Why Should I Switch to Linux?
First let me tell you a little about myself. After all, everyone has their own opinion, and most are worth the price you pay. I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I have over 20 years of experience supporting Microsoft in Enterprise environments for Fortune 100 companies. I currently own my own IT business, and Microsoft is my bread and butter. Fixing Microsoft’s problems pays my bills.
Now I’m here to tell you that you have been brainwashed, mislead, and lied to for years! Microsoft would have you believe not that they are the best operating system for your computer, but they are the ONLY operating system. They have even gone so far as to work with PC manufacturers that if a PC is sold with Microsoft, it will ONLY run Microsoft!
That caused problems with the IT community, as locking the systems down so tightly prevented people like myself from repairing systems when things went awry. The PC manufacturers had to create new BIOS and UEFI files to allow their systems to be maintained.
The truth is, Linux is the third most popular system in the world. Technically Linux is a Kernel, not an Operating System. There is a myriad of other open source software included that makes it an Operating System, but that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion topic. Currently Microsoft is ranked number one, Apple’s OSx is number two, and Linux is third. Linux is built by a global community of developers. This makes it much more popular in other countries that don’t want their money going to U.S. corporations.
Let me also say that most any IT people like myself will tell you, you need monthly or quarterly maintenance. For the most part, that is true of Windows. That being said, it is a computer. It can be scheduled to run most any task automatically. I typically schedule these maintenance tasks so you don’t need to call me every month. Sure, I’m shooting myself in the foot. That would be the majority of my income, and I’m giving it away. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for the customer. By treating my customers right, I know they’ll be much more likely to refer me. I’ll also be the first one they call if they have a problem on a different computer. Typically, the work I do is good for one to two years. By that time there will be new issues, and I’ll get another opportunity to earn an income.
Now, ALL those maintenance tasks with Windows go out the window with Linux! Linux was written to be a clone of Unix. Unix is a popular Operating System for Enterprise Servers. Unix is quite expensive, but it’s designed to run 24×7. Achieving 99.999% availability on a Windows system is a difficult, if not impossible, task.
I should also note: This does include technical terms for completeness and accuracy. While relevant, an understanding of the terms is not required to get an understanding of the content.
Let’s start with the biggest, and most obvious, Windows task: Anti-virus
Everyone knows how rampant the problem is with viruses and malware on Windows. Linux is virtually immune to viruses and malware. While it’s technically possible to infect Linux, it’s extremely difficult, and there really isn’t anything out there. Is that because Linux isn’t very popular? No! Quite contrary actually! Over 90% of the world’s Internet servers run Linux. Think Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, etc.. They all run Linux servers. Every government globally houses their most sensitive data on Linux servers. You know the best, and brightest, minds in the world are trying to crack that. So what makes Linux so secure? First, being a Unix clone means it was designed with security in mind from the start. The Linux user has no rights to do anything to change the system. Passwords, and root access are required for this. That means no program can silently install itself and make changes without the user’s acknowledgment. Next, there are many different distributions of Linux, each designed for different tasks. Each has their own way of storing files, how, where, what files, and how they’re used. A malware writer cannot simply say, put this file here and execute on start, and expect that to work on every system like they can with Windows. Also, Linux is Open Source software. That means anyone can download the source code, examine it, alter it to fit their needs, etc.. There are many eyes on the code. There is no place for a virus to hide. If vulnerabilities do exist, they are quickly spotted and corrected. Anyone can submit a change to correct a vulnerability. The team responsible for that distribution, or program, will authorize the correction and place it on a server, usually the same day! A Linux install will find the change and alert the user of the update. This brings up another point. Linux will NEVER say installing update 1 of 65,536. Do not power off your computer. Most updates don’t even require a restart. If, however, a restart is required and you say no, Linux will never bug you about it again. It will not hijack your start-up, or shutdown, to install updates. That alone is worth the price of admission. Oh, and about that price… Being Open Source, Linux is FREE! Some distributions come with support, and you pay a nominal fee for that support option.
