So what does Linux actually offer me then?
So, you now know that Linux is a Unix-like operating system, and you know what all that means now. However, that doesn’t really tell you why you would prefer to use Linux, instead of Windows or Mac OS on your computer. In this chapter, we will discuss just a few of the benefits of Linux. Not that it really needs selling! It’s free and it’ll make your computing life a whole lot better!
Linux is far more than a Unix-like operating system and is pretty unique because of its licensing system. Enter ‘Open Source’:
Linux is an Open Source Operating System (oh, and it’s free too!)
What exactly do you mean by ‘Open Source’?
- Free of charge – The open source GNU General Public License (GPL) that Linux uses means that you can obtain the software free of charge, and you can obtain the source code to the software and make changes to it if you want. You can then re-distribute it if you like, provided you supply the source code with your changes too.
- Software stability – Open standards provoke less buggy software because it is worked on by a global team of developers from many far reaching backgrounds.
- Universal Compatibility – Open standards also mean that compatibility across any other platform. For example, you can be sure that an open source OGG audio file will play on any OGG player in exactly the same way, because the open standard applies throughout.
- No lock-in – Open Source software means no vendor lock-in.
- Open, trustworthy computing – as the source code for all software is distributed for free, often with the applications you obtain. Imagine buying a car, and peering under the hood to find a black box that was completely unserviceable by you or your local mechanic. Imagine that it has to be updated/improved upon or fixed by a single garage who charge you extortionate amounts of money. Open source lets you in at the whole engine and allows anyone to work on improving the software.
- Continual Popularity – No chance of Linux as a whole going out of business, as it is not owned by any one company. Linux has been growing on the server and desktop market exponentially since the early 1990s.
- Did we mention that Open Source software is generally FREE in cost? 🙂
This means that software can be of high quality for everyone, and money can be made out of support, distribution, training or working with open source software.
It’s a revolutionary change in the way we perceive software and do business, however huge names like IBM, HP and Intel and even non IT firms such as Boeing, Glaxo Smithkline and thousands more are all using Open Source and Linux. Some of them are even putting work back into it.
Give your old hardware a new lease of life
Linux is fast and works on computers that are pretty old. You’ll be amazed at just what sort of old machines you can get to work on Linux. Even a 20 year old PC could be put to use as a router or basic firewall, for example. If you have an old PC or laptop kicking around your house and you think it’s slow old junk, you’ll be amazed at how much it can do, just by wiping off Windows and starting fresh with Linux!
Google’s Android mobile platform is a Linux variant, and because it runs on mobile devices, it needs to run in a small memory and CPU footprint. Linux is very good at running on the most modest of hardware, including that which has low power requirements. This was one of the main reasons Linux was the obvious choice for Google when they made Android. When Apple built macOS and iOS, they too didn’t hesitate to choose a Linux-like core from a system called BSD Unix.
Security and privacy is built in by default
Security is baked in at the heart of a Linux operating system:
- Permissions and jails means that only the users that should be accessing data should be able to get at it.
- Each Linux distro also includes a firewall by default and there are literally thousands of other applications and ways to secure your machine even further.
- The Linux community is built up mainly by people who prefer open source and digital freedom. They don’t often like having software that’s made to reveal your secrets or information to the highest bidder on the Internet.
- Finally, although not necessarily a security feature, because Linux desktop users represent only 0.6% of the desktop user market, they are not generally targeted by hackers and opportunists – much easier to go for the billions of Windows users out there!
Customisation and modification galore
If you are one of those sort of people that love to tinker with things, to make something appear, or work in a particular way that you want it, Linux allows you to go crazy. There literally not one element of your desktop that cannot be completely customised to a manner that you like. For example, I find it quickest for me to work without a Mouse. My work laptop almost never needs me to remove my hands from the keyboard to use the mouse. I use a window manager called i3 to make this happen, it’s very bare bones and has a tiny memory footprint so it’s fast. Other users may be simply be content in changing their desktop wallpapers, icons and themes. Whatever you want to customise, there’s an app or a tool for that!
Some of the greatest software comes from Linux and Open Source
Linux is home to some of the best new software, and best of all, most of it is free. Installation is a snap these days just by clicking on an icon in the ‘Software Center’ and installing it from a banquets worth of great apps. In Chapter 7 we have a detailed look at some of the fantastic apps out there for Linux, but have a look at just a few of these great titles for starters:
A fully featured Office suite including a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Drawing Package, Database and Presentation suite. Compatible with Microsoft Office.
