By itself, the word “Linux” isn’t an operating system. It’s the Linux kernel, only one component (although an important one) of an entire operating system. Even though the original name is GNU/Linux, most people leave off the “GNU/”. People nickname everything and I consider “Linux” an appropriate nickname. I will always use the nickname instead of the full name.
I’m a big Linux enthusiast. Like everything I’m interested in, I’m not quite a fanatic. Desktop Linux has come a long way since the first time I messed with it. Back then, you couldn’t do anything worthwhile without knowing tons of command line interface commands. The desktop didn’t include much of anything. Today, it’s how Windows should be.
I used Windows for years, mainly because I didn’t see anything else coming close to doing what it could do. I tried Linux in the 90s and I don’t remember which distribution it was, probably Slackware. Back then, support options barely existed. It was like learning to drive a car without a manual on how to even start it. I couldn’t use it, so Windows was really the only choice.
Then along came Ubuntu, which took Debian and turned it into something just about anyone can use. Actually, Ubuntu probably wasn’t the first decent desktop version. It was just the first version I noticed. Today, you can find decent desktop versions of Linux based on more than one main distribution.
Nobody calls it GNU/Linux. It’s usually Debian Linux, Ubuntu Linux, (insert name) Linux or just plain Linux. Unless a distribution is specified without it, it makes sense. Sort of. I use Linux Mint and Linux is in the front, not the rear. Other distributions don’t use the word at all, like CentOS. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one Linux to rule them all? Hardly.
I won’t get into the history of this. It confuses me. All I can say is that most of the distributions are built on top of the base distributions like Debian, Slackware, and others. Google’s Android is a Linux distribution. The Google Chromebook isn’t, even though the later models can run Android alongside or within Chrome OS. I don’t own one, at least not yet.
Over the past several years, I’ve used Ubuntu, LXLE and various editions of Linux Mint. I’ve tested more distributions than I care to remember. I’m currently dual booting with Windows 10 and the Linux Mint Cinnamon Edition. Three editions are built on top of Debian and Ubuntu and one edition is built on top of Debian only.
Like me, you don’t have to give up Windows to use Linux. The good Linux distributions will give you an option to dual boot during the installation process. Some desktop and laptop systems have so much bloatware added to Windows 10, it could be a good idea to make sure you have a way to reinstall Windows, wipe the internal storage drive and start over. That’s what I did when I set it up the right way.
The option to dual boot might not be obvious when you install Linux. The distributions I like to install are based on Debian. During installation, I have to choose something other than the default option to do anything but wipe the disk and start from scratch.
There are dozens of good Linux distributions. You don’t have to settle on one specific distribution or one specific desktop until you take the plunge. You can install VirtualBox or Workstation Player from within Windows and test various flavors for as long as it takes. Both products are free.
All you need, besides that software, are the ISO files to create the systems. Downloading torrent files using a BitTorrent client is almost always faster than regular downloads. If you can’t find a torrent seed file on a particular distribution website, you can probably find it at Linux Tracker.
When you start a virtual drive, you can usually select the startup disk. The disk you want to use is your ISO file. When it comes time to reboot the virtual drive, you don’t have to remove the disk even though the onscreen instructions may tell you to do so. Virtual drives don’t work well on Windows 10 with four gigabytes or fewer of memory installed.
You can install many distributions on USB drives or compact disks. While a USB flash drive is the preferred medium, there’s nothing to stop you from using other media, like external hard drives or external solid state drives. As long as the medium is bootable, it should work. We call it a “live” distribution.
Most Linux distributions need at least eight gigabytes of USB flash drive space to install properly. Some need more. You can find packs of multiple drives with 16 gigabytes each for under $30.00 at Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
USB flash drives have to be properly formatted and there only a few software products for Windows that can do it right. I’ve used both Rufus and Linux Live USB Creator in the past. The latter is the one I used to create a Slax USB drive.
If you use any USB-based operating system, there’s a minimal risk to your computer system. Whatever you do to your hard or solid-state drive, you have to do it intentionally. By booting up with the USB flash drive, you make it your primary drive and it’s the default drive for file operations.
You can still do some damage to your computer system if you’re not careful. Being able to bypass Windows (or macOS) is precisely why you can use it to fix things. It’s extremely easy with one of the file managers to go in and wipe out files you need when you think you don’t need them.
Unless you’ve been using Windows long enough to fill up the hard drive, you should have plenty of room to install Linux in another partition. Even so, you should move your data (if any) to another disk. You can buy large SD cards for your card slot, if you have one. An external USB drive or a USB flash drive large enough to hold the data shouldn’t be too expensive.
Since you’re going to be messing with your internal storage drive, you should back it up using backup and restore software. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Install and run a partition manager like the free version of Minitool Partition Wizard. Shrink the Windows partition by at least 100 gigabytes. It’s usually the largest partition on the disk. If your disk isn’t large enough, even after moving data files to another drive, you probably shouldn’t set up a dual boot system.
I honestly believe Windows users should use Linux when possible. Microsoft keeps screwing the pooch with their automatic updates, rendering some systems unusable. There are obviously some things that won’t work on anything but Windows, but those things are getting fewer all the time.
As a Windows user, you may be tempted to use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Unless you’re a developer who needs specific tools, you’re better off running Linux separately, not from within Windows. You need eight gigabytes of memory or more (preferably more) to use it effectively.
Four gigabytes of memory is plenty on a separate Linux system. Some distributions run on much less. Four is all I have and I don’t intend to ever add more.