The next maintenance task is: Defrag
It still has a hard drive, (assuming it does and not a Solid State Drive) so it must be defragmented, right? Wrong! You see, Linux uses the EXT4 file system, which differs from Microsoft’s NTFS. With NTFS, files are stored in any available space, and split a seemingly infinite number of times to fill each little nook and cranny of the drive until the whole file is saved. If the file changes, the whole process starts over to find new locations to save it.
With the EXT4 File System, the computer will find a location with sufficient space, plus a little more, to store the entire file. What’s the little more for? Changes. If the file changes, and grows slightly, it can remain in place and in tact. As long as the drive is under 80% full, file fragmentation will not occur.
What about a Tune-Up? Windows needs regular tune-ups doesn’t it?
Typically, yes, and this usually involves some type of registry changes. Of course, there are different schools of thought on any registry changes. But again, that’s a different discussion topic. Either way, while Linux does have a registry, it is used only by the system, and not by installed software. This make it far less susceptible to corruption than Windows, and changes are not required.
Linux is also much faster than Windows. Some distributions are made specifically for older hardware, and require very little memory and, other resources, to run. While these may not have all the bells and whistles of larger distributions, the necessities are all there. Running one of these on newer hardware absolutely flies!
But isn’t Linux difficult to use? Isn’t it primarily for geeks, developers, IT nerds, etc.? In a word, NO! In may cases Linux is easier to use than Windows. Many distributions look and feel very much like Windows, so users feel right at home. Linux can be made to look almost exactly like any version of Windows, Mac. Many people use their computers only for web browsing. They use email, check the news and weather, Facebook, etc. Google has a version of Chrome for Linux, and many distributions come with Firefox installed. For those people, the underlying Operating System goes unnoticed. They simply open their browser and do what they want to do. That’s really the way an Operating System should be. What about that software? Chrome and Firefox are one thing, but I have a lot of Windows programs! Will Linux run my software? Yes, and no. Most Open Source developers create versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Many proprietary developers are only Windows and Mac. As Linux gains in popularity that will change. There are literally thousands of programs for Linux. Chances are, if your program does not have a Linux version, there is a Linux program that does the same thing. There is also WINE, which is a program to allow Windows software to run natively on Linux. WINE isn’t perfect, but it gets better all the time. There’s a pretty good chance your beloved Windows programs will run on Linux via WINE. I can hear the Linux community cringing! Most Linux users, myself included, are fans of Open Source Software. Wherever possible, we will seek out an Open Source program. Why? For one, most are free! And again, there are many eyes on the code. This makes it much more secure. But isn’t the free stuff, crappy, wannabe, clones? Most of today’s Open Source Software rivals, or exceeds, it’s proprietary counterparts. Many of the worlds greatest developers donate some of their code to the community. Ah, but that means the software is written by many different developers, with various coding styles, leading to a hodgepodge of code. Like those starving artists paintings where one person paints just a piece of the picture! True, but, with so many developers and eyes on the code, inefficient code is identified and corrected. The end result is much cleaner, and more efficient, code than most proprietary software.
