Why do people switch to Linux?

by Tom Adelstein

Related link: http://lxer.com/module/forums/t/18462/

During the last month, we conducted a survey of readers who use Linux. We asked them why they switched to Linux and received a plethora of answers. Surprisingly, anti-Microsoft sentiment had less to do with the choice than one might imagine.

Could the pundits have it all wrong? Is it possible that Linux stands on its own merits? Most Linux users would yes. Use of Linux does not represent a rebellion against Microsoft and Linux stands on its own as a user preference.

In this article, we will look at excerpts from the survey and see why people have adopted Linux. You might find the reasons interesting, maybe fascinating and probably not what you thought.

First, let's clear the air about this so-called anti-Microsoft sentiment.

From Where Does the Anti-Microsoft Sentiment Originate?

Linux users consider Microsoft's paranoia a threat. When a monopolistic powerhouse says that they will crush you under their boot because you use a competing product, you might find yourself annoyed. Imagine General Motors saying that they will put your car in a museum so people will remember someone built it once.

A media factor comes into play also. Imagine you like using Linux and you read articles stating you're a FANATIC. Then imagine lots of writers implyng Microsoft will crush you under their boot. When threatened, people become defensive.

When someone threatens another, it makes the latter angry. Is it logical that you'll win someone over by thretening them? The only reason one would ask such a rhetorical question lies in the fact that some people believe a threat will endear others to them.

The Survey

We conducted the survey on-line informally, so people could freely express themselves. I'll provide a link to the thread a little later in this article. First, I have some random excerpts:

* I was at work one day and one of the sys admins said, dial out to my box at home. I did and was greeted by something that smelled a lot like System V "What is it?", I asked, expecting that he had gotten hold of "free" copy of UnixWare or something (which was probably about $1500-2000 at the time). He said, "It's Linux."

* I converted to Linux (from NetBSD) because of two factors:
1. Price - I got a 1 GHz Duron PC from Walmart for $300
in 2002.
2. All the cool software - User mode linux, Reiserfs,
although NetBSD is pretty posix-compliant.

* I like Linux because it's unix, it's cheap and for a scientist it's a pleasure to use on the desktop.

* I first touched a computer when I was 6 (and that was 23 years ago, when the PC 1512 was still a new thing!). My primary school was the first in France to give computer classes to pupils.

When I took up high scientific studies, I came in a university-like school with a computer network... The computers we used were Windows (95 and 98), but the network itself was handled by a Linux server. I first heard of Linux because I became romantically involved with one of the maintainers of the network.

Then four years ago I got my first job, just fresh out of University. I moved to the Netherlands, and got the possibility to buy a computer, partly paid by my employer...It took me a while but I finally (installed) it last summer... All in all, I feel I have been naturally evolving towards GNU/Linux, and that it is just the right thing for me.

* The challenge to try and alternative (and sticking with it)...had enough off computers troubles (but hey let's try that Red Hat Linux CD out of curiosity)...forced up by a Linux enthusiast (husband, wife, brother, etc) and after years got too accustomed to it...comes from a strong UNIX background...financial reasons, cutting budget, etc.... moral reasons (rare)...governmental reasons or desktop at workplace.

I chose Linux simply because I thought the mascot looked cute enough.

* Linux gives me the pretty (and convenient) graphics plus all of the tools I can eat...Cut my teeth on an Alpha Micro AM-100 (PDP-11 clone(ish)) at the University Computer Club at the University of Western Australia in 1980 running AMOS.

* I was not unhappy with Microsoft or Windows, but I was motivated to learn more about Unix...When the first betas of KDE came out, I installed it. From that point, I began spending more time on the Linux box -- especially after StarOffice was made gratis -- and less on the Windows PC.

As I went on, I began trying things that I couldn't do with Windows. I added boxes to the network, I started doing graphics with the Gimp. I experimented with apache and postgresql, all manner of things...Now, Linux is my primary platform.

* I just wanted to try something different back in 1996, got an install of Slackware 2.0 from Lasermoon in the UK came on about 25+ floppies, bought a copy of Dr.Linux from them as well and on I went.

* because my best friend was a Gentoo-fan, he set up Gentoo for me. First I didn't like it, because everything just worked as it should in only one day (compare that to OpenBSD!) But when I got to know portage I was convinced I would be using this from now on. It (Gentoo) was also ideal for studying for my LPIC level 1.

