foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

11 reasons to switch to Linux

, posted: 4-Feb-2009 09:24

People like to publish top-10 lists of all sorts. And "reasons to switch to Linux" is no exception. Many of those have been published, and the latest entry is here. However, I think the author completely forgot a very important point. Also, some of the points he makes should be examined a bit more closely and critically. The comments on the original article reflect some valid and some unfounded criticism. Let me just run through those points (italics are quotes from the original 10-point list, my comments are directly below each point) and provide my own take on those:
  1. Free:  Linux is an open source project. As they say, it is free as in free beer. All you need to install Linux is an Internet connection to download the iso files and a CD where you can burn the iso. Compare this with Windows which costs a lot!

    That is of course true. It doesn't cost anything to download a GNU/Linux distro, besides whatever charges you have for bandwidth. Note also that in the case of Ubuntu you don't even need to burn your own CD. They will send you one for free if you request it. On the other hand, most users are not aware of the cost of Windows, since it comes pre-loaded with their PC and is 'just there'. Consequently, for many this is not really a reason to 'switch'. The cost advantage is only relevant if you are installing a new computer from scratch. Also, the author forgot to mention a very aspect of 'free'. See point 11 below.
  2. Linux distributions are COMPLETE: All the decent Linux distributions are complete: they include almost all the applications like office applications, pdf reader, web servers, compilers, etc. You don’t have to pay anything to download and install these applications. Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice, which is a perfect substitute for MS Office.

    Well, they may not all include them right off the bat, but you can usually install easily whatever is missing through the repository of that distro. This easy and efficient means of installing software is really one of the biggest advantages for the end-user when dealing with modern GNU/Linux distributions. While most of the high-profile FOSS software, such as OpenOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox are also available for Windows, you have this huge selection of FOSS software in the repos, with a very easy management and installation interface. I think the incredible ease of use should have been emphasised more.
  3. Virus, Spyware, Adware? None of these can affect a Linux based system. In fact, you don’t even have to install an anti-virus software which bogs down system performance in Windows.

    That is an overly optimistic statement. Of course one can write software that takes advantage of vulnerabilities even under Linux, or any other OS, really. But the commenters that complain about this assertion are also missing the point: They talk about how Linux security is based on the fact that there is less of an effort made by the malware authors to exploit Linux, due to its smaller market share. The 'less effort' part might be true, but it is not the complete picture. The Linux OS architecture is more secure and desktops apps are not normally run in admin mode. Exploiting Linux by clickable, executable email attachments is possible, but more complex and requires more steps for the user to go through. If Linux would gain significant market share, we would certainly see an increase in exploit attempts. How effective they would be, however, is another story. For the time being, though, GNU/Linux systems clearly have much less of a risk of being infected by anything than Windows machines.
  4. Low system requirements: I have a tough time running Windows XP on my system and Vista needs 1-2 GB RAM to work properly. On the other hand, Ubuntu boots and runs perfectly fast on this low configuration PC.

    Ok, let's not get carried away here. A full blown Gnome or KDE desktop will chew up a pretty astonishing amount of memory. The good thing is, however, that there are smaller, compact desktops (xfce, and others) available, which result in significantly smaller system requirements. Also, it is possible to produce distros with incredibly small footprint for embedded systems or small servers, especially if you forgo the graphical desktop. So, the correct thing to say would be that 'it is possible' to create very small footprint Linux systems. The flexibility to do so is a huge plus for Linux. But we should also admit that modern, full-blown GNU/Linux desktop distros will very happily use up gigabytes of memory as well.
  5. Much Stable: Linux is much more stable when compared with Windows. This is the reason most of the web servers are run using Linux. Forget about the blue screen of death [BSOD]!

    GNU/Linux can be very stable, especially in a server environment. I have had lockups in the graphical desktop, though. That desktop is a complex piece of software, apparently, and I find it disturbing that applications can screw it up in such a way that it locks me out. That doesn't happen often, but it has happened. The legendary reputation for stability of GNU/Linux was build in server environments. In general, the core of the OS is very stable. But while the desktop is quite good, it is not perfect. Maybe a bit more comparable to the typical Windows user experience? Your mileage may vary, though. If you don't try experimental 3D features in the desktop, or use a well-supported graphic card, or have your standard set of apps that you use every day, you may experience very good stability from the Linux desktop as well.
  6. Programming tools: If you want to learn programming, Linux is the best for you. Linux distributions come with many compilers and other tools to write and execute code. For example, I use gcc to compile C files which I write using the vi editor. I also have python IDLE installed which I use to learn programming in python.

