Why Linux?

by Jonathan Gennick

Over on Craig Pfeifer's
site
, I made the following comment a couple days ago:



It's conceivable to me that within a few months time we might have an
entirely Windows-free home.



Craig responded with:



The whole "Microsoft free environment" I don't completely understand.
To me it's a big non-requirement.


In my house, technology doesn't play politics.



Craig was right to call me on my statement. Holding up a "Windows-free
home" as a goal without any sort of reasoning behind that goal is nothing
more than a fashion statement on my part. I'm not really convinced in my own
mind that I have that as a goal either, but before addressing that issue, let
me explain the background behind my recent decision to experiment with Linux
on the home PC.


Experience is a great teacher


To start, let me back up some 20 years to the beginning of my professional
career, to talk about keyboard layouts. Bear with me. This does play into my
decision to try Linux, but not in the way you might first think.


In the early 1980s, I chanced to read two or three articles in relatively close
succession about the history and merits of the Dvorak keyboard layout. Until
then, I'd done all my typing in the QWERTY layout, and it had never occurred
to me that other layouts were possible. Curious about Dvorak, I decided the
only way to really learn about it was to try it, so I wrote a terminate-and-stay-resident
program (remember TSRs?) to reinterpret my keyboard, and proceeded to immerse
myself in the Dvorak layout.


Over the intervening years I've used Dvorak more often than QWERTY, though
I've had to switch back and forth a few times as I went from one job to another.
Using Dvorak, and having to switch back and forth a few times, has given me
perspective on the issue of keyboard layout that few others have. I've been
on both sides of the fence, I know what it's like to switch, I know how it feels
to be using a minority layout in a QWERTY world, and I know firsthand what the
benefits of Dvorak really are, at least in my own experience.


Just as people debate Dvorak versus QWERTY, so do people debate Linux versus
Windows. There's constant argument about whether Linux is "ready for the
desktop". I've always used Windows on my main desktop, except for a few
years when I worked with Macs, but many writers I work with, and also some coworkers
use Linux. One of the reasons I've just installed Linux on the PC used by my
wife and son is so that I can experience Linux on the desktop first-hand
in much the same manner as I experienced Dvorak first-hand. I want to know,
really know, what it's like to live in Linux. I want to experience the subtle
drawbacks, such as somewhat slower Flash plug-ins, and I want to experience
the subtle advantages such as faster login times. I want to see web pages that
work, and those that don't, and I want to experience for myself how much of
a problem that really is. There's an awful lot that I can't learn about Linux
on the desktop unless I live it.


I'll be the first to admit that I'm hedging just a bit, because I left my main,
work PC under Windows. No matter. I'll still learn an awful lot from what I'm
doing. I've already learned a lot. I'm in a much better position today to intelligently
discuss the option of Linux on the desktop than I was even a week ago.


Curiosity doesn't kill anybody


Another reason I installed Linux was that I was frankly just curious about
Sun's distribution. I can offer no rational explanation for this. But curiousity
leads to learning, so I don't see a problem here.


Money matters, so does convenience


There are some issues relating to money and convience that are leading me to
look away from Windows to Linux as a potential platform for all my PCs. On my
shelf I have upgrade copies of Windows XP Pro and Windows XP Home. These upgrades
represent over $300 of investment. Both are tied to hardware that is rapidly
nearing the end of it's useful life. When I buy a faster PC for my office, and
I'm in the process of building one this winter, I'm not allowed to take that
Windows XP Pro license off of my old, slow PC and install it onto my new PC.
Not only do the license terms forbid my doing that, but, through product activation,
Microsoft can enforce that restriction. Likewise, the version of Microsoft Office
XP that I paid extra to have pre-installed on the Thinkpad I bought last year
is also tied to the hardware; I'm not supposed to install it on any other machine.
All this gives me pause. I'm investing a lot of money in software only to have
to throw it out when I replace the hardware. By contrast, I have a copy of SuSE
Linux 8.0 in my office, and SuSE doesn't mind at all if I pull that copy off
of an older PC to install it on a newer PC. Not only can I move that SuSE license
around, I don't need to call them up on the phone and kiss their behinds in
order to do it.