* I changed to Linux because of the Fiddle factor... I like computers not only for what they can do but I like them intrinsically... I have build my own computers...It is a hobby. I try to wring as much performance out of what I have. It has nothing to do with bragging right but just a fun challenge to myself.

*It took me about a year to switch from W2K to Linux. The timing in the development of all of the Desktop elements has obviously been critical. If I'd tried any sooner, the whole thing would never have come together. Improved hardware support and equivalent apps have been a big part of the successful transition, and, I owe thanks to many in the Linux community for making that happen at an astounding rate and giving me my functional Desktop OS.

* I first tried Linux out of curiousity mainly. But after I'd tried it I was fascinated. Yeah, woody was much harder to install than Windows, but I didn't feel solated/insulated from my computer any more. I welcomed the opportunity to learn. I wasn't confined by the wizards that MS uses to "help" you work on your computer. I could play with the kernel. (Something I'd been wanting to do for a long time.) I could modify, customize, and learn to my hearts content. Linux was what I had always expected computing to be.

* Started with Vic 20 - 1983? then dos on a 286 then windows 3.1 on 286 what a nightmare... Saw QNX and wanted it for years ...Windows 95 (was) ok but lacked the ability I had on the VIC 20...Lotus Notes / Domino Programmer on Windows and Unix...Still wanted QNX. Came across a CD from a friend - Lyrocis. BANG "Head ringing"...OH this love affair is not going away soon... As an IT Manager the TCO is the savings of the sanity of the IT staff.. They dont have to chase those pesky hidden bugs in MS.

* Running a Windows enterprise was like working in the emergency room of Cook County Memorial. Working on Linux was like being a Maytag repair man.

You can read the comments and add your own if you wish. The url is: http://lxer.com/module/forums/t/18462/

Who are My Readers?

They come from: United States, France, Europe, Germany, Australia, Canada, Great Britain(UK), Netherlands, Italy, Hong Kong, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Brazil, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, Japan, Portugal, Ireland, China, Belgium, Czech Republic, India, Singapore, Greece,Norway,Ukraine, New Zealand (Aotearoa),Slovenia, Mexico, Denmark, South Africa, Taiwan, Colombia, Romania, Hungary, Israel, Russian Federation, Bulgaria, Korea(South), United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Argentina, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Venezuela, Chile, Turkey, Uruguay, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania, Croatia (Hrvatska), Pakistan, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iceland, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, French Polynesia, Macedonia, Jamaica, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Peru, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Guatemala, Barbados, Malta, Saint Lucia, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Qatar, Algeria, Belarus, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Kuwait, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Kazakhstan, Mauritius, Nepal, El Salvador, Ecuador, Bahamas, Morocco, Paraguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Panama, Guam, Zimbabwe, Moldova, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Macau,Mongolia, Senegal, Oman, Andorra, Libya,Palestinian Territory, Tanzania, Cambodia, Ghana, Liechtenstein, Namibia, Monaco, Armenia,Cayman Islands, Faroe Islands, New Caledonia, Syria, Georgia, Albania, Maldives, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Sudan,Togo, Aruba, Azerbaijan, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, Honduras, Anguilla, Myanma, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Guadeloupe, Gambia, Burkina Faso,Greenland, Virgin Islands (U.S.), Angola, Gabon, Guyana, Liberia, Mali, Vatican City State (Holy See), Cape Verde, Netherlands Antilles, Cameroon.

Linux users come from every part of the globe. Those who wish to crush Linux under their boot and put it in a museum may find that difficult. I also doubt that the boot crushers could muster up these kind of testimonials.

Final Thoughts

Why do people switch to Linux? Actually, I think having an alternative provides a small part of the answer. When I started using Linux, I really liked it. I remember installing Red Hat 5.0 back in 1998 and thinking it was really pretty cool.

Given what the media and many analysts say, I shouldn't have liked Linux more than Windows because it did not have all the things they emphasize as important. I mean, fvwm wasn't a great GUI desktop. Lots of hardware didn't work. In fact, I had to hunt for older video cards to get X Windows to work.

Something about Linux though re-invigorates an interest in computers for many people, including me. It's remarkable.


