Windows Migration: Welcome To Linux.

by Paul Arnote (parnote)

So you’ve decided to give Linux a try. Welcome aboard! You’re joining a large and growing community of computer users who have left closed, proprietary operating systems (such as Microsoft Windows) behind. Just like you, they have embraced Linux. Most of them use Linux every day, as their solitary operating system.

What is Linux?

Linux was first intended for (and still thrives on) computers using the Intel x86 microprocessor architecture. Chances are extremely high that you are reading this article on your computer running the Intel x86 microprocessor instruction set. Besides your computer, you’ve probably also used Linux elsewhere in your everyday life, but never realized it. Linux has been ported to run more devices than any other operating system – ever. Today, there are a whole host of things that you use every day that use Linux as the operating system to help them do what they do. Some examples are your television, DVD player, Android smart phones, various GPS units, your car, your eBook Reader, your Android tablet, some smart kitchen appliances, and many other things. We haven’t even begun to make a scratch in listing all of the everyday devices that you use that rely on Linux to make them run.

Started October 5, 1991 when Finnish-born Linux founder Linus Torvalds (pictured above) released the first Linux kernel, Linux is a free Unix-like operating system. Originally started as a project for his master’s degree from the University of Helsinki to create a Unix-like operating system that could run on his 386 computer, Linux today is released under the GNU General Public Software License. This software license allows open access to the computer source code by anyone who wishes to view or modify it. Any changes made to it are also shared with everyone else. To this day, Linus Torvalds remains the man with the final say about the continued development of the Linux kernel, approving or disapproving of changes and additions to the Linux kernel.

This is in stark contrast to the closed development model, as you typically see with proprietary software, where only a few “privileged” individuals can ever see or look at the computer source code. With Linux, an open development model is used. This allows not just a few (or few hundred) eyes to view, contribute and improve on the code, but it allows everyone to view, contribute and improve on the code. You may have heard Linux and GNU programs referred to as “Open Source.” This is what folks are talking about.

Some other terms you may hear kicked around are FOSS (Free, Open Source Software) and FLOSS (Free Linux Open Source Software). They mean essentially the same thing. The one thing you will notice that all of the names, nicknames and acronyms use the term “Open Source” to describe it.

Surrounding the free Linux operating system, a whole ecosystem of free and open source software sprouted up to provide users with the means of performing the various tasks that users typically use a computer for. As a result, most Linux users also use free and open source software applications to accomplish their daily tasks. These include browsing the web, checking email, creating graphics, creating documents, editing and watching videos, listening to music – just about anything you can imagine. Today, Linux forms the backbone of the Internet, since it is the operating system of choice for the enterprise server market. It also powers 90% of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, including all 10 of the top 10 fastest.

You may have heard talk that Linux is hard, or that Linux is for computer geeks. While that used to be true in the earliest of days about Linux, that is no longer true (as you’re about to find out). While every Linux distribution around (different “versions” of Linux are called “distributions” that are created by a single developer or a team of developers, yet they all use the same Linux core) allows access to the command line (sometimes referred to as the CLI, which stands for Command Line Interface), most modern Linux distributions (also called “distros”) insulate the user from the command line with a graphical user interface. The graphical user interface is commonly referred to as the “desktop environment.”

Each desktop environment (also referred to as DE) offers a variety of features. Some are created with the intent of being lean, mean and fast. Others are created with the intent of providing the most robust and feature-laden computing environment possible. Unlike the situation under Windows, where you are pretty much restricted to using the computer one way and only one way (the way that Microsoft designed it to work), you have a multitude of choices not only in the features of your desktop environment, but in how fast you want your computer to perform.

Some popular desktop environments for Linux include KDE 4 (which PCLinuxOS uses for its main release), LXDE (often described as being similar to Windows 98), Xfce, Gnome, Openbox, and Enlightenment (also referred to as e17). KDE and Gnome are often described as the environments that provide the most features, the most robust computing environment, and the most “eye candy.” Xfce, LXDE, Openbox and Enlightenment are some of the leaner and faster desktop environments.

Your choice of which one to use depends on what you are looking for. If you have older hardware, you may want to look at one of the desktop environments that are leaner and faster. Linux can certainly breath new life into some older hardware. (I still have Pentium III computers that I regularly use, loaded with versions of PCLinuxOS that utilize one of the lighter desktop environments.) If you have newer hardware, with a more modern processor, lots of memory, a high quality video card, etc., you have even more choices. Do you want a desktop environment that provides lots of eye candy, lots of features and a very robust computing environment? Or do you want a desktop that’s lean and fast, freeing processor time and memory for “more important” tasks?

