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Why You should Absolutely be using Linux!

9-26-18

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These days, everyone should be using Linux! I know that isn't going to happen any time soon, but I just have to say it again. Everyone should be using Linux! Being a cheapskate, I can't help being in love with the Linux operating system--even though at times, it's a painful kind of love. Here's why.

According to one website, today 60.6% of all computing devices are using either Android, IOS, or OS X. Actually, it's unclear whether they mean people or devices. So, I'll assume they mean devices. Android, IOS, and OS X are all Linux, by the way. But, while those operating systems are all great, that's not the type of Linux I'm talking about. According to the website, only 0.77% of devices are using the type of Linux I'm talking about, while 36% are still using Windows. I've see estimates for Linux use in other places as high as 2%, but the bottom line is that very few people are using Linux. There is no good reason for this! There are too many reasons that Linux should be used on every desktop computer and laptop everywhere.

While in the past Linux has been somewhat ... difficult to use, that changed somewhere in the 2003 to 2005 time frame. That's when Linux repositories came into existence. Before that, installing software on Linux was a nightmare. Today, while it's still not quite as easy as on Windows, most Linux software is relatively easy to install. And in case you didn't know already, the Linux operating system and software that runs on it are free. Okay, some proprietary software like gaming software isn't, but almost everything else is free.

If you're still unconvinced that you should be using Linux, you should understand that Microsoft felt so threatened by Linux (and possibly Android in particular) that it was forced not only to make Windows free and add a version of Linux inside Windows (however hidden and not useful to the average user), but also to invent UEFI to keep Linux off the platforms it runs on. OK, that's just my opinion, because there's no way Microsoft will ever come out and admit that. But, let's face it, Microsoft is really, really afraid of Linux. There are many valid reasons for this fear.

While in the past Linux hasn't been compatible with every Laptop, with the emergence of the Linux Mint distribution (Linux versions are called distributions for some reason), there are a lot fewer incompatibility issues. By the way, Linux Mint is the distribution of Linux that I use, because in addition to being very compatible, it is also nearly as easy to use as Windows. Linux Mint is, in fact, currently the most used distribution of Linux. It is so compatible with most laptops that it's worked on every laptop I've tried it on recently--maybe half a dozen. The same can't be said for Ubuntu.

Did I mention that almost all Linux software is free? In fact, there are now several different Linux office suites--Free Office, LibreOffice, Open Office, and others. My favorite is Free Office, because it's word processor is the most compatible of the three with Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, its compatibility with Power Point still needs improvement. Still, all three, especially the first two, are perfectly acceptable office suites as far as I'm concerned. They even run on Windows--for free! In fact, despite some grumbling from coworkers over the Power Point compatibility issues, I've used these office suites at work for years. I stopped using Office 365 when it insisted that I allow it to connect to the internet before it would open a document that I had written and that was stored on my hard drive on my laptop! That was absolutely the last straw for me. As I see it, all businesses and especially all governmental agencies should now be using a free Linux office suite, or the free Windows equivalent. And here's why. There is absolutely no excuse for governmental agencies that are funded by our tax money to be paying the outrageous sums they are currently paying for expensive office software that is no better than free office software!

I didn't mean to neglect other free Linux software to go on my office suite rant. Most of the categories of software that you find running on Windows have free equivalents on Linux. These include internet browsers, chat and email clients, movie and music players, graphics and movie editors, video trans-coders, pdf readers, software development suites, and utilities, including equivalents of most of the miscellaneous software that you find in the accessories folder in Windows. Even a lot of proprietary software like Skype (some of which you have to pay for) runs on Linux. In fact, here's a huge list of proprietary software that runs in Linux. And that's really just scratching the surface, because when you allow anyone to write software, you get a lot of software. I've even written some myself. Have I mentioned yet that it's almost all free?

Another reason that you should seriously consider switching from Windows to Linux is that Linux doesn't spy on you. It has been said that "Microsoft Software is Malware". Whether you agree with that or not, it is true that Microsoft watches what you do at your computer, on the internet, and in documents that you edit. Linux doesn't. In fact, there are distributions of Linux that are specifically designed to protect your privacy on and off line. One of these is TAILS, which uses the TOR network to greatly impede the ability of websites that you visit to track you on line or identify you through your IP address. Thanks in part to Edward Snowden, we now know how important that is.

Linux also recognizes that you own your computer; they don't. Microsoft Windows 10, on the other hand, downloads updates whenever it wants as often as it wants and locks you out of your own computer while it's doing it. Regardless of how badly you may need to be using your computer right at that moment! And you have no say about any of this! It even uses your internet connection, which you pay good money for, to distribute Windows and Windows updates to other people! Frankly, how much more arrogant can you get?!!! In stark contrast, Linux can be set to ask for permission before updating anything. You can even specify that it never update and never nag you about it ever again! You can also choose to update any part of it that you want to the latest version at any time that you want. Talk about a refreshing change from Microsoft!

