Opinion: Common OS Myths Debunked

One day while doing my daily browsing through the web, I came across a message board post that was in response to a Linux zealot’s rant. It went a little something like this, “If Linux had the market share of Windows, and Windows was the underdog you would be saying how great, and easy to use Windows is, and how it just works.” My first reaction was of anger and dismissal, “Linux is open source Linux uses protected memory…” But the more I thought about it the more it disturbed me because I knew it was true. What do you do when you think an opinion you have may be in jeopardy of being wrong? You compare the facts and sort out the myths.

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of osnews.com

Myth #1: Linux is the operating system that “just works”

This myth is simply untrue, Windows is the operating system that just works. Whether the Linux folks would like to admit it or not, Windows is easy to get going. You put in one
CD, install, boot, double click on Internet explorer, and download whatever programs you feel like. Then double click on the program, and 1, 2, 3 you are up and running. If it were flip flopped and
Windows was in Linux’s shoes the Windows zealots would go on and on about how complex, difficult, and limited package managers are, “See look we can get what we need right from the developer with an installation routine customized for their application!”

Myth #2: Windows is insecure

Okay maybe this isn’t a myth, Windows
for the most part is not, as secure as Linux. However, to
Microsoft’s credit, most of the time the crackers get their exploits
from patches already released from Microsoft. We give Microsoft a
hard time for, “taking over users computers to download
security updates.” Well what are they supposed to do when no
one downloads patches? Windows zealots would be going on about the
convenience and incredible support they get. “That’s right my
computer is constantly securing itself with the latest patches, no
recompiling and patching source code for us!” The bottom line
is this, most of the “insecurity,” of windows comes from
spy-ware, which comes from Internet Explorer, if you were to use
Netscape or any of the Mozilla’s then you would have drastically less
of these annoying critters.

Myth #3: Windows has better hardware

It is true that there are some devices
Linux simply does not support. At the risk of sounding predictable I
am just going to come out and say it, “Try and run windows on a
Mac.” Linux has excellent hardware support, especially if you
use a run of the mill desktop PC, or for that matter, you use a run
of the mill high performance cluster farm, or you use a run of the
mill really, really, old hardware. You get the point. My personal
experience proves this point. I have had the pleasure of installing
Linux on several machines, the two most common were a dell dimension
8200 and a dell laptop. Both are recent, but not really
recent, meaning they were in their driver support prime. Windows
detected everything on the Dimension except the sound card, the IBM
optical mouse, the CD burner, and of course there was only basic
support for my graphics card, a geForce2 MX. Additionally I had to go
through that awful “Setup your Internet connection wizard.”
On the Dell laptop Windows detected nothing, it gave me a tiny
resolution screen, a mouse, a keyboard, and read functionality on the
CD writer. I could not even get on my home network to download the 6
or 7 drivers. I had to go out and pull down the drivers from their
perspective manufacturers, burn them on a CD, and then proceed to
install each one, and reboot after every install. Both computers ran
Slackware, the most “Linux version of Linux.” with 100%
hardware detection, all of course, except for graphics acceleration
on the dimension, whose drivers had to be downloaded and compiled for
my kernel, which i will admit is a bigger pain than of that in
Windows, still I did not “need” to download them since
out of the box Linux support was more thorough than in Windows.

