WHY LINUX IS BETTER I part


Forget about viruses.

If your computer shuts itself down without asking you, if strange windows with text you don’t understand and all kinds of advertisements appear when you don’t ask for them, if emails get sent to all your contacts without your knowing it, then your computer probably has a virus. The main reason for this is because it runs Windows.

Linux hardly has any viruses. And that’s not like “Oh well, not very often, you know”. That’s like “If you’ve ever heard of a real Linux virus, please tell me”. Of course, a Linux virus is not impossible to get. However, Linux makes it very hard for this to happen, for several reasons:

  • Most people use Microsoft Windows, and pirates want to do as much damage (or control) as possible: therefore, they target Windows. But that’s not the only reason; the Apache web server (a web server is a program located on a remote computer that sends web pages to your browser when you ask for them), which is open source software, has the biggest market share (against Microsoft’s IIS server), but it still suffers from much fewer attacks/flaws than the Microsoft one.
  • Linux uses smart authorization management. In Windows you (and any program you install) usually have the right to do pretty much anything to the system. If you feel like punishing your PC because it just let your precious work disappear, you can go inside the system folder and delete whatever you want: Windows won’t complain. Of course, the next time you reboot, trouble begins. But imagine that if you can delete this system stuff, other programs can, too, or just mess it up. Linux doesn’t allow that. Every time you request to do something that has to do with the system, an administrator password is required (and if you’re not an administrator on this system, you simply can’t do it). Viruses can’t just go around and delete or modify what they want in the system; they don’t have the authorization for that.
  • More eyes make fewer security flaws. Linux is Open source software, which means that any programmer in the world can have a look at the code (the “recipe” of any program), and help out, or just tell other developers “Hey, what if blah blah, isn’t this a security flaw?”.

Is your system unstable?

Have you ever lost your precious work because Windows crashed? Do you always shut down your computer the proper way, or do you sometimes just switch it off because Windows has gone crazy and doesn’t let you do anything anymore? Have you ever gotten the “blue screen of death” or error messages telling you that the computer needs to be shut down for obscure reasons?

The latest versions of Windows, especially the “Professional” ones are becoming more stable than before. Nevertheless this kind of problem still happens fairly often.

Of course, no operating system is perfect, and people who tell you that theirs can never ever crash are lying. However, some operating systems can be so stable that most users never see their systems crash, even after several years. This is true for Linux. Here’s a good way to see this. When a system crashes, it needs to be shut down or restarted. Therefore, if your computer can stay up and running for a long time, no matter how much you use it, then you can say the system is stable. Well, Linux can run for years without needing to be restarted (most internet servers run Linux, and they usually never restart). Of course, with heavy updates, it still needs to be restarted (the proper way). But if you install Linux, and then use your system as much as you want, leaving your computer on all the time, you can go on like that for years without having any trouble.

Most of the time, you won’t leave your computer on for such a long time, but this shows how stable Linux is.

Linux protects your computer

Viruses, trojans, adware, spyware… Windows lets all these enter your computer pretty easily. The average period of time before a Windows PC (connected to the Internet and with a default “Service Pack 2” installation) gets infected is 40 minutes (and it sometimes takes as little time as 30 seconds).

So you can either 1) install a firewall, 2) install an antivrus program, 3) install an anti-adware program, 4) get rid of Internet Explorer and Outlook (replacing them with Firefox and Thunderbird), and 5) pray that pirates aren’t smart enough to overcome these protections and that, if a security flaw is discovered, Microsoft will take less than a month to make an update available (and this doesn’t happen very often). Or you can install Linux and sleep soundly from now on.

As we have already said in the “virus” section, Open Source software (e.g. Linux) means more eyes to check the code. Every programmer on Planet Earth can download the code, have a look, and see whether it might have security flaws. On the other hand, the only people allowed to look at the Windows source code (its “recipe”) are people working for Microsoft. That’s hundreds of thousands of people (maybe millions) versus a few thousand. That makes a big difference.

But actually, it isn’t exactly a matter of how many flaws a system has, compared to the others. If there are many flaws, but nobody has discovered them yet (including pirates), or they are minor (they don’t compromise an important part of the system), pirates won’t be able to do great damage. It is really a matter of how fast a security flaw can be solved once it has been discovered. If a security flaw is discovered in an open source program, anyone in the open source community can have a look and help solve it. The solution (and the update) usually appears within a few days, sometimes even a few hours. Microsoft doesn’t have that much manpower, and usually releases security patches within about a month after the flaw has been discovered (and sometimes published): that’s more than enough for pirates to do whatever they want with your computer.

