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May 28th, 2015

Five Reasons to Use Linux

I might be wrong, but I get the impression that my Windows friends — which would be most of the people I see on a daily basis — think of Linux as this incredibly geeky system from another planet. I think most of them don’t understand why I use it and why I don’t just stay in the known world — which to them would be Windows. Paradoxically, however, they do get why some folks use Macs.

Tux breaking the chains of MicrosoftQuite simply, most of us use desktop Linux because it’s superior to all other brands, including Windows and OS X — even including Unix and the BSDs. This is a fact, not an opinion. There are reasons why Linux runs a majority of the world’s servers and powers most big enterprises, and in an example of where the trickle down theory actually works, those reasons trickle down (or up — depending on your viewpoint) to the desktop.

Of course, just sticking your nose in the air and claiming superiority isn’t enough to convince most people, so here’s my list of five reasons to use Linux:

  1. It’s free: Many people have trouble understanding why this tops my list. They get the part about how it costs nothing, but the finer points of software freedom seem to be incomprehensible to them. When I tell them that Linux users are free to look at and modify the code in any way they want, they shrug it off, evidently thinking that since they’re not code writing computer geeks, then this makes no difference.

    Well, I’m not a coder either, and never will be. But this is still near the top of the list of the software freedoms that I cherish. Why? Because each and every day, people are modifying Linux for one reason or another, usually to meet their own needs, and sometimes those changes find their way upstream and get incorporated into mainstream Linux, improving everyone’s user experience.

    To sum up the notion of software freedom in a nutshell: Free softwre such as Linux is yours to do with as you like, with no restrictions placed on you by any licensing agreement. The only thing you’re not free to do? Restrict the freedom of others.

  2. It’s easy to use: This statement will probably have those who’ve never tried Linux scratching their heads and going “huh?”. Not so for those who use Linux daily. These days, the use of most Linux distros and desktops is no more difficult than using Windows or OS X — even easier after you learn a few tricks to make the operating system do what you want in the way you want it done.

    The days are long gone when you had to be a computer expert to sit behind the wheel and run Linux — even though computer knowledge comes in handy no matter what operating system you’re using.

  3. It’s stable and secure: Granted, Windows is much more stable than it once was, but stability is still an issue and Windows’ users still must occasionally reboot to correct a stability issue. And it’s true that if you work at it, you can throw Linux into a panic, but I can’t remember the last time that happened to me.

    As for security, any Linux distribution, take your pick, is more secure out-of-the-box than either Windows or OS X, even without running antivirus software. It’s not completely free of security issues — no operating system is — but security holes in Linux are usually not as severe and get fixed quicker than in the name brands.

    Plus, Linux users get most of their software pre-vetted through software repositories and don’t have to put their trust in some download site operated by who knows whom.

  4. It runs free and open source software (FOSS): Sure, these days you can install most free and open source software titles on Windows, just as some proprietary titles have been ported to Linux. But running FOSS on Windows is akin to building a castle in a neighborhood sitting close to a dump. Most days will be fine, until the sun comes out on a hot and humid summer day.

    What’s so special about FOSS? Well, it’s free, easy to use, usually stable, and secure and versatile — the same things that make Linux special.

  5. It’s versatile: I couldn’t begin to make a list to illustrate the ways that Linux is versatile — at least not one that would be understandable to those who’re accustomed to using a system where there’s usually just one way of doing things — so I’ll stick with the most obvious: the desktop.

    The Windows desktop is pretty much a one-size-fits-all proposition. Not true with Linux, where there are many desktops from which to choose. And these aren’t merely skins or themes, offering a different look but with exactly the same functionality.

    Linux desktops are all completely different from one another, each offering its own user experience. Working with a old machine with a slow processor and not much memory? There’s are desktops for that. Do you have a modern computer with plenty of resources? There are desktops for that. Do you like a lot of whistles and bells and want a computer where absolutely everything can be configured to your liking? There are desktops for that as well. The list goes on.

