[I]f you really want a desktop where you're in control, and not Microsoft or another cloud company, what you need is a conventional desktop Linux such as Mint 17.2. Windows is heading to the cloud and it won't be coming back. — Cloudy Weather
Linux is Everywhere
Linux has moved from obscurity. Linux Ubuntu and Linux Mint are now the third and fourth most popular home operating system installations (after Windows and Mac).
- How to replace Windows 7 with Linux Mint.
- Linux is everywhere. Now there's a plan to make it for everyone.
- Linux on Windows 10: Will penguin treats in Creators Update be enough to lure you?
From Freedom Came Elegance
I recommend Linux Mint.
Linux Mint makes a good choice for those who'd like a distro that isn't constantly trying to change the desktop computing paradigm, but don't want to use abandonware. Mint is actively developed and both of its homegrown desktops are excellent. — The Register
Windows users that cannot upgrade their computers or afford to purchase a newer version will find that Linux Mint is an excellent option — provided you don't need to run proprietary Windows software*. A suit of commonly-used software is included such as Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and VLC media player.
*Many Windows programs can be run under Linux using WINE. Be sure to read the FAQ before installing WINE.
Linux Mint is community-driven and free to download for both personal (the 4th most widely-used home operating system behind Windows, Mac and Ubuntu) and commercial use. Learn about Mint or download Mint.
You can try Mint without affecting your existing operating system and software. Learn more:
Check out or download Ubuntu:
- Ubuntu is community-driven, free to download for personal and commercial use and offers excellent support.
- Take the tour or download Ubuntu.
- Try Ubuntu without affecting your existing operating system and software.
- Ubuntu security notices.
Other Linux Distributions
Some of the better known distributions are:
- elementary OS is “the fast, open, and privacy-respecting replacement for Windows and macOS.”
- Debian GNU/Linux.
- Debian GNU/Linux.
- Red Hat (business enterprise software).
- Slackware Linux.
- S.u.S.E. Linux.
Most Linux distributions show some screen shots so you can get an idea of what the desktop looks like but you can also run them from their installation media without installing them to test them out.
Finding Additional Distros
There are many other Linux distributions.
- DistroWatch.com tracks new releases and updates.
- Revive Your Old PC: The 3 Best Linux Systems For Old Computers.
These best practices will help ensure you're not running older Linux versions containing the vulnerabilities noted in this section:
- Upgrade your version to the most recent version supported by your hardware. Most vulnerabilities are addressed in kernel updates (i.e. new versions of your Linux distribution).
- When your hardware no longer supports the newest version of your distro (or if your distro no longer is being updated) you need to either upgrade your hardware or look to a version that supports your current hardware.
Run Security Software
You should be running security software.
While the percentage of home computers running Linux is very small (compared to the Windows or Linux server installation base) there are still vulnerabilities that have nothing to do with software (phishing, identity theft, and more).
KRACK is a vulnerability in the WPA2 Wi-Fi protocol that affects virtually all Wi-Fi enabled devices.
3 Kernel Vulnerabilities
This section contains information about vulnerabilities to the Linux kernel.
Linux's decade-old flaw: Major distros move to patch serious kernel bug. Three other serious security holes were patched in December 2016.
Learn more: Three serious Linux kernel security holes patched.
Be sure to install the latest patches to ensure you're protected from these vulnerabilities.
While Linux itself has more secure mechanisms than Windows, there is also software vulnerabilities.
The Linux encryption app Cryptkeeper has a rather stunning security bug: the single-character decryption key "p" decrypts everything. — Bruce Schneier
The vulnerabilities listed here should only affect you if you're running an older version of Linux that hasn't been patched.
- The Linux Ghost Flaw: Everything You Need To Know.
- The Shellshock (BASH) vulnerability, named for the GNU Bash shell.
- Heartbleed, a serious vulnerability in OpenSSL cryptographic software, affected a number of Linux distributions.
Linux Security Information
Check these sites for more information about Linux security.
- Debian Security Information.
- Oracle Linux Bulletin.
- RedHat Notifications and Advisories.
- Ubuntu security notices. Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu and may suffer the same vulnerabilities.
- LinuxSecurity.com includes a listing by open source distribution.
- The LWN.net security alerts database contains security alerts from numerous Linux distributors.
- Security-News-Feeds Cheat Sheet is a collection of all major known security advisory feeds.
- US-CERT Current Activity is a regularly updated summary of the most frequent, high-impact types of security incidents currently being reported to the US-CERT.
This Linux software listing is not extensive but provides some basic apps. Try these resources:
Much of the software used by the average person is either included with the installation of many distributions like Ubuntu and Mint or can be downloaded and installed using updating utilities built into those distributions.
