Linux is an alternative operating system for your computer. This means that you can start Linux instead of Windows. Why would you want to do that? Well many reasons, the major one being that Linux is free. Other reasons include: Linux claims to be more secure, more stable, more open (you can download the source code for the operating system), less resource intensive; as a method to recover/inspect/hack your Windows installation; to run an alternative configuration to be more anonymous on the internet; to avoid Windows spyware and viruses; sticking it to "The Man"; to be part of something community driven rather than corporate driven; to increase your respect amongst the nerds; to see what the fuss is about; to expand your knowledge of computers and operating systems. And so on. If you are getting a new computer then why not put Linux on the old system, see how it works.
Unfortunately Microsoft Windows programs don't run under Linux, solutions include:
* Find equivalent software for Linux (usually free)
* Install Windows in a seperate partition on your computer and "dual boot"
* Install a virtual machine to run Windows at the same time as Linux (VMWare, Parallels)
* Install a windows API emulator in Linux (WINE)
HELP. The online Linux community is excellent, there is plenty of help about for Linux users scattered all over the internet. Check out Linux Questions. I would also recommend getting into IRC using one of the instant messaging clients installed in Linux and after connecting to an IRC server you would join the channel of your distribution name (eg: /join #slackware), you should get very quick responses from the people online. Also check Low Fat Linux, Linux command line,
GET LINUX. Usually your ISP will have an ftp site that should contain a number of Linux distributions that you should be able to download without affecting your download quota if you have one, otherwise you will often find various Linux distributions on a CD stuck to the front of computer magazines or you can download them directly from their respective home sites. Downloading an ISO from the internet means that you are going to have to burn that ISO image to a CD using your CD burning software (like Nero).
There are many different types of Linux being developed by different organisations. Check out Wikipedia Linux Comparison. Apart from installing on your computer you can use special "Live" CDs, which means that you can run Linux from the CD without having to use any hard drive space on your computer (notably Knoppix), but CDs are much slower than your hard drive so you don't get the real feel of speed at all, particularly laptops which tend to have very slow CD drives.
UBUNTU is excellent even tho it uses the much derided gnome windows manager. A single slick CD to install all the good bits, could have been prettier, but better than most.
Like most Linux installations that I have tried, Ubuntu detected nearly all the devices on the old laptop (850MHz Celeron) and runs reasonably well in only 64Meg of RAM. Wouldn't find my external mouse, stuck with the scratch pad, can't easily configure the xorg.conf for the device.
Check out this Ubuntu for Novices
On my HP e-Vectra: Takes quite a while to install on a P3-600 128Meg RAM. Runs reasonably, even when the resolution is 1400x900. Nice and slick speed. Sound works well. Has GAIM XChat GIMP GnomeTorrent OpenOffice.
KNOPPIX runs well as a Live CD but there isn’t an obvious way to install it on the HDD (although I have done this). Laptop CD drives tend to be slow so I got bored of it real quick. Google about if you want the guide to installing Knoppix on a HDD.
SUSE Never did the full SUSE. Not for mere mortals I think, as it wanted all 4 CDs and I was not prepared to download the later ones for a Linux that has such a crappy installation process.
SIMPLY MEPIS (Debian based) Installs nicely, just like Knoppix it can run in live mode, but unlike Knoppix, it has a neat Install icon on the desktop in the live version to put the whole OS onto the hard drive.
Mepis has issues with a text mode when booting and SCAN for video mode seems to have killed my machine. Just pick a number and everything goes fine. It detects both my mice (unlike Ubuntu). Defaults to KDE desktop. Has Azuereus built in. Open Office etc. More tools and utilities than Ubuntu. Mepis is more techie aimed I think. Runs like a rocket.
In 800x600 you run into problems, you should configure the task bar to be on the side, be custom width 128pix wide and to disappear after 1 sec.
Still uses XFree86 and not Xorg! Feels faster than Ubuntu, unsure why.
SLACKWARE - my distrbution of choice for my little server. Is NOT for the simple installation crew. This is the Linux I use when I pretend to be hard core. No graphic interface for me! Pixels are for pansies. Runs like a rocket on my 300MHz Celeron 128Meg RAM machine. Excellent for web services, small database engine etc.
I have a bunch of notes that I use to configure Slackware that I think would be of help to other who attempt to use this distribution. I would NOT recommend slackware for people who don't want to get involved in the low level functioning of their computer.
XANDROS Excellent simple installation. OS is good too. KDE I think but no Konqueror! No XChat, no bit torrent - all of which can be downloaded - but mepis already has it. Detects both my mice. Doesn't look like there is an option for external monitor tho. Still seems to come with all the usual basics and a couple extras like Skype, PalmOS tools, real media can be played from within web. Really good control panel. Good file manager. Pretty slick package.
On my HP e-Vectra: takes a while to install and seemingly forever to boot up for the first time. Memory hungry. Everything takes a long time to load.
MANDRIVA / MANDRAKE is quite good for the beginner. Although it has at least 3 CDs, it never seemed to ask me for more than the first one.