This is just my list, and it’s nowhere near complete. Maybe you think I’ve left off something important — I probably have. What would you add to this list? Feel free to comment below.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

25 comments to Five Reasons to Use Linux

  • One thing I really enjoy about Linux (and the BSDs) is that if the distro you’re using does something unfavorable and/or user-unfriendly, you can move to another one. If MS or Apple makes unfavorable changes to Windows or OS X, you’re stuck with it.

    Freedom of choice…very nice! 🙂

  • Neil

    Totally agree.
    I still see lots of articles suggesting Linux isn’t ready for the desktop but thats just baloney. Personally I think Windows isn’t ready for the desktop. I’ve been using Linux as my primary desktop environment for years.
    The only thing Windows is better than Linux for is gaming, but thats only beacuse the developers of most premium games only provide windows versions in the first place, so it has nothing to do with Windows itself being in any way better.

  • gw2007

    Linux is extremely boring. No hours spent updating, defraging, rebooting, disk cleaning, waiting for bootup or a program to load, backing up that takes forever, virus checking, downloads that take forever. What do you do with the free time Linux gives you?

  • Andrew

    OS X fits all of these categories as well just as well as Linux does, except for #5, OS X is intended to be a desktop OS and nothing more (to be fair OS X server does exist, but nobody uses it). What people call Linux is more a jack of all trades master of none except for server use, it really shines there. Yes, some people can make it into a decent desktop, I know, I did that for a long while myself. The constant churn, bugs, lack of well integrated tools (until you get to the command line where it shines as a server) just make it mediocre. Some people are OK with that, and some people don’t even experience those bugs because they are masked by common use cases.

  • Jim Lee

    A sixth reason you may have forgot to mention: right now I have a 5-year old commodity x64 Celeron laptop (with the stock 2GB DDR3 RAM) which couldn’t even touch Windows 8, let alone Windows 10. If I were still stuck in the proprietary Windows world this notebook would’ve become a high-tech paperweight about 3 years ago. Yes, even modern iterations of Windows are/have always been severe resource hogs, but I think you already knew that.

    Instead, I wiped the HD and went Debian (experimental). Now I have the latest kernel (4.04), full-on KDE4 with compositing, virtualization (via Virtualbox) – all stuff a Windows 8/10 user could only dream about doing with similarly “low-end” specs. The Penguin is no joke.

    Also, Windows has always had a tendency to dumb down things quite a bit; it hides too much from the user, not just in the EULA but also within the inner workings of the OS. I perform daily tasks that, to Linux/BSD users, are pretty pedestrian; but a lot of Windows-using colleagues think I’m some sort of “wizard” (yes, they’re still using that term). Trust me, IQ has nothing to do with it; it’s just that Linux doesn’t dumb things down and hide so much from you that you can’t eventually figure things out. Speaking in relative terms, Linux and *BSD makes you have to actually learn how your machine works.

  • Got to say, i tried Linux for the first time about 5 years ago using PClinuxOS… i was amazed on how easy i adapted to Linux. Now i am no expert but Linux does what i want it to do and after a bit of distro hopping trying to find what was my perfect OS that suits me down to the ground which is now ChaletOS. Iv’e even turned a few friends towards it and they love it as well.
    Who needs Windows? Not me 🙂

  • Mike

    @Andrew,

    Sorry, OSX doesn’t come anywhere close to matching Linux.

    I’ve heard that same old tripe so many times before: “OSX is built on free software, just like Linux”.

    So that’s why there are so many OSX clone distros around, eh? No?

    Has even one single person built their own custom kernel to run Apple’s proprietary bits on top of? No?

    Ok, then surely you can pull out the bits of OSX you don’t care for, like the user tracking and spying crap? No?

    Ripping off some free software to wrap with proprietary spyware is hardly in the same league as Linux.

    Stallman got it right: Windows and OSX are not much more than malware.

  • Andrew

    Sorry @Mike but #4 says “It runs free and open source software (FOSS)” and the paragraph that follows continues that idea. Laying out an argument implying that said OS X was built on free software is a straw man.

    As for custom kernels, people in the hackintosh community builds darwin kernels and have added all sorts of things like support for AMD for example so that argument breaks down too.

    What user tracking and spying “crap” are you referring too, please, be specific.