Another issue with Microsoft's licensing, and especially with their product-activation
scheme, is that I can't redistribute software amongst my various PCs as my needs
change. To some extent, this is a convenience issue, but it's an important one.
I have two, nearly identical Dell PCs in my office. One runs Windows XP Pro;
the other runs Oracle atop SuSE Linux 8.0. I'd like to swap the machines. The
nicer of the two is currently running Linux, and I'd like that one to run Windows
XP Pro instead. Can you guess why I haven't bothered to try the swap? You got
it. It's that product-activation thing again. I'd likely need to call up Microsoft
and explain why I was installing my Windows XP Pro license on a different box.
Until I got it the second box fully up and running, I'd want to leave the first
box intact, so for a day or two at least I'd need to run the same license on
both boxes. I don't want to go through the hassle of trying to explain all that
to Microsoft, and I surely don't want to deal with them telling me "no".


All these issues go away completely if I move to Linux. In my work-life, there
is far less to tie me to Windows than in my son's life. I write in a word-processor,
send and receive emails, read a few newsgroups, browse the web, and I run Oracle.
Windows is a distinct disadvantage when it comes to writing about Oracle. Recently
I got some pushback for using Windows-based examples in an article I wrote about
Oracle. When it comes to my bread-and-butter, Windows is becomming somewhat
of a liability.


There's all that software


Sure there's a lot of Windows software that won't run under Linux, but the
reverse is also true: there's lots of interesting software designed for
Linux (and Unix). New Oracle releases come out on Linux before they come out
on Windows. Other products that interest me include MySQL and Python. I know
both of those are available on Windows, but they are developed on *nix systems,
and I sure had an easier time of it installing MySQL on Linux than on Windows.


Related to this cornucopia of Linux/Unix software is the opportunity to learn
about it. Do you know Perl? I mean not do you know of it, but can you
write it? Many of you reading this blog entry are no doubt capable of
writing Perl. Not me. I couldn't write a line of Perl code to save my life.
And why not? Largely it's because somehow, in my professional career, I've never
been deeply immersed in Unix environments. Everywhere I look these days, I see
operating systems that are Linux/Unix-based. I sometimes think about how many
more marketable skills I'd have had I been using Linux day-in and day-out for
the past few years. If I were to go out today to look for a job as an Oracle
DBA, my lack of Unix-prowess would be a big strike against me. Running Windows
at home is nothing I can leverage in my professional career. Running Linux is
something I can leverage.


What is my goal?


So what is my ultimate goal? Is it really to get to a Windows-free home? As
I think about it, that's not really a goal, it's just a potential means
to an end. My goal is to have a computing environment that supports me
in doing my job for O'Reilly, that supports me in my writing career, that gives
my family the tools they need to do the things they want to do that are important
(playing a Bonus.com game is ultimately not important), that's reasonably secure
from attack, and that's cost-efficient. Right now, when I look at what my family
and I use computers for in light of the issues I've just gone over, I can't
help but be motivated to take a hard look at moving away from Windows and towards
Linux.


13 Comments

spaceman
2004-02-11 05:30:50
Dual-boot
Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-11 05:52:00
Dual-boot
I'm not a big fan of dual-booting. I've tried it in the distant past. It's a pain to reboot just to use a different application. If I absolutely must keep Windows on a system, then there's no real advantage to me in further complicating things by installing Linux. That effectively would give me not one, but two systems to manage. On this one PC at least, it's either going to be one or the other, Windows or Linux, but not both.
cbowland
2004-02-11 07:09:55
Right On Target
I think your summary is right on target, particularly for how Sun wants to target the Java Desktop to corporate users.


Supports the job
Tools to do important functions
Security
Cost effectiveness


The two main questions are will the Java Desktop play nicely with my existing infrastructure and can I run my critical applications or find replacements for them?

ceplm
2004-02-12 20:45:39
Dual-boot
I guess, that dual-booting is not the best option for long run, but exactly for the purpose described by the author -- to get feeling of Linux and real-life experience, it is probably wonderful advantage of Linux.


