
- Debian GNU/Linux.
- Deepin Linux (China).
- Red Hat (business enterprise software).
- Slackware Linux.
- S.u.S.E. Linux.
Most Linux distributions show some screen shots so you can get an idea of what the desktop looks like but you can also run them from their installation media without installing them to test them out.
Finding Additional Distros
There are many other Linux distributions.
- DistroWatch.com tracks new releases and updates.
- Revive Your Old PC: The 3 Best Linux Systems For Old Computers.
Linux has a history of being more secure. However, since much of what we do has moved online, it exposes Linux users to more security risks than every before.
There are still vulnerabilities that have nothing to do with software, including phishing, identity theft and more. Learn security strategies to prevent such infections.
Linux is considered to be more secure than other operating systems. However, it's increasingly a target of attackers, as Linux systems are used for critical roles like, web servers and internal file servers. In addition to being susceptible to Linux-based and cross-platform exploits, unprotected Linux machines can also become distribution points for Windows, Mac, and Android malware.
Install Security Software
I strongly recommended that you install security protection onto your Linux system.
While the percentage of home computers running Linux is very small (compared to the Windows or Linux server installation base) you should be running security software.
You'll find a listing of Linux security software in the software section.
Testing Linux Security Software
AV Comparatives is just starting to test Linux security software in 2021.
- The 6 best antiviruses for Linux 2021: Be careful!.
- 5 best (really free) antivirus protection for Linux in 2021.
- 80 of the Best Linux Security Applications is somewhat dated.
These best practices will help ensure you're not running older Linux versions containing known vulnerabilities:
- Upgrade your version to the most recent version supported by your hardware. Most vulnerabilities are addressed in kernel updates (i.e., new versions of your Linux distribution).
- When your hardware no longer supports the newest version of your distro (or if your distro no longer is being updated) you need to either upgrade your hardware or look to a version that supports your current hardware.
A security report lists Linux distributions including Debian, SUSE, Ubuntu and Red Hat within the top ten affected vendors:
Just five vendors accounted for nearly one quarter of vulnerabilities in the first half of 2019.
— Risk Based Security
- Web-related vulnerabilities accounted for 54.5% of those vulnerabilities.
- 34% have public exploits.
- 34% do not have a documented solution.
- 53% can be exploited remotely.
KRACK is a vulnerability in the WPA2 WiFi protocol that affects virtually all WiFi enabled devices.
Newer version of Mint and Ubuntu have been patched if you've installed the updates. Other distros may be vulnerable, especially older and unpatched ones.
This section contains information about vulnerabilities to the Linux kernel.
Linux's decade-old flaw: Major distros move to patch serious kernel bug. Three other serious security holes were patched in December 2016.
Learn more: Three serious Linux kernel security holes patched.
Be sure to install the latest patches to ensure you're protected from these vulnerabilities.
While Linux itself has more secure mechanisms than Windows, there is also software vulnerabilities.
The Linux encryption app Cryptkeeper has a rather stunning security bug: the single-character decryption key "p" decrypts everything.
— Bruce Schneier
Security researchers have found a new strain of Linux malware that appears to have been created by Chinese hackers and has been used as a means to remotely control infected systems.
The vulnerabilities listed here should only affect you if you're running an older version of Linux that hasn't been patched.
- The Linux Ghost Flaw: Everything You Need To Know.
- The Shellshock (BASH) vulnerability, named for the GNU Bash shell.
- Heartbleed, a serious vulnerability in OpenSSL cryptographic software, affected a number of Linux distributions.
Linux Security Information
Check these sites for more information about Linux security.
- Debian Security Information.
- Oracle Linux Bulletin.
- RedHat Notifications and Advisories.
- Ubuntu security notices. Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu and may suffer the same vulnerabilities.
- LinuxSecurity.com includes a listing by open source distribution.
- The LWN.net security alerts database contains security alerts from numerous Linux distributors.
- Security-News-Feeds Cheat Sheet is a collection of all major known security advisory feeds.
- US-CERT Current Activity is a regularly updated summary of the most frequent, high-impact types of security incidents currently being reported to the US-CERT.
Security | LibreOffice | PDF Editors | Internet | Graphics | Accounting | Games
This Linux software listing is not extensive but provides some basic apps. Try these resources:
Much of the software used by the average person is either included with the installation of many distributions like Ubuntu and Mint or can be downloaded and installed using updating utilities built into those distributions.
A more extensive listing of Linux software can be found on the Linux-Apps.com or Best of Linux Software. If you're moving from Windows to Linux, have a look at The table of equivalents / replacements / analogs of Windows software in Linux.
As Linux becomes more popular, it becomes the target of malicious attacks.
