Linux It is a free and open operating system that consumes fewer resources than Microsoft Windows, the most used OS in the world. However, it still follows the idea that it is something for programmers, experts, and very advanced users. Something that, with the passage of time and the different versions that exist, was changing.
The problem is often that a lot of technical terminology is still spoken and the end user can get lost in it. How do you get started with Linux? What are “distributions”? Which one is convenient? What is free software?
This type of question was answered by 10 disseminators, mostly teachers, in the new book “A short guide to distros” (short for “distribution” used in jargon).
“It is usual that when starting with free software they recommend you use this or that program (for example Free Office instead of Microsoft Office, Gimp instead of Photoshop, Audacity to edit audio) but at some point you come across the little word that “Linux” and other questions are opened ”, he tells Clarion Matías Bordone Carranza, graduate in Computer Science and Professor in Computer Science.
Here, the teacher answers some key questions to understand why in many cases using Linux may be a better option than Windows.
Linux, an operating system based on free software. Photo; Shutterstock
─What is a “distro”? Why are there different “distributions” of Linux?
─A distro is a version of Linux. GNU / Linux is an operating system, that is, the main program on computers to which other programs are installed on top to do other things (an internet browser, games, various applications, etc). For example in cell phones as an operating system some use Android, others use Iphone (IOs). When we buy them the first thing we do is to install a messaging program, social networks, etc. In the case of computers it is the same, Windows is an operating system, another is Mac IOs and another is GNU / Linux. In the case of Linux the usual thing is that we have different “versions” with different names, that’s why we never see a “Linux” installed, but a Ubuntu, a Debian, etc, each with a set of programs and their differences. In fact, Android, is a version of Linux.
─In the collective ideology Linux is an expert thing for programmers or to install on servers. Why did this idea clot? Is this still the case?
─I think it is not going to affect the free software community to assume that in the 90s most versions of GNU / Linux were not very friendly with the most general users, which made it think that Linux was “difficult”. An attempt, for me successful, to bring Linux closer to users was precisely Ubuntu under the slogan “Linux for humans”. What they did was build on another version called Debian, tweaking and tweaking the Gnome desktop environment (sort of like the graphical interface, which the screen shows) to make it as user-friendly as possible. Much water passed under the bridge and today there are many more “friendly” distributions.
─Why use Linux?
─Everyone has their reasons for doing it, but I can share with you why I use Linux and I think it is a good idea to share it. My computer goes more fluid and stable (quickly and without hanging up, bye hang up). I forgot to have problems with viruses as there are almost no viruses for Linux. The installation of programs is much easier in general since all GNU / Linux distributions have a kind of Play Store where you search for programs and install them directly. I can customize the look of my desktop completely easily (well, easier than in Windows). The updates not only update the system but also all the programs, it also lets me do it when I want and not when “the system” wants. It is not necessary to install extra programs since Linux comes with many programs already incorporated
Ubuntu, one of the most popular Linux distributions
─It is also free, this is not minor.
─Of course, although we do not mention it many times, free software is usually freely available, legally and without viruses, so this is no less reason to use it. In fact some companies e educational institutions use free software to reduce licensing costs, pass the legal controls in addition to becoming independent from the provider (anyone can support free software).
─There are also more philosophical reasons behind the use of free software, they tell in the book.
Sure. Free programs are programs made by a community of people thinking of people, in turn that is available for everyone to use, modify and share. This collective way of experiencing technology is the first thing that caught my attention and in fact I say collective because there are also many people willing to help.
─In which cases do you recommend using Linux?
─Using free software in general and Linux in particular meets the needs of any average user for everyday office or home use. At the end of the day, most use the internet mainly for this in Linux you have Firefox browsers and you can even install Chrome (from Google), although I do not recommend it, it also comes Zoom, Skype and many other programs that many people use can also be installed on Windows. Even the most famous game store Steam it has version for Linux too.
Free software and the Clementina Group
The Clementina Group created the Linux distribution manual during the pandemic. Photo Sol Vassallo
The groups that disseminate free software usually have foundations to support an alternative use to which the logic of the market and, in particular, of the copyright, they usually dictate.
However, many times the importance of having, at least as an alternative, a “free” option that can not only also be free, but much more than that, is not entirely clear.
─Why is the concept of “free software” important?
─In general, when a program is created by someone (individual programmers or a company), these creators decide what users can or cannot do with the program. That is what is known as a program license. In other words, the license is what the author says that we can and cannot do with that program (or book, or video, or … etc). For example, if I buy Windows, the windows license says i have permission to use that copy on a single computer and that I can’t share it with anyone (among many other things / restrictions).
─Free software breaks with this traditional idea that is used in the computer industry. How?
─In the face of these types of conditions, there is a group of people who believe that programs should allow 4 things: the freedom to use the program, for any purpose (use), the freedom to study how the program works and modify it, adapting it to one’s own needs (study), the freedom to distribute copies of the program, with which you can help other users (distribution) and the freedom to improve the program and make those improvements public to others, so that the whole community benefits (improvement).
─And this translates into programs like the Firefox browser.
─Of course, programs with licenses that respect these four freedoms are called Free Software. There are many programs that are free besides Firefox, such as LibreOffice, Linux, Obs studio, Audacity. Not every program that is downloaded from the internet for free is free, you have to respect these freedoms. To get rid of the doubt, it is best to go to the Wikipedia page of the program and see what license it has.
Conectar Igualdad comes with Huayra, an Argentine Linux distribution for educational purposes. Photo Juano Tesone
─Why does the book say that it is better to use free software on computers for education like Connect Equality?
─There are rivers of ink on this question, but it could mark some of the most important ones. First, its affordable price: although free is not necessarily free, most of the free software used in education is, so costs can be reduced, while students can download and use it. program they see in class. On the other hand, a question of values: the school must teach students values and lifestyles that benefit the whole of society. The free software proposal presents a group of values about what it is to produce and share knowledge and that benefits us all.
─The book also explains that free software adapts to the needs of users.
─Of course, using free software allows you to see that there are program options to solve problems, so you can speak, for example, of a “Word Processor” instead of Word, and in this way also show that you choose what you want use in a way that best suits your needs. In addition, free software helps students learn how computers and the software itself work.
─Yes, when the Peruvian state wanted to give computers to its students, they found that Word does not come in Guaraní (one of the official languages of the country) so they decided to use Libre Office, a free Office and modified it to add the Guarani language. This modification was later incorporated by Connect Equality to use Office in Guarani with students who have that mother tongue.
Android is based on Linux: it is one of its many distributions. Photo Bloomberg
“Brief guide on distros” is prepared by members of the Clementina Group: Valentin Basel, Matías Eduardo Bordone Carranza, Barbi Couto, Iris Amalia Fernández, Delfina Sofía Martín, María Eugenia Núñez, Lila Pagola and “Rikylinux”. It is downloaded for free here.