Put yourself in his/her shoes. You’re a budding young technical writer and the one word you hear popping up in almost every tech-related conversation is, you guessed it, Linux. Now look in the mirror and try to tell yourself you’re more than a writer. After all, you write about technology because it not only interests you, but you’re accurate and fair enough to tell it like it is. Maybe not.
We’ve used the word Linux here to signify Linux as an OS. Thus unless it is specifically mention Linux as a kernel within the context of the article it means Linux as an OS/platform and more specifically as different distributions. Also, all opinions are these of the author, and not necessarily those of osnews.com.
I’m not a technical writer. I’m not someone who’s only used the most well known Operating Systems. And most importantly, I’m not someone who is going to try and convince you that you need to switch to Linux if you’re currently using Windows. Let me go one step further… I’m going to tell you why Linux is NOT for you. Hopefully the people I’m talking to will be seeing clearly
enough to know who they are by the end of this article.
I remember not too long ago reading a comment on OSNews, or maybe it was Slashdot, or maybe it was on my own web site. Where it was is not what’s important. What is important is not just what it had in it, but how frequently I’ve seen it. I’m certain you’re all familiar with comments like the one I’m talking about and I’m certain you’re all familiar with reading it in tens and hundreds of technical writeups over time. The statement at hand goes something like, “… if you want to start seeing Linux on the desktop, the Linux user base is going to have to start saying a little bit more than RTFM to every question that comes their way, especially if you want to take down Redmond (Microsoft).” I’d like for a minute that everyone reading this focus on the last part, the “especially if you want to take down Redmond” part. I’m not sure when using Linux became synonymous with trying to run Microsoft out of business, but at some point in the past year or so, it did happen. My question to you is, who made it that way?
The most obvious answer to who made the Linux philosophy, “destroy Microsoft,” would be that the Linux users made it that. While it may be true that most Linux users have a certain amount of
spite, and maybe too much in some cases, for Microsoft, it is not true that we use Linux because of that. I’m going to now direct you all to a quote I’m sure many of you are all familiar with; it is as follows: “*BSD is for people who love Unix, Linux is for people who hate Windows.” Cheers to whoever said it for producing such witty words that you can now find it in peoples’ .sig’s, but shame for saying it when you are clearly biased towards *BSD. I’m not implying that the person who said it never used Linux. I’m not even saying the person didn’t use Linux regularly, or enough to formulate the opinion, what I am saying is that clearly the user suspects that the only merit which Linux users find in their OS is that it is, on some level, better than Microsoft. Let me be one of the many who I’m sure have already said, I don’t use BSD cause I love Unix, and I don’t use Linux because I hate Windows. I use Linux because I love Linux. If you feel that my love for Linux is somehow going to skew my views within this article, I ask that you go back to the title and reread that part, because from here on in I’m not going to argue why you should use Linux, but why you shouldn’t.
Point number one: You should not use Linux if you’re not willing to use Linux. I’m very big on this issue alone, because I feel that most of the Linux reviews I read, positive and negative are written by people who are very unwilling to use Linux. Linux is NOT Windows, nor is it *BSD, nor is it BeOS, nor is it Mac OS X, nor is it QNX. I think when most people hear that Linux can
replace Windows they automatically think it’s going to be just like Windows. Let me put it to everyone this way. If you were to ask me as a Linux user why I use Linux, would I go on about how easy it is to use? Would I go on about how there’s a wizard for everything? How all my hardware is auto-detected and I never have to worry about anything ever? No. The reason I use Linux is the same reason anyone who uses Linux does so, because Linux offers them something no other OS does. If I could tell anyone what Linux would offer them that no other OS does, I’d probably be working for RedHat sales department, but I can’t. I can’t because Linux offers something different for everyone who uses it, but that is, in the end, why they use it. So for all technical writers who think to do another monotonous Linux vs. Windows article you should probably think first about why you want to see how Linux compares in the first place. What’s your problem with Windows that you want Linux to fix? Does it fix that problem? If Linux was the perfect OS for everyone, everyone would use it, and the same goes for Windows and any other OS for that matter.
