Every so often while I’m working on something, I’m struck by how satisfying it can be to be running Linux as my operating system of choice. No, this isn’t about beating up Windows or tearing Microsoft down any notches… as much as I tout the benefits of Linux and as much as I dislike some of Microsoft’s practices, they have their place in the grand scheme of things.
No, this is about the actual good things that come to mind for me when I say “I love Linux”, and why you should too.
1. Linux is free, as in “freedom”
I’ve worked in IT for almost a decade and a half, and I’m still occasionally shaking my head at how incredibly much effort goes into complying with software licenses. Where I used to work, just figuring out how many users were using what (particularly how many Windows Terminal Server users we had) so that we didn’t get sued by someone ended up eating up an incredible amount of man hours — man hours which could have been much more constructive doing more productive practical work, like handling support tickets and managing the actual software itself.
Privately, however, I run Slackware Linux for my primary platform, OpenOffice.org for documents/spreadsheets, and a wide variety of other open source applications. And not only do I not have to worry and fret over whether or not I’m up-to-date on all my Linux licenses, I’m actively encouraged by the makers of my Linux distribution of choice to share it with others.
As a matter of fact, some of you might be aware of this, but on Ubuntu’s online store, you can’t even BUY Ubuntu installation CDs in anything less than packs of 20. Why is this? Because they want you to keep one to use, and share the others with as many people as you can.
I can take my Slackware CDs and do the same… I can burn copies of them, give them to my friends, family, coworkers, set up a web server in my basement, install Slackware on 50 workstations… I can pretty much use it any way I like.
And nobody is going to come knocking on my door with legal papers for intellectual property rights violations.
With that massive headache not an issue, Linux being free as in “freedom” is a big reason to love it.
2. Linux is free, as in “beer”
“Free as in beer” is a phrase that gets bandied about quite a bit when people talk about Linux, but this is pretty cool too. As I mentioned just above, I can use my Slackware disc to install Linux on multiple machines in my house, take the same disc to a buddy’s house and install it on a few machines there, burn a copy of it and give it to him to play with, what have you, and not have to worry about the software police coming after me.
But not only can I do that without fear of intellectual property retribution… I can do all of that for free.
Let me state that again, because it’s important.
I can do all of that for free
Sure, I can purchase Ubuntu CDs in packs of 20 from their website. Sure, I normally buy the latest version of Slackware when I’m looking to upgrade versions… I don’t mind paying for quality products, and for all the incredible use I get out of Patrick Volkerding‘s product, I figure the least I could do is throw fifty bucks a year his way to help contribute. But I don’t have to. I can download it pretty easily for free, burn the ISO to a CD or DVD and I’m ready to go.
And nobody will be sending me a bill or suing me for “lost sales” or piracy or some such nonsense. Linux is free in a material sense, and almost all the major distributions (and almost all the minor ones) give their product away for free, or at least a version of it. In the case of Slackware and Ubuntu, the free product is exactly the same as the one you pay for, but for the actual physical disc.
3. Linux does just what I want
I have written some about the differences between Slackware and Ubuntu; Slackware is a fine distro in my opinion, because it does what I tell it to and stays out of my way.
Ubuntu tries doing a lot more, and therefore tends to get in my way a lot more often… but unlike other OSes, I can still do something about it. Even a pretty tweaked out and feature-rich distro like Ubuntu can be made to do exactly what I want it to do without too much trouble.
With a wide open architecture and everything pretty well documented (these days, anyway), I can find ways to tweak a Linux installation to do precisely what I want it to do with nothing unexpected or extra thrown in for headaches. This is something that I find tremendously satisfying not only as an administrator, but as a user. I have numerous window managers from which to choose, and an incredibly high degree of control over any aspect of them that I desire, so that I can either live with the defaults, or fine-tune my user environment down to the slightest detail.
My post on the subject was more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, but I discovered even in reviewing Hannah Montana Linux that despite its half-assed, thrown-together packaging and gawd-awful appearance, underneath it all was actually a usable, tweakable, perfectly viable Linux system. Even when dumbed down and dressed up to clownish proportions, Linux is still a great platform underneath, and it doesn’t take much at all to make it behave the way I want it to behave.
Having this kind of ability to tweak and fiddle is one of the reasons I fell in love with technology to begin with so long ago. Linux definitely feeds that and reminds me why I still work with computers.
4. Linux is stable and secure
A lot of my professional career has been spent locking things down, tightening the bolts, and imposing restrictions on users’ computers, only to wind up spending hours and hours dealing with viruses, worms, adware, malware, spyware, security holes, and rogue applications that simply won’t respect boundaries ANYWAY. If I’m not dealing with these types of issues, I’m rebooting servers and restarting services again and again because of stability problems.
It’s so nice to know that at home my personal computers are mercifully free of all of the above. Sure, I’ve had my share of stability issues, even on Linux, but to be fair, those were largely hardware related and were pretty much isolated to certain distros. And yes, while viruses in theory do exist for Linux, I’m not aware of any that are currently in the wild, and I’ve never accepted the “it’s such a small market share that virus writers aren’t targeting it” excuse. Linux’s architecture makes it pretty tough to attack in that way and propagate, and that will still be the case even if (by some weird happenstance) Linux ends up having 90% market share.
Likewise, Linux’s architecture means it’s stable too. I have months and years of uptime on my Slackware machines. I almost never need to worry about a Linux box crashing for no reason or requiring weird random reboots after silly things, like stopping or restarting a process or applying an update.
While I am also aware that there are things such as rootkits existing for Linux, a large part of that problem involves action on the user’s part. Other platforms can be compromised without the user doing a thing to facilitate it… with Linux as my platform, it’s nice to know that I don’t have to worry nearly as much about my system being that insecure in and of itself.
5. Linux is easy to learn, easy to use
I know, I know… some of you who know me and some of you who have read my more technical posts here at Linux Critic might point out that I end up tackling some pretty crazy tasks in Linux, tasks that involve digging through logs, writing shell scripts, manually juggling config files, and partitioning schemes that can make anyone’s head hurt.
But that’s me… I’m a tinkerer by nature, and I love to figure things out for myself, and I like to poke and prod and dig until I find a solution (often times to a problem that I managed to create myself, but that’s another story). Linux offers lots of tinkering opportunity for someone like me, but even when I’m not in a particularly “tinkery” mood, I can still sit down with a vanilla install of just about any distro I’ve tried, and just use it.
Gone are the days when “using Linux” meant poring over hundreds of lines of config files, typing arcane commands into a text-only screen, and having to learn at least two or three programming languages just to use your computer. It can still be like that for those of us who tinker, but anymore, Linux is a robust, modern, user-friendly operating system. It’s graphical, flexible, and it is as simple as point-and-click to use. It’s not just for techies anymore, it’s for people to use, and even as a techie I can appreciate that. Linux is beautiful in that respect, because it really CAN be everything to everyone, and it doesn’t have to sacrifice what it ultimately is in order to do it.