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 Linux is an alternative operating sytem for your computers. Linux  is actually the base of the operating system. On top of that comes a "graphical interface", or desktop. Some desktops can look remarkably like Microsoft Windows, and work in a very similar way - i.e. Start Menu, clicking on icons etc. The big difference between Microsoft Windows and Linux is that Linux is inherently safer to use. While no operating system is 100% safe from viruses or other malware, Linux comes very close to that ideal. Perhaps the best thing of all is that Linux is 100% free, and there are 100% free and legal applications that will do pretty much anything you can do on a computer running Windows. Some software comes as a paid for version with extra facilities, or with some sort of support, but in general the free versions will do everything you want, and even some stuff you didn't realise you wanted.

 Most Linux distributions (distros) come with a web browser (Firefox), office suite (Open Office), high powered image editor (The Gimp), media players, and instant messengers. Extra software is usually available just by ticking boxes in a package manager, and then clicking "Install".

 Not every combination of computer hardware is well supported by every Linux distro, but most will make a very good attempt at identifying all your hardware, and installing appropriate drivers. If one distro doesn't work it is worth trying another to see if that works better. All it will cost you is the price of a blank Cd (or DVD) and a download to try as many distros as you fancy. Many modern distros will operate in live-cd mode. This is where the entire operating system runs from the CD (or DVD) instead of the hard disk. You don't even need a working hard disk installed in the computer. In this mode Linux operates quite slowly, but if you like what you see you can click on the "install" option, and install Linux onto your hard disk for faster operation. If your hard disk has Windows installed on it you can still keep that. Linux will try and make room on the hard disk for itself, and once installed you will have a menu every time you start your computer offering either Windows or Linux.

 Here are some suggestions for Linux distributions together with some notes about the distribution.
Ubuntu Ubuntu logo These three distros are all from the same stable. They differ in the desktop that is used. Ubuntu uses the Gnome desktop. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop, and Xubuntu uses the XFCE desktop.  Gnome is a highly configurable desktop that can be made to look very similar to Windows XP. KDE is a very heavy desktop that uses the sort of "eye candy" that Microsoft Vista is (in)famous for. Xfce is a lightweight, but highly functional desktop that is ideal for lower power computers.

 Of all the Linux distributions these are the best supported in on line forums. The answer to almost any problem or difficulty can be found by searching these forums.

 I use Xubuntu on my server that is serving this very web page.
Kubuntu Kubuntu Logo
Xubuntu Xubuntu logo

Linux Mint
Linux Mint logo This distribution is based on Ubuntu, but uses a far more pleasing colour scheme, as well as some useful features like single click installation of the codecs used for playing media like mp3 files, or xvid videos. The Linux Mint desktop, by default is a highly customised cross between XFCE and Gnome.

 I currently use Linux Mint on my main desktop and my laptop.
PCLinuxOSPCLinuxOS logo  PCLinuxOS uses the KDE desktop, and is a good alternative to try when other distributions have problems identify the correct drivers for some computer hardware.
 Open SuseOpen Suse logo  Open Suse is another very popular distribution with good support forums. It is excellent in many respects, but playing some media needs a bit of exrea work to install the correct codecs.