The Fear of Using Windows – Part 3: Windows Alternative: Linux

In the last entry of this series, I discussed the true cost of owning a Windows-based computer.  Although the one-time upfront fee may sound like a great deal, in order to keep your computer running for years to come, you must invest a large amount of time, money and effort.

In this entry, I would like to discuss an alternative to the Windows operating system: Linux.

Tux - The Linux Mascot

Linux is a free and open source alternative operating system that works on just about any hardware.  Many things in our lives are driven by Linux, unbeknownst to the average modern citizen.

The initial appeal of using Linux as an operating system is its price tag – $0.  In this modern world, we are often accustomed to paying hundreds of dollars for our operating systems, and all of the software that we need in order to get our work done.

Using Linux as your operating system puts a whole new world of free software at your fingertips.  Just about any possible software solution you own or need to own in order to get your work done, there is a free equivalent available for Linux.

Pros

Let’s talk specifically about the pros that Linux should flaunt as potential crossover points for future switchers.

Price
Like I previously stated, Linux is free.  Earlier I talked about people who wanted to buy a very cheap laptop or desktop computer, and are finding that in using Windows for only a short time, it becomes a pricey piece of software.

A user could buy the exact same computer and install Linux on it free of charge, and be presented with a working system with an over-abundance of free software to fit every situation.

No Viruses
Linux, unlike Windows, does not get viruses.  No spyware, adware or malware of any kind.  An average user could go to town installing free software and visiting unsavoury websites with no dire consequences.

Stability
Linux is rock solid.

On a Windows machine, it is not unlikely that you will have to restart it once a day, or else face strange consequences in the form of crashes, bugs and memory hogging programs.

Linux, on the other hand can stay on for days, weeks, months–even years–without the need of a restart.  This is incredibly impressive, and it also gives the user a bit more freedom when it comes to whether or not they need to remember to turn off or restart their computer regularly.

Low Footprint
I mentioned before that Linux runs on just about any hardware.  I wasn’t exaggerating.  Linux is the best modern operating system out there to run on some commodity or aged hardware that you have lying around.

Say Grandma needs a computer to check her email occasionally, and doesn’t want to deal with any of the many things that could go wrong.  A small, modest computer running Linux would never need to be turned off, restarted, and could be completely self-sufficient with a web browser or email client running 24×7.

Customizability
Linux provides the most customizable user experience of any operating system out there.  The user has the right to even change the underlying source code.

Every piece of the interface can be tweaked behaviorally and visually, giving each Linux install its own flair.

Beauty
Linux is by far the most beautiful operating system on the face of the planet.  Though it may not be perfect by default, the amount of customization that a user can put into their Linux installation is phenomenal.  Check out the images below to see what I mean.

Also, if you’ve never seen compiz fusion in action, take a look at this video:

Compiz Fusion: A Quick Demonstration from Gavin Langdon on Vimeo.

Support
There is a vast support network available online.  If you have an issue with Linux, simply type what your problem is into Google, and you will find thousands of forum answers to help you out.

Cons

Every great thing has its cons.  I always praise Linux for being the messiah in my life, but the truth is, it also has a dark side.

Relative Complexity
To the average user, Linux is a complex animal.  Though the core concepts are deeply routed in solid logic, the average user doesn’t want to have to think logically in order to use and maintain a computer.

For example, if there is an error relating to video card drivers, or there were updates that the user installed which broke some compatibilities between packages, the error messages can seem cryptic, and in the case of the video drivers, the user may be kicked back to a command line interface.

Software Compatibility
A lot of users would want to pop their Microsoft Office CDs in and expect it to install and work without issue.  Though the projects aimed at allowing you to do just that have made major strides in the past few years, the truth is the functionality just isn’t quite there.

This leaves the user with a multitude of open source options.  The only problem with this is that users don’t want to learn something new in order to do the same work, they fear change and shall keep their bushes.

Learning Curve
It is true that going from a Windows-based system to a *nix system can be a bit daunting at first.  Although things are drastically improving with projects like Ubuntu and gOS, it still remains that Linux tends to be an operating system more for technical users than your average grandma.

Lack of Consumer-Quality Applications
Open source applications are wonderful, and their price tags are at the proper level, but the major players in the software market (i.e. Adobe, Microsoft, Apple) just aren’t supporting the platform to an extreme degree.

Though some people would view the introduction of commercial applications as a bad thing for Linux, the general computer user would think just the opposite.  In fact, if these major companies were to support Linux as a platform, migration to Linux may be positively impacted, as users seeking a higher-end experience would have new alternatives to choose from.

Final Thoughts

As much as I hate to say it, I cannot recommend Linux as an everyday platform for the average user.  On the other hand, anyone who is of a technical orientation would enjoy their time with Linux thoroughly, and I cannot recommend the experience more.

The open source software alternatives to the big expensive applications that draw users to certain platforms just are not quite true contenders.  Though the price tag may be encouraging to the average user, the fact is that there is no true alternative to the AAA software titles such as Photoshop and GarageBand.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I discuss the Pros and Cons of Mac OS X.

  • Steve Robinett

    Most excellent! Concise and balanced. I think I’ll post a link on my course websites.