Linux for Microsoft Windows Users:
Introduction & Overview
Mike Angelo -- 25 January 2001(c)
(Editor's Note: This is the first edition of a new regular MozillaQuest Magazine column designed to help Microsoft Windows users better understand and use Linux, and Linux software. Please check our special Linux for Windows User's articles index for a complete list of Linux for Windows users articles.)
Chances are that if you are a Microsoft Windows user it is because (1) MS Windows came with your computer, (2) MS Windows is easy and convenient to install and to use, (3) there is lots of software for MS Windows, (4) you think you can do everything you want to do computer-wise with MS Windows, (5) your boss told you to use MS Windows, (6) you did not even know that Linux is an alternative to MS Windows, (7) you never even heard of Linux, (8) or some other such reason.
Somewhat similarly, chances are that if you know about Linux but chose not to use Linux it is because (1) Linux did not come with your computer, (2) Linux is not easy and convenient to install and to use, (3) there is not much software for Linux, (4) you think you cannot do everything you want to do computer-wise with Linux, (5) your boss told you to use MS Windows, (6) you had heard of Linux but did not even know that Linux is an alternative to MS Windows, (7) or some other such reason. Wrong! -- sort of.
Linux As an Alternative to MS Windows
Linux has come a long way over the past few years. Some Linux packages (distributions) now are fairly easy to install and to use. There is lots of software for Linux and it's likely that you can do everything you want to do computer-wise with Linux. All in all, Linux now is a decent alternative, or perhaps more importantly an excellent supplement, to Microsoft (MS) Windows.
In part, that is because Linux and MS Windows no longer are a one or the other choice. Linux and MS Windows can be installed on the very same computer. And you can use a dual-boot scenario to let you choose which OS, Linux or MS Windows, you want to use for that computer session. Please see Dual-Boot Linux & Windows to Get the Best of Both Operating System Worlds for more about dual-booting Linux and MS Windows. (Link in the Resources Section at the end of this article.)
Or, you can use special software such as VMware to run both Linux and MS Windows at the same time on the same computer. VMware let's you run one operating system as a host OS and then run additional operating systems as guest OSs in virtual machines.
VMware and virtual machines will be discussed in an upcoming MozillaQuest Magazine article. However, for now you can conceptualize a virtual machine as a window on your desktop. Suppose you have Linux running as the VMware host OS and Windows 98 as the guest OS. Then Windows 98 actually is a virtual operating system running in a window on your Linux desktop.
With either a dual-boot or a virtual machine scenario, Linux and MS Windows can share data files. There are emulators that let you run many DOS and MS Windows programs in Linux. Additionally, the virtual machine scenario let's you run most DOS and MS Windows programs in a DOS or MS Windows window.
So, you no longer have to chose either Linux or MS Windows. Thanks to these dual-boot and virtual machine scenarios, you can have your cake and eat it too.
You also can use a small network to enjoy the benefits of life in both the Linux and MS Windows worlds. Simply add a Linux-based computer to your existing MS Windows-based LAN or make a small LAN to do that if you do not now have a LAN.
Just as with the dual-boot and virtual machine scenarios, Linux and MS Windows machines on the same LAN can share files too. Please see Computer Connections at Home, Office, & School for more information about setting-up and using a mixed Linux and MS Windows LAN. (Link in the Resources Section at the end of this article.)
In light of how easy it now is to run both Linux and MS Windows on the same computer and/or on the same network, you do not need to choose one or the other OS -- the Linux-as-an-alternative-to-MS-windows approach. Rather you can use Linux in addition to MS Windows to supplement and augment your personal computing. Moreover, you can add Linux to your personal computing for less than $40.
The Software Makes the Differences
To the eye, Microsoft Windows and Linux X Window look very similar. For example, Figures 1 and 2 are screen shots of the new Netscape 6.0 Web browser. One is a screen shot of Netscape 6 running in Microsoft Windows and the other a shot of Netscape 6 running in Linux X Window. Can you tell which is which? The answer is in the Conclusion section on page 3.
There is a very important point to be made here. How a program looks and feels, and how easy it is to use a program, is not so much a matter of which OS (MS Windows or Linux) that you use. Rather it is much more a matter of the program itself.
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