Debunking Some Linux Myths

With new releases of several major Linux distributions coming up in the next few weeks, I would like to take a few minutes to debunk some of the more blatant inaccuracies which are circulated about Linux. Many of these will sound absurd to anyone with reasonable knowledge about Linux, but I have seen every one of these used in comments to my own blog within the past few months.

With new releases of several major Linux distributions coming up in the next few weeks, I would like to take a few minutes to debunk some of the more blatant inaccuracies which are circulated about Linux. Many of these will sound absurd to anyone with reasonable knowledge about Linux, but I have seen every one of these used in comments to my own blog within the past few months.

- You have to compile everything yourself to install Linux Even I was just about dumbstruck when I read this one. This has certainly not been the case for 10 years or more. All of the major Linux distributions come in binary form, and installation is essentially the same as installing Windows from scratch - only a lot faster and easier. I can install Linux from scratch, onto a blank disk, and be ready to work in well under an hour. Note that I said "ready to work", not just done with the base installation and ready to start a long cycle of update and service pack installations.

- Linux doesn't support much hardware This one is at least a little bit more current than the previous one, but these days it is equally incorrect. I regularly install Linux on a variety of desktop, laptop and netbook systems, and I almost never stumble across unsupported hardware. My personal systems have Intel CPUs (Core2, Pentium and Atom), AMD CPUs (Turion and Athlon Neo), VIA CPUs (C7-M), Intel graphic controllers (945, 950 and 965), ATI graphic controllers (Radeon 200M and HD 3410), VIA graphic controllers (Chrome 9), Wired network controllers from Broadcom and Marvel, Wireless network controllers from Intel, Broadcom and Atheros... the variety goes on and on, and it all works with all the latest Linux distributions, right out of the box.

- Linux is lacking in applications Whether this is true depends on what applications you mean, and how flexible you are willing to be. If you are one of the vast majority of PC users who wants to surf the internet, read/write email, download digital pictures from your camera, catalog/edit/process those pictures, and do some office work such as word processing and spreadsheets, then Linux has everything you need, many times over. In many (most) cases, the applications on Linux are not only "as good as" the comparable Windows applications, they are better, more powerful and more flexible, and they are FREE! If you need more applications than this, there are literally thousands of software packages available for Linux today, a quick look at the catalogs in the major distributions is likely to yield several alternatives to suit your needs.

- Linux is Difficult/Confusing to use Please, don't make me laugh. At the operating system user interface level, the difference between any version of Windows and any version of Linux is significantly less than the difference between XP and Vista. It's a desktop, it has menu bars, buttons and icons. In fact, if you can learn that the button to STOP Windows is labeled START, then you won't have any trouble using Linux. At the application level, the difference between Microsoft Office (whatever version) and OpenOffice 3 is much less than the difference between MS Office 2003 (or lower) and MS Office 2007, and the document format compatibility is much wider.

- Linux is an unreliable "hacker/hobbyist" system Compared to Windows, this could not be farther from the truth. Looking at short time frames, I don't think there is a Windows user in this world who could honestly say that they haven't experienced a crash, hang, or other system "event" that required rebooting or power cycling. The only question is how often it happens, and for most users the answer is very regularly. I honestly can't remember the last time one of my Linux systems hung or crashed on me. Looking at the longer term, Windows is still the world's only "self corrupting" operating system - over time the disk in general and the Windows Registry in particular become so scrambled that the standard solution to strange Windows behavior is "reload Windows from scratch". At the very least, there is a big market for "Registry Cleaner" and "System Optimizer" software for Windows. This is absolutely not the case with Linux, and I am not aware of any such equivant cleaner/speedup products, because there is simply no need for them.

- Linux is insecure I honestly don't know where this one comes from. Compared to Windows, the absolute pinnacle of security holes, viruses, worms, botnets, and whatever else, running Linux is an absolute dream. In fact, there is not only a security advantage, but that also gives rise to a huge performance advantage, because Linux isn't surrendering huge chunks of CPU time, memory and disk space to bloated, inefficient "Anti-Virus" or "Internet Security" packages - and Linux users don't have to pay for such software, and pay for "security update subscriptions".

- There are too many different versions of Linux available Who cares how many versions are available, when you only need one? Pick one, and try it. If it works for you, and it has what you want, then keep it, and forget about all the others. If you're not happy with it, try a different one - at least it doesn't cost you any money to keep trying until you find one that suits you! I live in Switzerland, and when I go in a supermarket in the U.S., I often think there are far too many different brands of breakfast cereal on the shelf, for example, but I don't let that put me off breakfast cereals completely.

There are certainly a lot more myths circulating about why ordinary users can not, or should not, or will not use Linux. Feel free to add them here as comments, and we'll see which ones (if any) stand up.

jw 23/10/2009

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