When Linus Torvalds, a student in Finland, introduced Linux in 1991, it had no chance of competing with Windows or the Mac OS. It was sadly lacking in software compatibility and you had to be a geek to run it. That’s not the case anymore. Since the appearance of Ubuntu, a user-friendly Linux distribution, in 2004, Linux has evolved into a first-class OS that’s ready for prime time. Here’s what to expect as a new user.
Cost of Use: How does free sound? As open-source software, Linux is continually updated by an enthusiastic community of volunteers. These talented programmers and designers donate their services because they support the freedom of choice Linux represents. In fact, there’s so many of them that you can find a version of Linux to suit almost any need or taste. Best of all, free doesn’t stop with Linux. Open-source volunteers are also busy creating third-party software. Whatever software you have on your Mac or Windows computer is likely to have a Linux equivalent but the Linux version is free. You can’t beat that!
Resistance to Attacks: Besides the price (free), open source software has another advantage; it’s a lot more secure than the closed Windows development environment (see References 1). The reason is that millions of volunteer developers, and even end users, can see the source code. This makes it almost impossible for anyone to insert malicious code without being detected. Linux is also favored by the hacking community so they have little interest in targeting it. Since Linux and its third party software is developed by enthusiastic supporters, the odds of anyone putting spyware in their code is also very slim. Linux even requests a password before changing system settings so If a hacker doesn’t have it, they’re out of luck.
Hardware/Software Compatibility: According to Pack Rat Studios, Linux has the best hardware driver support of any operating system. That’s why Linux is found in TV cable boxes, GPS navigation systems and mall kiosks. This doesn’t preclude the occasional manufacturer who delays development of a Linux driver for their new hardware. Fortunately, this situation has improved dramatically in recent years so it’s rarely a problem today. As far as software is concerned, Linux includes a free Windows emulator called “Wine” that runs a high percentage of Windows programs. Experienced users have even configured popular programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop to run on Linux.
System Configurability: With so many versions of Linux to choose from, like Ubuntu (and its spin-offs), Fedora, Suse and too many more to mention, it’s hard not to find a Linux OS that suits you. Linux also has a powerful shell that experienced users can change most settings with. Of course LInux is also open source so if you’re a programmer, you can modify its source code to meet your needs.
Hardware Demands: Linux is the only popular OS that can run fully loaded from a CD or DVD. This allows tire kickers to give it a thorough test before installing it. Linux also plays well with others so you can use it in a dual-boot configuration with your Mac or Window OS. Another hardware advantage that’s often overlooked is that Linux hard drives rarely, if ever, need to be defragmented. The reason is that other operating systems group files as close as possible to the front of the disk (for quick access), but Linux scatters them evenly all over the drive. As a disk fills up on a non-Linux OS, files are separated because there’s no room to expand them. Linux avoids this problem by creating plenty of space between files so files aren’t split up unless the disk is over 80% full (see References 5). This helps the hard drive to run better and last longer.
User Support: When you buy a computer with a popular OS, it comes with free technical support for a period of time. This support is included in the cost of the OS. Linux is free so it doesn’t offer this kind of technical support, but you can usually get your questions answered. All you need to do is visit an active forum for your version of Linux and find out what other users recommend. Developers also participate in these forums so there are plenty of experts that can point you in the right direction. You can also refer to the documentation and help files that came with your Linux OS.
Art, “Linux Pros and Cons,” KeyFrame5 Studios
Simon, “My Pros and Cons with Ubuntu Linux,” AnotherWindowsBlog
Mike, “The Pros and Cons of Linux, Windows and OSX,” Pack Rat Studios
Computer Hope, ” Unix, Linux and Variant History,” Computer Hope
Dominic Humphries, “Why Doesn’t Linux Need Defragmenting?,” Dominic Humphries