The browser that reloaded the web – all thanks to Open Source! Most other popular web browsers (including Google’s Chrome browser) is also available for Linux.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Project)
An excellent open source image editor, similar to Photoshop by Adobe. Used to edit many of the images on this website!
A great media player, play your DVDs/VCDs/DiVX’s on any computer, even stream them to another computer connected to a network! VLC is one of the most popular media players available today, and it’s also available for Mac OS X and Windows users, too!
Evolution (and Thunderbird).
Evolution is a full-featured Groupware client which includes E-Mail, Calendar, Tasks, Address Books and the ability to connect to a Microsoft Exchange mail server.
Thunderbird is a very popular email client which was created for use by the Mozilla Foundation.
Games on Linux? Really!?!
Yep, you read it right! Pacman isn’t just the only game Linux does any more! Steam and SteamOS are de facto Linux platforms now, literally thousands of the games available for Windows/Mac are available on Steam for Linux and whats more, they are usually released around the same date as their Windows counterparts.
And there’s more!…
Those are just some of the titles that you may end up using all the time, however there are literally hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from. Most of them are completely free of charge. Why not have a sneek peek at Chapter 7 to see more of the most popular titles.
Drivers by default
Yes! Out of the box device drivers!
I’m not going to say that there is plug and play availability for absolutely every device out there, but in general, most of the devices you can get today, be they wireless adapters, webcams, graphics cards, printers and scanners, they are very often plug and play. Downloading drivers from the Internet when you buy a new printer on your Windows PC just seems so painful. Forget that, Linux did!
How can this make any sense, does anyone make any money?
You might think that as Linux and the associated open source titles that go with it are free in cost and also free ‘as in speech’ that this means that there is no money to be had from Linux. Indeed, many companies originally thought that Linux was nothing more than a hobby or a geeks plaything, but this perception has diminished over the years, and with Linux going strong since 1991, it’s here to stay. Here are a few reasons why Linux helps businesses and can generate profit over the traditional software business model:
- Linux is one of the most popular and reliable platforms on earth today, it is this basis that has let many companies such as Google and Amazon build from that foundation and leverage it to make solid profit. Every Android mobile phone or tablet uses Linux, all of Amazon’s websites use Linux, every Google search is powered by Linux and every Tweet uses Linux at the operating system level.
- Many businesses choose to purchase support contracts to obtain help with their Linux systems, just as they would with a commercial based platform.
- Companies like Intel, who invest heavily into Linux can see the return on their investment rapidly because Linux has the flexibility to allow their newest technologies such as new processors to work straight away via the Open Code/Source model. Typically, Intel would have to wait many months or years to see support fully phased into releases of Windows or MacOS for their latest products.
- In countries like China, up to 70% of all the computers that ship now ship with Linux on them. The vast majority of these computers retain their installation of Linux because the Linux installation allows the user to do what they want to do with their computer, it means no levy for the manufacturers to pay to companies like Microsoft for copies of Windows and therefore cost savings to the customer. This in return has shown a rise in computer purchases and sales at a better margin of profit.
- The majority of companies use Linux for server hosting because it will out-perform its Windows counterparts and will do it at a near zero-cost. This provides a hefty return on investment to the company, and also in turn to their customers. This can be stacked up with other cost-saving methods such as virtualisation, which means that you can have multiple Linux servers all running on one physical server. This reduces costs in the server room on cooling, power and hardware. For many companies across the globe, Linux is therefore a no-brainer.
- Well paid jobs: Linux is big. Really big in enterprise IT today. This means jobs. Hopefully this guide may pique your interest into firstly starting to use Linux as your everyday desktop, but in time, you might decide to get more advanced. See the following links if you need proof!
- Finally, Over time, many companies, universities and hobbyists find themselves naturally giving back some things to the Linux community because it helped them with a certain task. This continued cycle of improvement and collaboration spurs this on. You only have to look at open source projects like Wikipedia to see that this cycle works very well. Nobody gets paid to make Wikipedia the best source of information anywhere in the world, but yet people add to it none the less. Linux works in the same way.
Now, visit Chapter Three to decide on which flavour of Linux you want!
Or, if you need more convincing, why not take a sneaky peek at Chapter 7, where we show the greatest in open source software and detail how Linux helps out with your life on the desktop every day.