I would have some doubts about Sun Java Desktop -- according to some reviews I read, it is still slightly raw. However, because you are SuSE user, I would strongly suggest to take the newest SuSE, download the newest KDE 3.2 (SuSE is the biggest supporter of KDE), and go for try. I am non-programmer (actually lawyer by education), but I have been using Linux exclusively for all my computer work for the last five years and I am more than happy with it. And it is getting more user-friendly every minute.


Matej

emk
2004-02-13 00:10:08
because Linux is just right
Choosing Linux is not just about politics. Though I believe politics should play a role. I have been using Linux almost exclusively for 4 years now. I have no computer training and I don't work in a computer related field.


I came to Linux because of interminable problems with my Win98 computer, so I began dual booting Redhat 5 given to me by a techie friend. Learning Linux led to my experimenting with Apache,Perl,PHP,MySQL and webpage and website creation and maintenance. Things I would certainly not have tried had I stayed with Windows. Now I maintain a couple of websites, running on Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP. Linux led me to this incredibly enjoyable pastime.


So why do I insist on using Linux exclusively?

-because I won't spend a couple hundred on an OS if I don't have to.

-because I need a web browser that blocks pop ups,pop unders and ads (go Galeon/Mozilla).

- because I gotta have tabbed browsing.

-because I'm addicted to Bluefish

- because I love having 12 workspaces active, with Galeon in one Evolution in another, the Gimp elsewhere, OpenOffice.org in another, Frozen bubble in another, Xmms running elswhere etc.

-because I need to replicate my websites on my laptop, where I run Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP and Perl and I can edit my sites off line when I want

- because nobody at work has noticed that I use OpenOffice.org instead of MSOffice, that I use Evolution instead of MS Outlook and have been for a couple years now. Sure I've pointed it out, but it fits right in.


In short Windows does not meet what I need for my desktop and Laptop. So why pay for it when my needs can be met free?


BUt the politics are important too. If you can break out of the Windows mono culture you should. It will help everybody, even those who stay with Windows.


What you should'nt do is stay with Windows simply because you think it would be politics to try Linux!

ghenry
2004-02-13 01:05:38
because Linux is just right
Have you tried www.nvu.com yet?
Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-13 05:57:48
because Linux is just right
- because I love having 12 workspaces active


My eight-year-old also likes that feature. Even he appreciates its utility. He can have something going, and when I sit down to "borrow" the keyboard for a few seconds, I can leave "his" workspace alone. That ability has come in handy a couple of times now.

Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-13 06:07:32
Sun not best choice, was Dual-boot
I agree with you about Sun Java Desktop not being the best choice for our PC here at home. On the one hand, Sun has done a good job, I believe, at putting together a distribution that does well at covering the office/email/browsing bases. We've even been able to play movies from digital camera with no trouble at all. My wife is perfectly satisfied, and my son hasn't complained a bit these past couple days. On the other hand, their subscription model makes no sense for home users. Frankly, I'm not convinced it makes sense for small-business users either. And then there is the so-called network effect. When downloading software over the net, it's easier, for example, to find rpms aimed at SuSE, or at Red Hat, than at Sun Java Desktop. In the long run, I'll likely throw either Fedora or SuSE 9 on that PC. In the short run, my daughter and I are planning next week to try putting Lindows on her Thinkpad.
emk
2004-02-13 07:41:46
because Linux is just right
No I have not. But I prefer writing my html myself. I do mostly straightforward php stuff so I can work of scripts from hotscripts.com or a book like "PHP Cookbook" I've actually never used a wysiwyg editor and my early experience with Linux has made me very comfortable with the command line and typing out stuff myself.


but I know a couple people I'll recommend Nvu to.

