Why I Use Linux
There are many reasons why I use Linux as my primary operating system, but the number one reason is that I simply enjoy using it. As someone who spends a lot of time on a computer, I'm always trying to find new ways to make my work more efficient, and it's easy to get Linux set up just the way I want it with multiple desktops, multi-paned file browsing (Konqueror), highlighted text editing, window color inversion and zoom for late-night reading and much more.
Linux is also more secure than Windows because of the way it was designed from the beginning. When discussing Linux vs. Windows security, I like to use the following analogy:
Imagine you live in a world where most people don't lock the doors on their houses. You go to visit a friend, and you ask him, “Why don't you ever lock your doors? Somebody could get in!”
“Well,” he answers, “It would be an inconvenience to have to pull out a key every time you wanted to get into your house.”
“But how do you keep people from just walking in here?”
“Oh, see that team of guys standing out in front? They're trained to recognize bad guys and not let them get through.”
“Really? It must cost a lot to have them stand out there all day and all night. Are they effective?”
“Er... well, um, mostly. Last month, somebody managed to fool the team into thinking he was my uncle Fred. They let him through and he stole some stuff. But I fired that team, and hired this “Norton” one instead, so hopefully these guys will do a better job. After all, I am paying them more.”
Seems kind-of backwards, doesn't it? The problem with Windows is that it's not just as easy as “locking the door”. Windows wasn't designed properly for this to work. Unfortunately, it's not a simple fix for Microsoft. Windows, like any OS, is a foundation on which other things are built. All Windows software expects the OS to behave in a certain manner, granting all users and applications full administrative privileges. Fixing Windows' security would be like trying to fix the foundation of a house with the house still on top. You would end up with severe compatibility issues between the new, improved Windows and the body of software that expects administrative rights within Windows. Windows Vista takes a small step in the right direction security-wise, but doesn't do so without breaking compatibility with some software.
By default, Linux doesn't allow administrative privileges to user accounts. In Windows, you can easily go into your file system, delete a bunch of system files and completely trash your computer, and so can any program that ends up on your system. If you try to delete Linux system files, you will be told that you don't have permission to do that. That's the way it should be, and that also prevents malicious programs from being able to infect your system files. If a task needs additional privileges, you will be prompted for a password.
The most common need for additional privileges is when installing new software. However, installing software under Linux is not the same as under Windows. Linux distributions access a large repository of software, and you can simply select what programs you want just by clicking on them. This is better and much easier than searching all over the web for the programs you need, where you never know if the downloaded installer might be infected with a virus.
If you'd like to try Linux for yourself, it's very easy with a live CD, which is a bootable CD that allows you to test-drive the operating system before committing to a system installation. Almost all major distributions have a live CD, which can either be downloaded and burned to a disc, or ordered for very cheap through their website. For those who don't already know, a distribution—or “distro”—is an operating system based on GNU/Linux. Linux is a core set of technologies and drivers called a “kernel", and GNU is a set of common utilities built around that kernel. Other technologies are then added to that (such as the user interface) depending on what each distro's developers feel is the best for the job. Because of this, not all Linux distributions are created equal, and they don't all serve the same purpose. They also sometimes look and feel very different from one another, so it's good to try out a few different versions before settling on the one that suits you best.
Here are my recommended starting points:
- Pros: great user community; easy to get help if you need it; best selection of software available; excellent package manager
- Cons: “restricted technologies” such as Flash, MP3 support and DVD playback are not installed by default due to licensing restrictions, but this is easy enough to remedy by installing the "Ubuntu Restricted Extras" package after Ubuntu is installed on your system
- Pros: great out-of-the-box setup for multimedia (Flash plugin, MP3 support, etc. by default); the only major distribution to include easy-to-use parental controls built in
- Cons: package management system is not as good as Ubuntu's; not as easy to find help
Other distributions have varying degrees of quality, and some require special knowledge to use effectively. I would recommend trying the above mentioned distributions first and exploring the others after you have become more familiar with Linux and how it works. DistroWatch is a good place to find other Linux distributions.
Above all, have fun! Technology is a blessing, and the freedom that comes with using open-source software is a gift that we should not take for granted.