Linux for the average computer user

Are you sick of Windows-related viruses, crashes, and expensive upgrades? Whether your concerns about Linux arise from fear of the unknown, there are some reasnable questions: Am I going to be OK with Linux? Will Linux run on my PC without problems? Can I learn to use Linux easily?

Peter van der Linden says yes to all these.

Van der Linden leads a team of kernel programmers at Sun Microsystems that develops software for advanced workstations. He has also written a new book about Linux for the average computer user — “Pete van der Linden’s Guide to Linux.”

He took a few minutes to offer an overview of today’s Linux.

DANA GREENLEE: I want to clarify something. Can you help all of us properly pronounce Linux? I have been saying it wrong for a long time.

VAN DER LINDEN: There are at least two different ways of pronouncing the word: Lie-nux versus Linux (like bin-icks). The controversy was finally laid to rest by Linus Torvalds himself, who was the originator of the Linux operating system, and there is actually a recording of him saying, “Hi, my name is Linus Torvalds and I pronounce Linux Lee-nucks,” which would absolutely lay the controversy to rest, except that he has a heavy Swedish accent when he says it.

GREENLEE: One of the Linux operating systems, Linspire, doesn’t call itself Leenspire. Let’s run through what Linspire is.

VAN DER LINDEN: Linspire is a commercial distribution whose mission in life is to bring the technology of Linux to ordinary desktop users. For people like myself who are Linux fans, it is a terrifically useful development. It’s just no good to have the greatest technology in the world and have it be inaccessible to vast numbers of people. This is where the next growth spurt from Linux is going to come from — taking it from people who are already converted and making it accessible to a broad mass-market of people who don’t have an all-consuming passion for operating system technology, but just want to make productive use of it.

GREENLEE: It seems like Windows has a big target on its back with a lot of virus writers. I spent last week trying to clean up my Windows servers from the worm attack we recently had.

VAN DER LINDEN: This is very worrying because we’re all promised that Service Pack 2 would be the big pack that fixed everything for us. In fact, it was just the latest in a long line of such hopes that haven’t panned out. There’s a Service Pack 3 in development right now, perhaps a Service Pack 4. Maybe Vista (Microsoft’s coming operating system) will do it for us, but it’s just a long stream of Windows vulnerabilities. They’re very, very disruptive, and cost a lot of money and lost productivity. One of the major advantages of Linux is that it’s simply not targeted the same way and it simply is more secure by design than Windows.

GREENLEE: Doesn’t that beg the question that, when Linux is more popular, it could also be a big target for virus writers?

VAN DER LINDEN: It could be. That’s not to say it will be penetrated quite so easily as Windows seems to be. The fundamental model of Linux is a little more filled out. Linux has always had an administrator mode and a user mode and this is a comparatively recent addition to Windows. Linux is also more open to scrutiny; more eyes looking that can spot potential problems.

GREENLEE: I thought about switching over to Linux over the years, but I wonder why I haven’t done it or why more consumers haven’t. Linux is great, it has progressed, it has a good user interface, it’s more secure—all these pluses, but what is holding everyone back from wholesale moving over to Linux it? Is it a comfort zone or third party software thing?

VAN DER LINDEN: I think there are two main reasons why we haven’t seen a big Linux take up to date. There’s the preinstallation factor. When you by a PC, 99.99 percent of them are sold to you with Windows preinstalled. We need to see more systems available with Linux preinstalled. You can generally cut about $100 off the price, too. People can go to and see the Linux preinstalled systems that are available there. Rather than picking out one of your old PCs and installing Linux on it, the right way to do it is, when you next come to buy a PC, buy one with Linux pre-installed for you. You will avoid any installation issues, find that it works with all your hardware, and it runs well. The other reason is third-party applications. It’s no question that Windows has a huge number of third-party software, but how many different word processing programs do you need? Only one – and if that word processor can read and write Microsoft Word compatible files, then that’s fine and that’s true with Open Office, which is the premiere open source word processing spreadsheet application.