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This page is written with absolute beginners in mind (mostly those coming from Windows) and deals with Open Source Software in general and Mageia in particular. With this audience in mind, Windows-like terminology is used in preference to Linux.

To avoid overloading the beginner with detail, this page includes only the minimum technical information necessary to get the idea across. For more information, see the other pages of this wiki or the Internet. Links to useful extra information are given where appropriate.

Like much of the Mageia wiki, this is a mixed-mode document written by people from both sides of the Atlantic. Spelling variations are inevitable and are not mistakes.

Open Source Software

Two worlds

In the IT world there are two parallel universes living side by side:

The Proprietary software world

This software is managed by (and only by) the owner, who retains all the rights to it (development, sale,...). The user of this software only has a license that confers quite limited rights to use the software. You often can't transfer the software to a new device, nor can you sell the software (it's not yours to sell!) or transfer the licence to another person. If the user doesn't agree with these conditions the software cannot be used.

The Open Source World (also called Free software)

Open Source software has no owner, but the developers have the right to be recognised as the person who produced the software. Anyone can use, copy and modify this software to make it fit their needs, but this doesn't mean there is no license and that there are no rules. Licenses exist in the Open Source world (with slight differences between Open Source and Free) to guarantee the Open Source philosophy. For example, you can't modify and release (or sell) someone else's Free Software without publishing your modification and acknowledging the original author's work. Open Source software development is carried out by a community of programmers, translators, authors, artists and those involved in marketing and communications. These people can be working for an Open Source company or be volunteers.

Please note!
Open Source software can be paid-for or free, or both (donate-ware), depending on the needs of the developers.

GNU and Linux

GNU is a Free operating system and Linux a Free kernel. Properly referred to as GNU/Linux, most people simply abbreviate it to "Linux", but it is important to remember the contribution of GNU, which makes up the bulk of the operating system you're about to learn about.

Today, operating systems using the Linux kernel are very common; you can find it in phones, internet routers, netbooks, modems, GPSs, PDAs, TVs, multimedia players, road navigation devices, etc. It would surprise you to find out just how much Linux there is in your home already. Go on. Look around and count them up. Linux is everywhere. Linux is far from being an insignificant, niche product for computer nerds. It's by far the most common operating system on the planet.

The distributions

A distribution is a maintained collection of all the necessary software combined to run a PC. It includes a kernel (Linux), the GNU tools and additional software, desktop environment(s), many applications (office, multimedia, graphics, etc.) and documentation. There are currently more than 300 distributions in the world. Different policies are chosen by the distributions. Their specialities can be :

  • Stability
  • Latest fashion
  • Power
  • Simplicity
  • Aestheticism
  • Support quality
  • Community quality
  • Software wealth
  • ...

Mageia is a distribution that claims stability, simplicity (for newcomers) and a smart community (of course).

Main differences between Mageia and Windows

The most important thing to know about GNU/Linux and Windows is their different heritages. They come from wildly different backgrounds and it's quite noticeable in the way they work.

Windows spent a lot of its early years as a stand-alone office operating system. Commonly, the only thing it was connected to was a printer. As modems, local area networking, and later, the Internet started to make its way into the office environment, Windows was modified to allow it to use this new resource. Unfortunately, this means that networking and everything associated with it still has the feel of a bolt-on. Anyone who has tried to set up a simple LAN connection in Windows Vista will understand exactly what that means.

GNU/Linux evolved from the server side of computer networking, being closely related to Unix (but containing none of the proprietary code). Linux is therefore very happy working in a networked, or Internet environment. It's designed for networking from the ground up and is, therefore, better suited for a connected world. Its server heritage means that it's designed around being easily upgraded and is far more powerful than it may first appear. This server-world heritage means that it is often not considered suitable for workstation use outside education, engineering and science environments. This distinction is, to some extent, out of date, but like Windows, it's heritage is a problem. The sad fact is that users of Linux as a workstation are not as numerous as Windows users. Consider yourself one of the lucky few!

