Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Linux?

Credit: Jens Reuterberg

By +Katherine Noyes 

As a blog focused on Linux, it seems a pretty safe bet that Linux Advocates will see its fair share of debate over the coming weeks, months and years.  After all, Linux is a complex topic, and it inspires strong feelings in both its advocates and its opponents.

Those strong feelings are of course a big part of what motivated the creation of this blog, but before we start getting into the nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty, and the countless smaller issues surrounding Linux, we thought now would be a good time to address one key point underlying it all.

Specifically, Why Linux? What is it about this operating system that makes it such an important part of the computing landscape, and such a passionate issue for so many of us?

It's difficult to do justice to that question in this small space, of course. Nevertheless, here's our best attempt at a summary of why we care so much about Linux.

1. It's Free.

Most of the readers of these pages are no doubt already familiar with the concept of software freedom and the old “gratis” vs. “libre” or “free as in beer” vs. “free as in speech” distinction. That's a big part of why Linux matters so much.  The free price is nice, of course, but much more critical is software freedom. Rather than placing its users at the mercy of its creators the way proprietary operating systems do, Linux becomes the user's own the moment he or she picks it up and installs it. Under the GPLv2 license, it is yours to do with as you wish; if your changes to the source code are used commercially, the only requirement is that you make those changes available to others under the same terms.

2. It's Open.

Closely intertwined with the philosophical question of software freedom is the practical fact that Linux is open source software. That means you, the user, can see its code; you can examine its inner workings, you can tweak what's inside, you can even – gasp! -- modify it to suit your own purposes.  Don't try that with a proprietary competitor!

3. It's Diverse.

The old expression, “Strength in Diversity” is true in so many aspects of life, and operating systems are a shining example. Just as biological populations become more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of a deadly virus when one species comes to dominate, so, too, do monocultures compromise the computing landscape. With today's (albeit diminishing) dominance of Windows, it's all too easy for a single attacker to hit the majority of the computing population. Linux doesn't just bring a third alternative to desktop computing users, it brings virtually innumerable alternatives thanks to the many and various distributions out there for every taste and purpose. It's an embarrassment of riches for Linux users to choose from, and it's an impossibly scattered target for would-be attackers.

4. It's Secure.

Speaking of security, there are numerous reasons Linux is so much more secure than OS X or Windows. In addition to the monoculture effect described above, other advantages lie in the way account privileges are assigned and the lack of “root” access by default as well as the openness of Linux's code. "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow," as Linus's Law proclaims. In other words, there's no way the limited staff of a single company can hold a candle to the global community of Linux users and developers when it comes to finding and fixing bugs quickly.

5. It's Polite.

It may seem strange to talk about “politeness” in the context of operating systems, but for Canadians like me, politeness is a big deal. It becomes an especially big deal in computing, however, because a lack thereof can cost you thousands of dollars over your lifetime. I'm referring, of course, to hardware requirements and any other extras that are needed to make an operating system run well. Anyone who's ever used Windows is already well-acquainted with the hardware “treadmill” it places you on, forcing you to upgrade your PC again and again in order to accommodate the software's ever-growing hunger for resources. Linux, on the other hand, is the paragon of politeness in this respect. Its needs are very modest by comparison, and some distributions and desktops are even designed with limited resources in mind. Linux plays well with others, in other words – a quality that's just as important in software as it is in friends.

What have we missed? There are obviously countless other reasons to advocate Linux. Leave your thoughts in the comments if you see one we overlooked.

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  1. Good opening article. Paints with a broad brush for the real beginners into Linux. Thanks :-)

  2. Outstanding start to a blog and your timing is awesome as well. After 6 months of testing Win8, I have decided to full convert to Linux instead. I will definitely be following your blog.

  3. Of the points that you make (all good) diversity stands out because many in the community have trouble with that one. There are a number of us who want one distro to rule them all. The see diversity as something that weakens us. They think, if there was just one distro then it would not be so confusing for newbies. I disagree. Diversity gives strength.

    I like having choice. I like it that they all do not look the same or work alike. I like it that we can switch to something that works as we do or as we grow.

    If there was just one distro then that would make it easy for our enemies (yes we have them), but attacking many targets is harder to do.

    As a Canadian, I chuckled at "polite".

  4. Good Article it much.....its useful to my students too...i use fedora what about you?

  5. please mention, by Free doent means freedom...

  6. 6. It performs

    Perhaps this is just a combination of several of your points but because the motive is great IT and not monopoly, */Linux does the job well. That other OS painted itself into dark corners where nothing worked just because it wanted to entangle users in a web of lock-ins. As a long time user of GNU/Linux I am amazed that anyone would choose Wintel and they mostly don't. They choose what OEMs and retailers have conspired to supply as "partners" of M$ whether or not it was good software. People do choose */Linux on its merits: price, performance, etc. Finally along came OEMs with salesmen who push products that work and Wintel is in trouble. "8" is an example. M$ cannot push "8" without telling a billion users M$ lied to them for decades. They have kicked the ant-hill and diversity has millions of opportunities to take root. It's all good.

  7. @Robert Pogson: That's so true. People don't choose Windows, in general; it just happens to come on the hardware they want. Seems like Windows 8 is opening a lot of eyes.

    @bspp_ce_2006: Thanks! I have used Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora, but now am greatly enjoying Fuduntu. Hope to spend some time with SolusOS soon as well. :)

  8. Since Mr. Pogson's already stated a Point 6, I'll suggest a Point 7:

    7. It's easy.

    The majority of the usability issues that once doomed desktop Linux have been resolved, and the few problems that do persist are being addressed at a mind-bogglingly-fast pace. With the release of Windows 8, Linux (particularly Linux Mint, as well as any distro that uses either KDE or LXDE for a WM/desktop) is more familiar to Windows users than, well, Windows. No need to hunt down .exe files; 99% (if not 100%) of the Linux software you'll ever need is just a click away, and that software will - in most cases - do the same jobs as well or better than their proprietary, Windows/Mac-only counterparts. It's easier for IT, too; why go through all the hassle with Windows deployments in enterprise environments when you can take advantage of the flexibility and scalability of Linux?