Myth #4: Linux does a few things and does them well

This is a myth that I got trapped in
for a long while. The way I looked at it is simple: if you have an IT
department to setup the Linux machines, then your average worker
would be more productive, because Linux is stable, and has everything
you would need to run an office. I assumed that it did not have that
good of support for graphics or audio which was no big deal in the
office. Then came Unreal Tournament 2004, ready and willing to be
played on Linux. I installed it from the CD’s it was all in one
directory that you could put anywhere on your system, it saved the
game files right in a hidden folder in the users home directory and
that was it. It rendered using OpenGL via the SDL(Simple Direct media
Layer, think DirectX). Apparently Slackware 9.1 had the packages
installed and ready to go, nothing told me that I needed to upgrade
or was missing any libraries or anything. The game play was
extraordinary. Smooth rendering, crystal clear sound, incredible
particle effects, anything you could ever want from a game. I decided
to boot over to my Windows partition on the same computer and give
the game a whirl, I was generous too, I downloaded the latest drivers
for my video card, and the latest DirectX, I also looked for patches
on the game. Before running the game I ended all processes that
weren’t necessary, Surely it would be even better on Windows. After
all it was made for Windows, and I have all of the latest
drivers and everything! I didn’t even look to see if I was current
when I loaded it up on Linux. Alas, I was wrong, It took forever to
get going on Windows, and I experienced lags, frame rate spikes,
inundated processor usage, and system crashes. It was still an
incredible game, just a lot smoother to run on Linux. All of the
sudden my geeky little Linux box transformed into a sleek, sexy
graphics machine. The good news keeps coming! With the freshly
reworked sound system, Advanced Linux Sound Architecture(ALSA), the
new Linux kernels have impeccable sound quality, and support. With
video editors on the horizon, and a plethora of audio tools readily
and freely available, Linux is showing it’s true multimedia colors,
and they are definitely crisp.

Myth #5: Windows is bad for the server

Throughout this article i have been more than fair to Windows than I probably should have been, but sorry Bill, you aren’t going to snake out of this one. It’s no myth,
Windows is bad news on the server. Don’t believe me? Check out Netcraft’s uptimes, the highest belong to FreeBSD and Linux. There are a couple of Windows servers up there, but they are few and far
between. “Yes this is true but uptime is not all that counts, if you are up for thirty days and then do a 2 minute reboot at 3 am I doubt the world will end.” This is true, and this is the exact
argument that Microsoft is pushing with there new server OS, they claim that since IIS (Internet Information Server, Microsoft’s very own web server) runs closer to the operating system, it has faster
response times and can serve up pages more effectively, than on a Linux system where the web server is running “far removed from the OS.” I am no security expert but if you tried to sell your
web server to the Linux community on the basis that it “works in kernel space instead of user space!” you would be laughed out of the room, and possibly the state. Yes you get a slight
performance increase but you are still limited by the system hardware, and if you have an memory leak you definitely don’t want the memory to leak all of your kernel’s memory, that could bring down
your system in a matter of seconds. While Linux does have security problems like any piece of software, if you make any sort of effort to patch it up you are tons better off than running a really secured
version of windows, in either case crackers are glorified and if it was really that “easy,” to break into a website yahoo would never be up, and neither would Microsoft.com. Update: Apparently the new Windows 2003 Server is not a bad competitor to Linux and FreeBSD according to a lot of people, but sadly I never tried it.

Myth #6: Mac is the best since it is as
easy to use as windows, and has the stability of UNIX

Macs are stable, yes. Macs are easy to
use, again true. However Apple suffers from some very serious “one
size fits all” issues. I would like to forewarn readers that i
have had exceptionally little experience with macs, think 4 or 5
hours total. This is just a little bit of what I have gathered if I
am wrong please, please, politely point it out under the assumption
that I am telling you I have no idea what I am talking about. On with
the goodies! Every single time I am at the mall I drag everyone into
the Mac store making my way all around it with my jaw dragging the
floor. No doubt the hardware is sleek and sexy, the desktops are
always up and running, and the graphics subsystem is a work of art to
be mimicked for years to come. Too me Macs are like a really fancy
furniture store, everything looks incredible, is comfortable, and of
the utmost quality. The only problem is that of a monetary nature.
From my voice to your ears: “I can’t afford a Mac!”
Believe me if I was a millionaire this would be a PowerMac g5 instead
of a cruddy old p3 450mhz machine I brought back from the grave.
That is another story, now onto the issue at hand. My one and only
qualm with Mac is the fact that everything has to be for and about
Mac, Apple is in the business of selling an “experience.”
This is fine and dandy if you don’t mind buying Mac hardware, and Mac
software updates, as well as using mostly Mac applications. I would
like to reiterate the point that those may not be negatives for some
of you, still, I am a tinkerer and a fan of the cheap, and diverse
world of standard PC hardware. Just remember that while Macs are
great computers they do have some shortcomings. Thinking objectively
you must realize Macs have the least hardware support, as well as the
least diverse selection of software. I am completely aware of “the
mhz myth” and would like to point out that even though the
megahertz gap between a mac processor and a p4 is not really
the performance gap, but the latest from Intel has usually
been better than the latest from Apple, and with the x86 architecture
you get more bang for your buck. Please no fan boy flames about Mac
hardware, bottom line: it’s good stuff but you can get a better
system, hardware speaking, for cheaper if you go with x86.
Additionally Apple goes to nVidia and ATI to provide them with their
graphics cards, which is a good move. ATI and nVidia are the world
leaders in graphics, just as Intel is the leader in processors, so
you would be much better off building a computer using the best, of
the best, throughout the hardware industry instead of being in vendor
lock-in with Apple. That last part is just my opinion, some people
love being 100% pure Apple users, and to those a say, more power too