We haven't mentioned Apple's OS X. Well, it's not Linux, but if you have an Apple running OS X, open up a Command Window and you're looking at the raw, beating heart of a Unix-like operating system. OS X is a nicely-polished desktop environment running on what started out as BSD Unix.

It is important to understand that Linux is not better than Windows, or that Windows is not better than Linux. They come from very different backgrounds and both have their strengths. We believe that Mageia has the edge and are working very hard to improve on that. We'd very much like you to join us and help make Mageia even better.

  • The letters (C:\, D:\) aren't used to name drives :

With GNU/Linux, all the disks are arranged together into a single tree. This reflects its heritage as a server operating system. Being able to hang hardware anywhere on a single tree of folders means that extra capacity can be added wherever needed without changing the user's view of the system at all. Let's not worry too much about this for the time-being, but it's important to know that a USB drive is treated as part of the file system. Take it from me: it makes a whole lot of things work more smoothly.

  • File Systems:

Mageia is flexible: it can write and read Windows partitions. This is useful when you want to read files off your old Windows drive. Sadly, Windows doesn't return the favour, although limited support for GNU/Linux drives is available via third-party tools.

  • Partitions!:

Remember we said that GNU/Linux hangs all your local (and network) drives in the same place? Well, here's the advantage: You can partition up your hard drive(s) and dedicate space to different tasks. Yes, you can do this with Windows as well, but it's another one of those bolted-on features and you need to go and find it at the bottom of a very deep nest of seemingly unrelated dialogue boxes.

On the other hand, Mageia allows you to have a partition (or several) for your operating system and another one (or several) for your home directory and files. This layout has many advantages. For example, when you perform a new installation, only the operating system partition needs to be formatted so you can have a clean installation without losing your data or personal configurations, which are all kept in your home directory. This means that Firefox can fetch back its bookmarks, Thunderbird its mail, the desktop its shortcuts and colors, and so on. You can actually share your home directory and settings between several different GNU/Linux operating systems if you so wish. This is a benefit of the server heritage, again. In that environment you may wish to have access to your own files from several computers: they simply get mounted where required on each machine and you can move between them and all your files and emails are where you expect them to be.

  • Two passwords:

Recently, Windows has started doing this as well, so you should be familiar with the two-password environment that both Windows and Linux inhabit. You generally log on as a normal user but will be required to enter the Administrator password to undertake some tasks. Just like Windows used to have, Linux has a "Power User" mode, but in Linux they do not have these powers all the time, but only when required, simply by entering their own password when prompted.

  • You have a choice of desktop:

Unlike Windows, several desktops (or Graphical User Interfaces: GUIs) are available for your Mageia. They're not an integral part of Mageia - they're a way of using and accessing it. You can try them out, stick with your favourite or swap around as the mood takes you with a few clicks. Each time you make a change, your configuration is kept. Like Linux, the different GUIs also reflect their heritage: KDE is a bit like Windows (on steroids), Gnome is most like OS/X (but not always), Xfce is a squeaky, pretty little mouse that you may find appealing if you prefer to give priority to performance over eye candy, and LXDE is so light it almost floats, to name the most common ones. Desktops can be customised (Themed or Skinned) to the point where it becomes difficult to see what they were like in the first place. Themes can make your desktop look like almost anything you like, from a Summer's Day to the Engineer's Desk on the Starship Enterprise! Because Desktops are not actually part of Mageia's underlying operating system, it's perfectly possible to run Mageia without one. It's not pretty, but it's still all there.

  • The Mageia Control Center:

Often referred to simply as MCC, it is similar to the Windows Control Panel. Here you can access all your hardware and software settings (network, firewall, users management, printers, installation and update, disks and partitions management, drivers, ...) MCC is available on every desktop in Mageia. Of course, every desktop environment has it's own configuration tools. MCC is just for looking after your Mageia.

