Linux - The free alternative to Windows

By Mike Burton, January 2017

At this month's meeting we looked at Linux, the free alternative to Windows.

Free refers firstly to the cost ie £0, and secondly to the IPR or copyright. Linux is OpenSource so anyone can see the source code and even suggest enhancements to it (subject to rigorous testing and approval by the main authors.) This gives it the benefits of peer review, many pairs of eyes have seen its inner workings before it is circulated, in contrast to much proprietary software. This is one reason why Linux has far less security problems than Windows. Another reason is that, like Apple's Mac and IOS systems, Linux is based on Unix which has good core design principles which we briefly looked at, such as user / file permissioning, and how Linux rarely needs a reboot after updates.

There are several distributions of Linux, with the same core but different bundles of software and user-interfaces. We looked at Ubuntu which is the most popular and widely supported distribution.

Ubuntu includes many useful apps such as LibreOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird- plus an easy software installer which knows about dependencies, eliminating the frustration of failed installations that complain of missing or bad versions of some other piece of software.

There are a few cases where Linux versions of software are not available, such as Microsoft Office (for the rare cases where LibreOffice is lacking.) So we also had a brief look at the Linux version of VirtualBox, which allows Windows to run on Linux (subject to Windows licence fees and installation CDs of course.) There is a utility to convert an existing XP computer into a virtual machine for this purpose, as discussed in a previous talk on XP Demise To keep such a virtual machine safe it can easily be disconnected from the internet by accessing the VirtualBox Setting: Network: Attach to: and changing it to 'Not Attached'