    Stallman is a washed up old fool who parrots the same tired old argument about the four freedoms while the world continues to grow up and leave him further in the past. Just the other day he had the audacity to claim to have developed all of GNU and what we call “Linux”, all by himself as was echoed in the Guardian.

    By the way, I can install pretty much anything on OS X that you can and also many things that you cannot. For example, I have Chrome, KeePass, Dolphin, GIMP, Kodi and lots of other open source bits while I also have GarageBand, iMovie, and many other high quality closed source bits too. If I want something that’s FOSS it’s often as simple as ‘brew install’.

  • Andrew

    …and we still need a ninja edit button for accidentals. 🙂

  • Eddie G.

    @Andrew – The one thing that separates Apple and all it’s products from Linux? Price. Now…granted some of us here work in the I.T. field or other lucrative careers, and make decent salaries, but sadly, some of us don’t And while YOU might be willing to drop $2,000 or more on an Apple computer or laptop. I have student loans, rent, insurance, and other more pertinent bills that prevent that. But you know what? I can buy a $580.00 “middle-of-the-road” PC with decent specs on it, and install the Linux OS of my choice, and install the apps and packages of my choice, and configure everything about my system, while saving myself from being dictated to regarding my desktop environment. So yeah, you might be able to install a ton of open source things, and even more closed source, proprietary apps, but you’d still be “trapped” into using the desktop environment that the developers at Apple tell you to, plus you’d be out a couple thousand dollars….yeah….no…I’m gonna stick with Linux.

  • Mike

    @Andrew

    Hackintosh community? That’s a joke. “Darwin” is ridiculously far behind OSX, and doesn’t contain enough to actually run the latest OSX shell. There is no viable custom kernel you can run under Apple’s interface. The fact that you could confuse a handful of hacked kernels to the customizability available with a true open source project like Linux says a lot.

    In response to:

    > “I also have GarageBand, iMovie, and many other high quality closed source bits too.”

    It’s rather sad you think that is a plus.

    > “What user tracking and spying “crap” are you referring too, please, be specific.”

    There are quite a few. Here’s one from about a year and a half ago: http://www.zdnet.com/article/change-in-mavericks-contact-syncing-draws-privacy-concerns/

    By your own words: “OS X fits all of these categories as well just as well as Linux does, except for #5”

    Let’s see shall we?

    It doesn’t fit #1 – OSX is not Free software (Notice we’re not talking about price here, as indicated by the author).

    It doesn’t fit #2 – What? OSX not easy? It isn’t, if your use case happens to be outside of what Apple thinks you should do. Don’t like the way it handles the network stack and want to plug in your own code? Good luck with that. Want to customize and automate the OS installation? Fat chance.

    It doesn’t fit #3 – Stable and secure? We have only Apple’s word for that. It isn’t open, so it can’t be audited. I don’t trust code blindly just because some mega-corp says I should. On top of that, Apple quite frequently leaves older but perfectly capable hardware behind, unable to update to the latest version for no reason other than planned and deliberate obsolesence. That combined with the fact that Apple very quickly drops security updates for older OSX versions plus the fact it isn’t open to enable other people to pick up Apple’s slack means plenty of OSX installations are left insecure by Apple’s conscious choice.

    4? I’ll give you #4.

    It doesn’t fit #5 – How many OSX shells do you see completely replaced by something custom? Zero. It isn’t versatile, it’s monoculture at its worst.

  • When I can play all my games on Linux I’ll switch and never look back. Until then I’m afraid I’ll have to stay with Windows as much as I hate it.

  • Andrew

    @Eddie G. I used to have the same opinion about price until I started digging into comparable laptops with like specs / build quality. A 15″ Dell XPS for example is very comparable in spec to a 15″ rMBP and the price is within $100.

    You won’t find a low end Mac, and that’s kind of the point. It’s a premium product with premium build quality, if you can’t afford that, that’s perfectly OK. As for trapped using the desktop they provide, that’s part of the point of buying it. Not caring about 100 desktop options is a benefit to some.

    @Mike – #1 “It’s free” – OS X is free as in beer, it comes with the Mac and is upgraded often at no cost. You may not be able to inspect and modify the base OS, but some people (like me) don’t care about that.

