Why I use Linux

TO MANY people, Linux is more than just an operating system. It is a rallying cry against big business, a call to war against proprietary software and a means of rebelling against accepted norms.

To me it just provides a means of getting things done in an efficient manner. Now while that would be sacrilege to those who have religion about operating systems, to me it is probably the best reason why one should use a particular operating system. The idea is to be productive, right?

Ever since I started using Linux (for reasons which I will outline), I have been sickened by the army of people who talk themselves and others hoarse about the virtues of Linux and then continue using other operating systems for their own use on a daily basis. There are hypocrites in this business as in every other one. Probably more.

Why do I use Linux? I had gotten to the point where I was pretty annoyed about the number of times my computer would hang while working. I liked to try out new software and then keep anything that took my fancy. I was unaware that Windows has a disease called .dll hell. Library files which are needed by programs are kept in one location and with the uninstall programme being one of the most inefficient, there would often be conflicting versions which would result in this or that program not running. At one time, I did a count of the .dll files I had on my hard drive and came up with something in the region of 10,000. That got me thinking - why should there be so many?

I had heard about an operating system which offered the stability of Unix and a graphical interface way back in 1996 and finally got a chance to try it out towards the end of 1998. My first experiment with Linux cost me all of 15 Australian dollars. But that was just a minor flirtation. I didn't get serious about things until the year had turned and a number of additional experiments made me determined to achieve some degree of mastery over this system.

I wrote a small manual to help people install Red Hat and Slackware; my friend did the Slackware bits. He was impatient to make money out of it and so the project did not last long. But after that, I got a chance to write for a magazine; the reviews that are on this site were all done for that magazine.

In August 2000, I installed Debian after the 2.2 release came out. Ever since, I have been using this distribution and I like it. I like the philosophy behind the whole thing, the way it has been designed and its social and political ramifications.

Let me use a simple analogy to explain the philosophy behind Linux. Think of a person who has a recipe for a dish that tastes great. This person is more than willing to reveal the recipe to all and sundry so that improvements can be made, no matter the culture from which the improvements come. There is every chance that, given the input of a dozen cultures or more, the recipe would be modified in such a way as to be much better than the original. And everybody shares in the outcome, everybody is richer for the experience. That's the Linux way.

Of course, nobody prevents a person from profiting from the recipe if they make some constructive changes; the only condition is that the new recipe be released to everybody for further modification if people are so inclined or for everybody to benefit from the changes that have already been made.

On the other hand, think of a restaurant where they are secretive about their recipes. If you question whether they can vary the taste of a dish, they tell you that you can either eat it the way they make it or else go away. You have to pay and also take the stuff they dish out in the way they do it. Given these two choices, which one would you choose?

The first scenario is a difficult one for the ones who make modifications are not guaranteed any profit. They often do it because the job is its own reward; nobody can quantify the pleasure that producing a beautiful work of art brings. And they are more than willing to share it around.

Linux poses a challenge to me. I need to get a little closer to the guts of my computer to get the maximum mileage out of it but the rewards are great: my machine rarely hangs, I can start and restart individual processes without having to restart my computer, and I can download and use software which was written for one reason -- to produce stuff that is lean, mean and does the job well. How else can one account for Samba which is now a standard package used for file and print sharing between a Linux box and Windows boxes?

Linux isn't difficult to use. But like any new operating system which one attempts to learn, it takes time. Most people who migrate to Linux are impatient because they want to it to work (?) the way Windows does. It is a mighty good thing that Linux works differently, that's for sure! Nobody wants all the errors and mess that Windows creates, the instability, the inability to run third-party applications as well (or badly) as Microsoft products or the famous "fatal error" messages. Those are some of the reasons for looking for an alternative. Indeed, I would ask these people -- did you know how to use Windows right away? No, you had to learn, painfully. The learning process takes time, no matter what the package.

Many people who shout themselves hoarse about the virtues of Windows have never installed the thing. I do it at least a couple of times a month for a project where I handle the software needs, some of the hardware requirements and some of the sys admin work. Just give it a go and see. I pull my hair out in frustration on the day I go there every month. Nobody buys a PC and then installs Windows; if Linux were to come installed and with most common applications working, then nobody would complain about it either.

So why do I use Linux? I like to work uninterrupted, switch between applications as I wish and sometimes forget to turn off my computer and leave it on for days on end. Linux gives me the freedom to do all this and more. It is not a hog on resources. Memory is managed efficiently. I do not have to worry about upgrading my hardware. Basically, it is a question of picking a good operating system which allows me to do things my way (and will allow everybody who uses it to customise it their way as well). When one tries to pick a winner in a race, one chooses the best horse. One does not pick a donkey. I rest my case.