You’ve probably seen at least one of them: a peculiar person on the internet claiming with pride, “I use Linux.” But what does it mean to use Linux? What is Linux, and what does Linux do? Today we’ll find out, and we’ll leave the jargon and technical babble at the door.
What Is Linux?
When someone says, “I use Linux,” what they mean is that they use the GNU/Linux operating system in one of its many forms. Over the years, various developers have taken the GNU/Linux code, crafted a unique operating system, and distributed it on the internet, usually free of cost. They can do this because of the permissive license that comes with Linux.
Because the license allows developers to redistribute their code, Linux operating systems are usually referred to as distributions or distros for short. Similar to the different editions of Windows 10 that exist, different Linux distributions exist for different purposes and people.
For example, Ubuntu and Linux Mint are accessible and easy to use for everyday computing, similar to Windows Home edition. Alpine Linux, like Windows Pro, offers hardline security that a professional user may want. A slim, lightweight distro like Lubuntu could be compared to Windows S, and openSUSE serves the same purposes as Windows Server.
One difference from Windows editions, however, is how most Linux distributions will vary in look and organization, depending on the distro’s desktop environment. They have names like GNOME, Cinnamon, or Xfce, and they’ll each give you a different user experience or “feel.” Some will feel familiar to longtime Windows or macOS users, and others will feel more cutting-edge and forward-thinking.
Regardless of what form Linux comes in, you’re always going to get these things: a highly customizable desktop, a dedicated community of users and developers offering their support, and freedom from the grasp of big tech companies like Apple and Microsoft.
What Is Linux Used For?
So you know what Linux is, but now you might be asking, “What can I do with Linux?”
From simple calculators to advanced graphics editing tools, Linux can in fact run all kinds of software you’re used to running on Windows or macOS.
Browsing the Web
An essential utility on any modern PC, Linux desktops always come packaged with at least one web browser. Most will have Firefox or Chromium installed by default, but you can also get regular Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Brave.
Beyond using webmail in a browser, you can manage your inbox with your choice of several email clients for Linux. Some popular choices include Thunderbird and Evolution. They often give you an experience like Microsoft Outlook, but more simplified and streamlined.
Linux typically comes with a complete office suite, like LibreOffice, Apache OpenOffice, or Calligra Suite. Microsoft Office won’t run natively on Linux (although for the dedicated user, we do have some workarounds).
For most users, though, one of those substitutes will cover their office needs. Most of them will open, edit, export, and save DOC, DOCX, XLSX, PDF, and more extensions without any issue. Some even have advanced capabilities, like macros and track changes.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, you can game on Linux. How is that possible? Increasingly thanks to a Linux app called Wine, or PlayOnLinux, that runs Windows programs on Linux. Although it’s true that many popular games have no native Linux version, Wine lets you get around that problem.
One of the best implementations of Wine is Valve’s Proton tool on Steam. Proton configures Wine to your chosen Windows and maintains it in the background. That means you have to do nothing but install Proton and run the game.
Sounds too good to be true? Check out ProtonDB, a database of Windows games with ratings and reviews for how well they perform on Linux using Proton. Valve is actively developing Proton, so ratings tend to only go up over time. Go ahead and look up your favorite games and see how easy it would be to start gaming on Linux.
Streaming and Playing Multimedia
Linux is totally capable of playing your favorite music, video, and podcasts like any other operating system. Spotify has a native desktop app for Linux, and several more Linux apps will play local music or stream from other locations. VLC Player and Celluloid can do the same for video.
You can also view and manage your photo collection on Linux with the file manager and image viewer your distro includes.
Graphics and Audio Editing
Most distros will come packaged with at least one graphics editing application. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to install Adobe Creative Suite on Linux without the help of the aforementioned Wine utility. However, you have plenty of alternatives to choose from that are often free of charge, like GIMP or Inkscape.
Audacity is easy to install on Linux, as well as more advanced audio editors and mixers like Cecilia and Mixxx. You have many free and open-source video editors at your disposal as well. More serious makers can even find Linux environments designed for creators.
What Else Linux Is Used For?
Linux has far more uses beyond PC desktops. Developers often use it for testing, and it’s also useful for web hosting.
In fact, the Developer reported in 2017 that 90% of the public cloud was running on Linux. The majority of web servers run on Linux, and nearly all supercomputers use Linux as their OS. Other devices use the Linux kernel as well, like smart home products, networking gear, and even cars.
Linux is so common, then, that if you drive a car or use the internet, you could say with near certainty, “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 most if you like the idea of doing most things you already do on Windows or macOS, but outside of Microsoft and Apple’s reach.
Interested? Getting started with Linux is easy and non-committal. You can usually get Linux free of charge and try it on your current PC without erasing or modifying anything.
Interested in using Linux but don’t know where to start? Learn how to use Linux, from choosing a distro to installing apps.
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