Sunday, May 27, 2007

What do I get for using Linux?

Well I am here to report that there are some things in life that are free and worth being bothered with. Linux is one of them. When you examine the economic hold that Microsoft has on computer hardware and software users, you figure that the choice a user has has been greatly reduced. I faced this when I switched to Windows XP and I am faced with this again with the coming of Vista. So I have to ask if I really can afford to upgrade my entire but modest collection of hardware to accommodate this new operating system with its associated applications and products. Will this new system give me the ability to do more than I am already doing or just cost me more because it is new. Do I now also need to upgrade my applications? Gee I really like new stuff and eventually everybody else will decide to buy the new system and I will be left behind. So what am I to do?
What if somebody offered me a choice where I would not lose anything yet still be up to date. What if I could continue to compute on my present hardware and still have new stuff? What if I could try it out myself even before I installed it, to see if I even like it or could use it?

Linux comes into play to answer the questions. Of course those new to Linux have questions of their own. And those who have had so called bad experiences with Linux will shoot it down.
But Linux offers a choice that Microsoft wants to keep from you. I guess it was bad enough that Apple's Mac is out there. Now there's Linux and it will run on the same hardware as Windows. A couple of things have made Linux attractive to me. First is the fact that it will run on my present hardware, including the older machines. The second fact is that it is free. When you look at Microsoft, it was about making money from the start. Linux started as an idea shared between folks who loved to code and make a free operating system work. Where Microsoft has a history of acquiring and appropriating technology, Linux has emerged from programmers who just wanted to make it work. Microsoft developed into a money making conglomerate. The Linux programmers developed into a community with a shared purpose. So knowing the source from whence they came you have to ask can a community of programmers really offer a product that can rival that of a company dedicated to owning your desktop? Fortunately I can say yes. It was not so clear a few years ago when I first tried Linux, but it is now.

So is Linux really free? There are companies who are trying to make money from Linux. Linux is basically a small program called a kernel, packaged together with other programs to do all the computing functions. When these packages called distributions are offered to the public, a company or person can make money. Usually they have added programs to make installation and management easier. Another money maker is to sell support services to users.
Some Linux distributions can be downloaded for free and the support can be had from the community of programmers and users for free. Also Linux is free from per computer/user licensing meaning you can install it onto as many computers as you have and give it to your friends. Linux is free in the sense that you are free from the domination of the so-called Microsoft standard file types. Linux is free from the restrictions of propriety software as it is not owned by one person or company. Linux is free to be changed by the user who has the ability to change it as long as the changes are put back into the community. Changes are incorporated into the next revisions of Linux programs by the maintainers of those programs, even the kernel is still maintained by inventor of Linux.

Just what do you get with Linux that makes it so attractive? For free or a little money you can get an operating system that is stable, efficient and looks good. It comes with enough applications to meet most computing needs. I am talking about the usual stuff, internet, networking, email and office stuff. It has the ability to read/write most Microsoft file types and with a little help will do multimedia. You can tinker with it to your hearts content as there are a variety of desktop environments and window managers, each with their own look and ability to transform the user experience. But will it satisfy most users right out of the box? I don't think any OS product from any one person or company can ever accommodate all the hardware situations and all the user needs. For instance, gamers and multimedia users have had the world offered to them in Microsoft products and support. They might be disappointed with Linux. The extensive support, products, and applications are not the same as with Microsoft stuff. Linux has stressed the free availability of code and many vendors don't share that view. But I do think that users who don't have extreme computing needs would be pleasantly surprised by Linux. I also think it is a short matter of time before things with Linux improve even more. As there is more user demand, programmers add more functionality to Linux and as more vendors support Linux with drivers and applications the better Linux becomes.

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