    I can only agree here. The amount of available software development tools and languages, all for no cost at all, makes a Linux system a dream for any student of programming languages and software development. Combine that with a huge number of ready-made server packages, libraries, etc., and you can see how putting together complex, working software systems is quite a joy.
  7. Faster release cycles: Linux distributions are upgraded very fast. New versions of most Linux distributions are released once in every 6 months.

    True. It's important to point out that the improvements and updates are incremental and thus aide in the stability of the overall distro. See also what I wrote about that yesterday.
  8. Helpful community: Linux has a large fan-following. There are many forums and blogs which can help you if you have any problem. Millions of people cannot be wrong!

    Well, even millions of people can be wrong as history has shown over and over again. However, the point about the helpful community is of course a valid one. While this same community also has a problem with prick-ish elitists and fanboys, there is indeed a very large community of helpful and very nice individuals out there. And with popular distros a solution to a problem is often just a quick search away. It should also be pointed out that for those who want commercial support it is available as well through support contracts with the large Linux vendors (RedHat, Novell, Oracle, Canonical, etc.).
  9. You can run Linux along with Windows: You can run Linux along with Windows on a different partition. You can boot to Windows wherever you want. It is also possible to run Linux in Windows using emulator software like VMWare or MS Virtual PC. Likewise, it is also possible to run Windows applications in Linux using emulators like Wine (This Wine is different!).

    That's all true. Even though your mileage may vary when trying to run Windows software under Wine.
  10. A new learning experience: Install Linux on your computer and you will learn many new things. Linux does have a point and click interface, but you can use the command line or “Terminal” as it is called to completely unleash the power of Linux. This way you will learn many cool and new things.

    Yes, learning a bit about the command line and looking under the hood is a rewarding experience. GNU/Linux (and BSD and most other *nix OSs) wear their hearts on their sleeves. You can see and experience what's going on. A wonderful way to learn. But one more point: 'Linux' doesn't have a point and click interface, it's the graphical desktops you have in many distros with the point and click interface. Contrary to Windows, the desktop and the underlying OS are well separated. Linux as a server doesn't have a point and click interface. Ok, maybe I'm picky, but I think that is an important strength that shouldn't be left unmentioned: No unnecessary weight if you don't want to.
  11. Linux is truly free, as in freedom: As promised, there is at least one more point. The original article completely forgot to mention this one, which I personally think is the most important one of them all: GNU/Linux is free, as in freedom! The first point alluded to free as in beer (price) only. But I think the freedom aspect is much more important. Computers run our lives, they store our data and our most intimate secrets and communications. How can we give up control over this data to proprietary, closed software that was developed by corporations with the single, overriding motive of increasing their profits? Nothing wrong with making a profit, but the goals of those corporations are often directly opposite to our goals as consumers and users. How can we not demand complete transparency in the software that runs and manages our lives? How can we allow software that puts artificial restrictions on us to have any control over our lives and data? To put it in the words of the Free Software Foundation: Free software is the answer to a world built in code.
So, this is my comment on that most recent "10 reasons to switch to Linux" post. A bit too much enthusiasm and the most important point was forgotten. But I think the points provide a good basis at least for a more differentiated discussion.

Other related posts:
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Comment by foo, on 4-Feb-2009 11:24

Very nice post!

Comment by imchairmanm, on 4-Feb-2009 12:49

In general, I think your comments were well thought out. One thing that did bother me though was your comment about how desktop environments like KDE and Gnome require a large amount of memory. I understand where you're coming from, but I think you neglected to mention the differences in which Linux and Windows manage memory. Linux in many cases will use up much of the available memory in order to make things work better. Mostly for caching if I recall correctly (though I could be off about this). It might not necessarily need all of the memory it takes up, but it will use it if available. It follows the logic that unused memory is wasted memory. If you were to remove some of the memory from the system, it'd still be able to function well (of course, this is to a certain extent and applications and DE's do need a minimum amount of memory to function well). I guess the point I'm trying to make is that Linux allocates memory differently than Windows and while looking at the memory in use in Linux might give you an indication as to how lightweight the environment you're working in is, it doesn't necessarily speak to how well a DE will be able to perform in lower memory setups. 512 MB of memory is usually more than enough for a KDE or Gnome desktop, which is much better than anything Vista can manage.

Author's note by foobar, on 4-Feb-2009 14:00

@imchairmanm: I was thinking about that when I was writing the post, actually. However, I decided not to get into those details. On one hand I agree with you: The memory management is different. I have run full Gnome desktops on systems with 2 GB of RAM and also 512 MByte of RAM. In no time at all you are at 95% memory used in both cases, yet it just keeps working. This experience matches your description of the memory manager.

However, I also can't help but notice that there is a tendency to write more and more daemons and applets in Python and other high-level languages. If you look at the resident memory on those (not the shared portion) you find that every one of them seems to run their own Python interpreter and consequently uses a lot of unshared memory in each case. That could have been done better.

