Why use Linux?

Posted 28 Aug 2001 at 11:37 UTC by jono Share This

Many readers on this fine site are users of the Linux operating system. Although Linux has many fans, and some critics, many of us have differing reasons to use it.

A few days back I wrote an article for Advogato called The Stallman Saga. The piece was essentially a critical look at the free software stalwart Richard Stallman. It was good to see lots of discussion both agreeing and disagreeing with the piece. One thing however that I have learned from the feedback was the sheer amount of varying reasons for using Linux.

Linux is without doubt an OS with many uses and is very versatile in many areas. There is a distinctive scientific community who use it, students, webmasters, admins, game players, normal users and free software evangelists. The sheer breadth of capability and usage is encouraging, but do people use it because it is free, and from an ethical stance a morally sound OS?

I had an interesting discussion with slef on IRC regarding this issue. He was rather critical of my piece and had his own opinions on the freedom of software, and the ethics of commercial software that is closed source. He brought some good points to the discussion, although I disagreed with a number of his arguments.

Firstly, let me sound my own personal view. I use Linux not because it is free, or that it is ethically sound (these are however great advantages ), but I use Linux because it is a great OS. Much as it is fine to support Linux and other free software projects due to their superior ethics, it is not the primary concern with me. The question is... does this make me a bad Linux user? I don't think it does...but the question still remains of whether we should use Linux because it is free and open, or whether it is just better (or both of course).

One of the great things about open source, free software and community development is the exchange of opinion, and Advogato is a fantastic site for this. What do you all think about this? Do you use Linux because it is free and ethically sound, or do you have other reasons?

Because I want to, becuase I want to..., posted 28 Aug 2001 at 12:56 UTC by robster » (Journeyer)

Linux provides many excellent oppurtunities to develop new software, use excellent software and be part of a community based upon a maturing, stable OS. There are a massive variety of applications for software development, productivity and specialist uses. Linux gives everyone the freedom to do what they want, the way they want.

Furthermore Linux has a superb, warm, fuzzy community feel to it, in which everybody feels they can make an important contribution, whether it be through bug reports, hacks or initial development. This community is spread across nations, across continents it overcomes the barriers of race, religion and language. Linux has brought the concept of community, freedom and flexibility back to the world of software, it brings in light from the darkness of the proprietary era.

There are few "bad" Linux users, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 13:14 UTC by slef » (Master)

Not caring about the social side of the Free Software movement doesn't make you a "bad" user, whatever one of those is, but I'm afraid I do feel strongly that you shouldn't try to undermine or belittle those that do. Yes, sometimes there are confrontations and sometimes people say things that they should not or act in ways that appear a bit odd, but it's not really headline news.

Although I'm not particularly active in that way, I recognise that we do need a social dimension to the movement in order to preserve and further the technical advances that we make. I don't think that we can ignore the fact that many of the advocates of closed software are putting big money into political lobbying and social engineering efforts, because these could change the rules of the game so that our successful formula no longer works.

As to why I like Linux, and Free Software in general: I've been badly burnt in the past in two ways. While a humble undergraduate student, I wrote my letters in a free but closed word processor. The developers decided to make a commercial release. I had little (legal) choice but to buy and, as a student, that hurt a bit. The worst followed, when my hard disk failed. Fortunately, I'd backed my data up to floppies, but not the programs. The development company had gone bust, the new title holders weren't interested in selling me a copy of it and I was left with no way of getting my data back. That hurt. That's my Free Software reason. The other, simpler burn came from the incessant changes. I was good at DOS, but then came Win3 and relearning. I got good at Win3 and then came Win95. I gave up and installed Linux from a book called "Power Linux" by Flaxa and Probst. It explained how it worked, although bits were still confusing. I've not had to relearn on the same scale since.

why?, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 13:29 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

"Windows prohibits me from being productive" (c) ?
"Unix is not best OS in any case, but if you sum all aspects it is better then others. Anyway - it is here for 30 years and still alive" (~c) Andrey Zubinsky/.ua
Unix is instrumental OS, win/mac - OS for users.

