Having used Linux solely for nearly four years now, I’ve gained a respect for what Linux can and can’t do. By no means is it the perfect solution for every problem, but there are some misconceptions heard repeatedly that I plan to set straight.
1. Linux is Behind the Times
One comment heard often is “Linux was five years behind XP, and it’s ten years behind Vista!” Well, here are some facts:
- Windows began separating the basic user from the administrator account by default in Vista, over 15 years behind Linux.
- Windows added a firewall in 2001, over seven years behind Linux’s 1994 addition of ipchains.
- Linux was the first operating system with x86_64 support, beating Windows XP Pro x64 by two years.
- Windows added an attractive 3D accelerated graphical interface in Vista, a full year behind Linux’s XGL.
- Linux’s package management system can install, uninstall, and update software from one interface. Everything installed from Apache to OpenOffice.org and Quake 4 is updateable with one press. Windows has nothing like this on the roadmap.
Moreover, Linux isn’t slowing down. The Xen project has added an incredible level of virtualization to Linux, with more work going into the kernels development to add enterprise ready virtualization built-in. Microsoft promised built-in Xen-like virtualization in Windows Server 2008 next year, but has announced that feature is delayed and should be available sometime after launch, possibly in its first service pack, meaning Linux will lead with built-in virtualization by at least a couple of years before Windows catches up.
2. Linux is Hard to Use
Many have never realized they were using Linux and haven’t used it on a desktop. More troubling is the fact that many technically inclined persons tried Linux during the hype of the dot-com bubble, wrote it off, and never revisited it. These along with other factors have left many thinking Linux is hard to use. Well, enter modern Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has an elegant and approachable graphical interface that’ll remind Mac fans of OS X. Optionally, many other interfaces are available ranging from Windows XP duplicates to interfaces focused on certain areas, such as low system requirements or high-end graphical effects. Beyond this, many common tasks and features, ranging from system updating to system wide file indexing, are all handled automatically by default. This all extends to every level of Linux use. Novell’s YaST for example provides an easy-to-use GUI for everything from installing and updating software to managing DNS, email and web servers, and anything else of which an administrator can think. No command-line or configuration files, unless you desire them.
To top it all off the installation is excellent. Ubuntu installs from within a fully functioning environment allowing web browsing, game playing, or even the writing of a report all as the installation wizard ensures the install goes off not just without a hitch, but in a manner where the user doesn’t need to know anything beyond how to click “Next,” unless they want to.
3. Linux isn’t Compatible with Anything
Everything from Maya and Oracle to Firefox run on Linux natively. Games ranging from the Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament series to smaller gems like Darwinia all run native on Linux. Beyond native applications, free (non)emulation software called WINE, as well as commercially supported options like CrossOver and VMware, allow users to run everything from iTunes to MS Office and Photoshop, and the $5/month Cedega lets gamers play hundreds of Windows games, from Battlefield 2142 to World of Warcraft.
Finally, alternatives to Windows-only software can replace current systems with little to no extra work. Apache can run ASP code, OpenOffice.org can read and save Microsoft Office file formats, and every major distribution can join a domain, or just browse Windows file and printer shares, with ease.
Hardware support is equally incredible; in fact, Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system. From handhelds to mainframes and everything in between, including equipment considered legacy and no longer supported by Windows, the chances are if connected to a Linux box it’ll just work. Despite popular belief, this does include a majority of consumer equipment as well, from digital cameras to iPods and 3D accelerators to wireless cards.
4. Linux isn’t Enterprise Ready / No One Uses Linux
Amazon and Google would disagree as they’ve built their technology off Linux. PSA Peugeot Citroen, the second largest car manufacturer in Europe, also announced earlier this year they’d be moving not only their 2,500 servers over to Linux, but also their 20,000 desktops. Other companies like IBM and Novell have reinvented themselves using Linux as the base, and government deployments from Brazil and India to China and others promise to add tens of millions of new users to the Linux community. This isn’t even including the countless smaller government deployments like the city of Munich, the Indiana school system, or the U.S. Army’s Land Warrior program. Paired with millions of users via the One Laptop per Child initiative and massive academic deployments, this means that outside of the United States the world is positioning Linux as the computing foundation for their children.
Linux also works outside of the enterprise. Be it browsing a website, chatting on a cellphone, checking email, getting cash from an ATM, or just kicking some anti-lock brakes into action, there’s a fair chance Linux is in control. Since Linux also accounts for ~70% of the super computing market, that means it has huge footholds in the embedded, server, and high-end markets, leaving only the desktop.
5. Linux isn’t Professionally Developed or Supported
It’s true Linux started at the hands of a single college student, but that’s not true today. Linux is now a multi-billion dollar global technology. The majority of code is now contributed by professional programmers. Over the last year IBM, Intel, Novell, VMware, and countless other big technology companies have submitted major code changes. Beyond actively developing code, others, such as Dell, have begun pushing vendors to develop higher quality Linux software. This isn’t even going into the academic or government development, such as the security patch set developed and deployed by the U.S. National Security Agency for internal use, but available to anyone who wishes to use it, SELinux.
Support has taken on the same level of professionalism. Countless forums, IRC channels, and wikis are, of course, still available. However, beyond that, help is available from one of many books, certifications, or by contacting any one of the major players from IBM and Oracle to Novell and Red Hat. If you require 24/7 global support in a dozen different languages, it’s just as available as free community support.
This about covers it. There are many other areas of interest, but those listed above are certainly some of the biggest misconceptions heard about Linux. Overall, it just comes down to ignorance, be it having never used Linux, or having not used it in the past few years of heavy evolution. Of course, Linux isn’t without its faults, just like all software, but that’s for another article. What it really boils down to is a responsible administrator has to do what’s best for the company cutting the checks, and that includes keeping an open mind and evaluating all options, even open source ones.