Point number two: You should not use Linux if you want to do everything Windows users can do. Want a platform that has hardware accelerated drivers for every card that supports such a thing? Want a platform that plays every “PC” game you buy at EB? If you answered yes to either of these questions Linux is not for you. When a couple of my friends have asked me, “If I get Linux will I be able to play all the Games I play on Windows?” My answer is always “No, but there are games for Linux, and there will probably be more in the future.” So what am I saying when I give them that answer… what I’m really saying is that Games aren’t important to me, and I could care less if Linux is going to run the latest and greatest games because I could care less about the latest and greatest games. Does that mean Linux has no entertainment value? No. I can easily play Unreal Tournament 2003, Counter-Strike (Using Wine or WineX), and lots of other games both native and non-native to Linux. Unlike users who ask me this question though, I don’t use my computer primarily for games. Games are the thing I do when I don’t feel I have anything more important to do and know I
can kill some of my free time. Games are my answer to what would normally be either naturally induced or laziness induced boredom. So why should you switch to Linux if you want to play all the latest and greatest games? You shouldn’t; The same thing goes for any application which truly doesn’t have a Linux alternative. That doesn’t mean you can’t support the idea of such a thing on Linux. I had a friend who was Windows only for some time and played tons of games, he was just as happy to see Quake III on Linux as I was. Why? Why Not? Just cause you use Windows for gaming doesn’t mean you have to say “Windows is the only platform that should have games, Microsoft and gaming for life!!!”
Point number three: You should not use Linux if you want carefree, but you probably shouldn’t use Windows either. One of the greatest arguments by technical writers, newbies, or first time Linux attempters is that Linux is not as easy and as care free when it comes to installing and maintaining. The major argument by Linux users is, “yes it is just as easy, you just don’t know how to get it that way.” Bad argument? I think not. Most Linux distributions that aim for desktop usage are just as easy to install as Windows, at least with the right hardware. Most versions of Windows aimed at desktop usage are just as easy to install as Linux, at least with the right hardware. I’m sure you all recall the long article written by the “technical writer” who tried to get Linux working on some legacy hardware that Windows was having trouble with and then complained because Linux couldn’t do it. Well… like I said in point number one. Why were you switching to Linux in the first place? Did it fix that? In this case, it didn’t, however, in another case it may have, and in yet another case it also may have not. There’s no mystery to why some stuff works and why other stuff doesn’t. Hardware works when A) There’s a driver to use for it and B) There’s a good driver to use for it. If you don’t have a driver for it, don’t expect it to work, no matter what OS you are on, and yes, using a generic driver on Windows is still a driver, which leads me to my second point. If you don’t have a good driver, don’t expect it to work completely, or all the time. One of my professors the other day mentioned that the image we were seeing on the TV was of poor quality because the computer he was using to display the image on there was using generic video drivers and could not get more than 16-bit color. So why do some people expect Linux to auto-detect hardware it doesn’t have drivers for? Or auto-detect hardware with poor drivers or incomplete drivers. Certainly there are cases where there is a driver for it and it doesn’t auto-detect, but there are also cases of this on Windows. I know that there are cases of this on windows cause I’ve used it, and have it on my system right now. What version you say? Windows 2000… So now I hear some Microsoft junkie saying “Well you shouldn’t use Windows 2000, it has some poor driver support compared to Windows XP.” And I say to them they shouldn’t use Linux 2.4, it has poor driver support compared to Linux 2.5. Fact of the matter is newer versions of Linux will have better support and more support for hardware the same way newer versions of Windows will have. Granted 2.5 isn’t considered “stable,” but it doesn’t change the issue of recent software having more support than it’s predecessor.
