⌚ March 6, 2014
After using Linux extensively as my main system for many years, I asked the question, “What do I like so much about Linux? What makes it better for me than any other operating system I have used and why?” Answers poured out, and here are mine.
If Linux could be summed up into one word, that word would be freedom because it describes the philosophy behind the entire Linux and open source software world.
Freedom to own your own software. Freedom to use it however you like. Freedom to view the source code and modify it. Freedom to distribute the software.
When you install software in Linux, you own it. Not the developer or anyone else. You. There are no lengthy proprietary software licenses containing obscure legal jargon to read through and agree to before using the software. Simply install and run. You are even free to view the source code, make modifications, and distribute your new code providing that you allow the software to remain free.
(Yes, open source licenses exist, but I am not talking about those since they are generally user-friendly.)
Most open source software, including Linux itself, revolves around this principle. Some software for Linux might have restrictions, but for the most part, software on Linux is yours to keep, share, and use as you please.
Linux and open source software give you control over the software and your system. This empowers you with the freedom to do whatever you like to your system and the software you run because you own it – even if somebody else wrote it.
Much of the software available on Linux is of surprisingly high quality even though it costs nothing.
An added bonus is that many open source programs I used on Windows, such as Firefox and GIMP, are also available for Linux. I can immediately apply my knowledge of those programs to Linux without relearning how to use them. This saves time. Not only that, programs run better in Linux due to the more robust design of Linux.
It Just Works!
The early versions of Linux were difficult to install and hard to use. The main problem was that Linux was incompatible with my hardware. I could barely get Linux to install, and the few distributions that did were barely functional. Linux was not being nice to me in the 1990’s.
All of that has changed.
Today (2012), the hardware incompatibilities have been resolved. No matter what system I build from scratch, Linux installs quickly and recognizes all hardware automatically. There is no need to download drivers, check for viruses, and then install those drivers followed by a reboot.
Linux says, “I see you have a network card. Great! Let’s use it!” No questions asked (except for video drivers). Hardware recognition is automatic, and I have never had to download a Linux driver for any of my hardware. As a result, there is no need to keep a mountain of driver CD-ROMs nearby. Linux saves space. Neither is there is any need to reboot when installing software or drivers unless the kernel is affected in some way.
Linux does not crash and never has. Period. Individual programs may have crashed, but not Linux itself. Linux kept right on chugging without affecting other running programs or losing my progress.
Windows Annoyances Are Gone
Most of my years have been spent on DOS and Windows systems because there was nothing better at the time. (Macs were out of the question due to their high cost, non-tweakability, and proprietary nature.) After using many versions of Windows, many Windows annoyances persisted without ever being fixed. Disk fragmentation, reboots upon installing software, the registry, interface quirks…the list goes on. Entire web sites are devoted to resolving Windows annoyances.
Linux removes all of these annoyances like a puff of smoke in the wind. The quirks I had grown accustomed to on Windows simply do not exist in Linux. True, Linux has some quirks of its own since it is a different beast, but Linux quirks are nothing compared to the agonizing torture endured on Windows.
File permissions, file encryption, email encryption, key support, a built-in firewall, and more make Linux the most secure operating system out of the box that I have ever used. It’s a tough nut to crack. I have seen complex Windows passwords cracked in under 30 seconds, but never have I seen a SHA-512 Ubuntu password cracked. Home directories can be encrypted transparently for ease of use.
This does not mean Linux is resistant to everything. No system is completely secure because security is a process, not a product. However, Linux takes security to another level to protect your system from outside attacks and from making goofy mistakes yourself.
Much Bigger World to Explore
Linux is based on Unix, which was developed in 1969, so the underlying concepts have been around a while. This means there is much accumulated knowledge to absorb regarding Linux. Learning Linux history and its current developments feel like exploring a vast universe.
Linux Grows With You
Linux adapts to the user regardless of ability. Beginners and gurus alike can use Linux proficiently. The more you know about Linux, the more you can do, and there is no limit. You are limited by your own abilities, not by the operating system.
Whether you want to scratch around on the surface like a chicken or dig deeper into its fertile soil like a mole, it’s your choice. Linux does not impose a certain method of usage upon you, and there are many ways to perform the same task. No method is more correct than another, so you are free to use your system in the way you like best.
Do you like to tweak your system under the hood and change its appearance? Maybe your windows need more chrome? How about adding reflections to the title bars?
You can change practically anything you see in Linux to your liking, and most of the basic tweaks are supported from the start. Due to its modular design, you can swap any part of Linux, such as the window manager, with a different feature without affecting the rest of the system (usually).
Don’t like Gnome? You can freely install KDE instead. Do you want add a custom filesystem to the kernel? Tweak, compile, and install it yourself (advanced skills required). Do you like a certain icon set? Simply drag and drop the icon file onto the Appearance Preferences dialog, and Presto! Your new icons are active.
