Friday, January 16, 2009

Why I switched to Linux, and why you should, too.

If all you've ever known - or at least ever used - for your computer is
Windows, then the words "Linux" , "Unix", "Open Source" and so on might conjure up grey images of techno-geeks typing in long commands on some old, text based computer system.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Last month I finally decided to make a permanent switch to Linux on every computer in my house,bar the wife's. It wasn't even hard. In fact after a day or two it was easy, and I'm no computer geek, I'm just your average computer literate user.

So I'm now going to try and persuade people to try and switch to
GNU/Linux. Hopefully by the time you're done reading, you'll understand my motivation.

1) It's free.

Linux is part of the GNU GPL group. Indeed the full name of the system should be "GNU/Linux". What this means is that Linux is "free". It's important to note that in terms of the licence, we are talking about "free" as in "free to edit, copy, change and use', as opposed to 'free' like 'free beer', which is why there are so many different, customised versions of Linux out there (each version is called a 'distribution').

Yet most versions of Linux are also free of charge to download and use. Yes, yes I know most copies of Windows (any version) in Thailand are cheap, pirated copies but even if we ignore the ethics of pirating, wouldn't you rather have a system that didn't make constant security checks and piracy warnings against you? Ditto all the software that comes with it.

2) It's far more efficient.

Windows and much of Microsoft's software is both bloated and cumbersome. Applications tend to squeeze in as many features as they can whilst hogging your diskspace and doing their best to control your system to make sure you do everything the "right" way.
I detest that. It's not just a matter of resources - RAM is cheap these days - it's a matter of principle.

Typical Linux software packs just as many features as its Windows
counterparts. Indeed, a lot of software - like Firefox, for example - works just as well on Linux - but runs far more efficiently.

What does this mean? Well, take out that old desktop PC you stored in the garage because it couldn't run Windows XP, and install a lightweight version of Linux - such as the very popular Puppy Linux - and watch it spring back to life. Lightweight versions of Linux can get old machines running almost as fast as that new one you bought last month.

For newer computers, users can install a large scale version of Linux such as Ubuntu and get all the features of Vista running more quickly and with fewer crashes and bugs.

The Linux file system and architecture make systems far less prone to viruses and crashes, too.

3) It's easy

If you can edit and post a blog, you can install and run Linux.
There are many user friendly distributions of Linux out there that will talk the user through every step of installation and set up. It really is as easy as downloading a large file and putting it on CD. In fact - and here's the best part - you can try Linux without any risk at all or without making a single change toy our computer!

How? You use what's called a live CD. This is where you download and burn a CD image,
stick it in your CD drive and let it work from there without any changes to your hard drive. Once you're done, open the CD drive, reset your computer and everything is back to normal! Nothing has been touched.

So you can try it out risk free. You can also have a dual install - i.e. both Windows and Linux on your system - and choose which one to boot when your computer switches on. You could even install and run Linux from a USB pendrive.

4) It's a good cause.

The whole GNU free software movement is helld in good spirits. For example, a lot of old computers have been shipped out to less developed countries complete with Linux to enable more people to get online and get educated. A lot of people have worked hard on Linux out of motivation and challenge rather than greed. This feeling shows up in the Linux community, which is full of helpful and resourceful people. If you have any problems, there is always someone willing to offer some help.

My colleagues have been surprisingly intrigued by my Linux install.
You see, Linux is far more customisable than Windows, so my desktop has caught attention. One colleague asked me about any drawbacks to using Linux. The only one I could think of is that many PC games can't be run on Linux, but then, that's what Xbox 360's are for!

But there certainly is an initial learning curve for most people - simply because most are so used to doing things a certain way inside Windows that they will try and do the same in Linux. Things need to be unlearned as well as learned, but it didn't take me more than a couple of days to get over this. It just takes a little patience and perseverance.

You may have trouble getting online if you have a USB modem. I have a web configured wireless modem/router which connects with minimum hassle.

And yes, it is possible - though by no means certain - that you have a certain essential programme that will not run in Linux. You have two solutions here. The first is to find an equivalent programme in Linux that will probably do the job better once you get used to it, the other is to use WINE, a programme that allows Windows software to run inside Linux.

So that's it. I just wanted to post that in the spirit of the Linux community. I'll be happy to answer any questions but there are far more knowledgeable people out there for this topic. A goggle search for 'Linux' is all that is needed.

For Brits - here is a familiar face telling it better than I ever could!


Vern said...

I'm considering Ubuntu Linux for my junk hp mini 1001tu notebook after the hdd crashed in 4 weeks. It's quite an effort to go find an internet cafe that can d/l the 700MB image.

I'm still totally unclear on whether it works with any files I've written. Doc files, .txt, .xls, etc... are there programs that open these? Let me edit them? Is there a pdf writer for linux?

Will be learning all this and more as I delve into it.

I just found your blog through alltop.

Good luck with it!

Red and White said...

Hi Vern,
Yes you can very easily open text documents of any type with Open Office writer, abiword, etc.

Yes there are pdf writers, too. Adobe Acrobat runs on GNU/LInux though I don't use it as I think it's bloated. You could use iText for example.