Taking a day off work today, because I'm sick as a dog, I thought I'd write a journal explaining what finally piqued my interest in, and led to me downloading/installing, Linux. It was mostly my own initiative, but I want to see if I can interest others in trying it out a new operating system!
As such, this isn't exactly a "review" of Linux (or Linux Mint, possibly the most popular Linux distribution at the moment) or intended for those of you who really know your Linux; I'm talking to those of you who don't know anything about it, and when someone suggests you give it a try you're thinking "Why bother?"
To start with, I was exposed to a Linux distribution recently, and had received advice that if I wanted to break into the jobs I wanted to do, then I'd need to get my "'Nix up to scratch."
I'm no "expert" of any Windows OS, although ironically I could probably get a "Windows 7 Expert" certification quite easily (hey, if my friend IRL has one it cannot be that difficult). I grew up with Windows, been using it and DOS since I was about seven years of age. I grew up in a time where, if you wanted to play your new, awesome video game on PC, you had to have some knowledge of the system. This was particularly true of MS-DOS, which was preferred for many games at the time; you need to know how to navigate to the directory of the game/batch file, how to poke around using the command line interface, so on, so forth.
Very basic tasks, but they familiarized many people with things like typing, command line interfaces, navigating a filesystem. All important skills that you would build on. I wonder how many computer savvy folks can thank their childhood experiences with games for it all; for bringing them to grips with everything, giving them confidence and familiarity with a computer from a young age.
So, looking into Linux for a home desktop (for anything, really), seemed both redundant and yet not too daunting - I doubted it could possibly be "too difficult" for me, but it was going to be different. Also, Windows does a good job, plays most games well and I knew it pretty freakin' well.
But I knew that Linux systems are used a crapload in the enterprise world, so a familiarity with both major OSs would be useful. Of course, I also like to try new things and experiment a little, and that's the ultimate reason to try it out: live on the wild side, folks, give it a shot.
Before you'll do that, though, you're likely hesitant due to a few myths and general lies (some of them maliciously spread) about the matter - and the best way for me to explain why I bothered is to show why these myths are absolutely ridiculous.
First of all, Linux is not crap. There's a very silly presumption that, because it's free or isn't attached to some big corporation's name or isn't the dominant operating system, Linux has to be shitty. "You get what you pay for," right?
I've been using open-source software for years, and, in brief: absolutely not. They can be superior, in fact, and often pioneer features that are shamelessly stolen by big-name brands/products (those "tabs" in Internet Explorer? Thank Firefox for those!).
You, as a person, need to have more faith in the nature of people. The philosophy behind open-source projects such as Firefox or a Linux distribution (or indeed the philosophy of this art website, which makes it far superior to many others) is a philosophy of improvements, benefiting society, and rejecting the shackles of corporation and government. Humans can and will abide by this philosophy, as has been shown by the hours of development, often for no personal benefit, that programmers and testers have given to open-source projects.
A huge amount of work and time is donated to these projects, and they're tested by the entire community. The entire community is the support, white-hat hackers, testers, developers and so on for an open-source project (more eyes to spot bugs, more brains to fix them, more mouths from which can come ideas), and the quality control is never sacrificed to make a deadline for a profit. The quality control is the highest level, best quality control on the planet: the developing team's pride in their work.
Corporations have their uses and benefits - we wouldn't be here today without big names like Microsoft. But without the selfless efforts of open-source developers/innovators, we'd be similarly left in the dark. Or worse, stuck with a monopoly.
"Nobody uses Linux, so it must be crappy! Everyone uses Windows, or if they're trendy and awesome, they use Mac OS! Apple is soooo cool, did you see their new advert with the dancing shadows and- eeeeeeee! The new iPhone is out, it's totally awesome! I love the simplicity and the, uh, sophistication!" *cough*.
Anyway. Actually, Linux is used way more than you might realize. There's really not that much to be said here. It dominates the server arena, in the embedded arena and is over 95% of all modern super-computers/mainframes. In the desktop area, it's easy to set up a Linux distro (as easy as Windows, for sure) and it can do pretty much exactly what Windows can do. For free. Remember that Windows 7 editions can cost up to $400, and Microsoft Office can slam you for anything from $100 to $800.
Oh, what do I mean by "embedded" devices? Well, what I mean is you likely already use a Linux operating system. Android = Linux. Linux derivations (including Ubuntu) are being embedded in things from televisions to refrigerators.
So why then do people use Windows? Well, speaking as someone who actually still prefers and loves Windows 7: it's because people are stupid, and Microsoft has an iron-clad monopoly that they aggressively strive to keep. As for Macs, well, yeah. Apple's marketing is impressive as hell, and they targeted the super-stupid/shallow.
That's how they can make the iPad a mega-hit when Microsoft actually developed a touch-pad device years ago but decided it wasn't "commercially viable." Ah, but tell people how cool it is and pow! Suddenly everyone thinks you've invented it. See: MP3 Player/"iPod"
Most of us all grew up with Windows, because, due to events that occurred before my generation stopped crapping in their pants, Microsoft made some admittedly impressive marketing moves of their own. That's the big stumbling block everyone else faces: Microsoft is well entrenched, and they absolutely saturate the computer world. It's really insidious, actually.
A child given a Linux, Mac or other machine is likely to be very confused. Many people (especially young children and the elderly) don't understand the concept of operating systems on a desktop computer - some of them seriously believe that a computer should just have Windows on it. Using Windows and using a desktop computer are synonymous to these people.
