Why I Use Linux

As I've mentioned in a previous Linux Line post, I am not a programmer. Yet Linux is built on the philosophical principle of freely sharing source code. This is how those who create Linux frequently advocate it.

But if I'm not a programmer, and source code therefore means little to me, why do I use Linux? Why do I spend much of my time suggesting others use it? Is it just because it's available fore free? (Spoiler: No.) These are interesting questions that are not discussed very often.

I list my personal reasons for using Linux below. Some are downright practical, while others are more philosophical. I invite you to post your own reasons for using Linux in the comments below.

On the other hand, if you're one of those teetering on the brink of switching to Linux, reading this list might be a good place to start, and you may find some inspiration to make the leap (if you are a Linux beginner, you might also consider getting a copy of my free-of-charge book too).

Control over my system

I have the freedom to do what I want with Linux. Crucially, there's no "right way" or "wrong way" of doing things (although there are sensible and efficient ways of doing things, of course). In the Linux community, you'll never hear somebody say, "Hey! You're not supposed to do that!" or, "Serves you right for doing it the wrong way!" Instead, what you're more likely to hear is, "Hey! I didn't know you could do that! That's cool!" Innovative solutions are encouraged. Feel free to explore.

This freedom extends to my choice of software too. If I don't like a particular piece of software, I can use an alternative. This is true even of desktop or system components, which in Windows and Mac OS X are considered set in stone. I can even run Linux without the Linux kernel if I want to!

Here's an example of why this kind of freedom is good. When using Ubuntu on my netbook, I bypass the built-in Network Manager program that configures wifi, and configure the network manually. Put simply, this lets me get online straight away after waking the netbook from suspend. But if I did this kind of tweak under Windows, people would point out that it's somehow "wrong". You should do things the way Microsoft tell you to! Get back into line, soldier! Under Linux, I can do what the hell I want, and nobody will ever tell me otherwise. That's not just how I roll. That's how it is with Linux.

Linux is on my side

This is related to the point above but deserves a heading of its own. Linux will never embrace digital rights management. DRM is philosophical anathema to every single Linux user and developer. This means that, unlike with Windows Vista, the internal plumbing of the operating system won't deactivate certain hardware features, so that I can't playback movies using certain types of monitors. In fact, I can rest assured that Linux will always be diametrically opposed to all kinds of restrictive hardware or software policies, both now and in the future. My PDF reader, for example, includes an option to bypass any kind of DRM protection built into documents.

Community

All operating systems tend to generate communities around them, but the community around Linux is proactive, rather than passive. What do I mean? Well, a typical posting in a Windows community forum might be something like this: "Hey! Feature X doesn't work as it should! This sucks! I sure hope Microsoft fixes it soon!" The same posting in a Linux forum is more likely to be like this: "Hey! Feature X doesn't work as it should! Here's a solution..." Not only that but, in the reply, there will be several other solutions from other people, or the original solution will be improved by others. Not only that but a developer might read the posting and offer a tweak for the original program, or even start his/her alternative project.

People in the Linux community share what they know. This is the whole damn point. Linux is based on the fundamental concept that knowledge wants to be free. Personally, I think this is awe-inspiring, not least because Linux brings out the very best in people.

What this also means that, if you solve a problem and take just a few moments to share it, you're making Linux stronger. You are both a user and a contributor.

Virus-Free

This is a very practical reason for liking Linux, but no less valid: When using Linux, I don't have to worry about viruses. Viruses are an ever-present threat with Windows--a kind of terrorism for computers.

I won't go as far as to say there are no viruses for Linux, but I'm fairly certain that there are no viruses in active circulation. Any that arise tend to die out quickly, simply because it's much harder to infect a Linux system due to the way it's built.

In addition, there's a secret here that's rarely discussed: The kind of people who create viruses respect and like Linux. They don't want to damage it, either in practical terms, or by damaging its reputation. There's also the fact that Linux is still a minority operating system, and virus writers tend to target the big fishes in the pond.

The lack of viruses means I don't have to have an annoying antivirus program installed on my computer. There are no irritating pop-ups from the virus checker telling me it's doing a good job, and no daily/weekly scans rendering my computer almost unusable. (IMHO nearly all antivirus programs on Windows are almost as bad as the viruses they claim to protect the user from.)

Fast Development

Things move quickly in the world of open source, and I like this. With my particular favorite flavor of Linux, Ubuntu, I get a new release every six months. I don't have to wait a couple of years. Ubuntu is particularly aggressive in its release cycle, but--with a handful of notable exceptions--it's rare for other distros to take more than 12 months to make a new release.

What this means is that I get the latest and greatest software that's on offer. I can ride the wave of the very latest technology. Because the updates are gradual, rather than step-changes, the actual process of updating is much easier than you might expect it to be.

It's Free Of Charge

This is another very practical reason, but it really can't be underestimated. Linux doesn't cost anything, and everybody in the world therefore has access to it. Who can argue with that?

Keir Thomas is the award-winning author of several books on Ubuntu, including Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference.

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