I get paid to, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 13:45 UTC by Pseudonym » (Journeyer)

I get paid to write software for both NT and Linux. So I use Linux.

Do I need another reason?

Grassroots Computing, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 14:54 UTC by sethcohn » (Master)

[Note, I sometimes give talks about Linux and related issues, and this is just a quick off the top of my head, common theme I usually touch on]

Linux is about community. It's about people taking back the power from faceless corporations and using the power to beenfit everyone. Every is invited, including those big companies, to be part of it, and to share in it.

We have user groups that recall the golden 'early' days of computing, with people learning and sharing and giving of themselves. Those days were going away, as the prepackaging of the software removed the need for anyone to diverge from the 'norm'. This community feeling is unique and widespread.. and most people feel it's a direct descendant of the best elements of the attitude of Linux, sharing and community.

It's about free as in freedom, free as in cheap, free as in expression.

When you mess around with Linux, you touch on thousands of people's efforts, each of whom gave a little bit of themselves, usually as a volunteer. And if you volunteer a little bit back, the snowball grows just a little more.

I get better support from authors I never paid a dime to than from companies I've paid thousands of dollars to. The reason for that is pride, is power, is self-expression.

Linux is about what computers should be about... it's a return of power to the individual... and ironically, it's throuugh been through shared effort and code...

Yes, most of the stuff above can be more than 'Linux', but Linux is one of the main threads of this 'movement'. Nothing against *-BSD, but in the end, the GPL falls a little closer to the ideal than BSD, and while both have a place, the GPL has created more of the above feeling, and holds the ideal clear and foremost.

Because it's good (and yes, because it's popular, too), posted 28 Aug 2001 at 15:01 UTC by jschauma » (Observer)

I believe that many people use GNU/Linux[1] for the same reasons that I do, so let me explain how I got to using GNU/Linux and why I prefer it:
When I became really interested in computers and the web and all this geeky stuff, I had not really heard about the FSF, GNU or Open Source[2] -- but I knew that UNIX was a Good Thing when it comes to reliability and general Nerdness. So one day I picked up a book from the library with a Slackware distribution. How come I picked a GNU/Linux distribution and not a Net-, Free- or OpenBSD distribution? Very simple: b/c Linux was popular, The Next Big Thing.

Once I installed it and used it I realized that it is better than what I was used to (Windows). At the same time I started studying Computer Science, so naturally, I discovered the great advantages of a UNIX-like platform.

My point is that I did not choose GNU/Liux, but I choose a *nix, which just happened to be based on a linux kernel, not a BSD kernel.

The reason why I continue to use it is the same as everybody here, I'd say: it let's me be much more productive. I learn something new about it every day. I don't feel like an idiot because weird things happen that I have no chance in hell to ever find out why.

But for all I cared, it might as well be *BSD machine, or maybe a Solaris or OpenUnix or whatnot. Only after learning a *nix and then learning about GNU, Open Source and the FSF did I consciously descide not to use Microsoft's Software and generally try to use as little proprietary software as possible.
I still will use *BSD's and probably Darwin as well, so you see that I did not really choose Linux, just a better OS... To paraphrase a good quote: ALl OS's suck - this one just sucks less.
[1] as we all know this is the proper name ;-)
[2] I believe the term "Open Source" was not even that popular back then, at least there wasn't any OpenSource.org

Ideological purity, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 17:10 UTC by technik » (Journeyer)

There is too much effort spent on arguing The One True License for free software, determining who is the rightful prophet, pronouncing the virtues and searching the congregation for blemish. Yes, without question we owe a debt of gratitude to the authors and maintainers of free software, Linux being an example, but there it ends. The mass of the (user) community has work to do and free software often fits the bill. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you need closed source software. That is utility and there is no problem in it. Worrying about the ideological purity of using various pieces of software, your motives, what it reveals about your character or the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is, at best, an interesting and possibly enlightening diversion that might lead you to want to do something in return, or, at worst, a distraction and hindrance to what you set out to do. And if all you set out to do was learn something and to avoid get caught in the closed source trap again, then you have justification enough.