That utter saturation is the reason people use Windows more often than not - it has nothing to do with the quality of any given operating system, it's just marketing. Microsoft is so good at it that there are even government agencies that, run by idiots, employ their proprietary, lock-in software that is nothing but a sneaky way to kill competition - e.g., many courts in the US run MS Word, and OpenOffice documents suspiciously "don't work" as intended, so a legal business is forced to use Word. Again, I love Windows 7 and MS Office, but you can't deny that it would be a sad, gray-scale, pathetic world if everyone just used the same operating system for their computers. The same user interface. The same way of doing things. No individuality. It's a prospect that is dangerously close to reality in the world of desktops. Those factors could be what influences so many people to try Macs or Unix-derivatives. Aside from practical benefits, choosing an OS more suited to their needs, maybe it's a statement of individuality.
But many others are too afraid to try anything new, and too docile to fight back against a smothering monopoly, or vendor lock-ins. More still are simply ignorant that other options are available or as good. It was the same with CD technology.
Anyway, many people use alternative operating systems for their tasks. Hell, I have both Linux Mint and Win7 on my netbook, because there's no way that Win7 Starter can match up to Mint, which is faster in every way and is a full-weight operating system. Making the "change" was a no-brainer. But I keep Win7 around just in case. You don't need to give up anything. Regardless, no, Linux will never out-muscle the supergiants of Mac OS and Windows - unless Windows 8 woefully fails, being such a drastic change. But that doesn't mean you should just sit there like an ass.
"But it'll be so hard to learn new things!" Oh please, takes five minutes to learn how to use most Linux distributions from the get-go. Many of them use very powerful, modular, configurable desktop UIs that are just as simple and intuitive as Windows'.
I will confess that some things did take me a few days to get used to, such as the "mount point" structure. I understand it's very flexible and so on, so forth, but I liked how Windows' file structure actually gave me a hint as to the hardware/partitions itself. Everything cascades down from the "root" in Linux... but it doesn't, not really. That drive is separate, it's a separate entity. Windows would call it "G:" and I would know what it is and that it is a distinct drive or partition just from looking in Explorer.
But those are just the little tweaks in the way of doing things that you can enjoy learning and might even find beneficial.
"Desktops and laptops are DEAD. Touchscreen tablets, phones and cloud storage is the future; anything that doesn't anticipate that model is dead! So why bother with a traditional desktop OS that isn't Windows?"
This is only tangentially related, but I have to say something about this. I have to say what I think, and I am VERY confident I'm not the only one who thinks these things. SO, yeah, opinionated rant time.
First of all, tablets suck. No, put your iPad away. It's a toy. They are toys. You can do no serious work on them. They cannot and will not supplant desktop or laptop machines for a long time, and I'll eat my entire hat collection if I'm wrong (like, all 3 hats, seriously).
As I mentioned before, Microsoft ditched a touchscreen tablet years ago. They're terrible for productivity, with an on-screen keyboard that's far trickier to use than a physical QWERTY keyboard just for one example tactile feedback and distinct keys make a massive difference, this is why you need auto-correct on your touch-phone when you're typing quickly, meanwhile I clock 100+WPM on my keyboard here. That's why I take my laptop-style netbook to class for taking notes. It can do everything an iPad can, except it's not smudge-screen, er, touch-screen, has a physical keyboard, and all the benefits of being, you know, not a trendy little tablet.
OK, maybe I'm being a little over-the-top. Tablets have some use. Indeed, they make good toys too. Little, portable movie players and the like. I'll be nice and not dwell too much on how my cell phone can do it all anyway, so I don't need an Galaxy pad if I have a Galaxy S3 phone (I manage emails, remote connections, documents, browsing, phone calls, text messages, GPS on my phone already). But to say they're going to supplant desktop machines entirely in the next few years is mental.
Cloud storage is even worse. This nonsense is far overhyped. You're surrendering your data to a third party, praying they don't screw it up? You're getting them to handle all the backups and redundancies instead of doing it yourself, without losing your data at all? If you have it on two HDDs right in front of you, you have your data right there. Secure. Backed up. Ready to go whenever and wherever you need to take it.
Is data you upload to the cloud safe? Truly secure (you can be certain the provider checks the data and/or will hand it over to advertisers/law-enforcement without delay)? Can you definitely retrieve it when you need it? Does it, say, completely avoid incurring network costs from your ISP? Because ISPs are going to get a shitload nastier in the future, not cheaper!
Are you willing to sit there for hours waiting for the ~4GB file you want to download so you can use it again? Gee, would've sure been nice if you just freakin' had it with you.
Now, cloud storage is obviously very useful. I'm not challenging that. You should have used a form of it if you were in high-school - email yourself your work, that way you've got an online backup retrievable from school, home, the library or a friend's place. All very useful.
But supplanting traditional media entirely? Are you high?! I wouldn't stick my porn collection on the web! I'd have to wait for it to download then! Also, seriously, sensitive data? On someone else's machine? This isn't the obviation of CDs by USB, or VHS cassettes by DVD/BD. This is a totally different thing. Cloud storage is slower than traditional storage, less secure, and involves handing over your data to someone else. It's not an improvement in data storage media, it's a different thing altogether.
So, that's really why you should give other operating systems, especially Linux, a chance. They are good, solid programs; there is no flaw with them that has prevented them from becoming popular, that's not the explanation for Windows' hegemony. They're easy to learn, fun to learn, and still valid and meaningful today.
But most of all, you should play with different operating systems because sticking with just one is f*cking boring, don't you think?