The other day I got into a somewhat heated discussion about why Linux is a viable alternative desktop OS. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to move the other side past the rhetoric and myths that seem to surround Linux. It is because of this discussion that I am writing this…as a way to give accurate information. Let’s start by looking at some of the most common myths.
Myth 1: “Linux is hard to install”
This could not be further from the truth. Many Linux distributions are as easy, if not easier. to install as Windows. Ubuntu, Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS are but three of the most popular. The install is nothing more than a few mouse clicks and basic options like timezone, language and name. All these are explained well and you need to provide the same information when installing ANY operating system.
Myth 2: “Linux does not recognize my hardware”
Like all Operating Systems, Linux requires “drivers” in order to use a piece of hardware like a sound card or modem, etc. Also like other OSs, if your system is cutting edge with the latest and greatest, there may be challenges at first. This doesn’t happen with Microsoft Windows? A year after it’s release, Windows VISTA is still suffering from poor driver support! The fact is, if your system is 6 months old, hardware support is usually a non-issue.
Myth 3: “Linux is too complicated to use”
In what way? It has a graphical interface with a mouse and windows. It has an auto-updater to keep things current. It has software add/remove capabilities that allow you to install programs with a couple mouse clicks. It even has many apps found in Windows and Mac OS X like Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Audacity, etc. It’s as easy as Windows…just different. Let’s put it this way, if all you ever knew was Linux and you decided to try Windows for the first time, I’m sure you would find Windows complicated and hard to use too.
Myth 4: “There are no applications available”
One of the points thrown at me during my discussion went something like, “Walk into a computer store and try to find a single Linux app on the shelf…you won’t find any”. Until now I’m not sure what that had to do with anything. There are many thousands of applications available, for free, and are readily available for download. Many Linux distros even come with a point and click interface to download and install these apps without effort. To say there are no applications available is not only a myth but a flat out lie.
Some reasons to use Linux
There are many more “myths” hanging over Linux, but those were some of the more common ones. Let’s now look at a few reasons why one should consider Linux.
Reason 1: Security
Viruses are less of a threat on Linux. The very way a Linux system is designed makes it very difficult for a virus to function as it does in Windows. This also applies to spyware, malware, etc. The fact that almost no viruses are written for Linux also adds a nicer sense of warmth. Wouldn’t be nice to read the almost endless stream of security holes in Windows and know it does not apply to you?
Reason 2: Updatability
Linux is in a constant state of development and improvement by professional and semi-professional developers who donate their time and skills to the various projects. In addition, the majority of the system and available applications are Open source, so if you wish and you had the ability, you could add any feature you needed. Linux also has the ability to expand the life of many systems as it’s reduced overhead and need for system resources means that it will run great on older machines.
Reason 3: Support
Yes, support. As hard as it is to accept, you can easily get support when you do run into difficulties. In addition to the plethora of online forms, both independant and those provided by the distro supplier, there are also more and more 3rd party service providers that offer service contracts for Linux systems. Good to have in a corporate/business environment. There is also support offered by more and more traditional Technology names such as Dell, IBM, Novell, Sun and others. And finally, for support a little closer to home, most major cities have Linux User Groups that can and do offer help and advice. Help and Support IS available and does not usually mean spending hours on hold to speak to someone in a call center on the other side of the planet.
Reason 4: Self-improvement
Personally, this is one of the most important reasons why I switched. Linux gave me the chance to learn new skills, gain deeper insights into how computers work and provided an excellent platform to develop on. Some people may be satisfied with going through life with blinders on and living the “status-quo”. For those that enjoy the how/what/why of life, Linux is an excellent choice.
Reason 5: Cost
Most people would put this at the top of the list. For me, cost is one of the least important reasons to switch to Linux. However, the cost advantage of Linux is huge. In a nutshell, you get the complete OS, thousands upon thousands of applications AND support for the grand total price of….$0! We’re not talking a watered down, feature deprived OS either…we’re talking a full-blown, complete, enterprise ready OS…for free. “But my time is worth something and the extra effort needed with Linux cost me money.”, alright…and how much does it cost you when Windows bluescreens in the middle of editing a large report that hasn’t been saved? Or how about when a virus or spyware prevents you from even using your system…probably costs you a lot.
So you see, you are going to hear a lot about why you should not use Linux, and they are going to give you many reasons why you shouldn’t…just very few good reasons.
If you are interested in trying Linux, I would recommend Ubuntu, Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS. Download their LiveCDs. Booting to a LiveCD allows you to try and use a complete Linux environment without making any changes to your hard drive. Once down, just reboot and go back into windows as normal.