If Linux is so great why haven’t I heard of it? Why isn’t it more popular? One, Microsoft is fighting hard to lock down the market, and keep you locked into their ecosystem. Also, while Linux has been a staple in the server market for years, they haven’t had a strong desktop client. The Linux community has said for years they were going to take over the market. I was one of those that scoffed at them. I found Linux cumbersome, difficult to use, and a serious lack in hardware support. A few years ago that all changed with Ubuntu. I found it promising, but still not ready for prime time. A few years later variants like Zorin, Lubuntu, and Mint changed that. These distributions built on to the Ubuntu code with different desktops and bundled software. Many of today’s Linux distributions far exceed Microsoft’s Windows in so many ways. We’ve already discussed the security, speed, and software. Let’s talk about stability. The past five consecutive updates from Microsoft have broken Windows for thousands of users. I should know, I get the calls when Windows won’t boot! My Linux customers remain unaffected. It just works. For the first time, Microsoft now faces a serious threat. I firmly believe that’s why they offered the free upgrade to Windows 10. With the end of life of XP and Vista, users had three options. They could buy a Windows license for roughly $120, buy a new computer which includes the license, or switch to Linux. And that’s exactly what many people did. Fortunately for Microsoft, most people bought new computers. However, I know of several corporations that decided to test Linux. They put a few Linux boxes out for their employees, had them test it and provide feedback. The response was so overwhelmingly positive, the companies decided to go Linux corporate-wide. The users found it much faster, easier, and more stable. As more corporations realize they can save money by switching to Open Source, the users will become familiar with it, and want it on their home computers. We have already seen Linux take over the server market. The educational market has gone to Chromebooks. Again we see Microsoft fighting hard. If the screen size is below 11.6 inches, and/or the cost of the device is below $300, they will include the Windows license for free. Microsoft has developed their own hardware that directly competes with Chromebooks. Time will tell if they are successful. The Chromebook uses a stripped down version of Debian Linux. It has just enough of the kernel installed to run the Chrome browser. Ultimately though, it IS a Linux box. A note to all you Android smart phone users… Android is Linux. There is one more place Microsoft is losing market share, the Office Suite.. you know Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.. Microsoft charges $100 to $300 per seat for Office, depending on the version and licensing agreements. If a corporation has 100 reps on the phones, times $100 per seat, that’s a lot of money! LibreOffice is free, and does everything Microsoft Office does and more! You can create and edit Visio documents, PDFs, and more. It recognizes the Microsoft Office document formats. Word documents open in Writer just as they did in Word, and will save in the same format. The same goes for Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, you get the idea. Switching to LibreOffice is a no brainer, and it is rapidly becoming the new standard. And in case your wondering, yes, LibreOffice has a version for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and comes standard with many Linux distributions.
So what are these “distributions”? Unlike Windows, which is pretty much one size fits all, Linux is highly customizable. You could start with something like Debian, which gives you the basics, and build it yourself, with just the components you need, or use what someone else has built that fits your needs. If you’re looking for a Windows or Mac replacement, there are many distributions built specifically for that purpose. Suppose you’re looking for something highly specialized, like Forensic Investigations. Yes, there are distributions that cater to that as well. Looking at the most common, Windows replacements, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people seem to prefer Fedora’s latest desktop. Honestly, I have not tried that. Fedora is a fork of Red Hat, and one of the most common server distributions. The desktop side is something that until recently was underdeveloped. Ubuntu has specialized in the desktop (personal computer application) for years, and they have come a long way. Now speaking of “desktop”, I put the last statement in parentheses because the desktop is also a major component of any distribution. For years, Ubuntu has used the Gnome desktop, recently switched to Unity, and now have announced a return to Gnome. Development of Gnome was considered dead, which prompted the change. Many people preferred Gnome to Unity, which prompted a fork to Mate. What’s a fork? Remember this is all Open Source. Anyone can see, and modify the code. If a team ceases development, often a new team will take the last version of the code, and begin new development. That’s a fork. Frankly, I like the look and feel of the Unity desktop, and prefer it to Gnome. However, I find the Cinnamon desktop to be my favorite. KDE is by far the most customizable, and often the prettiest, but not the easiest to use. Cinnamon looks very nice, it’s very easy to use, it comes with a lot of features, and many more can be added. KDE also requires a powerful PC. Cinnamon’s features do require some power, but works on a much broader range of computers. What if you have a really old, or under-powered computer? Linux has you covered there as well. LXDE is the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment. This desktop is not very feature laden, but it’s small and fast! Combine the Ubuntu Kernel, the core of what makes up an Operating System, with the LXDE Desktop, and you get Lubuntu. Want to breathe new life into that old PC in the closet? Bought one of those really cool “Netbooks” only to find it’s just too slow to use? Get rid of Windows, and install Lubuntu. You’ll be amazed at the performance!