Point number three continued: Updating Linux is more time consuming and in some ways more difficult than updating windows. First off, let’s be clear that Linux as a piece of software is just a kernel, so as most Linux users are familiar with, updating it causes you to have to recompile that kernel, unless someone else compiles it for you and you simply put it on there. Either way,
the same process has to be done with a Windows kernel, it’s simply that the user may not see this because A) Microsoft doesn’t really update or overhaul the kernel until they have a completely new version and B) The minor changes they do make are mostly distributed in upgrades where users don’t know what it’s fixing anyway. Users do one thing in windows to upgrade; that is of course to click a button that says “upgrade.” Some Linux distributions make this possible. As we all know Debian’s apt-get is great for upgrading and installing new software, and other so-called “desktop distributions” have their own method of automatically downloading necessary packages and installing them. So yes, Linux can just as quickly add new software and kernel as Windows, it just usually doesn’t. You could load my Linux desktop with 1000s of buttons that all say “upgrade” and I’d avoid every one with a passion, why? Because I want to upgrade my system the way I want to. I want to know what I’m putting in, where I’m putting it, and why I’m putting it there. This is something I can do with Windows to some extent, but not fully, and particularly not on a kernel level. So when I update my Linux system it is quite often more time consuming than when I update Windows, but I wouldn’t give that up for the world, because I’m in control, not an upgrade application.
Remember that different does not mean the same as difficult. There was a time when my now 50+ year old aunt memorized DOS commands because she needed to in order to complete her job. Today she calls me when her “e-mail appears to freeze,” because she was unaware that downloading an e-mail with a 9MB attachment on her 56K dialup would take that long, and during that time the progress bar for “retrieving e-mail” would not move. Did she know enough to telnet into her pop3 server, give it the necessary commands and figure out the size of the e-mail with attachments? Furthermore, did she know how to delete that e-mail using telnet, had she decided she didn’t really needed it and would only be a waste of time? I don’t think she knew any of this, that doesn’t
mean what I did was difficult, she just didn’t know how to do it, the same way my mother who 2 years ago didn’t know how to use a computer didn’t know how to download Yahoo Messenger on Windows. She didn’t even know how to get to the blunt of her applications (by “get to” I mean click the start menu and go to programs). Conclusion: Anything you’ve never seen before is difficult, no matter how intuitive or how many failsafes have been protected by sticking logical messages to the user inside the code. Just because we know that Linux has a different method of doing things, doesn’t mean it has a difficult one.
Point number Four: You should not use Linux if you’re trying to destroy Microsoft. Let me say that again for all of you analysts, technical writers, Linux “companies”, and supporters of this so called
Linux is not here to destroy Microsoft. It’s simply not. Remember what the number one Linux developer of all time said: “… just a hobby, won’t be anything big and professional …” If you ask me, the goal of Linux is not made by RedHat, SuSE, IBM, or even Linus himself. The goal of Linux is made up in the mind of the user you’re talking to, and their goal may be very different
from yours. I’ve seen so many people say that the goal of Linux is now to take on the desktop, mainly Linux desktop developers and hardcore Linux desktop users. If you’re going to try and speak for an Operating System
you should probably try to at least understand that the goals you’re talking about are not that piece of software’s, nor are they everyone who uses that piece of software, but they are yours,
and quite possibly yours alone. Granted that if a distribution is going to “take down Redmond,” it will most likely have to mimic Redmond enough that users can migrate to it without noticing
any difference, but who’s to say that’s what Linux users want. I’d love to see the day when I can walk in and buy Linux on a computer at Best Buy or CompUSA, but I’d never actually buy one.
I’d never buy one
because I know the Linux I’m getting on that system is probably so much like Windows that it’s not even recognizable as Linux. So why do we have this outstanding number of people in the Linux
community saying Linux is going to destroy Microsoft and that the number one goal of Linux now must be the desktop? We don’t. Most of the people who write this jibber-jabber are Microsoft users who feel the goal of Linux SHOULD be to replace Microsoft. Another large majority are people who support or work in companies which produce software and Linux distributions that are trying to replace Microsoft. Lastly, the ones that don’t fall into the first few categories are the ones like me. We say Linux is going to destroy Microsoft cause it is. Not because we want it to, not even cause we really care if it does. Sure I wouldn’t mind seeing people using Open Source Software and having products that are backed as much by the people who make them as the people who sell them, but hands down it’s not my number one goal. If it sounds selfish to say that I could really care less if Joe Blow is able to, or wants to run Linux, then so be it. The fact is, I really only care if I’m able to do everything I want on Linux, and the fact is, I can.
Being ABLE to do stuff on Linux doesn’t necessarily mean to me that there’s a software application to do it, or that it’s already been done on my system. Being ABLE to do stuff on Linux is
what it says, being able to. At the moment, I could modify my kernel source code to support hardware I want it to support, I could rewrite the memory manager, I could add my own system calls.
