You've probably seen at least one of them: a weird person on the internet who proudly claims, "I use Linux." But what does it mean to use Linux? What is Linux and what does Linux do? Today we're going to find out, leaving the jargon and tech chatter at the door.
What is linux
When someone says, "I use Linux," it means that they are using the GNU / Linux operating system in one of its many forms. Over the years various developers have used the GNU / Linux code, created a unique operating system, and distributed it on the internet, usually for free. You can do this because of the legal license that came with Linux.
Because the license allows developers to redistribute their code, Linux operating systems are usually referred to as Distributions or distros in a nutshell. Similar to the different editions of Windows 10, there are different Linux distributions for different purposes and people.
For example, much like Windows Home Edition, Ubuntu and Linux Mint are accessible and easy to use for everyday use. Alpine Linux, like Windows Pro, offers hardline security that a professional user may want. A sleek, lightweight distribution like Lubuntu can be compared to Windows S, and openSUSE serves the same purposes as Windows Server.
One difference to Windows editions, however, is how most Linux distributions differ in appearance and organization depending on the distribution Desktop environment. They have names like GNOME, Cinnamon, or Xfce, and each gives you a different user experience or "feel". Some feel familiar to long-time Windows or macOS users, others feel more innovative and forward-thinking.
No matter what form Linux comes in, you will always get the following things: a highly customizable desktop, a dedicated community of users and developers who offer their support, and the freedom from big tech companies like Apple and Microsoft.
What is Linux used for?
So you know what Linux is, but now you might be wondering, "What can I do with Linux?"
From simple calculators to advanced graphics editing tools, Linux can actually run all kinds of software that you're used to on Windows or macOS.
Surf the web
Linux desktops are an essential utility on any modern PC and always come with at least one web browser. In most cases, Firefox or Chromium is installed by default, but you can also download regular Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Brave.
In addition to using webmail in a browser, you can manage your inbox with multiple email clients for Linux. Some popular options are Thunderbird and Evolution. They often give you an experience like Microsoft Outlook, but are simpler and more efficient.
Linux usually comes with a full office suite like LibreOffice, Apache OpenOffice, or Calligra Suite. Microsoft Office doesn't run natively on Linux (although we have some workarounds for the dedicated user).
However, for most users, one of these substitutes will meet their office needs. Most of them can easily open, edit, export and save DOC, DOCX, XLSX, PDF and other extensions. Some even have advanced features like macros and track changes.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, you can play on Linux. How is that possible? Increasingly thanks to a Linux app called Wine, or PlayOnLinuxthat runs Windows programs on Linux. While it's true that many popular games don't have a native Linux version, Wine can work around this problem.
One of the best implementations of Wine is Valve's proton Tool on Steam. Proton configures Wine for the Windows you choose and manages it in the background. That means all you have to do is install Proton and run the game.
Sounds too good to be true? Check out ProtonDB, a database of Windows games with ratings and reviews of how they do on Linux with Proton. Valve is actively developing Proton, so ratings typically only rise over time. Check out your favorite games and see how easy it would be to start playing on Linux.
Stream and play multimedia
Linux is able to play your favorite music, videos, and podcasts just like any other operating system. Spotify has a native desktop app for Linux, and several other Linux apps play local music or stream from other locations. VLC Player and Celluloid can do the same for videos.
You can also view and manage your photo collection on Linux using the file manager and image viewer that comes with your distribution.
Graphics and audio editing
Most distributions come with at least one graphics editing application. Unfortunately, you cannot install Adobe Creative Suite on Linux without the help of the Wine utility mentioned above. However, you have many alternatives to choose from, often free, like GIMP or Inkscape.
Audacity is easy to install on Linux, as are more advanced audio editors and mixers like Cecilia and Mixxx. You also have many free and open source video editors available. More serious manufacturers can even find Linux environments designed for developers.
What else is Linux used for?
Linux has far more uses than PC desktops. Developers often use it for testing, and it's useful for web hosting too.
In fact, the developer reported in 2017 that 90% of the public cloud was running on Linux. Most web servers run on Linux, and almost all supercomputers use Linux as their operating system. Other devices also use the Linux kernel, such as smart home products, network devices, and even cars.
So Linux is so common that if you drive a car or use the internet, you can almost certainly say, "I use Linux."
The Linux Operating System: Explained!
Now that you know what Linux is and what Linux can do, it's time to decide if a Linux operating system is right for you. Linux will appeal to you the most if you like the idea of doing most of the things you already do on Windows or macOS, but out of the reach of Microsoft and Apple.
Interested? Getting started with Linux is easy and non-binding. Usually you can download Linux for free and test it on your current PC without deleting or changing anything.
Getting started with Linux
Interested in Linux but not sure where to start? Learn how to use Linux, from choosing a distribution to installing apps.
About the author
(48 articles published)
Jordan is a MUO employee who is passionate about making Linux accessible and stress-free for everyone. He also writes guides on privacy and productivity.
By Jordan Gloor
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