emk
2004-02-13 07:51:32
because Linux is just right
Yes. I find its a great way to have several things going on at the same time and stay organized. I typically have OpenOffice.org,Galeon,Bluefish, gFTP, Evolution and Xmms or realplayer running at the same time. So grouping related programs in individual workspaces is great for me.
pistnbroke
2004-02-13 14:05:28
because Linux is just right


I am pistnbroke
I am a new PC user with little previous experience.I tried linux out of curiosity-and boy did it teach me some stuff.I use XP,on a second hand PC, and of course being new,had to format a few times because of errors i made in learning.The last time I formatted i had to do the phone thing to M$, well needless to say,we had it out, I lost,and that caused me to have a great disrespect for M$ .I am trying to learn the Linux, so i can scrap XP.I have tried 2 now. Debian was my first(Oh Boy!),Slax 2nd. i am kinda getting addicted to this linux over my XP.This M$ seems like it's 'real and it's nice' but it's not 'real nice'.I have shelled out $149.-XP home(upgrade).$499-XP Pro(canada price) and i still am not happy. Why can't I do what i want with this OS?? - i do own it, and paid a great deal for it.So then- I figured it all out-I only rent the stupid thing.But on the otherhand I paid $5 for Debian, and my Slax(live) was free.I am thinking of grabbing the whole set of distro's(around $40 US), to find the one that suits me.That's pretty cheap if ya ask me. So far I run both XP and Slax, so i can learn more about this OS. and when i do get it down, M$ will never again be my main OS...Now you see why I am ..pistnbroke!! Thank you Linux, I will learn!In fact..I already have.

musnat
2004-02-20 20:58:50
because Linux is just right
Why should politics play a role in a technical issue.


If you are really using Linux, you know Linux has its own problems, many of them are as annoying as the ones in win98.


- Apache runs on Windows
- Perl runs on Windows
- PHP runs on Windows
- MySQL runs on Windows


"-because I won't spend a couple hundred on an OS if I don't have to."
Windows price is not a couple hundrend! It is not even a hundrend if you buy the upgrade which will be the case for you. First you need to learn the numbers.


Mozilla works on windows.


Mozilla works on Windows.


Even bluefish will work on windows, through cygwin, though I would say you would have a point there if you just said you are addicted to KDE.


"- because I love having 12 workspaces active, with Galeon in one Evolution in another, the Gimp elsewhere, OpenOffice.org in another, Frozen bubble in another, Xmms running elswhere etc."
Ok, this is the only good point you have here, not a strong one, but the only one.


"-because I need to replicate my websites on my laptop, where I run Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP and Perl and I can edit my sites off line when I want"
As I said you can all do these on windows without any problem, very naturally.


"- because nobody at work has noticed that I use OpenOffice.org instead of MSOffice, that I use Evolution instead of MS Outlook and have been for a couple years now. Sure I've pointed it out, but it fits right in."
Cool, you replaced one app with another that does the same thing or actually less but still sort of the same. Also Openoffice works on windows too. Also Evolution has a commercial part which you have to buy it, the retail price is a couple of hundrend.


"In short Windows does not meet what I need for my desktop and Laptop."
In short you demonstrated us why it is totally pointless to replace windows with linux, unless you want to play politics.


"So why pay for it when my needs can be met free?"
You said you are using evolution which is not free. You also omit all the problems you have to solve when you use linux. Also you don't even pay for windows. Try buying a laptop with linux that costs less than a laptop with windows. Windows is not an issue on the price and quality of the laptop at all. Dell offers the cheapest laptops out there, and the price doesn't change. Almost all linux laptops cost more. I once searched for it and I clearly saw that even on desktop windows has no effect on the cost.


Why should people migrate to Linux mono culture and why should people play politics with their computer decisions.


"It will help everybody, even those who stay with Windows."
No, it will hurt people. It will cost time, money and resources. People will get frustrated just to be able to do things that they were already able to do on windows. Also Linux security is not as good as windows, linux machines are getting hacked all the time. This will increase by increasing Linux mono culture.