I could do lots of stuff and to be perfectly modest about it I can really do ANYTHING on Linux. In my opinion, this is what Linux is all about. I know there are many other Operating
there that are open source and community driven, but there’s something about Linux as a piece of software and as a community that just holds me to it. And honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with my Operating System of choice being referred to as a “religion” as it sometimes is. I don’t care if your Operating System is technically better, if it has better games, more carefree installs and upgrades… I don’t care if your OS makes it quicker for you to do what you want to do. What I do care about is that Linux is the right OS for me and the OS that best fits my needs. If my needs change and the OS fails to adapt, I’ll either adapt it myself, or change the OS I use, but until then Linux is far from what’s right for everyone, and I could care less, because it’s what’s right for me.
I’d like to conclude by saying that I realize a lot of my points seem to follow similar lines, they are almost sub points of one another. So if the article seemed a bit redundant at times, I do apologize. I feel as though these points, although pretty much all along the same line of thought are separate and simply tie in to each other very well. The ability and desire to use Linux as an OS requires that you have the ability and desire to learn it as your OS, and this would assume you are able to upgrade, install, and entertain yourself etc. Most people lack the desire to use Linux and therefore end up simply as people with the desire NOT to use windows, so they move to Linux very halfheartedly (See point #1).
Secondly I’d like to just respond to some of the obvious comments that I’ll probably get from Windows users and Linux users alike.
— If everyone thought like the guy who wrote this article, Linux would go no where. He makes it clear that he really only cares that it fits him and as long as that’s done and over with Linux is the best OS in his eyes.
Apparently whoever might say this hasn’t read what I’ve said good enough. In the end I do summarize by saying I use Linux because it does what I want it to do, and I could really care less if it appeals to Joe Blow desktop users, but throughout I make it very clear that I’m not the only Linux user, and that most Linux users seem to have a similar line of thought. Not so much that we should just abandon the end user and tell them to RTFM, but the fact is that Linux wasn’t created to satisfy the end user, the developer, or anyone really. It was created to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of Linus Torvalds. Where it expanded to after that it did so not by saying “We need to make this so that Joe Blow can use it.” but by saying “We need to make this so that we can use it.” After all, very few Linux Open Source Software developers don’t use Linux, if any, and by that I mean, on the initial level, almost all software we use on Linux was probably started by someone saying “I wish I had that.” not “I wish you had that.”
— You said it yourself that “Linux will destroy Microsoft.” So how does this make you any different from someone who tells everyone else to get on the Linux bandwagon cause it’s so much better than the Windows one?
Saying that Linux will destroy Microsoft doesn’t mean that I think Linux is better in every aspect. I do firmly believe Linux COULD be better in every aspect, and this is solely because of it’s Open Source model. I realize right now, however, that Linux doesn’t do everything everyone wants, but I refuse to say that it CAN’T do that stuff. Linux destroying Microsoft is a consequence of where we know Linux is going in the next ten years having already seen where it’s gone in the last ten. Linux development has been almost exponential and there are tons of new
and exciting technologies out there that not only represent the power of it as an OS, but the power of it as a development platform. Think about AA lib… I remember programs that converted images to ASCII after a long “render” time…. this thing converts images to ASCII at lightning speeds, so fast that you’re able to play video games and watch movies in text only with some not
so low but not so high definition. Take a couple steps back and you’re sure to be impressed. I’ve been using Linux since Kernel 1.1 — What I’ve seen Linux do since that time I think it would have taken Microsoft triple that time to do on Windows. The problem is that Linux developers can’t stop here, and I know they won’t. What we see right now is a trend to mimic Windows. You may
recall an article recently on OSnews that claimed in order for Linux to make any sort of an impact developers would need to contribute to the “great good.” The author said that the overall necessity was to get developers to join onto projects which already had the blunt of the work done but lacked “perfection.” I disagree with
this completely, because I think it’s better that Linux developers constantly think of new ways to do things. For example, I don’t think that an environment with menus, icons, and windows is the only and best Graphical User Environment. Mimicking what we already have is good enough to convince people we can do as good, but I think we can do better. And in order to do better we need developers who are willing to make new applications with innovative ideas and quite possibly completely never before seen methods of doing whatever users want to do on the computer. This is also why I’m a big
supporter of projects like DirectFB which aims to create a new method (with many new features to) for displaying graphics on Linux systems.
