Up until a few years ago I was working away on my Windows laptop with no knowledge of the existence of Linux. The only mention of Linux was Ubuntu being on some campus computers. A few Google searches later, I had Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot (the newest version at the time) installed on my laptop and I never looked back. Here are some of the things that converted me, initially.
Linux is open source. I feel at ease knowing that all code (and its vulnerabilities) are completely exposed. Security flaws can be identified publicly and tend to get fixed rather quickly, making it difficult to write an effective virus or trojan. Spyware and backdoors cannot be hidden.
Oh, and Linux can be obtained free of charge. That’s kind of cool too.
Linux is customizable. You can use an existing desktop environment or create one from scratch. For someone less artistic such as myself, I greatly appreciate all the work that goes into making desktop environments, such as Ubuntu’s Unity and the GNOME desktop, look polished and elegant.
Linux uses less hard disk space. Ubuntu minimum requirements currently state 8 GB, which is a lot smaller than a base Windows install, and slightly smaller than a Mac OSX install (even though it’s still considered large in Linux terms). This helps with system speed in general and prolonging SSD lifetimes.
Linux doesn’t slow down over time. The Windows registry contains all the configuration information of everything on your system. For every operation, the registry is queried. The registry grows with disk space usage and it doesn’t enforce any sort of cleaning while uninstalling a program. Thus old entries are left in the registry, slowing down queries and creating a huge bottleneck.
Linux tends to use basic text files for all of its configuration data. This means even if an uninstall program left its configuration data around, it wouldn’t affect the access times of another program nearly as much, aside from taking up a few kilobytes of space.
Linux updates are easy. I’ve been using Windows for many, many, many years, and I still dread updating programs. This process consists of… let’s face it, there is no process. It consists of notifications popping up obnoxiously while you’re shooting some zombies in Left 4 Dead 2, pestering you to update and probably restart Windows too. That’s not even counting the Windows updates. No, thank you.
On Linux, updates are managed by a package manager. Notifications of updates only pop up as often as you want them to. And you update when you want to. When you finally get around to updating, you do so in one place, through the package manager, not through 20 different interfaces for 10 different programs. This might come as a shocker, but I actually look forward to updating programs in Linux!
Linux has “workspaces”. These are virtual desktops that allow you to have entirely different sets of applications open at any one time. Switching between these workspaces is extremely quick and easy. This is great for organizing your workflow while multi-tasking with many applications, especially on relatively smaller screens.
Linux has tons of great applications. This section can get technical (read: boring) quickly, so I won’t go on for too long. Linux has just about any program (or a variation of said program) you’d find on Windows or Mac OSX.
Many programs have both a graphical and command line version to cater to different needs and preferences. Depending on the task, I may feel one or the other is more efficient. For the average user, the graphical interfaces for these applications are well polished and, in my opinion, tend to be more pleasurable to use than their Windows counterparts.
Here are some examples of applications on Linux:
- Skype - video chat, available on all OSes
- Gimp - image editor, Linux only. It may not be Adobe Photoshop, but it’s a great alternative
- Plex or XBMC - media center, available on all OSes
- Dropbox - cloud storage and syncing, available on all OSes
Why not Mac OSX?
Mac OSX actually has many of the features I’ve listed above: its filesystem won’t slow down noticeably over time, updates are managed well, it has Mission Control (virtual desktops), and many open source applications are available (if only through Homebrew). On top of all that, there is OSX exclusive software that is superior for professional grade work (e.g. video editing).
So why am I not using OSX? I’m not doing any professional grade audio/video editing for one. But more importantly, even though it is possible to get many open source applications to run on OSX is not as seamless due to the Apple lockdown.
Do I use Windows?
Windows still supports more mainstream video games than, dare I say, both Mac OSX and Linux combined. For that very reason, my gaming rig runs Windows 7. However, I’m very hopeful that this will change within the next decade with the advent of SteamOS, which is essentially a stripped down Debian!
As with OSX, there are industry-standard applications (e.g. CAD software, Lync, etc.) that are only supported on Windows. This continues to give Windows leverage in the enterprise sector. Will that change? Maybe. But for now, I’m occasionally forced to use Windows in the workplace as well.
So should you try out Linux?
This post reflects why I personally use Linux. I’m not going to tell you there is no learning curve involved when picking up a new operating system. Heck, put me in front of a Mac and I’d be kind of lost myself.
The reality is, no one can tell you you should switch to Linux (or Windows, or Mac OSX), you have to try it for yourself and see if you like it. The good news is the cost of giving Linux a try is much cheaper upfront than the alternatives.