I also find it odd that X needs 100 MB of memory (300 virtual) and a couple of other things.

So, yes, the system keeps running, but I don't think it's as efficient as possible. The large memory footprints of these apps may lead to more paging, which in turn reduces the overall perceived response time on the desktop.

It could be improved.

Comment by kounryusui, on 4-Feb-2009 14:35

One important point that everyone seems to forget when praising Linux. Linux is truly international. Anyone who tried to configure his OS to support more than 3 languages a the same time should know that. Not to mention excellent Unicode support. We ain't all English speakers after all...

Comment by Daeng Bo, on 4-Feb-2009 18:15

"I also find it odd that X needs 100 MB of memory (300 virtual) and a couple of other things."

An odd thing about X came up a year or two ago on the LTSP mailing list. Thin clients were failing when running Firefox because they were running out of memory, which shouldn't have been happeneing. It turned out that Firefox stores the pixmaps uncompressed in X as cache. This is probably what causes X to use so much memory on your machine.

Comment by FanboyKiller, on 4-Feb-2009 18:18

I posted on the "original" with the same name.

The truth is that these fanboys keep on beating the same Dead Horse over and over again without any real progress. Desktop Linux(es) missed their window of opportunity. Vista is a major set back - and Desktop Linux failed to capitalize.

Here is my take:

First, somebody needs to get serious about promoting Linux the right way.

Secondly, forget about 100s of confusing choices. Make a distro with the best and full featured software only (KDE, Open Office, ...)

END USER DOCUMENTATION!!! There are only a few distributions that do provide comprehensive documentation (Getting Started Guide, Admin Guide, ...) Even CLI is not that scary if you have reliable and human readable docs.

Don't be shy about publishing hardware limitations of your distribution. You don't need to support every possible Printer/Video/Sound/Network card out there. Do your research and concentrate on HW that are the most popular (most sold) among your target audience.

Another twist: if install takes place over existing XP (or Vista), why not install a copy of Virtual Box that is setup with everything that PC had before. It should really blow first timers' mind away. You're getting this whole new OS, but yet everything you're used to is still there.

That would be just an introduction to the world of Linux...

Comment by rizwan, on 5-Feb-2009 03:18

Great list. Covers everything. I specially agree with community.

The sense of community lacks from any commercial product and it in its own is the most powerful reason to use Linux and indeed any free and open source software.

I would also add one more thing. CHOICE.

For every job you get more than one tool. You can chose one of them to suite your needs. That includes distributions, office, media players, organizers, desktop environment, and others.

Comment by Fubah, on 5-Feb-2009 07:50

The real windows of opportunity for Linux was in the 90's, Linux was in the news, and Windows at that time was hopeless.

Specifically Win95/98 had terrible memory managers and could not use above 512meg, with at that time was consider a high end machine. so if you wanted to have a computer with a gig or more and wanted to be able to use it, you needed either NT or Linux.

I ran both, linux was ok, i think i used RH7.1

These days, you cant even say Vista was a failure, its not its sold over 180 million licenses and by all accounts its stable, reliable and people like it.

Now with W7 around the corner, Linux has its work cut out for it.

The other issue is this: USERS DONT CARE about the operating system.

The only people who care about linux are people who use linux, most of the world use applications, and not the OS.

If it works if it does what they want it to do, they will use it.

Stability is another area Linux has lost out on, there is no point endlessly telling windows users there OS (which they use every day and does not crash) _CRASHES_ it is simply not the case anymore.

XP, Vista are rock solid day in day out, with almost NO effort can me made secure.

Ive been running multiple XP machines 24/7 FOR YEARS, I cant remember ever seeing them crash, NEVER.

The ONLY time ive seen XP crash was when i was tweaking CPU Clock rates. (hardware crash, not software).

Now that the price of Vista is really no more than the cost of a good quality keyboard, MS Office the same (or use OO.Org).

Linux has some real problems in gaining traction, i also not Linux market share has dropped

From 0.85% to 0.83% thats 2% market share drop, just as Windows has dropped from 90% to 88.25% just under 2% or about the same.

Those figues will change with the release of W7,

Vista is cheap, its more popular that you would like to think and a better version is just around the corner.

I like Linux, i wish its market share was much higher, i wish Linux was pushing the state of teh art and making MS lift their game.

The true winners then would be the users, who would have better produts and a better choice.

Comment by Charles Norrie, on 5-Feb-2009 23:49

This is an excellent list, well written and informative. However, it's on a Linux site, and it's probably preaching to the converted.