2005-10-28 07:04:59
For starters
Linux is free.
Tons of free applications are available for Linux.
Some of the recent distros are extremely easy to install.
Linux has better software package management
(synaptic, yum, yast, etc.)
that includes the applications.
Linux has few virus/malware problems.
No registration/activation hassles with Linux,

....but reason I switched to Linux (1994)

is that Windows 3.1 (at that time) sucked.

2005-10-28 09:09:08
Why I switched
I've always loved the idea of Linux, but hated the RPM system I found on Redhat 6.5, Mandrake 8, and Suse 8 (when I tried those). KDE was kind of slugish, and Gnome 1 was ueber-ugly!

I never tried Debian, but I was never super impressed with the Knoppix CDs that I continually downloaded.

But then I read a review on Slashdot about Xandros that said "Almost as plug and play as windows!" So I thought, "Well, it's time to reinstall Windows anyway, why don't I put Xandros on instead?"

That lasted 2 days and I couldn't get my second monitor working, but I loved the Gnome2 desktop. So I put on Gentoo (portage is awesome!) and haven't booted windows since except to run Partition Magic to shrink the windows partition ;)

It's been 3 months and with Cedega and Wine, I can do everything on Linux that I could do on windows. This is one happy gamer!

2005-10-28 09:21:23

fvwm wasn't a great GUI desktop?

Don't you mean fvwm wasn't as great a GUI desktop as it is today?


2005-10-28 09:35:24
Power! Plain and simple
As a system administrator of Linux servers it gives me the tools I need to admin them so much better.

As a developer of websites the Gnome VFS allowing access to those machines as if they were on the local machine via sftp is outstanding.

I love how Gnome is simple and yet lets me do the every day tasks so easily.

2005-10-29 12:22:10
why I switched
First, it would be interesting to see whether people who switched 5, 6 or 7 plus years ago have different reasons from those who switched more recently. Also whether non geeks have diffferent reasons from geeks.

I switched because of frustrations with win98 back in 1998. My win98 computer would take anywhere from 1 to 20 reboots before windows would come up after a crash. The thing would go through the BIOS checks OK get to windows and then it woul hang or crash again at some point as windows came up. An MSCE friend could'nt fix it. Everybody recommended I reinstall Win98. But I only had a win98 upgrade disk that had come with the computer. Attempts at reinstallation always failed with the computer accusing me of trying to upgrade win98 to win98!.

Meanwhile, I was aware that a whole world of free software existed out there. I did not know about Linux but I put "free operating system" in a search engine and up came FreeBSD as the first hit. So I tried to download and install FreeBSD. I got all the floppies done as required but could'nt install it on the computer. With my computer down and out I mentioned this to a guy at work, a techie, and he said , ' forget about FreeBSD, I have this great operating system, it called Linux. Here take these disks and this book and let me know if you have any problems'. He gave me a couple of Redhat 5.0 disks and the manual.

I went home installed it, without a hitch, brought my computer up and I was hooked. It took me a whole weekend to get my modem working but by then I was a convert. It worked. I could boot my computer without a problem. So I dual booted for a couple of years then switched to Linux exclusively.


2005-10-29 12:55:50
Spell check?
Not to pick nits - this is a pretty good article - but I can't get over the amount of spelling errors in it.

This is O'Reilly for crying out loud. How did such a butchered article get published?

2005-10-29 14:58:31
Viva La Linux
I didn't make Linux my only OS until 6 months ago. Yup been Windows free for 6 months now :) but I'v been using Linux for 3 years now. I started because I couldn't take Windows no more. All the spyware, virus, no control, being so slow, and it couldn't do A LOT of things Linux can do. Then made Linux my one and only OS after I learned about it and got to know it so well I can do any thing I want with it. Run 89% of Windows programs and 75% of Windows games.
2005-10-29 16:55:31
design enhancements
I switched from Windows 95 to Linux because I had used UNIX in the military and liked it better. I switched back to Windows to do more advanced graphic design which wasn't available on Linux at the time, then I switched to Mac OS X when it became mature, but recently switched 90% from the Mac out of frustration with developers not supporting the same version of Mac OS X and because the graphics design tools on Linux had evolved so much that I could do 90% of my web design work on Linux.
2005-10-29 20:51:21
False dichotomy
"Use of Linux does not represent a rebellion against Microsoft and Linux stands on its own as a user preference."