One thing that is nice about Linux is that you can try them all, for free, to see which one is best suited to your computing needs and style. All you have to do is download either a Live CD or Live DVD, burn it to the appropriate optical medium, insert it into your optical drive, and reboot your computer. Once rebooted, you are free to check out the different desktop environments, all without making a single change to your computer.

What Is PCLinuxOS?

PCLinuxOS is a Linux distro, just like Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, Mepis, Knoppix, Debian, Slackware, Arch and about 600 others. Probably the best way to describe PCLinuxOS is to provide a brief history from the founder of PCLinuxOS, Texstar – a.k.a. Bill Reynolds (pictured below).

In the summer of 2003, I became interested in Live CD technology after looking at Knoppix and a fresh distribution from a fellow named Warren, called Mepis. I was interested in helping Warren with Mepis at the time, but I had no clue how to build DEB files. Coming from 5 years of packaging RPMS and not really wanting to learn a new packaging system, I happened to come across a South African fellow by the name of Jaco Greef. He was developing a script called mklivecd and porting it to Mandrake Linux. I, along with Buchanan Milne (Mandrake contributor) and a few others, began working with Jaco to help debug the scripts. I got an idea to make a livecd based on Mandrake Linux 9.2, along with all my customizations, just for fun. I had previously provided an unofficial 3rd party repository for the users of Mandrake for many years, but had since parted ways. Since Mandrake was a trademarked name, myself and others decided to name the Live CD after our news site and forum, pclinuxonline, thus PCLinuxOS.

Preview .3 was my first attempt to make a livecd. I distributed it initially to about 20 people to get their reaction and feedback. Everyone who tested it loved the livecd but there was one thing missing. There wasn't a way to install the thing to the hard drive! srlinuxx from came up with a novel way to copy the livecd to the hard drive and posted it on our forums. Jaco utilized this information and inspiration from the Mepis installer and wrote a pyqt script to make the Live CD installable, thus the birth of a new distribution.

On October 24, 2003, PCLinuxOS Preview .4 was released as a fork of Linux Mandrake (Mandriva) 9.2 utilizing mklivecd scripts from Jaco Greef, a multimedia kernel from Thomas Buckland (2.4.22-tmb) and a customized KDE (3.1.4-tex). Preview .5 through .93 were built upon on previous PCLinuxOS releases. After three years of updating one release from the other using the same gcc and glibc core library, we found too many programs would no longer compile or work properly against this aging code base.

In November 2006, we utilized a one time source code snapshot from our friends at Mandriva to pull in an updated glibc/gcc core and associated libraries. We spent the following 6 months rebuilding, debugging, customizing, patching and updating our new code base. We pulled in stuff from our old code base, utilized patches/code from Fedora, Gentoo and Debian just to name a few. This is why you will never see me distro bashing, as it would be hypocritical to do such a thing. We are still dependent in many areas on other distros development processes due to our limited but hard working volunteer development team.

On May 20th, 2007, we felt we had reached a pretty stable base and released PCLinuxOS 2007. It utilized our own kernel from Oclient1, KDE built by MDE developer Ze, updated mklivecd scripts from IKerekes & Ejtr, a heavily patched Control Center, graphics from the PCLinuxOS beautification team, and many application updates from Thac and Neverstopdreaming. Development continues as work is being done for a Minime release and an international DVD. A future release of PCLinuxOS will feature an updated kernel, KDE 4, fresh Xorg server and all the latest applications. All in all it has been a great ride and we have made many friends along the way. Some have gone on to other distributions and many are still here from our first release. As I've always said, we're just enjoying Linux technology and sharing it with friends who might like it too. We hope you have enjoyed the ride as well.

While the above was written a few years ago, PCLinuxOS has continued to thrive and evolve. Shortly thereafter, MiniMe was released. MiniMe represented a barebones KDE installation, with little else than the bare desktop and core Linux OS files. Designed for more advanced users, MiniMe allows users to install only those applications that they want. Even though this distro uses the “rolling release” update method, new Live CDs were released every year (and recently, even more often) so a user wouldn’t have to download a huge number of updates after installing to make sure they had the most up-to-date system available.

In 2009, several developers left PCLinuxOS to start their own distro. While this happens in many other distros, PCLinuxOS hasn’t suffered from it, and is still one of the top distros. In the wake of their departure, others stepped up to fill the vacated developer roles. Several other users stepped up to create the various “flavors” of PCLinuxOS. Today, there several “flavors” of PCLinuxOS available to users, each presenting PCLinuxOS a choice of which desktop environment to use.