I was dismayed at how little publicity there was for Linux when I put 'Conficker' into Google News I could not find any replies suggesting that the answere was to install Linux. It was all patch patch and take another dose of anti-virals to keep your Windows machine clean

I'd like to suggest that we set up a 'viral' marketing campaign that spreads the good news about Linux, politely and informatively linking to articles like this one.

We can put up with the offensive stuff that those who accuse us of being Linuxfanboys sling at us.

I'm just glad I don't have their burden of maintenance to worry about

Author's note by foobar, on 6-Feb-2009 06:32

@Charles Norrie: I'm glad you liked my post. Actually, Geekzone is not much of a Linux site. There are some Linux forums here and a good number of Linux users, but most Geekzone users seem to run Windows, I believe? However, you may have gotten to my article via a link from a more Linux oriented site.

Comment by Bob, on 8-Feb-2009 18:53

The fact that the whole OS is done as an open source project is pretty amazing and I do take my hat off to the Linux community, but seriously, if you need to do some real work on a desktop PC, using Linux is like cutting one of your arms off.

So far I've found the Linux desktop only good for simple, vanilla stuff. Want a Photoshop replacement? Gimp won't cut it (no matter how much fanboys will tell you otherwise).

Need to run a Winodws only app? Wine is still a bit of a joke.

People say choice? Like you've never had choice in winodws or OSX? Even the choices available for Linux don't cut it in the real world!

Want to play games? There are only so many Tetris clones you can play before you get bored (And don't get me started with Cedega, seriously, WoW is not the pincacle of gaming).

Heck, when you need to do something which it's supposed to be doing out of the box, you still you have to tweak a config file or run some command line in oder to fix the damn thing!

So far the only people who have benefited from me trying out Linux is the aspirin companies.

Comment by billywayne, on 13-Feb-2009 03:25

yet let's not forget the #1 NOT to switch to Linux: it's a time vampire.

@Charles Norrie: actually all that needed to be done to defeat Conficker was to keep windows up to date. And you're suggesting that people who don't even know how to keep windows up to date should switch to linux?

Comment by BbbbbumBum, on 1-Mar-2009 13:23

Point 1: You don't even get Windows install cds with your puters anymore only a mirror of your original harddrive. I took a chance on Linux after my original harddrive crashed. Unbuntu is so easy to install compare to a few years ago. I thought I would had difficulties installing it on a laptop.

The only software I need to use on windows is utorrent and that went really well under WINE.

Comment by sean, on 17-Aug-2011 15:37

Old bump on a still very relevant topic!

Now that windows 7 has been out for awhile now, I like windows less and less. Sure the areo thing is nice and its more polished, organic, vibrant, sexier, fluid and all of those other buzz words that mean little, but I prefer linux more and more each day. Its not the operating system that I'm disliking, its the people who use it and the administrators that insist that it is necessary in their environment. These administrators don't want to think outside the microsoft server/client environment and save their companies money so they spend loads of money on microsoft licenses and microsoft certified hardware. Why is ms exchange still around? Exim is very reliable, and there's a new thing called zimbra that's open source and allows for webmail.

Open source, to me, is the ability to expand your horizon and decrease the bottom line. Open source allows the endless possibilities to getting things done with technology and not being hampered with things like DRM and licensing restrictions.

There are hundreds of available linux distros available for free for anyone to load on their system and try. Microsoft has XP, vista, and 7. Apple has a few but they pretty much look identical to subsequent releases, imo.

I honestly don't think Linux needs to promote itself, people will find it by the word of mouth and have been since the early 1990's. Just because said product, like the iphone, has a lot of marketing money spent on it, doesn't make it the best choice. Why not let the end user be educated enough to make their own mind up?
I think the ability for the end user to choose their own distribution is what makes it better than anything commercial, so as I said above, the abundance of linux OS' is something great. Hell, coca-cola makes many, many varieties of the same damn drink and none of them appeal to me, nor does any soda.

It is my belief that if adobe would release the source for something like photoshop, there would be an alternative that could be better than the $USD700 but since each copy of their software can generate that much money, it is very unlikely they would ever consider doing something like that. I understand companies need to make money but by having software like this so expensive it will keep it out of the hands of many people who could use it in a very humanitarian way, and therefore, some resort to downloading full copies of software like this for free.
Its also my belief that if apple would release the source code for final cut pro, there would be a very reliable, excellent video editing software available on the linux platform. Again, companies need to make money but they also need to consider open source as something that can BENEFIT and not harm their company. These companies could do SUPPORT, real support, for open source programs and still do very well. Instead they would rather write a cumbersome program and start a forum for all the other confused people to post to.

Open source is the ability and the right to choose, not the restrictions and regulations seen in other the other OS'.

Comment by Marek, on 21-Dec-2012 05:48

Those I reasons why I switched to linux

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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