Getting Into Linux
Linux is a fascinating phenomenon. It's a powerhouse operating system, freely available, that's developed by thousands of volunteer programmers all over the world. Since it's inception in 1991, Linux has matured to become:
one of the primary server operating systems that powers the Internet
the core of Android and numerous other mainstream operating systems for phones, tablets, computers, set-top boxes, and a variety of other types of devices and gadgets
the calling card of the open source software movement, which is built around the idea that software source code should be freely available for anyone to investigate, modify, and use for themselves (within parameters)
a rich playground for tech enthusiasts to explore and learn in for free
At Techromatic, we use Linux as a server platform for the web-based apps we develop, and we use it as a toolbox to help us troubleshoot and solve certain kinds of computer and network issues. These days, a lot of the really great, super-geeky computer tools are designed for Linux, which provides more flexibility and fine-tuning capabilities than consumer operating systems like OS X or Windows.
If you're the kind of person who's interested in playing with software, Linux will give you plenty to explore and learn- for free.
The easiest way to get started with Linux is to install it as a virtual machine on your computer. To do this, you'll need virtual machine software, such as VMWare Fusion, Parallels, or VirtualBox. Of those three, VirtualBox itself is, like Linux, open source and freely available, and while not as fully featured as Parallels or Fusion (or one of the many other VM solutions), VirtualBox is certainly good enough to get the job done.
Once you've got virtual machine software set up on your computer, you'll need to decide which flavor of Linux you would like to play with. Linux comes packaged in "distributions" which bundle together all of the pieces you'll need to make use of Linux, which itself is just the operating system guts and is not very usable without additional software.
There are dozens of Linux distributions, each tailored to different types of users and different roles. The most user-friendly Linux distribution is Ubuntu- it's designed to make Linux as streamlined and easy to configure and use as possible. As such, it's a great distribution for Linux beginners to play with.
Ubuntu itself is based on another Linux distribution called Debian. Debian is a good choice for power users who want to get a little "closer to the metal" than the Ubuntu experience- it lacks some of the additional polish and ease of use of Ubuntu, but in turn is smaller, faster, and less proprietary.
For a much more comprehensive list of Linux distributions, check out this Wikipedia article.
And for some great introductory material to get you started, check out linux.org.
Good luck diving into Linux. If you've got any questions or are looking for advice, drop us a line.