Linux® is an open-source operating system (OS) designed to compete with Microsoft Windows® for a share of the ever-growing computer market. Because it is an open-source OS, it has been developed by many different groups into several different incarnations. Some flavors are free, others are not, and some are designed for UNIX® geeks while others are geared towards the average user. Which Linux® distribution (“distro”) is the most user friendly depends on the user's needs, but there are some popular choices.
First up for friendliest distribution is Ubuntu®. This OS comes with a built-in suite of applications including a word processor, spreadsheet program, graphics editor, email client, FireFox™ Web browser, games and more. Ubuntu® is 100% free and the website promises free updates every six months to keep users' systems current. It has a built-in catalog of software applications that are also free and available with the click of a button. To make Ubuntu® even more attractive users can exchange, open and edit many common Window® file formats with friends, such as Word® documents and Windows® music or graphics files.
Neck-and-neck with Ubuntu® is the Linux® distribution PCLinuxOS™. Aside from matching Ubuntu® in areas previously mentioned, a nice feature of this OS is that it is available as a Live CD, bootable without installation on to the system. When used as a Live CD, user configuration files can be saved to a memory stick. Alternately, it can be installed to the hard drive. Both Ubuntu® and PCLinuxOS™ have familiar point-and-click interfaces with solid reputations for recognizing and installing drivers for most common hardware. Users with advanced graphics cards might find themselves doing a bit of searching online for support.
Despite progress towards friendlier versions of Linux®, one complaint common among inexperienced users is difficulty with installing new software. While different distributions come with programs pre-installed, ability to load new software is of course, key. Users might find this more challenging than what they’re used to.
Other Linux® distributions have aimed to address this issue by providing a special plugin that should allow a user to visit a specific website, click on the desired software package and sit back while the site performs the installation process for the user. Distributions that offer this are not always free, however.
There are many sources for support for people who are curious to try a Linux® distribution package. Ubuntu® and PCLinuxOS™ are both free to download, although there is typically a minimum charge for materials and shipping to try a Live CD. Individuals who have a dial up connection might want to request a CD, as distribution files are quite large.