A more extensive listing of Linux software can be found on the Linux-Apps.com or Best of Linux Software. If you're moving from Windows to Linux, have a look at The table of equivalents / replacements / analogs of Windows software in Linux.
As Linux becomes more popular, it becomes the target of malicious attacks.
- 80 of the Best Linux Security Applications.
- ClamAV Linux Versions.
- Sophos Antivirus for Linux.
- Comodo Antivirus for Linux.
Office Suites & Editors
LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice: Free Office Alternatives
LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice
Free Office Alternatives
LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice provide the core features of Microsoft Office and both are free to download, use, and distribute. LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice is installed by default on most Linux distros and both are open source (like Linux itself). More on the differences and history here.
System Requirements for Linux
- Linux kernel version 2.6.18 or higher
- glibc2 version 2.5 or higher
- gtk version 2.10.4 or higher
- Pentium-compatible PC (Pentium III, Athlon or more-recent system recommended)
- 256Mb RAM (512Mb RAM recommended)
- Up to 1.55Gb available hard disk space
- X Server with 1024x768 resolution (higher resolution recommended), with at least 256 colors
- Gnome 2.16 or higher, with the gail 1.8.6 and at-spi 1.7 packages (required for support for assistive technology [AT] tools), or another compatible GUI (such as KDE, among others)
- Linux kernel version 2.6 or higher, glibc2 version 2.5 or higher.
- Free memory of 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended).
- 400 MB available disk space.
- X-Server with 1024 x 768 pixel or higher resolution with at least 256 color.
About the Java Requirements
Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice will run without Java for most users but certain features depend upon Java, particularly the database program.
Java is mainly required for the HSQLDB database engine (used by our database product Base) and to make use of accessibility and assistive technologies. — Apache OpenOffice
See Oracle's Java Downloads for All Operating Systems page for information specific to Linux.
- Able2Extract Professional (US$149.95) (free to try; US$149.95 to buy) is a powerful professional PDF program that allows you to do almost anything with PDFs. Strongly recommended. See my review for details and full system requirements.
- Mozilla Firefox has long provided native support for Linux.
- Mozilla Thunderbird has native support for Linux. Not recommended for large amounts of mail. Installing Thunderbird on Linux.
- FileZilla is the recommended FTP client.
- The amazingly-powerful GIMP graphics program is a worthy alternative to Photoshop.
- Manager is free cloud-based accounting software that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux — Ubuntu Oneiric (11.10) or newer. It includes modules such as cashbook, invoicing, receivables, payables, taxes and comprehensive financial reports. You'll need to create an account to use this program and your data will be stored in the “cloud” rather than on your computer.
- Moonlight open-source NVIDIA GameStream client.
- Steam's Featured Linux Games.
- Steam for Linux Community Board.
Linux Help and Documentation
Linux Information Sites
There are numerous sites on the Internet that provide an incredible amount of information. Don't forget to check the various newsgroups for messages that provide solutions to problems you are experiencing with Linux installation or your routine maintenance issues.
There are several sources of information about installing, configuring and administrating Linux. Besides the MAN (manual) pages that usually accompany your distribution you will find various HOWTOs or mini-tutorials on the Web.
- The Linux Documentation Project has a series of HOWTOs, guides FAQs and man pages (help on individual commands).
- A quick reference guide for common UNIX commands.
- Linux Journal provides a starting place for Linux users.
- Full Circle Magazine is a free, independent, magazine dedicated to the Ubuntu family of Linux operating systems.
The Desktop Environment
X Windows is the GUI (Graphic User Interface) for Linux. It is much more flexible than either the Windows or Macintosh environments because it is not the entire operating system. This makes X Windows very powerful and configurable. Most users will have all three components installed, but they are not all necessary for Linux to run.
Providing the support for the video card and monitor and basic window management.
- XFree86 X server.
These provide the window controls, buttons, menus and control panels for Linux distributions.
What provides the common “look and feel” to the desktop.
- MATE Desktop Environment and Cinnamon are forks of the GNOME desktop environment.
- GNOME desktop environment.
- KDE (K Desktop Environment).
The components that are available to you will depend upon the distribution you are using and the capabilities of your hardware. Because of the nature of Linux you can change the look of your distribution by changing the various components of the desktop environment.
Traditionally many hardware manufacturers haven't provided drivers written for Linux for their current offerings. This resulted in a dependence on drivers provided by the Open Source community.
This is gradually changing as manufacturers realize that commercial interest in Linux is increasing. Drivers are appearing more frequently as demand grows.
The one area where there has been the most demand for drivers (and the most improvement) is with printers.
HP Linux Imaging and Printing for HP's print, scan and fax drivers for Linux.
I found native support for my HP Color LaserJet CP1215 on Linux Mint 17 although it wasn't the most current version available.
Note: the links I had for Linux support for Brother printers are no longer available.