Myth #7: Linux is ready for the desktop

I know, I know, I am just asking to be
flamed, all the same I am going to speak my peace and be done with
it. I find it amusing when i come across Linux support forum posts,
where a newbie desktop user says something to the effect of: “in
Windows I was able to point to this, and click on this, to get this
done, how do I do that in Linux?” and they get a snotty
response in the format of, “That’s insecure and dumb, now open
up a terminal su over and issue this command, then use the output to
determine what format your distro uses for this, then you will be
able to do this, as long as this isn’t happening.” You see, no
one is accusing Windows of being intuitive, or especially easy to
use. The fact of the matter is Joe average can manage to point and
click his way to installing a piece of software. Linux suffers from
too much diversity, and too much flexibility. I just know someone is
going to bring up “apt-get,” stop! Don’t bring this up!
For Linux to be ready for the average home desktop you have to get it
to the point where a user will never have to see a terminal no matter
what they want to do on their computer. Personally I don’t think
Linux ever will be ready for the user next door, nor do I think it
ever should. There can be some other open source project to make a
desktop OS. I myself like the idea of the OS becoming “transparent,
like the OS on my microwave or car.” (I read that on
Osnews.com somewhere, all credit to that author) The two most common
mis-perceptions that i have heard assume one of two things. A) The
average user is overestimated. We simply assume they know, or can
figure out more things than they actually can, or would care to. B)
The user wants to do more with their desktop than we think. You would
be surprised at how far people are pushing their desktop machines.
People are downloading the latest and greatest file sharing tools and
games. They are downloading mini-web servers to show off pictures,
and are doing heavy duty desktop tweaking. These things are made more
complicated on Linux because of permissions and environment
confusion. If you develop software for Windows you know what
libraries and API’s are available to you, and if you want to use one
that is not available to a default Windows install you include it in
your installer. I wish it was that simple with Linux applications.
You never know what libraries the user has installed, aside from the
core ones. Basically if you want to create a program outside of
“hello world,” you better hope your user knows how to get
those libraries compiled and installed, and that they want to take
the time, and effort to do so. Maybe some of these problems can be
solved, but again in my experience every effort to make a distro more
user friendly has screwed up something else, something that I can’t
live without.


Hopefully you came away with the conclusion that not all operating systems are created equally, but all have their flaws. Using the information above should aid you in your decision to choose a platform that suites you best, at the very least I brought up some very profound points from all sides of the argument as to persuade some people out there who seem to think their OS is the absolute best. Remember to keep an open mind and have fun with it.

About the Author
Nick Comtois is an up and coming web developer (at least he hopes) who has been using the Slackware distro of linux for the past 2 years and has never looked back, except for when someone hypes up another distro and I run off to try and come crawling back to Slack. I have done everything from application programming with C/C++ to web scripting with perl and php.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


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