I’m writing this because I think in 2019 there’s enough interest out there for Linux that I should write an article containing several reasons why I think you should start using Linux and explore some of the reasons why it hasn’t grown as a desktop operating system. In addition to helping out my fellow cybersecurity professionals that may not have been fortunate enough or required to use Linux in their jobs, Linux has come into the mainstream and be a great operating system for anyone who has a computer.
Brief History of Linux
To understand Linux, we must first understand where Linux came from and how it has evolved. Linux began as an endeavor to create a new free operating system. It all started out as a personal project by Linux Torvalds who wanted to create a free new OS.
Fast forward a few years and Linux is powering EVERYTHING on the Internet from high end servers, mobile operating systems, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and many more. Linux can be categorized into software distributions like Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, Red Hat, Kali, ParrotOS, CentOS, Puppy Linux and many more. Most of these distributions can be downloaded free of charge under the GNU General Public License version 3 agreement. Check out their website at this link to see which distros are provided as free software. Additionally, even Microsoft allows a flavor of Linux called Ubuntu to be able to be run on top of Windows 10.
Where to get Linux
But where does the average user go to select a version of Linux to install on their newly purchased computer? Sites like https://distrowatch.com and https://itsfoss.com are a great place to start learning. There are numerous tutorials for how to install and use Linux and even a Linux for Everyone podcast/Internet show. Linux can be particularly daunting when trying to figure out how to install as a day to day operating system thanks to security enhancements like secure boot and other forced upgrades in BIOS to UEFI. Because of security and cybersecurity challenges, manufacturers seem to want to make the task more difficult to install linux as a standalone OS or as a second OS on a computer.
So, my current recommendation for a distro of Linux to start with is Ubuntu by Canonical. There are several reasons for that, but the first and most obvious is that it has a nicer Graphical User Interface (GUI) that can more closely mirror a Windows desktop environment. Some things to keep in mind when installing a Linux:
Traditional USB Install Approach
- Thumb drive: you will need some type of USB thumb drive to hold the Linux image (or you can use a DVD if your computer still has one)
- Software to burn the image to the thumb drive (Unetbootin or Rufus) – https://unetbootin.github.io/ or https://rufus.ie/
- You may have to modify some BIOS settings like switch to legacy boot mode.
- Backup your existing data first.. shouldn’t have any problems but better safe than sorry
- Some computers may automatically boot from a thumb drive, but you may have to change your boot order. Additionally, some computers have a certain default key to press to boot from a thumb drive (for example F12) .
- Definitely want to have an Internet (WiFi) connection when installing Linux to ensure you have all the latest updates especially third-party support.
- Ensure you have enough hard drive space to contain the Linux OS. Most distros can get by with 10GB or less for minimal installations, but Ubuntu recommends 25GB (https://tutorials.ubuntu.com/tutorial/tutorial-install-ubuntu-desktop)
- You may have a change your hard drive partitions to accomadate Linux (root, swap, home partitions might be some of the types you run into). Additionally, Linux uses different file systems than Windows NTFS (like ext3, ext4, reiserfs, jfs, etc.).
- Once you’ve installed your operating system, you will have a choice which one you would like to boot into. For more info see this article.
Virtual Machine Approach (Over Windows or MAC):
- Many specialized flavors of Linux offer preconfigured Virtual Machines (VMs) that can be downloaded and imported into a hypervisor like VirtualBox or VmWare so you don’t have to do any special confirmation. Just download the VM, import into your tool of choice, and go! (Example: Kali Linux https://www.offensive-security.com/kali-linux-vm-vmware-virtualbox-image-download/)
- You must have at least 4 GB of RAM to run VMs on top of Windows (though 8GB or more is better).
- If you start the VM and notice it freezing, allocate more RAM in settings.
- Depending on your manufacturer you may have to alter the BIOS settings to ensure your system can support virtualization.
With Microsoft releasing the final version of Windows and the cost of owing a Mac, Linux provides a great alternative to other operating systems and it has a bit of a learning curve depending on the distro you get. That said, the old mantra that Linux is only for computer nerds or tech enthusiasts is no longer true. Anyone can pick up and use Linux effectively as their daily driver and can get real work and or business done. Linux is also very appropriate for I.T. professionals and is in high demand.