For the most part, even a PC designed for XP or Vista, will run the Cinnamon desktop just fine. If your PC was relatively powerful when you bought it, it will still be fine today. If you bought a budget PC, go with Lubuntu. For everything else, this is where the vast majority of distributions are. Again, many of these are personal preference, but where to begin? The choices are overwhelming. Are they really that different? Why so many? This is the next place a lot of would be Linux users get turned off, and give up. Live CD’s are very cool, in that they let you download a distribution that interests you, boot from the CD/DVD, and get to see and play with it, hands on. The downside is you can’t change anything. Other options would be to install it on a USB flash dive, or even better yet, a Virtual Machine! That’s much more advanced though. If you like what you’ve read and just want a great place to start, distrowatch.com is your friend! You can search DistroWatch for that specialized stuff, read the latest news and developments. The list all the newest distributions, and updates. But the best part is tracking the most popular downloads. For some time now, at least as of this writing, Linux Mint Cinnamon is by far the most popular download. This is my favorite too! It looks and feels much like Windows. It’s easy to use. It’s stable and secure. And, it’s Ubuntu based. The Mint team has taken the Ubuntu code and added the various alternative desktops, KDE, MATE, XFCE, and Cinnamon. They developed their own applications for things like a notepad, media player, etc. Sure, there are many such apps already available for download, and Ubuntu includes them. However, the included apps from Ubuntu look best on their desktop. They don’t necessarily match the look and feel of Cinnamon, or Mint, really. The Mint team has gone to great lengths to be sure everything works together exactly as it should, on every level, even down to the look of the applications. This is the Microsoft killer system. I do not work for Mint. I am not in any way, shape, or form, part of their team. I am not compensated by them. I saw they were number one on DistroWatch, downloaded, and tried it. I like it so much, I put it on all my computers that would run it. I do have a little netbook, and an under-powered Celeron notebook that work better with Lubuntu, but Mint Cinnamon is by far my favorite! As for my customers, many had XP and Vista boxes that I converted for them. Others were tired of the viruses, malware, and lack of security of Windows. Others yet saw what I had done for their friends, loved it, saw how much their friends loved it, and asked me to install it for them. Of the dozens of customers I converted, two asked to switch back. When looking at WHY they wanted to go back, it was not because of Linux, but rather one program installed in Linux! Well, there’s no shortage of software available for Linux. There’s something for everyone, and every need. All I had to do was install a different program. Now I did have a few cases where specific Windows software was a requirement. There were Linux alternatives, but would not meet all the requirements for various reasons, and they would not run under WINE. There is a way around this too. I installed Windows in a Virtual Machine. They boot and run Linux for most everything, but when they need that specific Windows program, they boot a Windows PC right inside Linux! It actually runs surprisingly well. In most cases, it seems to be faster running Windows in the VM than booting Windows on the existing hardware! I attribute that to the fact that it’s a very clean install of Windows, but whatever the reason, it works.
The bottom line here is, while Linux “may” not be for everyone, there is something for 99.99% of the people. It works. It’s fast. It’s stable. It’s secure, and in my opinion at least, Microsoft just can’t compete! I love it, and most importantly, my customers love it. That’s what matters most.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and learned a lot. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You’re free to run anything you want on your computer, and I’m happy to support it. Please no comments on why you may feel Windows, Mac, BeOS, or whatever is better. This is my Blog, my opinion, and my experience. I have nearly 40 years of experience in the field. I have been well compensated by some of the world’s leading Fortune 100 companies for my work. My resume speaks for itself. If for whatever reason you still feel I am not an authority, we will agree to disagree and leave it at that.
Thanks for reading!