That should stir up a few people... :)

Why not?, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 17:22 UTC by mirwin » (Master)

Engineering hat

Linux should be used when it best meets the functional requirements, and it should not when there are "better" solutions according to the decision matrices.

Business hat

Linux should be used when it provides the best return on investment of the various approaches evolved by our technical gurus in response to our detailed functional requirements. This is true for internal and external projects.

User hat

It looks like it might be more fun in the long run and I will not get as many disconcerting surprises since I must evolve the desktop myself or select a group whose policies I like. I have a little more control than just buying a new system every year preloaded from a mailorder house with the current large suite of software. On the down side I have to learn a lot initially to function, and then keep learning to maintain my desktop.

Burned Entrepreneur

The last time I relied on closed solutions (Microsoft, Autodesk and Macromedia) bugs in the tools and the platform and fast unstable version releases diluted my product development team's efforts. This slowed us down sufficiently that key personnel got nervous and left the firm I had spent 5 years building to half million dollar gross annual revenues. Just on the verge of real wealth possibilites (transitioning from consulting services to our own product line) key portions of the painstakingly built and paid for "corproate" expertise accepted higher paying positions elsewhere. Some of the stakeholders got tired of waiting for returns that kept receding just a bit from our grasp. Every 3 months with a new version released at a profit to our suppliers that claimed to fix some old deadly bugs and introduced new deadly bugs. Infinitely shuttling from alpha to beta while handing licensing money to our suppliers. No existing brandname to unethically exploit our anticipated customers; thus allowing marginal success on shipping a beta sufficient to recover the invested capital and move on to another product line.

Bankruptcy. This is fun. Lets depend on other's secret proprietary technology next time too. They obviously have our best interests at heart cause their salespeople say they make money when we make money. Longterm this may be true sometimes. Short term survivors make money in the short term and survive to make more money in the long term. Hence buggy products ship sometimes to generate needed cashflows now. This works better for established behomeths than small startups. At least it used to. There may be changes upon us soon.

At least with access to the source code problems can be identified if not fixed, better workarounds can be devised, and/or versions frozen or stable set of components identified when appropriate. Sometimes this will help and sometimes it will not but at least the information is available to make better informed decisions and sometimes prosper.

If you are not burning copies of the stable source code on cdrom for the tools you find useful on your desktop then it is possible that you are not fully exploiting the true power of free software. The ability to regress back to nirvhana like state of working systems.

If soureforge's data archives went offline tommorrow, how long would it take to recover the critical information to the public?

In summary, IMHO

Use linux when it is your own best interest.

Participants in early development efforts of linux benefited from a variety of factors such as self education, satisfaction in regaining control of their desktop, interpersonal interaction with others of similar interests, a prototyping test bed or arena for pet theories or algorythms, etc.

With the ongoing successful shipping of linux the potential sources of benefits have continued to broaden until now we are seeing economic potential to businesses and individual desktop users. This will continue to grow as we show them their self interests in using linux and other free software components in their applications. It is important not to oversell and adversely impact individuals in this growing community of diverse users.

Burning neophytes for short term gain is not doing anyone any good except for the few who derive revenue from it directly. This in my view puts some in the same category as the existing proprietary behomeths who have built this defective business model over the last few decades. It is defective because it is detrimental to society if it puts billions in specific pockets at the detriment of others economic interests. Knowledge based economies are not necessarily zero sum or minus sum games and we should implement some plus sum games sufficient to improve economic conditions worldwide.

I use Linux because of GNU and GPL, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 18:48 UTC by atai » (Journeyer)

The strongest thing going for Linux (a.k.a. GNU/Linux) is that it is GPL-licensed and its core people (kernel people) strongly supports the GPL, and its userland environment is the GNU system. Linux is technically not unique, as there are other alike OSes that can do the typical things Linux can do (the BSDs). But I push others to use GNU/Linux because the more people use it, the more people will contribute to it, and the faster it will improve.