    It’s not sad that I see having a wider market of options available, I’m happy that I don’t have to constantly worry about fixing it when it breaks.

    This privacy “concern” you linked is no different than Android contact sync….

    So, your argument for #2 is to say it isn’t easy because you can’t hack at the source? Really?

    #5 – You can’t replace the desktop so it’s bad! Cry me a river.

    As for Darwin being behind, it seems to have a pretty nice community behind it and no-one seems to complain about that, nice view from the outside though. People are incredibly helpful and don’t trash other options because they don’t fall into their personal tunnel vision.

    People of FOSS are incredible prima donnas, always bitching about and trashing anything they don’t like or understand. It’s no wonder no-one takes any of you seriously. LOL

  • Andrew

    I think it’s time to let FOSS Force drop from my daily reads. o/

  • Josh

    @Andrew, I understand the the frustration. I began my linux career in 2001 and while it has changed so has the community. I see poorly written articles like this and I see FOSS people that can’t read source code but always say well the software is horrible / insecure / spyware because it is not open. WHO the hell cares. If you can’t read the source code what difference does it make to you.

    My daily job is as a Sr. Linux Engineer but I love all things technology. I use a Mac with parallels running arch, I have a gentoo for compiling my kernels and testing on. I have a Dell T7500 running centos with KVM, LDAP, DHCP, DNS. The only thing I don’t have is a windows machine and that is because I don’t have a need for it. I play games on a ps3 / xbox 360, I spend most of my time coding in python so I just need a terminal with vim.

    So I have to say again Andrew, I agree that the linux community has to many prima donnas.

  • TFA is a pretty basic list. There are higher-order benefits of GNU/Linux which are also sufficient reasons to migrate. A consequence of the items in the list is that many distros have repositories which allow one to upgrade everything with a few clicks. That beats that other OS hollow because you don’t have to update individual applications, you can have a local repository, and some package manager handles all dependencies.

    One of the horrors of my past was a lab kids could sabotage just by moving mice around. We switched to GNU/Linux and that ended. As well, we were able to pull old junkers off the shelves and stuff up to a decade old worked with a single installation. The only customization I needed was to set parameters for a couple of ancient video cards with tiny RAM. Requests for service from that lab went from multiple per week to zero per month. I was like the Maytag repairman I became so lonely.

  • Mike

    @Andrew

    > “@Mike – #1 “It’s free” – OS X is free as in beer, it comes with the Mac and is upgraded often at no cost. You may not be able to inspect and modify the base OS, but some people (like me) don’t care about that.”

    And some people do care. OSX is NOT Free as in speech, which was part of the point of #1. Just because you don’t care doesn’t make the point unimportant. Who’s being a prima donna here? Looks like you.

    > “This privacy “concern” you linked is no different than Android contact sync….”

    Putting “concern” in quotes doesn’t make it less real, and trying to shift focus to Android is a non sequitur. You’re saying it’s OK because someone else is just as bad? That’s really your argument? Wow.

    > “So, your argument for #2 is to say it isn’t easy because you can’t hack at the source? Really?”

    Like I said, it depends on what you want to do. I’ll grant you Apple products can be very easy to use – given that you only want to do a subset of things Apple has decided you SHOULD do.

    > “#5 – You can’t replace the desktop so it’s bad! Cry me a river.”

    Yes. Yes it is.

    > “People of FOSS are incredible prima donnas, always bitching about and trashing anything they don’t like or understand. It’s no wonder no-one takes any of you seriously. LOL”

    Way to generalize there. That sounds more like you. I don’t trash Apple because I don’t understand it. I understand it all too well. Conversely, just because you don’t care about an issue doesn’t make that issue unimportant, it just makes you look uninformed.

  • CFWhitman

    Andrew: “People of FOSS are incredible prima donnas, always bitching about and trashing anything they don’t like or understand. It’s no wonder no-one takes any of you seriously. LOL”

    Really? Just the way this remark is phrased begs someone to reply, “Pot, meeet Kettle.” If you want to address a certain person’s remarks or attitude, then why not do so specifically rather than generally insulting millions of people because you don’t like what one person said? You can answer or ignore one person at your pleasure. When you make general statements like these, being wrong is unavoidable.