"What you should'nt do is stay with Windows simply because you think it would be politics to try Linux!"
Well your own article just proves that it is really politics after all. You don't mention the problems associated with Linux and Linux mono culture. You just omit them. So we should stay with windows until Linux become as good as windows. Of course, people will use Linux as a hobby os and will improve them as they did so far. Since GPL prevents big companies to pour millions of dollars into research for a better desktop Linux, since they can't profit from giving away the code, Linux's success depends on people like you. You have to become a developer and start developing some real code, not php type of stuff, some serious stuff, like APIs, new x-window, new window managers, user interfaces, hand-written recognition, voice recognition, new window widgets, maybe new programming languages like C#, etc... After these come here and tell us to switch to Linux because you made Linux really as good as Windows and that you gave away all your effort for free. Then we will consider your proposition and will treat you seriously and your rant for windows will be also taken seriously.

musnat
2004-02-20 20:59:21
because Linux is just right
Why should politics play a role in a technical issue.


If you are really using Linux, you know Linux has its own problems, many of them are as annoying as the ones in win98.


- Apache runs on Windows
- Perl runs on Windows
- PHP runs on Windows
- MySQL runs on Windows


"-because I won't spend a couple hundred on an OS if I don't have to."
Windows price is not a couple hundrend! It is not even a hundrend if you buy the upgrade which will be the case for you. First you need to learn the numbers.


Mozilla works on windows.


Mozilla works on Windows.


Even bluefish will work on windows, through cygwin, though I would say you would have a point there if you just said you are addicted to KDE.


"- because I love having 12 workspaces active, with Galeon in one Evolution in another, the Gimp elsewhere, OpenOffice.org in another, Frozen bubble in another, Xmms running elswhere etc."
Ok, this is the only good point you have here, not a strong one, but the only one.


"-because I need to replicate my websites on my laptop, where I run Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP and Perl and I can edit my sites off line when I want"
As I said you can all do these on windows without any problem, very naturally.


"- because nobody at work has noticed that I use OpenOffice.org instead of MSOffice, that I use Evolution instead of MS Outlook and have been for a couple years now. Sure I've pointed it out, but it fits right in."
Cool, you replaced one app with another that does the same thing or actually less but still sort of the same. Also Openoffice works on windows too. Also Evolution has a commercial part which you have to buy it, the retail price is a couple of hundrend.


"In short Windows does not meet what I need for my desktop and Laptop."
In short you demonstrated us why it is totally pointless to replace windows with linux, unless you want to play politics.


"So why pay for it when my needs can be met free?"
You said you are using evolution which is not free. You also omit all the problems you have to solve when you use linux. Also you don't even pay for windows. Try buying a laptop with linux that costs less than a laptop with windows. Windows is not an issue on the price and quality of the laptop at all. Dell offers the cheapest laptops out there, and the price doesn't change. Almost all linux laptops cost more. I once searched for it and I clearly saw that even on desktop windows has no effect on the cost.


Why should people migrate to Linux mono culture and why should people play politics with their computer decisions.


"It will help everybody, even those who stay with Windows."
No, it will hurt people. It will cost time, money and resources. People will get frustrated just to be able to do things that they were already able to do on windows. Also Linux security is not as good as windows, linux machines are getting hacked all the time. This will increase by increasing Linux mono culture.



"What you should'nt do is stay with Windows simply because you think it would be politics to try Linux!"
Well your own article just proves that it is really politics after all. You don't mention the problems associated with Linux and Linux mono culture. You just omit them. So we should stay with windows until Linux become as good as windows. Of course, people will use Linux as a hobby os and will improve them as they did so far. Since GPL prevents big companies to pour millions of dollars into research for a better desktop Linux, since they can't profit from giving away the code, Linux's success depends on people like you. You have to become a developer and start developing some real code, not php type of stuff, some serious stuff, like APIs, new x-window, new window managers, user interfaces, hand-written recognition, voice recognition, new window widgets, maybe new programming languages like C#, etc... After these come here and tell us to switch to Linux because you made Linux really as good as Windows and that you gave away all your effort for free. Then we will consider your proposition and will treat you seriously and your rant for windows will be also taken seriously.