So You Want to Use Linux?
Despite what some may say, Linux is perfectly suitable to run your computer and let you do everything you want to do. To make sure that your Linux transition is successful, it's important to get the right version of Linux paired up with the right computer. There are some things that you need to know before you get started:
How old is your computer?
You may have read or heard people say that Linux works well on older hardware. In a general sense, this is true. However, 'works well' depends on what you're going to do with the machine. This brings us to our next question:
What are you going to use it for?
Home Desktop or Office Workstation (runs on its own)
For best results, this use of Linux requires newer hardware. As with anything, the newer the better. At the time of this writing, you really need a system that's at the Pentium III/AMD Athlon class or better with at least 256 MB of RAM. In order to install all the nice programs that will help you get your work done, you'll need at least 4 GB of space in your hard drive. You'll also need some additional space to store your files.
Versions (also known as distributions) of Linux that are well suited for this:
Home or Small/Medium Business Server
Linux is well suited to work as a central server for your business. With Linux, you can serve your own web pages up for public consumption and handle your own email, easing uptime and privacy concerns. You can centralize your print and file services under one roof, so to speak, with a Linux server running an application known as 'Samba'. There is much more that you can use a Linux machine for. The hardware doesn't have to be top of the line either. You can take advantage of older hardware to get these tasks done with Linux.
Versions of Linux that work well in this setting:
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server
RedHat Enterprise Linux
Though it requires powerful hardware, Linux works nicely as an application server, providing the programs for users on thin clients. The thin clients themselves can be running Linux on older hardware. (see below).
There are a lot of cases of individuals, organizations and business adapting Linux to their own special needs. This is because Linux is extremely versatile. For example, you can recycle PCs that normally wouldn't be useful for running the latest desktop applications by giving them other uses, such as:
Older machines can be converted into thin clients. These machines either have a minimalist Linux distribution installed or they boot their operating system over a network from a centralized application server.
Firewalls and Routers
This is an excellent way to take advantage of hardware that would otherwise be unusable. A Linux firewall will help you keep unwanted visitors out of your network. These days, that's a must. A router running Linux is a great way to increase what you can do with your network. If your business is connected via broadband, a modest machine running Linux used as a router can help you pick up the slack from your commercial router and open up your network to a broader range of services.
Can Linux do Everything?
No operating system can do everything, but Linux comes pretty close to being able to do it. However, you may find that Linux does not meet a special need that you have. At the time of this writing, Linux is still not able to run some advanced financial applications or reproduce some proprietary multimedia formats. There are probably other specific niche applications as well that Linux is not suitable for as this time. But as Linux gains popularity, these areas will be covered quickly.
Can I get by with less?
Yes, you certainly can. Besides, there's no law that says you have to run top of the line hardware. Machines with less power than the ones we've mentioned are quite capable of running well as long as you use a less resource-intensive window manager. KDE and GNOME, the two most popular Linux desktop environments tend to consume a lot of computing power. A less demanding window manager like xfce or Fluxbox should free up some resource to run other more CPU and RAM intensive applications.
Can I keep Windows?
Certainly. As long as you've installed Windows first, Linux can be installed into free space on the hard drive. Then the machine can be booted either with Windows or with Linux, depending on your needs at that moment. This method is called dual booting. This is possible through the use of bootloaders that come with most Linux distributions. The most popular bootloaders are Lilo and Grub. The only difficulty involved here is that you normally need to re-partition your hard disk. This can be achieved fairly easily with repartitioning tools. If you're coming from the Windows world, the most popular of these is Partition Magic.
What do you mean by Linux 'letting you do everything you want to do'?
We mean that Linux, at the time of this writing, is capable of doing about 95% percent (in our estimation) of what Microsoft Windows systems do acting as a home computer system. If you focus only on the business desktop, we believe that popular Linux distributions provide 100% of the tools you need to get productive work done. In terms of the 5% of the home system that's lacking, Linux, at present, does not support a number of proprietary multimedia codecs, personal financial software packages and some graphics hardware used for enhancing game playing. In these cases, the developers of the codecs, software and drivers prefer to keep these closed and proprietary and Linux developers have no way to provide support for them.