Safety Detectives (source of the “best for” ratings below) warns:
[R]ecently, a few of those previous [recommended] brands made significant changes, and we needed to re-evaluate the whole Linux antivirus market in line with our high testing standards. I concluded that I could not recommend some of the antiviruses this list previously had as they were no longer valid, valuable, or of high quality.
- ESET NOD32 Antivirus for Linux Desktop rated best for home users.
- Bitdefender GravityZone Business Security rated best for business users.
- Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business rated best for hybrid users.
- Comodo Antivirus for Linux rated best for older distros.
- ClamAV Linux Versions.
Sophos seems to have discontinued Linux support.
LibreOffice is Free and Open Source Software.
I strongly recommend LibreOffice because it is better maintained and more frequently updated than OpenOffice. It provides everything most people need.
This section discusses the requirements for LibreOffice on Linux. For more general information about LibreOffice, please see the Recommended Software page.
System Requirements for Linux
LibreOffice runs on Linux.
- Linux kernel version 3.10 or higher; glibc2 version 2.17 or higher.
- Pentium-compatible PC (Pentium III, Athlon or more-recent system recommended).
- 256Mb RAM (512Mb RAM recommended).
- Up to 1.55Gb available hard disk space.
- X Server with 1024x768 resolution (higher resolution recommended), with at least 256 colors.
- Gnome 3.18 or higher, with the at-spi2 1.32 package (required for support for assistive technology [AT] tools), or another compatible GUI (such as KDE, among others).
For certain features of the software — but not most — Java is required. Java is notably required for Base.
See Oracle's Java Downloads for All Operating Systems page for information specific to Linux.
- Able2Extract Professional is a powerful professional PDF program that allows you to do almost anything with PDFs. Strongly recommended. See my review of Able2Extract Pro 12 for details and full system requirements.
- A full licence costs US$149.95.
- A 30-day subscription costs US$34.95.
- Mozilla Firefox has long provided native support for Linux.
- Mozilla Thunderbird has native support for Linux. Not recommended for large amounts of mail. Installing Thunderbird on Linux.
- FileZilla (free) is the recommended FTP client for casual users.
- FileZilla Pro (US$19.99) is a professional FTP/S, SFTP client for Windows, Mac OS X or Debian Linux. Heavily optimized for speed, it can also connect with many cloud servers.
- The amazingly-powerful GIMP graphics program is a worthy alternative to Photoshop.
- Manager is free cloud-based accounting software that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux — Ubuntu Oneiric (11.10) or newer. It includes modules such as cashbook, invoicing, receivables, payables, taxes and comprehensive financial reports. You'll need to create an account to use this program and your data will be stored in the “cloud” rather than on your computer.
- Moonlight open-source NVIDIA GameStream client.
- Steam's Featured Linux Games.
- Steam for Linux Community Board.
Linux Help and Documentation
Linux Information Sites
There are numerous sites on the Internet that provide an incredible amount of information. Don't forget to check the various newsgroups for messages that provide solutions to problems you are experiencing with Linux installation or your routine maintenance issues.
There are several sources of information about installing, configuring and administrating Linux. Besides the MAN (manual) pages that usually accompany your distribution you will find various HOWTOs or mini-tutorials on the Web.
- The Linux Documentation Project has a series of HOWTOs, guides FAQs and man pages (help on individual commands).
- Linux Journal provides a starting place for Linux users.
- Full Circle Magazine is a free, independent, magazine dedicated to the Ubuntu family of Linux operating systems.
The Desktop Environment
X Windows is the GUI (Graphic User Interface) for Linux. It is much more flexible than either the Windows or Macintosh environments because it is not the entire operating system. This makes X Windows very powerful and configurable. Most users will have all three components installed, but they are not all necessary for Linux to run.
Providing the support for the video card and monitor and basic window management.
- XFree86 X server.
These provide the window controls, buttons, menus and control panels for Linux distributions.
What provides the common “look and feel” to the desktop.
- Choose the right edition: Cinnamon, MATE or Xfce?
- MATE Desktop Environment and Cinnamon are forks of the GNOME desktop environment.
- GNOME desktop environment.
- KDE (K Desktop Environment).
The components that are available to you will depend upon the distribution you are using and the capabilities of your hardware. Because of the nature of Linux you can change the look of your distribution by changing the various components of the desktop environment.
Traditionally many hardware manufacturers haven't provided drivers written for Linux for their current offerings. This resulted in a dependence on drivers provided by the Open Source community.
This is gradually changing as manufacturers realize that commercial interest in Linux is increasing. Drivers are appearing more frequently as demand grows.
The one area where there has been the most demand for drivers (and the most improvement) is with printers.
HP Linux Imaging and Printing for HP's print, scan and fax drivers for Linux.
I found native support for my HP Color LaserJet CP1215 on Linux Mint 17 although it wasn't the most current version available.
The links I had for Linux support for Brother printers are no longer available.