These two choices are not mutually exclusive! Of course Linux stands on its own merits, but that does not preclude the possibility of a rebellion against, or disgust with Microsoft.

2005-10-30 02:53:11
Curiosity kills
I've been very much into computers since my dad let me play a very simple labyrinth game on an ABC80 when I was five years old. I tried Slackware in 1996 out of curiosity. I didn't even know anyone that actually ever tried Linux.
Well, it wasn't exactly instant love. X was pig ugly and I used it mostly to learn the basics of Sh. Then the pace of Linux development picked up insanely and in 1998 I permanently switched because of my horror experiences with FTP servers running on Windows. I was totally amazed that Linux on a puny Pentium I/100Mhz/32MB could host 100 users without a hitch where Windows98 couldn't even do 10 without falling apart.
At that time there was no support for my Gravis Ultrasound but I didn't care. I was hooked.
Today my favourite working environment as a developer/programmer is Debian with a *huge* virtual X screen (6000x4000 or so), TWM and tcsh prompts. There is no way you can beat the ergonomics of that setup as far as I'm concerned.
2005-10-30 04:47:12
What? Me Switch?
Most switch because they can.
I switched. why?, because it's there. :)
SuSE 10.0
2005-10-30 10:20:59
Why did I swtich?
At first, I was curious what the noise was
about at the end of 2004.

I soon realised how flexible it was and what I
could do with it solely depends on my imagination.
I thought that was cool.

Can you share a scanner/printer/files on a Windows
setup? You can with Linux.

Then as I read more about Microsoft and what they
really do to get their way, well, that just
motivated me more to jump off completely.

Things like Windows Activation and Windows Genuine
Advantage was the "straw that broke the camel's
back" for me.

2005-10-31 05:43:38
I first used MS/DOS in 1982, about the same time I first used UNIX (other than a cursory look - I actually got to briefly touch a PDP-11/45 in 1976 or 1977 that ran an ancient version of UNIX). When I first tried MS/DOS and UNIX, both of them aroused my curiosity and interest. It was like starting computing all over again. But in 1982, UNIX had a much more powerful file system, more utilities, and a far more powerful shell command language. Because of this, I chose to develop, administer, and maintain software on UNIX systems.

In 1995, I was working as an internationalization (I18N) developer/maintainer for the Digital UNIX operating system. Several people were commenting on their interest in buying a new PC so they could run desktop Linux software at home.

Out of curiosity, I bought my own PC and a book on Linux which contained a Slackware CD. I installed Slackware on my 100 Mhz PC and found it to be more responsive than Windows 95 on the same hardware. From a seat of the pants response perspective, commands seemed to run as fast on my Slackware PC as they did on my AlphaStation workstation, even though the AlphaStation could greatly out number crunch my desktop PC. So I knew I was on to something.

Not only that, but Slackware seemed to be a merger of the best of DOS and UNIX from the "olden days". DOS, and later Windows, seemed to have the state of the art in usability features for their time, but UNIX always had more flexible features and ultimate performance. This Linux thing seemed to have both. By this time, I was a confirmed UNIX user anyway. Up until I ran Linux software, I thought that Windows had it all over UNIX for routine desktop activity, but UNIX had it all over Windows when it came to development and flexibility. No more. Linux had both.

What Linux lacked though were several things. Number one, Linux often had the perception of being too much like UNIX. Even though you could run an easy to use GUI on a Linux system, most people thought it was beyond their reach to install and use Linux. The early vendors did little to dispel this thinking because they created software targeted toward developers and administrators, who love flexible interfaces and don't mind selecting from 10, or even 100, choices. They didn't think much about the user who doesn't understand those choices (at least initially) and would rather be given reasonable defaults, which he or she could change once they became familiar with the system.

You know the rest. Linux, perhaps rightly so, gained the reputation as being a geeks only operating system, when in reality, it is a flexible framework, consisting of a system kernel called Linux and a set of base utilities, written by the GNU project, and a wide variety of free and commercial application software from many diverse sources.

The tide is finally turning. Linux has long proved itself to be a viable system in server environments, but the truth is that it has long been a useful desktop platform from which you can perform routine tasks.

