Why I use Linux

I don't think Linux users stand up for their OS enough.

I just think that at times we need to remind ourselves of why we use a program. And with Linux, it makes such sweeping changes to the way we use computers that I think this gets swept under the rug in exchange of Windows and Apple fanboys decrying its origins and attacking its philosophy, calling it "not there yet" (whatever the heck that means).

I would hope that my foray into Minimalism in Linux is valuable enough for other people to read about. There's certainly enough for the Apple side of things. Why not the rest of us?

-It's fragmented.

Well, that's what Steve Jobs called it. But I've got a better word: decentralised.

You're not dependent on anyone. Rather, you work upon the collective work of many, in the way that BitTorrent downloads files from the collective bandwidth of many. It's almost impossible to kill BitTorrent because you'd have to remove every single user or else it just keeps on working, server or no server.

Linux is like that. Sure, standards would be nice. But without them, you can't ever kill Linux. It's never going away. That's an incredible promise that no other software maker can claim.

In addition, the decentralisation allows for miniature competition, fostering innovation - and none of that fakey marketing fluff, either.

-It's customizable.

From the highest level of changing wallpapers to the lowest level of modifying the very kernel, everything in Linux is open to my hand. While I rarely take advantage of the low level stuff, it excites me that there's a whole world ready for me to explore. There's still unconquered territory.

-It's easy.

I have been using Linux for four years, and yet it took me a short afternoon to learn how to use its desktop. Mind you, this was back when it was still a pain to use and install. Nowadays it's a breeze.

I have taught my mother Gnome on my laptop to access her e-Mail in a pair of sentences. I taught my non-tech neighbour how to configure and work Ubuntu on a more fine-grained level in an afternoon (covering basic topics like package management). I helped a fellow Computer Science student migrate to Linux entirely in about a week of answering questions - excited, open, wide eyed questions that had the same eager interest that I had when I first booted up my Linux LiveCD. He now uses Linux partially full time.

Linux can be used by all sorts of people. Don't give a second glance to people who say Linux is "too hard" for the "common user" (a strawman if I ever saw one, by the way). Anyone can learn to use Linux, on the surface or deep within - whatever suits them, once their mind is open.

-It works now.

I first used Ubuntu at release 7.04. It was fun to play with. However, Wi-fi didn't work. My graphics card didn't work. One of my monitors was never detected properly. So I spent my time exploring, but never seriously considering my migration.

And then, over the years, something happened.

Linux started working.

Ubuntu 8.04 brought graphics card drivers that worked. 8.10 brought Wi-Fi for nearly every one of my computers and cards. 9.04 brought a monitor detection that worked out of the box. 9.10 booted in seconds. 10.04 has been amazingly stable, and 10.10 has a fantastic installation process and great battery life.

The evolution was astounding, and at times I can barely believe the amazing distance Linux has crossed in such a short time. Three years. A step that has brought a change in the way the tech industry works, inventing a new category of computers (the netbook and nettop) and creating competition so fierce that even Apple has been forced to copy ideas from desktop Linux.

-It's deep.

If I ever want to increase my productivity, there's always something new to learn. Oh, there's vi. Oh, there's emacs. Oh, there's a better window manager to try. Oh, there's a better taskbar I can use.

These things require me to learn. But I like that. I love learning. I love adapting to new computing methods and changing the way I work. Every time I make another step forward, I become more capable of using my computer, to the point where I've done laps around the power user of Windows XP I used to be. The process is fun and the reward is great, and these are skills I'll be able to use for the rest of the my computing career. Once I'm and old curmudgeon, I can stop learning and still be amazingly productive.

There's no brick wall of productivity. I don't have to spend money on shiny new apps to help me be more productive. All I have to do is just browse Synaptic for a minute or two, or go find a good blog about the command line to learn some new bash tricks.

-It's light.

I'm talking, like, in the K Mandla sense. I'm running Debian Testing in a machine with a Core 2 Duo, 4 Gb of RAM, and a sweet graphics card. It's a dream, performance wise. I don't think I've ever broken a 25% usage on the RAM.

But let's say that a relative gives me a netbook that they don't want any more. Sweet! I can tailor Debian to that. Barring any driver issues (which are rarer and rarer these days), I can run pretty much anything I want on that machine too.

But let's say I spot a $5 Pentium II at a garage sale. Sweet! I can run Linux on that too. Probably not Gnome, but Fluxbox or DWM, sure. It will run fine, again barring driver issues. I might be able to put it to some good use as a server or something, even.

-It's contains superior standards, when it has them.

When Linux has formats available for you to switch to, it doesn't force them down your throat. they're just there. But when you do switch, it always seems to be a great move. OGG Vorbis is a gloriously underrated codec, as I've established before. Plain text should be used more often. ODT is better than DOC. And so on.

(There are exceptions to this one. Theora, for example, which does have issues. But WebM looks okay.)

I consider Gnome or Fluxbox to be superior to the other GUI's in the business, for my use, but I think that's a learning curve more than anything.

-It's free.

This one's an obvious one, but, I don't have to pay anyone to install Linux on all of my computers! I have an old HP desktop, right? Ah, throw something on there and leave it sitting around for my brother and sister so that they don't have to share a single computer. Or install something and use it as a media server or jukebox. My imagination is my limit, and it doesn't cost me anything.

I can also redistribute, customize, and not pay a single dime. I can download a ton of new programs, games, and tools and not pay a single dime. That's power I can believe in.

-It's stable, in an industry sense.

I once found the endless hamster wheel of the tech industry amusing and exciting. Oh, boy, new innovations! The wave of the future is something new!

Over time, observation reveals what this hamster wheel really is: a hamster wheel. A hamster wheel that produces profit for the businesses involved. Sure, sometimes a company will come out with something fancy and shiny and new, but most of the time it's incremental features that don't matter, with enough concentrated advertising to kill a lion. They want to make you feel like you need whatever new item they've made. Oh, man, look at that new technology. This changes everything!

I like Linux because it has none of that crap. Software updates are reasonable and useful. They're genuinely better than what came before (with the exception of some Ubuntu and Fedora releases), and you don't have to pay to get them. They're not all about pushing the hardware side, and as such, you get a universe that's quiet, peaceful, and not doused and lit aflame with ads.

-It allows me to remove.

This is distro dependent, but at least in Debian, I can uninstall pretty much anything I want. I can even start with nothing and work up. This is a huge feature that no other OS has (other than BSD).


Caleb said...

Alright, this is by far my favorite post from you! Keep up the great work!

On a side note, I'm hoping you will soon make a post regarding going "Google-free". I'm very interested in that.

I love this blog, so let's keep up the great posts! :)

aberinkulas said...

@caleb: Hrm, I should post an update about that. I haven't been able to dislodge Gmail, which is my main concern. Maybe tomorrow.

j.Tree said...

Its too bad most Linux GUIs looks so much like Windows. Thats it's biggest sin.

aberinkulas said...

@j.Tree: I think that's why I like Fluxbox and Openbox so much. Very different and fresh.

Then again, I'd be lying if the early Windows-ish look of IceWM didn't make me feel a little comfortable once in a while.