Don’t pay $100 for your operating system

(And don’t copy them illegally)

You’re probably saying to yourself : “Oh, I didn’t pay for Windows”. Are you absolutely sure ? If your computer came with a copy of Windows, then you paid for it, even if the store didn’t tell you about that. The price for a Windows license amounts to an average of one fourth of each new computer’s price. So unless you obtained Windows illegally, you probably paid for it. Where do you think Microsoft gets its money from?

On the other hand, you can get Linux completely free of charge. That’s right, all these guys all around the world worked very hard to make a neat, secure, efficient, good-looking system, and they are giving their work away for everybody to use freely (if you wonder why these guys do such things, drop me an email and I’ll try to explain the best I can🙂 ). Of course, some companies are making good business by selling support, documentation, hotline, etc., for their own version of Linux, and this is certainly a good thing. But most of the time, you won’t need to pay a cent.

Freedom!

Linux and “Open Source” software are “free”. This means their license is a “free license”, and the most common is the GPL (General Public License). This license states that anyone is allowed to copy the software, see the source code (the “recipe”), modify it, and redistribute it as long as it remains licensed with the GPL.

So what do you care about freedom? Imagine that Microsoft disappears tomorrow (okay, that’s not very likely, but what about in 5 years, 10 years?). Or imagine it suddenly triples the price for a Windows or Office license. If you’re tied to Windows, there’s nothing you can do. You (or your business) relies on this one company, on its software, and you can’t possibly make things work without it (what good is a computer without an operating system?). Isn’t that a serious problem? You’re depending on one single company and trusting it wholeheartedly to let something so important nowadays as your computers work the way they should. If Microsoft decides to charge $1000 for the next version of Windows, there’s nothing you can do about it (except switch to Linux, of course). If Windows has a bug that bothers you very much and Microsoft won’t fix it, there’s nothing you can do (and submitting bugs to Microsoft isn’t that easy, see the “Report bugs” section).

With Open Source, if a particular project or support company dies, all the code remains open to the community and people can keep improving it. If this project is especially useful to you, you can even do this yourself. If a particular bug annoys you, you can submit it, talk with the developers, but even better, you can fix it yourself (or hire someone to do so), and send the changes back to the upstream developers so that everyone gets the improvement as well. You’re free to do (nearly) whatever you want with the software.

When the system has installed, why would you still need to install stuff?

Installing Windows is just the beginning. Imagine you just installed your brand new copy of Windows 7 and prepare to unleash your computer skills. A friend sends you an email with an attached PDF file : damn, you don’t have a program to read it. You need to go online, search for a website that will let you download Adobe Reader (or another PDF viewer), download it, install it, maybe even reboot. Whew, all right, now you’re all set. Attached to your friend’s email you find a text document, file.doc. Your Windows can’t read that either, right now: great. Either you go buy your copy of Microsoft Office, or you just download OpenOffice, but still, you need to find it, download it (let’s hope you have a broadband connection), install it, etc. Your friend also sent you an image, but it has a bad contrast, bad luminosity, and needs a good crop. So you can now go and buy Photoshop (how many hundred bucks is that again?), or download the GIMP (this is the name of the free program that can do nearly as much as Photoshop) : search, download, install, etc. That’s enough : you get the idea, Windows is far from complete, and installing it is just the beginning of trouble.

When you get Linux (such as Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, etc., these are different “flavors” of Linux), you also get, without installing anything more :

  • Everything you need to write texts, edit spreadsheets, make neat presentations, draw, edit equations.
  • A web browser (eg Firefox) and an email program (eg Thunderbird, or Evolution).
  • An image editor (GIMP) nearly as powerful as Photoshop.
  • An instant messenger.
  • A movie player.
  • A music player and organizer.
  • A PDF reader.
  • Everything you need to uncompress archives (ZIP, etc.).
  • etc.

You can just start working right away.

Forget about drivers

New pieces of hardware, even the simplest kind, usually come with a CD. On the CD, a very small piece of software called a “driver”. If you read the instructions manual, you’ll know that the hardware won’t work on a Windows computer until you install the driver. If you’re like most people and do not read the manual, then you’ll probably figure it out yourself when you see your new high-tech gizmo doesn’t work out of the box.

Insert CD, click on installation wizard, wait, eject CD, reboot computer.

If you bought the hardware a while ago and are re-using it on another computer, you’ll probably want to forget about the CD and fetch the latest version of the driver from the manufacturer’s website. Which can take quite a bit of time, given how, huh, let’s say strangely organized some manufacturers’ web sites are.