2005-10-31 11:02:31
"It has a GUI?!"
I had always been interested in Linux, mainly because of the free (speech and beer) aspect of it, but from the general FUD coming out of the windows world I had somehow gotten the idea that it didn't have a GUI. Well, in 2001 a friend of mine in a high-school networking class we were both taking brought in his RH8 box. It booted into GNOME. I saw it, said "Linux has a GUI?! Gimme!" He tossed me a burned RH8 cd, and I took it home and installed it that night. Was using it as my primary OS inside a week, and I've been 100% microsoft-free (not so much as an XBox) since January 2002.
2005-11-08 08:16:31
Linux goes a long way.
My first experience with computers was on an Apple II+, of which I could program in AppleSoft BASIC and 6502 assembly language.

At the time I got my degree in computer science back in 1989, I had experience with IBM compatible computers, Unisys B-Series machines (running BTOS), the Data General MV-8000, Sun 386i running SunOS, and various Hewlett-Packard workstations.

When I got my first PC, a Compaq Presario 425, back in 1994, the first thing I installed on that machine was Turbo C++ for Windows.

In December 1995, I upgraded to OS/2 Version 3.0 from Windows 3.1, then installed EMX/GCC system (for OS/2) and DJGPP (for DOS) to get the GCC compilers.

When I got my first exposure to Linux back in December 1998 (with Red Hat 5.0), I saw that I could get everything I want in an operating system for so little money.

Linux allows me to build on my skills that I acquired from four years at a major university, and to do it at very litle cost.

I have grown accustomed to having language compilers, editors and other application and web development tools installed as a standard part of my machines.

Linux provides these tools, and as for Windows, this adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of the machines.

In addition, the concept of open source fits right in with the concept that "it is nice to share", not to mention the great products that have resulted from open source (witness OpenOffice.org, the Mozilla browsers, and the GIMP).

As for myself, Linux is a perfect fit for my values, experience, and is very good on the budget.

2005-11-17 12:29:01
I switched, because it was time.
I'd been using *nix for years on my server boxen. HP PA-RISCs running HP-UX, Sun Sparcs running Solaris, various BSD and Linux distros (even Solaris x86 when it was super icky).

My wife let a anti-geek (you know, one of those people who computers just don't like) on my machine, and somehow, in twenty minutes, he was able to find and download a virus that ate my machien (after years of never having my machine touched). ... actually, the virus didn't kill it - the anti-virus software did, by randomly deleting 600 plus critical application and operating system files. This happened shortly after I had upgraded from my previous machine, which was slowly dying of "Windows Rot" (the inevitable degradation in the performance of any Windows machine not regularly wiped and rebuilt - due to dll and registry corruption and inconsistencies), and the thought of having to re-build and re-install all the applications just didn't appeal to me.

So, I downloaded a copy of Knoppix, and booted on to it. It just worked. Well. Games Knoppix gave me killer 3D acceleration. I found that I could do everything I needed to do under Linux (email, web browsing, server maintenance and file editing) and that I didn't miss the convenience of Windows at all... if I really needed a Windows app (rarely), I could always fire up my wife's computer.

I found it freeing to not have to worry about spyware, adware, viruses, etc. More importantly, I found I was back in control of my computer - I knew exactly what was on it, who built it, where to go for support (and support was possible), and I had the power to experiment with different desktops and o.s. variants.

I eventually even wound up installing Linux to a local drive (after shrinking the Windows partition) in a dual boot configuration. I used Xandros (the free version) to do this, which made the repartitioning process painless. Eventually, I found Xandros too limiting, and wound up installing Mandriva 2006.0 (on both server and desktop)... everything I could ever want, basically.

Windows is doomed, not because it isn't free, but because it isn't open. I'll never go back.

2006-05-30 10:13:29
The short reason is, it saves time. I am developing lamp applications twice the speed and I can do much more than before. I wrote a tribute to Linux time-saving aspects: http://wiki.motin.eu/MyGreatestTimeSavingTipEver

As for the Linux (Ubuntu) Desktop, it sure lives on it's own merits! I wouldn't recommend it to grandma, but for all who know a bit about machines - go on! It will save you time and money and give you more time with your family and friends.