Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek

“I’m thinking about Linux, but …”

I’m assuming you’ve read Linux is Not Windows. If not, please go read it.

So now you are thinking about Linux. You know it’s not Windows. It requires a different mindset, the throwing away of what we think is intuitive, just because it’s the way Windows does things. But what are the advantages of Linux? And what will you have to give up if you make the switch?

Advantages:

  1. Linux is Free. That means you don’t have to pay one red cent to legally own a copy of this OS. Some distributions ask for donations, to help defray their costs. Some charge upfront a small fee to cover their costs. Others charge for support. Others charge for providing commercial proprietary apps. But it comes down to the fact that you can legally download any version of Linux (minus any commercially-licensed applications) free of charge. Why? That’s our second point.
  2. Linux is Free. That means Free, as in Freedom. The operating system code is licensed under the Gnu Public License (GPL), which means the developers are required to allow you to obtain, free of charge, a complete copy of that source code. The same holds true for all the tools and building blocks that make up a given distribution.(Note: there are a very few proprietary, commercial Linux applications. Most of these are still free (no cost), but the source code is closed. There is an even smaller subset where the code is closed, and you need to actually pay for the application. But unless you have some uncommon need for one of these applications, you can get along quite well in the free/free world.)
  3. No Registration or Activation codes. Related to the first two points, Linux doesn’t ask you for your 25-character CD key, or a registration code, or anything like that. You can install a given copy of Linux on as many machines as you want, as often as you want, without fear of any legal issues. You own that copy of Linux, and can do whatever you want with it. It will never “phone home” and tattle on your system, or refuse to install because you’ve made too many changes. Install it. Copy it. Give it away to as many people as you meet. It’s yours.
  4. Linux doesn’t crash. At least, very rarely. And then it is usally a case of hardware going bad. That is not to say the applications will not crash. They could, especially if you insist on running “bleeding edge” versions. Stable applications very rarely crash. But even if an application does happen to crash, it will not bring down your whole system. You can usually fix whatever caused the problem, and get right back to work without a reboot. Even if it is your X-server (your “windows” environment) that crashed.(Please don’t misunderstand me. Stable applications don’t crash, any more than the OS does. I have had fewer application crashes in Linux that I ever did in Windows. My home Linux box often has “uptimes” running in months. At work, we have Linux servers that have been running steadily for years, without ever needing to be rebooted.)
  5. Applications, applications, applications. And they’re all free! And also Free! Nearly everything you might want to do is covered by some (often many) open-source applications. There are internet browsers, like Firefox, and Opera, and many others. There are email applications, like KMail, and Thunderbird. There are office suites, like KOffice, and OpenOffice, that can even read and write Microsoft Office documents. There are music players, like AmaroK, and Banshee. There are chat clients, like Kopete, and Gaim/Pidgen. The best CD/DVD burning software I have ever used, bar none, is K3B, in Linux. All free, and open-source.Of course, your favorite Windows programs won’t run in Linux. But Check out the table of Linux equivalents. Chances are you can find something that does what you need, for free.
  6. Package Management. You know what’s nice about all those applications? You don’t have to go running around the internet, finding and downloading each one, and installing it, and hoping it will work on your system. Every major Linux distribution uses some kind of package management system. It might be called YAST, or YUM, or urpmi, or Synaptic, or even portage, but the concept behind all of them is the same. You start by selecting one or more software repositories. When you want to find a specific application, you start your package manager, browse the list of available titles, select the one you want, click a button, and the software is downloaded and installed for you. And as long as you use the official repositories for your distribution, it should work on your system without any problems. One-stop shopping: what could be better?
  7. Standards. I mentioned above that Open Office, for example, can read and write MS Office documents. This is, to me, remarkable, because Microsoft often does not follow published standards. It rarely follows it’s own “standards” between versions of its products. Linux, on the other hand, follows internationally published standards. Browsers vie to be most W3C-standards-compliant. Office applications default to using the Open Document Format. Everywhere youlook, people are espousing open standards, and adhering to them. Not only does this mean that you can use the files on any standards-compliant system, you are also not “locked in” to one vendor’s product. For instance, if someone creates a spreadsheet using KOffice, but you prefer to use OpenOffice, there is no barrier. You can both open and edit the same spreadsheet, without forcing the other to use a different product.
  8. Viruses and Malware. Not a worry in Linux. You don’t need an anti-virus program sucking up memory. You don’t need to run anti-spyware to keep yourself safe. Running a firewall is always a good idea, no matter what the OS. Not having either a hardware (router) or software firewall running is like leaving the front door open for the bad guys to waltz right in.I am sure someone will respond with the old canard that “the only reason Linux doesn’t have viruses is because MS has 90%+ of all systems, and all virus-writers use Linux, so they don’t want to ‘pee in their own pool’ “. That is patently false, and, if they’re honest with themselves, they will admit it. There have been Linux viruses written, and none of them have survived outside the laboratory. Linux, like its god-parent UNIX, was written from the ground up with multi-user security in mind. If you run as a normal user, not as “root”, you should have nothing to fear.
  9. It’s a Community, not a Vendor-Customer Relationship. You’re no longer dependent on the “Vendor” to provide what you want. You are not just another number, and a source of income for them. Instead, you are part of a community, as are the application developers. This community is growing and vibrant. Are there jerks in the community? Of course. They are a fact of life, in every group. But they soon tend to be weeded out or ignored.