Mac Finder and Windows Explorer are sorely limited compared to Nautilus, the built-in Gnome file manager. On the surface, you would hardly see any difference, but Nautilus supports nifty features, such as the split pane (F3), that make it a breeze to manage files. If you like to program, then you can modify the context menu to activate custom scripts that act on selected files. Your imagination is the limit.
Runs Well on Minimal Hardware
Linux does not need the latest, greatest hardware to run (though it helps!). Whether it be a desktop system or a humble netbook, Linux runs assuming a few (extremely) basic requirements are met.
Latest Ideas and Technology
I consider Linux and most open source software to be on the bleeding edge of technology. If you want a glimpse into the future of computing, look at Linux. There are many new ideas being explored on Linux. We can see this with developments like Unity and Gnome 3 that attempt to push the traditional GUI in new directions.
Adheres to Open Standards
The freedom philosophy encourages software on Linux to be as free and available as possible to as many people as possible. Linux favors open standards anyone can use rather than locking you into a proprietary model. Whether it be a codec or an open file format, Linux often supports it without the need to install extra software.
Creativity and Imagination
The biggest impression made on me when exploring the Linux world is how many new concepts and ideas were being developed. Since most software for Linux is given away, it has to be good in order for people to use it. This encourages creativity and quality.
I have seen a wide range of software ideas for Linux. Some are clever while others…need help. But the common factor is imagination. Linux is an idea machine limited only by your dreams. If you have an idea, then you can write software for it, or at least find software for your idea. Truly amazing.
Adheres to Simple Rules Used Consistently
Concepts like standard I/O are used consistently, so you can glue programs together even if they were written by different people. All programs operate according to the same set of rules and permissions, and programs play fair. This creates a sense of security and trust in Linux knowing that if one program does go rogue, it cannot bring down your entire system.
Easy to Understand and Logical
Of all operating systems I have explained to others, today’s Linux is the easiest for them to grasp. It just makes sense. Even little things, such as how to shutdown the computer, are well thought out for easy comprehension, and confusing conflicts are avoided for new users.
“Why click the start button to shut down a computer?” is a common question I have answered many times without being able to provide a logical answer. It makes no sense. With Linux, people no longer ask. They see the power icon and instantly know that it shuts down the computer. This saves time for me, and it is merely one example of many small details that make life easier for new computer users.
No Need for Anti-virus or Defragmentation Software
Linux does not need anti-virus software because viruses do not really exist for Linux due to its restrictive design. Yes, there have been viral examples in the past, but their numbers were small and they have been dealt with. Linux is a harsh environment for viruses.
You will not find native defragmenting software for Linux because Linux filesystems, such as ext3 and ext4, are resistant to fragmentation. True, some fragmentation occurs, but not enough to be noticeable. I have been using the same system without reinstalling Linux for several years, and the heavily-used hard drive is just as responsive as it was after a clean install. Fragmentation is not an issue with Linux, so there is no need for defragmentation software.
Efficient Use of RAM and Disk Space
Linux operates on little RAM (less than 320MB) and installs itself in less than 3GB of hard drive space (for Ubuntu and Linux Mint). This makes it ideal for running on low-powered systems.
Programs rarely crash on Linux, but when they do, only the program goes down, not the entire system. I recall how a single program could freeze up Windows, forcing a cold reboot and losing any work in progress. This has never happened since switching to Linux.
Continues to Run Snappy Even After Months of Use
I like to test software. That means the computer experiences many program installs and uninstalls. After a month of doing this on Windows, Windows would begin to feel sluggish (longer boot times, more waiting when opening files, sluggish menus), and despite my best efforts to resolve it through defragmentation, registry cleaning, and other tricks, the only way to make Windows feel snappy again was to reinstall Windows completely. I eventually got into the habit of reinstalling Windows once a month just to keep it running fast.
With Linux, I can install and uninstall software as much as I like. After doing this for well over a year, Linux feels just as snappy today as it did upon a fresh install. Gone are the days of reinstalling the operating system just to make the system run fast again.
Easy to Install Software. Better Software Management
Modern Linux distributions such as Ubuntu make it incredibly easy to locate and install software through the use of a centralized software center. Gone are the days of going to a developer’s web site, downloading the software, scanning for viruses, and installing it.
Now, you can simply browse for software in an attractive GUI, click the install button, and a few minutes later, you are up and running with your new software. No license agreements (usually), no activations, no registrations, no CD keys, and no adware. You are free to do whatever you like with the software. Neither is there any need to keep a mountain of CD-ROMs with their associated CD keys on hand, so the desk can be kept tidy. It can’t get any easier than this.
Linux is the kind of system I wish I always had. Keep in mind that Linux is not a panacea. Switching to Linux will not solve every computing problem you might have, but it helps. From my experience, the more I use Linux, the more I like it, and the more I am impressed. This list could continue, but for me, any one of these reasons is enough to answer the question, “What do you like about Linux?”
Keep discovering, and have fun!