What is Linux, Why is it used in Computer Repair?

Linux Penguin, The Linux Mascott

Linux Penguin, The Linux Mascot

Linux is a term familiar to most IT techs. Unfortunately, many of them have only heard the name, and have never used it in practice. Linux is an operating system, like Microsoft Windows for the PC or OS for the Mac. Linux is different in that the code is freely available (open-source) and it is completely free to use. Linux operates in a much different manner than Windows – Linux is based on its own set of command line programs.

Linux has numerous pros and cons as a desktop operating system, and it also serves as a very handy computer repair tool in the hands of a skilled technician.  To begin our discussion of Linux, first realize that Linux is not Windows.

In contrast to Microsoft Windows, Linux is completely free. There’s no cost to downloading and using it. Many small businesses and schools are switching from Windows to Linux for this reason alone – the price savings can be enormous.

On the other hand, because Linux is not Windows, common tasks are accomplished differently and it can be difficult to learn. If you are interested in switching to Linux, you also must be prepared to tackle problems on your own (with the help of Google). You will have to edit config files, install different versions of software, and troubleshoot errors. With recent flavors of Linux, such as Ubuntu, such difficulty is rapidly disappearing as the system becomes more user friendly and automated. In fact, installing new Linux software packages in Debian-based systems is now so easy that all it takes is a simple “sudo apt-get install [package-name]” command.

Linux commands are similar to Windows commands, but they do have significant differences. For example, the “cd [DIRECTORY]” command is very similar to the Windows command, but in Linux “ls -la” is the Windows equivalent of “dir”. “mv [OLD NAME] [NEW NAME]” is used instead of the Windows command “ren [OLD NAME] [NEW NAME]”. Such differences can be hard to learn at first, but with time they become second-nature.

Another major drawback to using Linux instead of Windows is that it can’t run Windows programs natively. Microsoft Office will not run in Linux by default. There are ways around this limitation, however. The WINE project provides a Windows-like layer for executing Windows programs, but it isn’t perfect and many Windows applications will not run. You can check out your favorite program’s compatibility on the Wine project’s app-databse.

Linux also provides alternatives to popular commercial software. For example, OpenOffice is offered instead of Microsoft Office, and the Gimp is offered in place of Adobe Photoshop. Such alternatives are high quality programs, but do realize that they are not the same, and don’t include every feature of their commercial counterparts.

A significant advantage of Linux that makes it a choice tool in computer repair and data recovery is that it can be run dynamically from a single DVD without being installed on your hard drive. We can boot Linux anywhere, anyplace. This is a great advantage because we can usually access your Windows files even if Windows won’t start! We have used Linux numerous times to rescue data that was previously inaccessible, or to simply duplicate user data onto a new disk if the old one was failing.

Ubuntu Linux 10

Ubuntu Linux 10

Lastly, Linux is nearly impervious to malware, spyware, Viruses and Triojans. No OS is perfect, but the weaknesses of Linux are so small that most Linux users don’t install antivirus software. In fact, the available list of antivirus software for Linux is extremely limited, in large part due to the lack of demand.

In summary, Linux is a unique operating system that can be a very effective computer repair tool, especially in data recovery. You may also want to look into Linux as a Windows replacement or secondary operating system. If you only use your computer to surf the Internet and check email and are comfortable using open-source office software like OpenOffice instead of MS Office, you should investigate Linux. Likewise, if you are a computer user who wants to try something new, is comfortable looking up solutions to your own problems online, and would like to tinker with the many tools available in Linux, you should give it a try.

Here at Hampton Roads Computer Repair, we use Linux in our arsenal of powerful computer repair tools. We use Linux, along with many other tools, to recover data, troubleshoot problems, and get you back up and running again. If you need a problem fixed, we pull out all the stops and bring out the big guns to fix your problem. If Linux is the best tool to use, we’ll use Linux.

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