This week is Open Source Week here at the institute. We’re celebrating all things open source. We’re taking a broad view of this term, which generally includes peer production, open collaboration, and free licensing.
An Inadequately Brief History
AT&T developed the Unix operating system, which they had to make free after their trust was broken up in the 1970s. It grew in popularity but became paid software again in the 1980s. Richard Stallman worked to create an alternative, called GNU (which stands for “GNU’s Not Unix”). His software was distributed with the GNU General Public License, which allowed for the free distribution, use, and modification of the software as long as the same license was attached to derivatives. In the early 1990s, Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel. Think of it this way, the kernel is the car frame and the GNU software are the components that get connected to that frame. Because it is free and open source, the operating system can be adapted to fit whatever computer architecture or needs a person has.
Ways You Can Use Linux
In addition to the behind-the-scenes uses I mentioned above, transitioning your desktop computing to Linux is easy. Do you have an old computer or laptop? You could install a Linux distro (distribution) designed for old, low-memory machines, such as Puppy Linux, Damn Small Linux (DSL), or Lubuntu (“light-Ubuntu,” which we chose partially because my partner’s nickname is Lou). How about a specialized media platform? Linux has a distro for that; try Fedora Design Suite, Ubuntu Studio, or Apodio . You can even install a full, user-friendly desktop operating system, like Ubuntu ( or one of its derivatives) or Mint, that is an easy transition for Windows or Mac users. And it is all free.
A note of caution, however, is needed. Linux is not Windows or Mac OS, so a new user is going to hit some speed bumps. It takes a little workaround to get Netflix running, for example. You’ll get to meet a few new programs that will take the place of your usual ones (see below). The internet is your friend and helper on this journey, as answers for whatever question you have will probably be answered in the Ubuntu community pages (if you choose an Ubuntu flavor) or more generally on the web. I usually search with the distro name and version followed by the problem I am having, such as “Ubuntu 16.04 triple monitor set-up.”
One of the biggest difficulties in migrating to Linux is our investment in the applications we’ve learned to use on Windows or Mac. Almost all of them have equivalents in Linux that look and/or function like the programs you’re used to (and if not, look into emulators that can run Windows or Mac programs on a Linux computer). The following is an incomplete list of the equivalents that I have found (bolstered by outside additions from the pages noted at the end of the post). Again, like the operating system, these are all free, open-source programs. Many of them are also available for Windows and Mac.
Pages Used to Compile this Post