Linux, a habbit or a cult?

It's no secret that i'm a Linux user. Most of my blog traffic is to Linux related pages. But what makes someone prefer Linux over Windows or Mac? I've debated this with colleagues on many occasions, and there is no clear answer, but there are many outcomes of these debates. Most people i know are Windows users, their main reason being for gaming. Since i work in the gaming industry, this should be no surprise, but with the mass movement toward consoles and away from pc as a gaming platform, the reasons for sticking with Windows are slowly falling. Projects like Wine assist gamers who prefer a free OS, and are only getting better. Why do people who use Linux daily struggle to work on another OS? What is it about Linux systems that make people prefer them. Here's what i've come up with:

  1. Responsiveness: It's hard to describe. At work we started using Macs as we have had a Mac based project to work on. After about a month of not using a single PC running Windows, i booted onto the Windows partition on my laptop ( to check something ) and was swearing within seconds. Desktop was loaded, but i couldn't do anything. Everything i clicked on had to wait for some other process to complete. Everytime i loaded something new i was forced to wait for my application to become responsive. Mac and Linux don't suffer from this. On several occasions that i have had an unresponsive application, i will just often leave it to run in the background while it recovers/dies, and continue work. Unless it's a core process, it doesn't bother me if an app slows down.
  2. Kill: It works. In Windows XP, the End Task is a horrible failure. Yes, there are applications which are a must, like SysInternals Process Manager, that allow an instant kill, but i like an OS that does it without addons. Mac is almost as bad, with its persistent applications, it's sometimes impossible to to kill something properly, and the Kill Application window is still something that needs to be launched. Which brings me to my next point...
  3.  Command Line: I'm far from a hardcore command line user. In fact, if there is a graphical tool for something i'd much rather use it than the command line version. I've written less than 10 bash scripts in 10 years of Linux usage. But i can't live without it. As a programmer and "technical" user of any device, i need that immediate control. In Linux i can kill an application from the command line. This is useful when i've run a buggy fullscreen opengl application ( normally my own ). Just hit Ctrl + Alt + F1 and i have a terminal with which i can kill my rogue app. And almost every core Linux app has command line options, which makes it an OS that doesn't need a graphical server, so if you know what you're doing, you can fix almost any problem without reinstall. Leading me to number 4...
  4. Modularity: I can add and remove almost any part of the OS, excepting the Kernel. A common mistake which has become daily lingo, is what Linux means. Linux is the Kernel. Nothing more. And that's all it needs to be. I can add and remove features as i please. I can change my desktop manager ( KDE, Gnome, XFCE, etc ). I can decide to write my own display manager to use instead of X.org. Almost all of the components above the kernel level can be changed, making it the much more flexible and giving immense choice. This also raises awareness about different products, and allows users to experiment with what they think is best.
  5. Freedom: Beer and Speech. I've never actually bought Windows. I've got it with PCs, or used it at work on licensed PCs, but not once have i walked into a shop and payed for it. And nor would i. The benefits of a commercial OS don't warrant the cost. The only thing that i can do extra, is play some games that don't work on my consoles or through Wine. There are no killer apps for me. In my opinion ( merely speculation ), most people use Windows for 2 reasons. They don't pay for it directly and they don't install it themselves. If people had to walk into a shop and buy a copy of Windows to install on their new PC, there would be a lot more complaints about how complicated it is. The biggest hurdle for Linux, is getting it onto PCs, and so the installation process is greatly simplified, much more so than Windows. Apple have completely thrown this issue out of the door by making the hardware they run the OS on, so you will never have to install the OS. Downloading and installing Linux is one of the freedoms of using it. I'm not tied to anything, i can change distribution and still keep my app settings. I can download and install a new distro every 4 hours if i want. I don't have to consider cost, and i'm not infringing on any intellectual property. I can also change my software without thinking about what it means. Everything i have on my install is free, so i don't have to think about getting that image editor at the store, or paying for that expensive office suite. Furthermore, as a technical user, i can see all the configuration files, and source code, and change it to my liking. There is no EULA or restrictive license holding me back from doing this, and no matter what i do on my OS, i don't have to worry about breaking the law. That's freedom.

Yes, Linux has its disadvantages. Driver support is a real conundrum, since the kernel supports more devices than any other OS, however the devices it doesn't support are big sellers. With more preinstalled Linux distros and more big companies like Novell and Canonical pumping money into driver development, this problem is slowly going away. There are also apps which people class as killer apps, mostly games. With Wine, Photoshop and Microsoft Office will work, so those are no longer issues, and in my opinion, the free alternatives such as Gimp are just as good if not better in some ways. Slowly these killer apps are falling away, and preinstalled Linux on netbooks is showing that Linux is desktop ready.

1 comment:

  1. I think point five is where a Linux user is made. It is about freedom. I am often amazed that ordinary people will not think twice about using a pirate copy of expensive software because they perceive it as the "best". How many would use Photoshop if they actually had to pay for it.

    Linux is not about getting something for nothing or even morals, but the freedom to do what you want with your computer and the satisfaction of doing most anything without resorting to piracy. This is why not everyone will use Linux, so many just don't care. I am happy to swap parts around mine and my family's computers without bothering with activation and reinstallion triggered by adding another ram stick.

    The best thing that could ever happen to Linux would be a true and draconian crackdown of software piracy, them more people would appreciate the true meaning of software freedom.