Working out of a laboratory at Wichita State University, a small but determined group of computer wizards want to help you break your Windows habit.
They’re called WuLUG, shorthand for Wichita State University Linux Users Group.
And although they have the university in their name, they stress that they’re open to anyone who uses or is curious about Linux, a free computer operating system that started as a college project 24 years ago and has been built upon by countless volunteer programmers around the globe ever since.
While it’s only on a small fraction of personal computers and you may have never heard of Linux, you probably use it every day. More than a third of web servers run on it, and the Linux “kernel” is at the core of the software that runs Android smartphones.
Last week at Exploration Place the Linux gurus rolled out Laby, a freeware game that teaches computer programming to children. The goal is to use commands to guide an ant out of a labyrinth.
It was a hit with the kids, including Brian Kiralyfalvi, who said it was as much fun as the computer games he plays at home.
“It’s kind of like a Rubik’s Cube where you keep on trying to solve it,” Brian said.
His dad, Eric, stood nearby, coughing up a quarter whenever his son successfully rescued the ant. “They’re having a blast,” he said.
“We’re recruiting young minds to an awesome operating system,” said WuLUG member Jon Brooks, a WSU graduate and electrical engineer for Boeing.
For home computers, Linux was once a province of the geekiest of computer geeks. Early versions required memorizing many arcane programming commands, and it lacked the application software that made Windows the world leader in home computer operating systems.
It’s not like that anymore, said WuLUG leader Chase Weber, a WSU student who does information technology consulting on the side. Linux systems now use desktops and icons familiar to any Windows user.
Linux can’t do everything – it doesn’t play well with Netflix, for example. But it does do a lot.
Most Linux distributions – “distros” for short – come pre-loaded with the familiar Firefox web browser, plus free office, photo editing and music software that rivals high-priced commercial products.
Distros can be downloaded for free from numerous groups, with names like Ubuntu, Debian, Mint and Fedora.
Linux can be installed directly on the computer as a primary operating system or stored to a flash drive so users can boot up in Linux or Windows, depending on what they want to use that day.
Weber said he started using the open-source forerunner of Linux when he built a computer in fourth grade. And while he works with Windows for his clients and at school, he said he’s gone all-Linux at home.
The Linux users say it also can breathe new life into older computers, especially those originally designed to run Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer supports.
Weber said one reason Linux runs faster on older computers is that it has less “bloatware.” That’s a term for trial software and other applications that manufacturers add – for a fee – to try to sell software and services to the people who buy the machines.
Linux is also immune to most viruses, which are written to infect Windows, Weber said.
If a virus is downloaded in Linux, it’s unlikely to do any harm, he said. “It just sits there saying, ‘What is this? Where am I?’”
But Weber said the biggest reason he likes Linux so much is that it’s constantly evolving through cooperation and collaboration of thousands of volunteer programmers, unlike commercial software where changes are made by closed groups and have to be approved by a long chain of command.
“I enjoy the freedom for anybody in the world to edit and contribute to the software I use,” Weber said. “It’s the market where everything gets passed from place to place.”
WuLUG will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at the WSU Linux Lab, Jabara Hall, rooms 205 and 206. That will be the last meeting before the group sets its schedule for the fall semester.
Weber said meetings are open to everyone and although the discussions among experienced users can get technical, they’re also happy to help Linux beginners get started.
Contact and meeting information is available through the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/wulug.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.