Too Good to be True

If you buy a laptop or desktop computer today, chances are you don’t give much thought to the operating system it runs. And chances are it’ll run Windows. Despite the inroads made in tablets and smartphones by Apple and Android, Windows still reigns supreme in the conventional computer market. About 90% of the so called “x86 based” computers run Windows. Maybe 8% run OSX. And a tiny 2% run something you likely never heard of – Linux. Pity.

For if you thought about it a little, you might conclude that it would be a good thing to use something at home that:

  • Supports the majority of hardware and software that makes up the Internet. Linux dominates in the server universe. This blog runs on WordPress, and WordPress depends on Linux. My website provider is likewise dependent on Linux to function and deliver stuff to your (Windows) desktop.
  • Can run on anything from a tiny micro-PC like Raspberry Pi up to a huge server farm in the Cloud.
  • Forms the basis for Android and Google’s Chromebook O/S and underwrites Google itself, Facebook, and Amazon – giant companies that need Linux.
  • Is freely published, distributed and modified. Bugs are easily found and squashed because any programmer who wants to contribute can contribute. Linux is not secret nor proprietary in nature.
  • Can do essentially all the stuff you want to do – surf the Web, get email, play and record music and video, do Office work, save files to the cloud, read and save most Windows formats, organize your photos and so on.
  • Is relatively safe, secure and free of viruses and malware. You don’t need a suite of CPU sucking security apps to venture out in cyberspace. There are antivirus programs for Linux but they mostly keep your email safe so you don’t send a virus to a Windows user.
  • Is absolutely free and can save you $100 just on a Windows licence alone. In addition to the operating system, all the Web browsers, email programs, music players, Office software, photo organizers and editors, website design software and Linux based games are also absolutely free. That could potentially save you hundreds of dollars.

It all seems too good to be true, and when I first learned about Linux in 2007 or so I thought there had to be a catch. But aside from learning a little geekery, or making friends with a Linux geek to get the system installed there isn’t any catch at all.

You can get Linux easily enough – download a copy of Ubuntu or Linux Mint or one of many other possible distributions you can find at Distrowatch. You’ll need to transfer the file to a DVD or a USB stick and then you can try it on your computer as a “Live” system to see how it looks. After that your Linux geek friend can advise you as to how to install. That might be the tricky part, as Linux doesn’t always come with training wheels!

In fact my advice would be to put Linux on a second, older computer that maybe runs Vista or ran XP at one time. Linux is well suited for older hardware and can often resurrect a computer that otherwise is only good for landfill. You blow off the older Windows install and run Linux from now on.

You can set up Linux to run alongside Windows although this might be tricky with certain versions of Windows (like Windows 8 or Windows 10.) Your geek friend will be invaluable here.

If you want to run Linux on a newer machine (it’ll fly) my advice is to build your own box using slightly trailing edge hardware and install Linux from the get-go. I have two machines like this that have run nothing but Linux from the outset. I saved myself all that cash outlined above, and still have powerful and useful equipment. I expect them to last far beyond the normal working life of a Windows based machine.

Linux is not Windows so there is a learning curve – but it isn’t difficult to use. There are certain things you don’t get – Internet Explorer, Outlook, Microsoft Office, or the latest 3D games – but for most practical uses there are Linux based substitutes. However if you are an out and out gamer there’s no substitute for Windows in the computer world. That’s about the only thing you really need Windows for.

Anything you do with a browser can easily be accomplished with Google Chrome or Firefox in Linux. You probably should be using those browsers in Windows, to be honest.

Fast, safe, secure, versatile, flexible, customizable, and free. What more could you ask? Linux is really too good to be true – and it is true.


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