Grateful for Linux

In Everyone has one, Opinion by Our Readers

Yes, for Linux. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash Windows, although I should, perhaps. No, I’ve been using Linux now for well over a year and I have to say that I really like it. There is more than one reason for this, not the least of which (OK, a little Windows bashing) is that it’s NOT Windows.

Linux is very stable. It’s also very easy to use despite its reputation for being a programmer’s Operating System (OS). When I installed the version of Linux I’m now running, I did so by doing normal point and click things that anybody could do. Yes, there is a learning curve to it, but, for the most part, if you choose one of the distributions available such as RedHat or Mandrake, it’s very easy to install, and it can set up a desktop environment to rival that of either Windows or Macintosh.

There are problems, though. There is not as much software available as most would like to see. Of the software that is available, it’s usually excellent quality and often very small in that it does exactly what it was intended to do. This is most unlike a lot of software on other platforms that offer everything including the kitchen sink. The philosophy is simple: do a task, do it well, and, if you want more complex things, connect together the programs to provide that functionality.

Another problem is that there is no IE (Internet Explorer). The only reason this is a problem is that there are websites out there for which the designers got lazy and made it so it would only work with IE. Not to worry though, there are ways around this annoying little problem. One option is Opera. Opera is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac. I’ve been using the Linux version for a while now, and, while it has its quirks, it’s good, and it can pretend to be IE. How it does this is when a browser sends a request to a website it includes rudimentary information, including the name of the browser. Opera can be configured to say that it is MSIE 6.0. The basic version of Opera is free, but it’s not open source. All that really means is that if something is “open source,” the source code is available for download as well as the application itself. Another option is Mozilla. Mozilla is an open source version of Netscape, which is also available for Linux. Mozilla is open source, but its commercial cousin, Netscape, is not.

While Linux won’t run Windows applications, it is possible to run a number of Windows applications using packages that provide Windows support for applications. One is called WINE, and another is called Win4Lin. There is also a modified version of WINE that allows for running Windows games. Due to the fact that IE is embedded into the OS, it is not possible to run IE in Linux. Also, while a number of attempts have been made to make it work, Microsoft Office does not work, either. However, there is a good open source alternative called Open Office. Open Office also has versions for Windows and Mac as well. It features all the tools one has come to expect in an office suite.

Then, there’s the good things about Linux. It’s much more stable that most other OSes. For instance, I’ve been running my system now non-stop for over a week. I would have been running it longer if it hadn’t have been for a power outage. I can install packages, run my desktop environment, play music, play games, cruise the internet, and still more, all at the same time. All of this can be done without running out of resources or seeing the blue screen of death that is so prevalent in Windows. Another minor triumph of Linux is that I can install and uninstall packages (programs, applications, etc.) without having to shutdown other running applications, or reboot after I’m done.

Another good thing about Linux: viruses. They are virtually non-existent in Linux. I read somewhere that there are roughly a dozen viruses for Linux and all of them are considered to be in “the laboratory,” and, even if they got out, the likelihood of them doing damage is very low. Recently, I was reveling in the fact that this So Big F virus was running rampant and I even saw several messages which obviously carried it, but I wasn’t affected. The reason for this is very simple.

Linux has a clear separation between system software and user space. There are various logins for things. Included is a root or administration login, which is how the system software is installed or removed. Then, there is a user login which one would normally use. As long as the user is only running under a user login, there is virtually no chance of a virus attacking the system software, which is protected by the root login. In Windows (sorry for this obvious bashing, but it’s at the heart of why I’m grateful for Linux), there is no distinction between administration and user. When you boot up your system, you boot into administration or root. From there, it’s just a matter of getting the virus onto the processor, and it’s off and wreaking havoc.

For those of you out there that need special software to use your computer, such as sticky keys or using the arrow keys to work the mouse, these exist in Linux. There is also speech to text software available, but its not open source. If there is anything else that one might need and they can’t find it, there are plenty of mailing lists and user groups out there where someone probably knows about a Linux alternative, or someone might be able to write something. In fact, I’m a programmer and I’ve been getting into Linux programming, so I may be able to help, if there’s a specific need.

Linux may not be for everyone. But, personally I prefer it over Windows. The biggest reason I’m grateful for Linux: I have a fully running Linux installation, with Opera, Mozilla, Open Office, games, an MP3 player, and still more–and the cost–$0. In a word, priceless!