The main advantage of Linux is not any technology in Linux, but the GPL. People don't say "peace, love and Linux" just for any piece of technology, be it the kernel, or device drivers. They do, for the Free Software culture, and for the GPL. The GPL is what makes Linux stand out. And the GPL is what makes Linux on the rise. Besides Microsoft Windows and Linux, no other OSes are growing in popularity, but the GPL makes Linux expanding despite Microsoft's opposition.

unproductive, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 19:44 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

Not to be offensive in any way, but I don't really find a discussion like this to be all that productive...and it seems like it is beginning to go down the slippery slope of flamewars. Why use Linux? We're probably going to break down into two, maybe three groups. There are going to be the stalwart Free Software fans (of which I am one) who use GNU/Linux because of the GNU in front - people that believe in the political and ethical values espoused by the Free Software movement, and are less concerned with silly implementation details like "is this technically the best software" (whether or not GNU/Linux is). Then there is going to be the group of people that claim software superiority, and like Linux (they'll just call it linux) because it is more stable, more featureful, powerful, or whatever they want to claim. The possible third group is just people that like to tinker - having source code available makes it easier to do that, and it is pretty fun to play around with drivers, libraries, and all sorts of other software goodies.

My point being, I could have told you that without having this article here. And there is little point in debating which motivation is better....it isn't going to change why people are motivated. As I mentioned before, I am one of those that cares about the political values put forth by Free Software. I hope that those will trickle into the rest of our lives. But, I realize that it is a very long and difficult process (that is a whole other article or diary entry right there), so while I always evangelize, I am not going to yell at someone for using Linux because they like to tinker rather than because they like the Free Software community's stated value system. I'd rather focus on getting people over to Free Software from proprietary stuff.

Chances are, also, that as Advogato's purpose in life is to be a discussion forum for Free Software people, you're probably going to find a higher percentage of people that are going to say that they care about Software Freedom. At least I hope that is still true....otherwise Advogato has shifted from its original purpose.

Simple, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 22:47 UTC by Adrian » (Master)

"Linux: cause I'm cheap"

though the credit for that one goes to Ryan

A variant Re: Simple, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 23:18 UTC by atai » (Journeyer)

"I use Linux because I cannot afford the Microsoft Tax."

credit goes to me...

(Just a joke)

Freemanship and time to 'fess up., posted 28 Aug 2001 at 23:30 UTC by slef » (Master)

OK, first of all a confession. The events I described in the 2nd comment didn't actually lead me to use Linux at work (although I did at home), but there I chose FreeBSD because it was an easier install of a more mature operating system. The only reason I moved away was for a simple distribution problem: no simple upgrade path besides nuke and reinstall (at that time). I moved to Debian and haven't regretted it.

RyanMuldoon has a point. Again. Why are we talking about this? Let's do something productive instead: I floated on a FSFE list the idea of a page on how supporters can most effectively advocate Free Software in a similar style to the Linuxmanship (whose URL I still haven't noted). Before anyone starts work on such a thing, does anyone know of a resource that already exists? This is to be aimed at supporters who need/want to persuade others and should be in a punchy keyword-based style. Is it out there?

Because It's Different In Many Ways, posted 28 Aug 2001 at 23:57 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Interesting question, why use Linux?

Here's some of my personal ones why I think Linux is useful:

1) Code is available. If Prof. Lessig claims "Code Is Law" which definitely is true in the right sense. To me, code that is availaible is more than Law. In fact, it's beyond Law, more like a written tradition. It becomes part of every process. It becomes a foundation to build upon. When code is passed to generations as in the way how rituals are passed down from mother to daughter and father to son, a community rises out from it.