    OS X has its own strengths and weaknesses. As far as the points in the article go, it doesn’t meet #1 or #5. OS X is also not always as good on #3 as I would expect it to be (on occasion Apple has been known to leave a security hole open for a time with little explanation for it), though it’s generally better than Windows, certainly.

    Your reply to Eddie G. confirmed his point rather than contradicting it.

    For my own uses, I generally prefer Linux. OS X just can’t work to resurrect/repurpose old hardware, so for that it’s not even a candidate, and I would still use Linux for that even if I decided to use OS X for some things. I do like having no artifical restrictions, and OS X does have some (though I know you can hack your way around some of them). I also love the versatility of Linux. I can buy high end hardware and use it; I can scrounge low end hardware and use it. I don’t really have a reason to also buy Apple hardware just so I can use OS X, when I am going to continue to use Linux regardless. It’s not worth it to me.

    I certainly don’t have any problem with you preferring OS X or it fitting your needs/wants better than Linux, but my reasons for preferring Linux aren’t invalid just because they aren’t the same as yours.

  • Duncan

    I’d put point #1 as “Free as in no EULA!” That should get the point across for those who don’t code, as well as effectively eliminating the cost-only argument Andrew is trying to pervert the point to make.

    No EULA to worry about on my software has made me much more sensitive to mandatory-sign small-print on all sorts of other stuff as well. Some of it you really can’t avoid, ISP terms, rent/lease terms on anything from videos to cars to housing and office space, bank account terms, etc, but at least I don’t have to worry about EULAs on software any longer. =:^)

    Then make the user modification allowed point either as a sub-point of no-eula, or its own point, since it really is, altho the two concepts are somewhat related (much as points 1 and 4 are related).

    Duncan

  • Mike

    @Duncan,

    Nicely put. I’ve never heard it that way. I think it captures an important aspect of free software for less technical users. Bravo.

    Getting used to software with no eula is kind of like getting used to surfing with an ad-blocker. The freedom is addictive and going back is almost too terrible to contemplate.

  • Mike

    @Duncan

    Oh, also…I’m aware you’ve mentioned you are a Gentoo user. I briefly experimented with Gentoo after having been a Debian user for some time, but I was disappointed that kernel deblobbing isn’t supported currently due to some conflict with the libre kernel deblobbing scripts upstream. This makes ACCEPT_LICENSE=”-* @FREE” unworkable, which for me was the entire reason for trying Gentoo in the first place. Any idea if that is fixed yet or if it is ever coming back to Gentoo? I got the impression from reading the bug reports that few Gentoo developers cared very much about the issue.

    Anyway, shortly after that I moved to LFS, which I really enjoy. I’ve created a set of scripts that automates and customizes the entire OS build. It gives me a level of control and customization I couldn’t find anywhere else.

  • Julius cesar

    Linux is a complete mess for color calibration of screen. Furthermore, there is no serious support for high quality printer like Epson 4900. Solve those 2 issues and a lot of photographers will migrate to Linux. Otherwise, they will stay on Windows or Mac.

  • tracyanne

    @Julius cesar

    Yes, I agree, it is way past time Epson pulled their finger and developed Epson 4900 drivers for Linux. One could almost be forgiven for assuming Epson don’t want Photographers to migrate to Linux.

    Then again maybe your prayers have been answered (and you will be able to migrate to Linux), and Epson have pulled their finger, and have developed drivers for Linux for the 4900 series printer.

    http://www.printerinstalls.com/2015/03/epson-stylus-pro-4900-driver-windows-mac-linux-download.html

  • tracyanne

    @Julius cesar

    BTW colour calibration seems to work just fine on my Ubuntu (Unity) desktop.

  • linbox

    Another item that should be listed is the capability to run Linux from disk/usb without having to instal it on your machine as well as that it can be used as an actual rescue disk to fix your broken systems.

    I’d also like to point out that:
    – you can install software in a Live session so virus removal for example, is easy.
    – you can use a live session to recover deleted files from your dead Windows PC.

    Just to name a few.