To this day, the KDE desktop is still employed in the “main” PCLinuxOS release. However, all of the other desktop versions utilize the exact same Linux core, as well as the same repositories.

Following the rolling release design, improvements are always being made, and things evolve. First Texstar, followed by the PCLinuxOS development team, expanded their focus a bit, and a much-wished-for 64-bit edition of PCLinuxOS has entered into the testing phase. Requiring a rebuild of all of the applications in the repos, the 64-bit repo now has over 8,700 of the 12,000+ applications in the PCLinuxOS 32-bit repo.

The PCLinuxOS Community

When it comes to Linux communities, it’s hard to find one that’s friendlier or more helpful than the PCLinuxOS community. Some Linux communities are less than friendly places, where new users are expected to “pay their dues,” and receive “RTFM” (Read The Freaking Manual … except that “Freaking” isn’t the word they use), “GIYF” (Google Is Your Friend) or “LMGTFY” (Let Me Google That For You) as answers to questions.

Fortunately, not only for new users, but all users, RTFM, GIYF and LMGTFY are not uttered. More often than not, veteran PCLinuxOS users will take the time to actually help a new user (or any user, for that matter), rather than making them “pay their dues” by having to look everything up themselves. It doesn’t matter how many times the question has been asked, it seems that there is always someone who is willing to lend a helping hand.

So what comprises the PCLinuxOS community?

Probably the most common part of that community is the support forums on the PCLinuxOS web site. It is there that PCLinuxOS users from all around the world gather to discuss issues, ideas, problems, solutions, trade barbs, share anecdotes, and otherwise get to know one another while providing help, laughter, a shoulder to cry on, or vent. Through the PCLinuxOS forum, many regular users have bonded and behave more like one big happy family. If you hang out there enough, you will see PCLinuxOS users sharing personal triumphs, hardships, and many other things. When they do, it’s not uncommon to see an outpouring of emotion from the other PCLinuxOS “family” members. It is the PCLinuxOS forum that provides the premiere avenue of support for PCLinuxOS users. It’s users helping users. That is, after all, the Linux way. Just please remember to search the forum before asking your question(s). Chances are pretty good that your question has been asked before, and the replies may provide the answer you are looking for in less time than asking the same question anew.

Another avenue of support in the PCLinuxOS community is the PCLinuxOS IRC channels, using the FreeNode IRC network. If you launch Xchat, the popular IRC client application in PCLinuxOS, you will find the casual chat channel (#PCLinuxOS) and the support channel (#PCLinuxOS-Support) already set up for you. Once there, you can chat (via typed text) with other PCLinuxOS users from around the globe, in real time. There are also channels for discussion of articles that appear in the magazine (#pclosmag) and channels for discussion of PCLinuxOS in various foreign languages (e.g., #pclinuxos-pl is the channel for the discussion of all things dealing with PCLinuxOS, but in the Polish language).

PCLinuxOS also has The PCLinuxOS Magazine. Only one other Linux distro has a monthly magazine dedicated to its users. The PCLinuxOS Magazine is published monthly by a dedicated group of volunteers. Within the magazine, you will find articles of general interest to Linux users, along with articles that are especially of interest to PCLinuxOS users, about PCLinuxOS and the applications that are in its repositories. All of the magazine’s back issues are available free of charge, from the very first issue to the latest issue, and are published as PDF files. Periodically, The PCLinuxOS Magazine will produce “Special Editions” of the magazine to help serve as a reference resource. In the past, the magazine has produced “special editions” for KDE 4, Xfce, LXDE, Openbox, Gnome and Enlightenment desktop environments, as well as “special editions” to help with learning the Linux command line and how to use Scribus (a desktop publishing program that the magazine uses to produce the monthly PDF).

Additionally, there are multiple mailing lists available for PCLinuxOS users to join. Many of the mailing lists have seen their use dwindle lately, as efforts are underway to move most of those discussions into the more open environment of the PCLinuxOS forum, where more PCLinuxOS users can participate.


As you embark on your Linux journey, rest assured that you are not the first to travel this path. Others have gone before you, and luckily, many of them are ready and willing to lend a helpful hand. With PCLinuxOS, you’ve chosen one of the top 10 Linux distros, and one that works remarkably well and is very stable.

Does this mean that you won’t have problems? Probably not, and that is an unrealistic expectation. You are having to learn a new and different way of performing many common tasks. While many of the skills you learned while running closed-source, proprietary software will transfer smoothly to your Linux experience, you are likely to experience a bump or two in the road along the way. With some things, you will have to learn how to do them differently. You will have to learn the “Linux” way of doing things. But, you don’t have to go it alone.

We – the many users of PCLinuxOS – stand at the ready to help.