2) Intimate knowledge of the hardware. This is where Linux shines, the ability to get close to the hardware. At that level of knowledge, anybody can remove any software and setup a new one. Old code is discarded simply because it's "soft". Even better, with that knowledge, it can serve a springboard to a potential business venture.

3) Because I can. That pretty much sums it up, because I can do what I want to do and make something other than what is available out there. And if I can make that happen, that would be called "Innovation".

Not to forget others, but there are other OS other than Linux which I think is also worth looking into. I will not mention then here simply because I don't want to make my writing longer. I think that's about it for Linux.

My suggestion here is use any software you like, even closed software. There's so many choices out there and it should be taken into consideration. More important is to learn machine language programming and the C language stack model which is probably the best experience one can have in dealing with cobbled hardware. If you're not into hardware and don't like its groove, I suggest higher level language with strong typing, meaning, runtimes having the sandbox model where objects, references and values are the base types.

free is better, posted 29 Aug 2001 at 22:37 UTC by grant » (Journeyer)

GPL, that's the bottom line...

maybe I had used enough software to have built a healthy layer of discriminatory skepticism when I entered the job market, but I wouldn't be comfortable releasing software, and even to some degree using it, if it weren't free

it helps to have software with a future, not just a past... that's why I use Linux – I've been using Unix off and on for the better part of my life, but only started running my own server in recent years, not just because there's a 'net with affordable access points to attach it to, but because it's free from top to bottom... I keep meaning to try out Debian, RockLinux, other flavors, etc., or even perhaps BSD, but shy away from the "you can kill me with my software, and I'll just be happy you're using my software" artistic license crap (at one time I thought I was idealistic). it's not a strong reaction, only mildly affecting my choice of software (I use what's best for the task at hand, as much as possible), but as differentiation increases, the effect of the licensing scheme on user adoption does, too

is there (or should there be) a free/open equivalent to vmware, or is the x86 architecture only worth clustering, not bifurcating? personally I think a freeVm package could greatly increase development/experience of lots of software, including Linux desktops, due to the safety of a separate boot process. I still haven't tried VNC...

Quality and freedom, posted 30 Aug 2001 at 19:24 UTC by krftkndl » (Journeyer)

I saw this quote on a mailing list. Not sure who should get the credit, perhaps sneakums.

I came for the quality, but I stayed for the freedom.
That's my feelings in a nutshell.

Linux V Microslave, posted 11 Sep 2001 at 03:58 UTC by Gregory » (Apprentice)

Penguins are kewl :)

I use Linux because it works, it's powerful and it alows you to have a little more control over your own fate. It also fits in alot better with the GPL sofware that I already use. Windows is only really good for playing games. Which was what it was designed for :)


Blue Screen of Death!, posted 16 Oct 2001 at 14:10 UTC by Tux » (Apprentice)

I use Linux because its free, I dont have to pay close to $200.00 in the store to use it. My Linux box running Linux Mandrake 8.0 has been running about 4 months now. I set up an experiment when I first upgraded from 7.1 to 8.0. I installed WindowsME on a 686mhz computer. And Linux MDK 8.0 on a 686mhz computer. I used both operating systems for the same tasks, IRC, listening to music, surfing the web, working on my home page, playing mud games... etc. After about one week of my Windows machine being up I kept getting frequient Blue Screen of Death, fatal exception occured errors. Everyone has had those that has used Windows. It got so bad to the point that I would have to restart the computer to get it to work properly. My Linux box has been up 4 months and 3 days with no problems... well no problems other then user caused problems. I think that another reason that people like to use Linux is because you have many programming languages at your dispense. You can get like Active Perl and visual C++ for Windows, but its not the same, and they usually dont have the newest version of the software out. Linux is easy to install. No hastle with registration codes, or detecting winmodems. Its easy to upgrade. You dont have to worry about how many times you install it, like with WinXP. Its more reliable, and stable for running domain servers. With Linux, I dont have to telnet to a Linux machine to run and IRCd or other *nix applications. I can run it on my own box. Plus.. isnt Tux the penguin so damn cute ? ;oD

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