Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting started-a free operating system

So your operating system (OS) is basically the backbone of your computer. It's what allows your software (why you can create a report in Microsoft Word) to tell your hardware (like the central processing unit or CPU) what to do.  Most desktop pc's (personal computers) work from the Windows family of operating systems; if it's a Macintosh then they work off the Apple OS.  Without an OS your pc would be pretty much worthless because there would be no operating system telling it that you want to play music for example.  Now, the two operating systems I just mentioned aren't free and will cost you anywhere from $30 dollars (for the Mac single user operating system called 'Snow Leopard') to $79.95 (for a Windows 7 Upgrade; $119.99 for Windows 7 Home Premium).  As someone who's always been interested in computers but never quite understood why there were only 2 mainstream companies in the OS business, imagine my happiness when I found out that this whole 'paying for an operating system' scheme was a...well, scheme!

You mean to tell me I don't have to pay for that stuff?  Ok, let me clarify.  If you want a Windows or Apple OS then, yes, you legally must pay for it.  So then what do I mean by a free operating system?  I'm glad you asked, let me introduce you to a little concept called 'open source'.

Open source, in a nutshell, is free software-but it's not just free because you don't have to buy it. Everything about it is free-how it's made is free, being able to download it is free, making changes to it is free....

Open source is owned by no one individual nor any corporation. Think of open source as 'free speech'-it's something available to everyone and owned by no one.

Say you find out how Microsoft Word is made, and you have some ideas for improvement-so you make changes to the software and then tell everyone how to make those same changes on the internet. You would get sued in a heartbeat by Microsoft because they legally own Microsoft Word.

But with open source, what you have is a community of computer developers who are constantly improving and progressing open source software on a daily basis-not because they're being paid by a company and it's their job but because they simply love to do it.(for a more detailed explanation of open source I've provided a link here). In the long term, if you want stability and are even thinking about wanting to install software that doesn't cost you hundreds if not thousands in the long run, then don't buy into major marketing campaigns because open source is the way to go. For each and every $4,000 dollar software program (like...maya) there is an equivalent open source program (like..blender), but more on open source software in later posts...

With that introductory understanding of how free and open source are connected, let me get back to open source operating systems and one in particular called Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is one of many, many different open source operating systems available.  Distrowatch is a website dedicated to maintaining a list of all the different distributions of open source operating systems.  You can think of a distribution as a set of programs and applications running on top of the Linux kernel (think of a kernel as the foundation of an OS, but don't get overwhelmed, this is just an introduction & we'll talk about Linux & kernel's later).  Different distributions serve different purposes.   Some distributions are designed  for very small computers (like your PC or laptop), while others are designed for larger servers (think of the FBI's computer system). The software programs that are included with each distribution also vary from one distribution to another.

Currently the most popular OS distribution for personal computer's is Ubuntu.  Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has made great strides in developing Ubuntu with the help of the open source community.  They have focused primarily in developing an operating system that is secure which means free from viruses, simple and easy to use & install, but also maintains of all the powerful features needed by advanced users.

Getting started with Ubuntu is very simple and you have a couple of options for how you want to install it.  There is the installation cd for Ubuntu which comes with a live cd that allows users to try out Ubuntu without  having to change anything on their computer.

You can order the desktop edition CD here from Ubuntu's website and they will ship it to you free of charge. Or you can just try out Ubuntu by heading over to their website and downloading it here or if you have Windows then the installer is here.

Look, by no means am I a "fan boy/girl" nor do I claim to know everything there is about computers, but I'm all about efficiency and if something is free and all I have to do is install a few things in order to save a couple of hundred if not thousands of dollars in the long run...then call me cheap, but definitely not stupid!

Next up, an open source word processor, spreadsheet, and other (free) software for your computer!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009