— Does this guy have something against technical writers, analysts, and Linux companies. It seems that all he’s doing is attacking people who have said Linux is bad, what makes this guy different from any other Linux zealot?
Technical Writers, Analysts, and Linux companies don’t necessarily give off the right image of Linux… here’s why. Technical Writers are quick to make the Linux vs. Windows comparison and say that in terms of desktop usage Linux loses, in terms of software support Linux loses, in terms of hardware support Linux loses. This is a bad assumption to make, because there are thousands of applications I can compile on Linux that don’t have equivalents in windows, and it’s really not the other way around. Developers have worked hard at making alternatives to Windows software on Linux sometimes with exactly the same features, sometimes with some missing but other added that the Windows counterpart doesn’t have. I prefer Open Office to MS Windows, not just cause it’s free, but because it seems less obtrusive and obnoxious. I prefer GIMP to Photoshop, I feel it has a cleaner interface with a much more direct method of doing what I want when I want. However, many will argue that GIMP is worse than Photoshop and OO.o is worse than Word. I don’t think there’s a such thing as “worse.” It’s really all about user preference, and what some people see as lack of features, others see as the removal of unnecessary features. Is it really necessary to have a “shadow effect” filter in Photoshop when the same thing can be done using layers, blurring, and opacity settings?
Analysts are just as quick to jump on the Linux vs. Windows bandwagon but in a much more market share sense. They’ll say Linux is doubling in server sales while Windows is staying the same, only growing a little, or in some cases declining a little or a lot. I don’t like this as a representation of the quality of Linux, which is often how it’s used. Too many people are quick to
associate market share with how well the product is, and we all know that such a thing is not the case. Also, it’s a pain to see a company say that Linux is growing in the server market but making not so large moves in the Desktop market. It’s not just a pain because some of these numbers are largely inaccurate, but because we begin to associate the entire OS with a single function, rather than the usually specialized distributions+versions of the OS.
We don’t say that Windows Datacenter Server isn’t used as frequently on Desktop systems as Windows XP… that would just be inane. Yet analysts are quick to make no distinctions between Linux which is optimized and configured for server environments and that of Desktops. You want to see movement, divide Linux up into server Linux distributions and desktop Linux distributions, see which ones have made the greater sales over time. Increasing the amount of servers which use Linux from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 might look like a big increase, but percentage wise increasing the number of desktop Linux systems from 1 to 2 is just as big a leap. I don’t expect desktop Linux sales to match that of Server sales even in percentages, but I don’t feel that people who watch it’s sales accurately represent the growth it’s making in the desktop market. As far as Linux companies go. I feel they are the major backers of “Linux must replace Windows.” Because they’ll be the ones that not
only make the money off of it, but get the most out of the “I told you so” factor. Do I think Linux has the ability to replace it? Yes, I’ve already said that, but do I think we should try to express it as the number one goal of a community? No. I don’t think it should be expressed as a goal at all, it’s strictly business when you’re talking about who’s running what. What we should
be talking about is not who or how many are running what but why or where they are running what, that way we are better able to gauge Linux in terms of what we know it can do and what we know it can’t do, instead of gauging it in terms of “can it replace windows.”
Lastly, I’m certain there will be people who disagree with my views, opinions, and objections to Linux usage and representation, but I think it’s more important that when people use Linux they use it because it works and does what they want it to do than if people use it just cause someone said it’s better than Windows. It’s not so much better than Windows than it is different, and different doesn’t mean more difficult, less difficult, better, or worse. It simply means that if you’re expecting to move from Windows to Linux and feel just like you’re using Windows, you shouldn’t be moving to Linux in the first place. Sadly, these are the type of “moves” which represent the mass amounts of inaccurate Linux reviews and editorials which constantly say, “Is Linux Ready for the
Desktop?” Because in the end, yes, Linux is ready for the Desktop… I just don’t think the vast majority of people are ready for Linux.