But What Will I Be Giving Up If I Leave Windows?

  1. Games. I could probably do a whole post about this. But, to put it simply, that hot new game that just came out for Windows simply won’t work on your Linux box. I generally recommend that anyone for whom games are really important either stay on Windows, or keep a dual-boot system, where you can boot into Windows whenever you want to play a game.
  2. Windows Applications. Like with games, Windows applications simply will not work in Linux. A few vendors do provide Linux versions of their applications, like Mozilla Firefox. But, for the most part, you will need to find a Linux equivalent for your applications. If you have special requirements, like you simply must have Adobe PhotoShop for your picture editing, and the Gimp simply is unable to perform the same task, then you may have to stick with Windows, or keep a dual-boot system.
  3. You’re No Longer a Customer. You can no longer demand that somebody fix what you perceive as a problem. “After all, I paid good money for this!” Not if it’s free, you didn’t. Remember, you’re now part of a community, as are the developers of the software. File a bug report, explain the problem, and ask nicely. If it is agreed to be a problem, and it has enough priority, it will get fixed. If not, well, you own the software in your possession. You can change it yourself. If you’re not a programmer, you can pay someone else to change it. Or maybe enough other community members agree with you, and as a group you can “fork” the project, making a new application based on the original, but with your fixes added in. Sometimes a fork can displace the original program in popularity.
  4. You’re Out of Your Comfort Zone. All that stuff you used to know about how to make your Windows work? Useless, now. All those tips and tweaks? Throw them out. You’re a newbie again. But wait. Isn’t that how it was when you upgraded from 2000 to XP? And from XP to Vista? It’s a similar learning curve. You still know how to point and click a mouse. You still have a brain. The screen layout and functionality is still similar. There’s a big “K” button instead of “Start”, or maybe it’s a “foot” in the upper corner of the screen. But it still opens a program menu. Give it some time. You may find you like this “brave, new world”.

2 Comments »

  1. The advantages of Linux outweigh the cons any day.

    Windows is loosing it’s game support also. Some big name graphic cards are turning to open source. mmmmmhhmmm

    I find Windows slow, annoying, made for stupid people and a free country for every virus within 20 feet.

    Thats right that Linux almost never crashes. Linux almost never crashes, a few programs do every once in a while. The difference between Linux and Windows when it comes to the crashing problem is that: When one program seizes up the Linux OS is still usable unlike Wintendos which gets you jamming the power button after 5 minutes of waiting.

    Why do I hate Windows:
    1. It freezes up – Linux barely ever does, even on a small computer
    2. It had 20 years to fix some simple problems(security, performance etc.), after all that time it still sucks.
    3. It not dependable, it even crashes for Bill Gates when at conferences

    just my thoughts.

    Comment by clintonskakun — August 8, 2009 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

    • I agree that the advantages of Linux outweigh the disadvantages. After all, I have been using Linux exclusively on my home desktop for nearly 5 years, now. 😉

      However, I do not *hate* Windows. Indeed, sometimes I think it is the appropriate solution for some users. To take your points:
      1. Vista doesn’t freeze up as much as XP, which doesn’t freeze as much as Win2000. It *is* improving. With good, safe computing practices, and a good sysadmin, Windows need hardly freeze at all.
      2. I agree it’s bloated, and has some serious security problems. But it *does* work, however poorly, for the majority of users who have it.
      3. I know people who (at least claim to) run Windows with nary a problem, with no viruses, no crashes, etc. It *can* be done.

      But I’ll still take my Linux any day.

      Comment by Padma — August 9, 2008 @ 10:31 pm | Reply


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