Over the past couple of weeks I have been messing with Linux and finally it was time to try and install a Linux operating system onto my laptop. Why? Well, if I’m ever going to get a good grasp on running my Beaglebone Black (BBB) I’m going to need a good command of Linux, hence I figured I’d give the Linux operating system a try. While it’s not all command line, it helps me work on my command line skills to try and accomplish tasks by working with the terminal (such as installing new applications or packages using the command line). Plus I feel like a cool coding geek you might see in the movies who’s hacking into a corporation to steal intel, or something intense like that. Of course, it’s more like me typing three lines of code, cursing the fact I mistyped it twice, and cheering when something on my screen actually happens. Yes, my life is that exciting, I bet you wish you were me.
I picked the Debian Linux distribution and used the GNOME desktop environment. I think in the proper terms, Debian (or technically, Debian Jessie) is the name of the base system, and GNOME is the graphical user interface. The actual term is GNU Network Object Model Environment. I’m gonna pretend I know what that means.
So what is Linux? Well, it’s a operating system the same way Windows and Macintosh are operating systems. So what differentiates Linux? Well, it’s an operating system that’s been developed by a collaboration of multiple programmers, developers, and companies, and it’s completely free for the public to use. The short form is that it was developed at it’s very basic level (the “Kernel”) in 1991 by a Finn named Linus Torvalds. Since then, it has grown into a massive platform spanning multiple distributions and forms that the public can use. There is no one sole owner of the Linux operating system, it is developed, maintained, and improved by a community dedicated to the development of free software for the public. (This is Linux at a very basic form, A very good explanation of what Linux is can be found here).
This sounds great! A free operating system? What are the drawbacks?
Well, for starters, you many not invest money in the operating system, but you’re guaranteed to invest time in setting it up. While Linux has gotten to the point where there are very easy distributions to set up, some that arguably are as easy to use as Mac, Linux is almost always not a straightforward process. With so many options and forms of the Linux operating system, there’s always some kind of time investment in configuring your system. For example, when I set up Debian GNOME on my laptop, it didn’t configure my wireless network right after installation. It took some hunting to find the packages and software needed to get wireless up and running. While it’s certainly not hours of coding on the command line, you have to be prepared to be patient if you’ve never used a Linux system before.
Also, as I indicated above, there are so many options for a Linux operating system. Wikipedia will give you a list of all the distributions for each base system. It’s amazing that there’s so many.
The nice thing with so many distributions is that it can be put on pretty much any kind of computers. I was able to install Debian on my laptop with 10 GB of space on my hard drive. Many sources I read indicated that you only really needed about 4-5 GB, 10 GB was probably overkill if you just needed an operating system.
One of the really nice features with most Linux operating systems is that you can write an image of the operating system to either a CD or a USB and run it from that medium on your computer without installing it. This gives you a chance to try the operating system without having to install it right away.
If you go one step further, you can install a program called VirtualBox which creates a virtual machine on your main operating system. This lets you run the Linux operating system within your native operating system. The picture below shows Debian GNOME running with Windows 8 in the background.
This was running off my laptop. To show just how versatile Linux is, below shows a lightweight version of Debian running off my BBB.
While it’s hard to tell, I’m running a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and an ethernet cord all into the Beaglebone Black (just above the top left of the keyboard). Maybe it’s just me, but I’m amazed that you can run a full operating system off something so small (when you think that the BBB is a computer, compare that size to a laptop, or even a desktop). Of course, the operating system is somewhat slow if you’re going to run it solely off the BBB, but that’s to be expected when you can only package so much onto such a small surface.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what Linux really is. In the meantime, I’ll be working to get a better grasp of how to use Linux and how I plan to use Linux to interface my BBB to a multitude of embedded electronics and related software. That is all (hopefully) in the near future.
Below are a number of resources you can check out to get more information on what Linux is, the types of distributions there are out there, and how to get a Linux operating system installed on your computer.
http://www.linuxfoundation.org/what-is-linux – Great resource for explaining what Linux is (In much more detail than my post.)
https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=Best+Linux+distributions+for+Desktop – TechRadar resource that breaks down the top 10 Linux distributions
http://www.ubuntu.com/ – Link to Ubuntu, which is one of the easiest Linux distributions to set up if you’re interested in trying it out.