Okay, now that’s only one piece of hardware. Now imagine you want to install Windows on a whole new, untouched, computer. For each little piece of hardware you’ll have to find the latest driver (or use a CD), install it, and reboot from time to time. Video card, sound card, keyboard, mouse, motherboard chipset, etc. (better do the video card driver first or you’re stuck with your high-end screen showing a very low resolution mode). And that comes after an already rather long installation of Windows itself.

Linux doesn’t need separate drivers. All the drivers are already included in the Linux kernel, the core of the system, and that comes with every single Linux installation. This means:

  • very fast and standalone installation process. Once you’re done, you have everything you need to start working (including the software you’ll be using, see “When the system has installed…” item on this website).
  • Out-of-the-box ready peripherals.
  • Less harm for the planet because all these CDs don’t need to come with hardware any more (well, at least once Windows don’t need them either…).

Update all your software with a single click.

Windows has a pretty convenient tool called “Windows update”, which allows you to update your system with the latest updates available.

But what about all your non-Microsoft software? Adobe applications? ZIP compresser? Burning program? Non-Microsoft web browsers and email clients, etc.? You need to update all of them, one by one. And that takes time, since each one of them has its own (auto-)updating system.

Linux has a central place called the “Package manager”, which takes care of everything installed on your system, but also every single piece of software your computer has. So if you want to keep everything up-to-date, the only thing you need to do is press the “Install Updates” button down there :

Why copy software illegally if you can get it for free?

So, you’re perfectly clean, you have *cough* purchased a license for all the software you’ve ever used *cough*, and nobody can bother you about this? Well, if that’s the case, congratulations🙂

However, for most people, let’s be honest, illegally copied software is very common. Copying Adobe Photoshop instead of buying it probably doesn’t let you have nightmares. But are you really confident that you won’t ever have trouble for that? Not so sure, huh… Software makers are progressing and finding more and more ways to track down illegal owners, and since more and more people tend to have broadband (permanent) connections, they might add an online functionality on the software that will control and verify your copy each time you launch it.

If you run Linux and install free software, you won’t have to worry about this ever again! Most of free (as in free speech) software is free (as in free beer). You can find a free replacement for most of the commercial software out there. They might lack some of the advanced functionality, but they’ll be more than enough for most people. Here’s a list of some commercial software, and their open source equivalents :

Commercial Open source Exists on Windows?
Adobe Illustrator (~$500) Inkscape Yes
Adobe InDesign (~$700) Scribus Yes
Adobe Photoshop (~$600) The GIMP Yes
Adobe Premiere (~$800) Kino, Cinelerra No
Adobe Reader (free) Evince, Kpdf, GV Yes
Apple iTunes (free) AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Banshee No
Autodesk 3ds Max (~$3500) Blender Yes
Autodesk Maya (~$7000) Blender Yes
Kazaa (free) aMule, eMule Yes
Microsoft Excel (~$200) OpenOffice Spreadsheet Yes
Microsoft Internet Explorer (free) Firefox, Konqueror Yes
Microsoft Office (~$400) OpenOffice Yes
Microsoft Windows Mail (free) Thunderbird, Evolution, KMail Yes
Microsoft Powerpoint (~$200) OpenOffice Presentation Yes
Microsoft Windows Media Player (free) Mplayer, VLC, Totem, Kaffeine, Xine Yes
Microsoft Word (~$200) OpenOffice Word Processor Yes
Microsoft Windows Messenger (free) Pidgin, Kopete, aMSN Yes
Nero (~$100) K3b, Gnomebaker No
Palm Desktop (free) Gnome-Pilot, KPilot No
Quark XPress (~$800) Scribus Yes
QuickTime Player (free) Mplayer, VLC, Totem, Kaffeine, Xine Yes
Winamp (free) AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Banshee No

Need new software? Don’t bother searching the web, Linux gets it for you.

If you want to check out a new piece of software in Windows, you’ll need to:

  1. Search the web to find which piece of software suits your needs.
  2. Find a web site that allows you to download it.
  3. Maybe pay for it.
  4. Actually download the software.
  5. Install it.
  6. Sometimes reboot your computer.

Whew, that’s a lot of work to just try out something new!

With Linux, everything is much simpler. Linux has what is called a “package manager”: each piece of software is contained in its own “package”. If you need some new software, just open the package manager, type a few keywords, choose which software you want to install and press “Apply” or “OK”. Or you can just browse existing software (that’s a lot of choice!) in categories.

So one: no more surfing. Two: no more downloading and installing software yourself. Three: more time to actually try out the software.

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