  • The repositories (or mirrors):

Pretty much all of the available software for Mageia is saved in the repositories or mirrors. Soon after the installation you should run MCC and set up your local repositories (don't worry, it's automatic), so you can download new programs and updates for your applications, drivers, codecs, etc. Unlike Windows, everything is updated and kept up to date in the same way and in the same place. No more vendor applications popping up and telling you about their own driver updates (and offering you unwanted extra toolbars for Internet Explorer). Once set up, updating the installed software is automatic. When something needs updating a single tool will pop up and notify you.

  • Folders:

Some of them will be present straight after the installation.

  1. In /, you will find (for the main ones):
    - /run a place where automatically-mounted file systems and drives live. Here you can access the Windows directory, your USB sticks, CD/DVD drives, multimedia drives, ...
    - /mnt is a place at your disposal to link others file-systems in the same way as /media, you have the choice.
    - /home is the place where the partition /home created during the installation is "mounted" (another way of saying "linked").
    - /opt and /usr are where the applications are installed, like \program files in Windows. Be careful - /usr (unix system resources) has nothing to do with \users in Windows!
    - /tmp for temporary files, just like in Windows.
  2. In /home, you will find a directory for each user and in it the subdirectories /Documents, /Download, /Images, and so on, just like in Windows. Their use is self-explanatory.
  • Paths are written with / instead of \:

For example, the path login\my images\dog.jpg under Windows becomes home/login/my images/dog.jpg with Mageia. This distinction may seem perverse, but think of it this way: Unix-like operating systems were using a slash "/" long before DOS and Windows introduced the back-slash "\"!

  • Extensions are optional with Mageia:

You can still use them, but it is not compulsory; in general, there is no connection between the extension and the application. However, some file managers and desktops handle extensions in a Windows-like way - especially when dealing with files that may be shared with Windows users. The rule-of-thumb is to keep using extensions if they're offered to you.

  • Anti-virus:

There are some free anti-virus suites available. However, there is much less need for such software with Mageia at the moment. GNU/Linux isn't so easy to write nasty software for. However, remember that the first ever virus was for a Unix-like operating system.

Hardware resources

Another difference is Windows' demand for high-level hardware. If you don't have the required hardware, then there is no better solution than Linux. The desktop consumes most of your computer's power, so by changing your desktop, as seen above, you can always have a Mageia that suits your hardware. However, if like me you feel like running Xfce on a 12-core beast with 32GB of RAM and four monitors, please do so. It's fun.

Here is some information to make the right choice. Under Windows, you will find processor and RAM information by right-clicking on the Computer icon. KDE and Gnome offer almost the same features as Windows7. If you add the 3D effects, you have more features.

Boot process

Here are some screenshots to show you how Mageia boots completed by some information.

If you are using Grub Legacy, here is the first screen after you hit the Power on button. This menu allows choosing which OS you want to launch. Only one in the screenshot: Mageia 4. There is also a safe mode, which is a boot in a console (without graphic interface), it is useful in case of displaying problems. In console mode, you have access to the MCC to change configuration or drivers. In this first screen, you can also choose to launch a previous kernel (3.12.8 and 3.12.25 in the screenshot) in case of a problem with a new installed one.

At least, at the bottom of the screen, you can have some help, (F1 button), you can change the language (F2) or add options to the kernel (F3).

If you are using Grub 2, mandatory with UEFI, you have these screens below. Choose "Advanced options" to boot on a previous kernel.
After Grub, the chosen OS is loading, progression is symbolized by bubbles over the cauldron. This is called the "Bootsplash". You can get some information using the ESC button, for example if a freeze is noticed.
Then the connection screen is displayed by the Display Manager. It is there that the user and desktop environment are chosen. You can change the Display Manager in MCC > boot > Set up display manager.

The left column shows the Gnome Display Manager (GDM). Note the menu at the top right.

The right column shows the KDE Display Manager (KDM)
At last, after the fifth bubble, you are connected to your DE.


To discover Mageia and its community

See the bar at the top of this window. Don't hesitate to ask questions in the forums

To use the distribution

Here are some suggestions to start with the Mageia distribution:

Newcomers start here

Installation of Mageia in dual boot with Windows

Software management

Installation Media





First step with Mate

First step with the command line and useful examples