Since its creation in 1991 by Linus Torvalds to the present day, Linux has been half operating system and half symbol. This publicly licensed operating system has a sort of mystical aura about it that’s about as cool as you can get in the computer world. Conquering Linux has been the right of passage for a generation of computer enthusiasts.
Under the skin of this icon lies a mere operating system, but it’s an operating system with a single staggering advantage. It’s free. Not free as in “gee I hope nobody from Microsoft pokes around inside my computer” but ‘free’ as in the entire core of the operating system must be public domain.
In this first part of PCstats two-part guide to basic Linux use and installation, we aim to familiarize you with using Linux for everyday computing purposes by means of the most popular Linux desktop environment, KDE.
Since we realize that many users will not be willing to take the plunge and install Linux onto their systems to test it, we will use a ‘live CD’ Linux distribution, which can run entirely off a single CD. This will allow you to get used to the feel and function of the KDE desktop environment, as well as learn some basic Linux commands, while avoiding a permanent install. All you have to do is boot from the CD. Your existing Windows files are left completely intact.
What’s a Desktop Environment?
Simply put, it’s what you see; the Graphical User Interface (GUI, pronounced “gooey”) of an operating system, like Windows has, well… Windows. Microsoft’s claim to fame is their graphical desktop environment which is an integral part of their operating systems, and of how we use computers today. Linux, on the other hand, was developed first as a non-graphical operating system, an offshoot of Unix. Due to the fact that Linux is entirely open source, other programmers are free to create and expand upon it.
Over the years, this has resulted in several different ‘desktop environments’ being available for Linux, most of them not surprisingly based on the familiar Microsoft/Apple model of a graphical desktop with windows that hold icons representing data. The two desktops that emerged as the most popular are KDE and Gnome, both of which are rather similar to Windows in functionality with several small differences and refinements.
These desktop environments, more than any other factor have lead to the increasing popularity of Linux. They present a friendly and familiar face to any Windows user (and the fact is, just about every computer user out there is a Windows user, sorry Apple), allowing Linux to be used for essential functions without frustration or memorization.