There are hundreds of compelling reasons why Linux is better than all the rival operating systems. Here are just 20.
1. Linux is free
No matter how many computers you install it on, the cost of Linux remains the same: zero.
In these days of multi-computer households, this can be a massive saving, especially when you consider the cost of all the programs you have to add to a standard Windows installation.
2. Software repositories
Having all the software you need in one place saves you having to trawl the web to find the program you're missing. It also means the software has been independently checked and digitally signed by the distro's developers, making it almost impossible to pick up a root-kitted version.
The same developers also keep track of updates and add them to the repository, providing you with automatic updates without every program needing a 'phone home' feature.
3. Live CDs
Live CDs are one of the best innovations of the Linux world. To be able to load a complete desktop on any computer by booting it from a CD or USB stick is a great way of using your favourite distro away from home, demonstrating Linux to yet-to-be-converted friends, checking hardware compatibility or fixing a broken Windows system.
4. Rapid evolution
Windows Vista took five years to appear, and was seen by many critics and users alike as a big step backwards, if not a complete flop. Since Windows 7 would take another three years to come along, that was virtually an eight-year wait for an operating system upgrade!
In contrast, most Linux distributions have an updated release every six to nine months (with the obvious exception of Debian). If you don't like the upside-down menus or whatever features Ubuntu decides to add to its current release, you can skip it – the next version will be only months away.
5. Linux is free
Didn't we already mention this? Yes, but this is a different free: it's the freedom to do whatever you want with the software. This isn't restricted to copying, but also hacking.
Even if you don't have the skills to do so, you can take advantage of the efforts of others. In fact, you probably already do so, as most distros use a modified version of the standard Linux kernel.
6. Powerful shell
While some criticise Linux for its use of the shell, this really is a powerful advantage. Easy GUIs are good, and we need to be able to carry out standard administration and configuration tasks using a GUI, but sometimes a shell can be so much faster and more flexible, unlike a DOS box.
7. Multiple desktops
Have you ever watched a Windows user trying to juggle several programs and windows on screen at once, assuming they have enough resources to run several programs? Multiple desktops makes it easy to have many programs and windows open all at once, but only have to deal with the ones you are using right now.
For example, you could have your email and internet on one desktop, a game on another, and the work you're supposed to be doing on another. A flick of the mouse is all that's required to switch between them.
8. Independent distributions
Distributors are responsible for selecting and packaging software. Even if the distributor employs some of the programmers of a particular program, it isn't obliged to use that program irrespective of any shortcomings, unlike the situation with a certain large, monolithic software company. Software evolves because the distros only include what they feel is the best or most appropriate.
9. Drivers included
Some claim that Windows 7 supports more hardware than Linux. In fact, the reverse is true. Windows 7 supports very little hardware – most hardware requires you to install drivers from the manufacturer.
On the other hand, the majority of hardware is supported directly by the Linux kernel, so you can just plug and play – this is one of the reasons live CDs work so well.
10. Runs on any platform
Linux runs on just about any hardware you can name, from mobile phones to supercomputers. The open source nature of the kernel and software means it can be ported to another architecture by a third party if the existing developers see no need. The end user doesn't need to care about the underlying hardware.
11. No commercial deadlines
The release of a commercial operating system requires much planning in terms of coordinating marketing and promotion, so release dates are adhered to, even if the software isn't ready.
Linux distros have no such pressures, and tend to adopt a 'release it when ready' approach, which means there are fewer post-installation bugs to deal with.
Linux plays well with other systems. It recognises that there's a place for Windows and Mac OS X and will install alongside them, share files with them, and generally be nice to them. This is very different from the Windows view that multibooting means choosing between Windows 7 and Vista.
13. Community support
The community support of Linux is unparalleled, mainly because there is no clear demarcation between developers and the rest of the community. Web forums and mailing lists are frequented by the software developers themselves, giving prompt and authoritative help, as well as the opportunity for users to give direct feedback and discuss suggestions with the developers.
14. Any colour you like, except brown
Everything on Linux has an alternative, from the desktop you use to the package manager and even the filesystem holding it all. You can pick what's best for your needs, whether you want impressive eye candy or fast and light for older hardware.
15. Pick and mix
With Linux, there is no commercial vendor trying to lock you into certain products or protocols. Instead, you're free to mix and match and choose what works best for your business. If you want to run KDE programs on a Gnome desktop or even the other way round, you can. If you want to cherry pick the best bits from each distro, you can. There are even DIY distros, such as Gentoo, that enable you to build a custom environment.
Linux is inherently more secure than Windows, because security is a feature of the core system, not a boltedon afterthought. With a firewall at the heart of the kernel and the virtual impossibility of slipping malware into the software repositories, a Linux computer can devote all its resources to running your programs, rather than being bogged down with security programs running all the time.
17. Lack of malware
Malware is virtually unheard of on Linux. This is mainly down to the open source nature of the software. If you install from your distro's repositories, you know the software has been checked by them.
18. Thousands of programs included
A Linux distro is not just an operating system; it comes with thousands of free applications. While other systems consider a desktop, web browser and mailer to be all you need, a typical Linux distro includes everything you could possibly want: internet tools, office software, multimedia and games. If it's not on the installation disc, there are thousands more available for download.
19. No reinstallations
When problems occur in Linux, they can be fixed directly. You don't even need to reinstall when you want to update to the latest version of your distro.
20. Pick a distro
And if you don't like it, pick another, and another. Most distros keep user data on a separate partition, so you can flit between distros like a hyperactive butterfly, and still keep all your settings, emails and so on intact.
First published in Linux Format Issue 138
Liked this? Then check out 10 best Linux distros for 2010
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