Another great thing about Linux, and the reason I started using it, is that Linux has historically been more secure than Windows. Not, that no security flaws exist. There are security flaws in every operating system, and there always will be. Linux is more secure than Windows for a couple of reasons. The first is that Linux's design evolved from Unix. The Unix file structure that Linux inherited was designed from the ground up to have what are called "file permissions". File permissions are the limiting of files to be read, written, or executed by only certain users. This means that an administrator (called "root" in Unix and Linux) has permission to read, write, and execute (if an executable file) any file in the operating system. But normal users can only do these things with files when they are specifically allowed, and they are not allowed with most Linux operating system files. By the way, although Windows did not initially implement file permissions, my recollection is that they began to be implemented with Windows NT. But most Windows users until recently did not have access to a version of Windows that had permissions implemented. Even now they are usually granted administrative permissions by their IT people, which negates the benefits of having file permissions. One practical result of file permissions is that if you are surfing the internet with a Linux Mint computer as user "mint", for example, which does not have permission to write to operating system files, and your computer is infiltrated by spyware or some other malware, it cannot have access to your operating system. So, it cannot spy on you or wreak havock on your computer as easily. Another reason that Linux has historically been more secure than Windows is that fewer people were writing malware that was designed to run on Linux computers. However, as the previous link and the next one point out, that may be changing. The security purists would say, "security through obscurity is not real security". And they are correct. But it has still historically worked well, because there were fewer viruses and other malware that could successfully attack Linux computers. But you will find more and more people warning about Linux malware with the rise of Android and the large body of servers that run Linux. Another reason Linux is thought to be more secure is that it is open source, so everyone in the world who wants to can look at it and, at least in theory, spot security flaws. My personal opinion from having been through many code reviews as an Engineer is that, just because a lot of eyes can be looking for flaws, does not mean they are looking or that they are finding them. However, judging by the numbers of new vulnerabilities found each year, it can still be said that, in a practical sense, Linux is a better operating system to choose if you want to be secure while surfing the internet--although not by a large margin, in terms of the number of exploits. Perhaps it should be mentioned here that most android malware successfully attacks android computers when users unwittingly download it and give it root permission. Also, the security of the operating system isn't usually a problem until a user does something not so smart, like clicking on the wrong email attachment. And many people fall for email fishing attacks or other social attacks that have nothing to do with the security of their operating systems.

Another reason I use Linux so much is that it can be run from a USB stick without even installing it on my hard drive. Needless to say, Windows can't--at least, there are safeguards in place in Windows to make it much more difficult. In addition to making Linux easier to play around with and try, having Linux on a USB stick means I can have my own "computer" on a USB stick. So, I can carry it around wherever I go and plug into just about any computer that I want and have all my files and my browser favorites and settings. In a practical sense, this means that I can have an "unsecure" USB stick that I use to surf the internet without worrying about what site I visit or what I do there. I'll talk more about this in a later article.

Another beauty of Linux is the Linux windows manager. The windows manager is software that lets you choose the way Linux looks and acts. It allows you to pick your background, the way your windows look, and the applications that are on your menu. Taken as a group, these are called a "theme". A windows manager allows you to easily and quickly switch between themes. One application of this is that you can install a theme that makes your Linux look very much like Microsoft Windows. And there are distributions of Linux out there that do that by default.

So, with all of the great things Linux has going for it, what's stopping you from using it?

One issue that has always plagued Linux, and the reason I say I have a painful kind of love for it, is that there is a lot of glitchy Linux software out there. That's bound to happen any time you have a huge number of non-paid programmers writing code. Some Linux code is just, frankly, junk. And some code that behaves well on one distribution may not behave well or even work on another. Fortunately, the creators of the top distributions try to provide software in their distributions and in their associated repositories that works well together. So, unless you are installing a lot of software from random sources (which I sometimes do), you shouldn't run into this problem with a well put-together distribution like Linux Mint. The reason the average user shouldn't have to be doing this is that the top distributions come with all the standard programs that he should be wanting to run every day--internet browsers, movie and audio players, email and chat clients, an office suite, graphics editors, and the utilities and accessory programs he'll likely need to do most things.

As I see it, the main disadvantage of Linux to the average user is learning how to use it in the first place. But it's a point-and-click operating system, just like Windows is a point-and-click operating system. So, the menu items have different names than they do in Windows, and they are in different places in the menu. So, what? You can figure all that out, just as you did with Windows. You have to practically do that each time a new version of Windows comes out anyway. The only time the average user would have to resort to the command line (the equivalent of the DOS window in Windows) is when he wants to do something that Windows either can't do or it can only do in the DOS window. The fact of the matter is that Linux is no harder to learn to use that Windows. And if you are a person in his teens or twenties, guess what? You are probably going to be using computers for the next fifty or more years. Why be stuck with something like Microsoft Windows when you could have been using Linux all that time?



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