Why we like Linux desktops

Why we like Linux desktops

Summary: In this week's Patch Monday podcast, ZDNet.com.au staffers Renai LeMay and Chris Duckett discuss why they use Linux full time where they can and what they like and don't like about it.


In this week's Patch Monday podcast, ZDNet.com.au staffers Renai LeMay and Chris Duckett discuss why they use Linux full time where they can and what they like and don't like about it.

They both like Linux because it's more secure and currently has a graphical user interface that puts it out ahead of Windows and Mac OS X. Additional great features include better security and the ability to tinker at a more basic level with the guts of the operating system.

However, while it is nice to not have to pay for anti-virus software, minor annoyances do exist, such as when playing full-screen Flash videos — which in true Linux geek fashion is summed up by xkcd below. With the exception of computer games, is there an activity that can be done inside of Windows or OS X that cannot be done equally well on a Linux machine?

The horrible reality of Linux
(Supported features image by xkcd, CC2.5)

If you are a user of Linux and have some benefits and/or problems that we have missed in this episode, let us know in the talkback below.

Topics: Open Source, Hardware, Linux, Software Development


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • graphic design programs

    maybe I'm just ignorant and not aware of such programs (I will do some research later this evenining) but the reason I have never moved over to a Linux distribution entirely is due to the lack of decent graphic design programs. I use Fireworks and some Photoshop on a daily basis. Now, I know it's not the fault of the Linux OS that these programs aren't supported and I know that I could setup a WINE like program to use these programs. But I'd rather be able to run some decent, native linux graphic design programs, so I could continue doing web and print work. I've tried GIMP and I didn't like it at all, that was a few years ago though.

    Honestly, if I can find some decent graphic design software, I'd change in a flash.
  • "Add to iTunes" button

    the button above and then this "Why we like Linux desktops" indeed.
  • Hamish

    Full-time Ubuntu user here since the 6.10 release, so almost two years now. Ubuntu just flies along and I can do everything I could do using Windows and soooo much more. Eg. want a VM? Sure! Here's VirtualBox 3 running the latest Alpha of Karmic 9.10 at full speed. Just brilliant.
  • Almost but not quite there

    I've used Windows since 3.1 and did spend about 18 months two years ago using RedHat, Mandrake and SuSe only. With the addition of OpenOffice, Linux can do most things pretty well and if you have a PC at home for surfing the web, emailing, writing a few documents here or there, keeping a few spreadsheets, then it's perfectly fine and much safer than using Windows.

    However, if you start edging into the business world, with large spreadsheets with macros, project plans with MS Project, completing your taxes with the program from the ATO or exchanging documents (Word, Excel, Project, PowerPoint, Visio, etc) with work colleagues, then you're asking for trouble. While OpenOffice does read most Office documents, it's not perfect and when your pressed for time trying to finish a final report for work, the last thing you want to do is fight the software.

    It's a tough problem for the linux crowd. It is very hard to get it in the work environment on the desktop (servers are ok) but perhaps it needs to be pitched at the average home user who doesn't really need MS Office. I think in those cases, the software would suite fine and the cost savings would be substantial.
  • Windows App Compatibility

    Unfortunately there is one app that I can't get running under Wine, else I would go with Ubuntu 9.04 or Opensuse 11.x
    The app is codecharge studio from Yes Software. I have emailled the crossover team and will be happy to pay a for copy of that if they can get it to run.
  • Security?

    "it's more secure", "great features include better security". Huh?

    I've been a *nix fan since the early '80s but I get sick of this "because its not popular its secure" mentality. Check the X-Force 2008 Trend & Risk Report at http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/iss/xforce/trendreports/xforce-2008-annual-report.pdf (page 40) and you'll see that the Linux Kernel ranked 3rd for documented vulnerabilities, 2 places higher than any Microsoft OS and only losing out to Mac OS X Server & Mac OS X for the title of most vulnerable.

    All software written in C (my favourite language, and I don't mean that sarcastically) is inherently insecure - the programmer has to leap through hoops to make it secure. *nix, Windows and most successful applications are written in C (or possibly C++) and suffer the security consequences equally, particularly if their code base was developed before the vulnerability scene started to explode around the turn of the century. Yes its true that the bad guys have attacked Windows desktops more than any other, but for the obvious reason that there are far far more Windows desktops than any other. But when it comes to servers, the favourite target is usually the web application, most of which are running on *nix, but the OS doesn't somehow magically make them safe.

    The sooner people take their heads out of the sand regarding the security of *all* OSes and acknowledge that writing secure software is a hard thing to achieve, not an inherent consequence of some quasi-religious belief in the OS, the better off we'll all be (minus the bad guys of course).
  • Leaving Las Linux

    Well, I am a die-hard Linux fan and a Linux user since 1994. I love it and will continue to use my Quad Core Mythbuntu system at home. For work I have been using Ubuntu (currently 9.04 amd64) on a Dual core Toshiba commodity laptop. It works well for many things, but OpenOffice has an incompatibility with MS Office 2007 that I can't deal with any longer. I do run XP in a Sun Vbox, but it makes no sense to me to continue to support two Operating Systems on the same box for me. I am in Sales now, my objective is to be compatible with the rest of the sales team and they all use Vista. I know, I know... I will hate Vista more and for many other reasons.

    Russell - GIMP has really come a long way. You might want to check it out again.
  • Converted from xp two years ago

    My main OS now is Ubuntu and have found a replacement app for just about everything (if not everything). I still dual boot because Im a gamer and dont want the headaches of wine for games (though some older games I have work well under wine). I was mainly using FOSS under XP before Ubuntu anyway so migration was a breeze. OO.o, Firefox, Thunderbird.

    I also installed Ubuntu on both my parents PC's and they have nothing but praise for it. As completely novice users and dont care what an OS is, they told me that Ubuntu was faster, prettier and easier to use. Plus they get the advantage of having a more secure system.

    So from my point of view there is no reason to use windows unless there is a specific app that does not work, or there is no replacement on Linux.

    My only complaint is not being able to choose Linux at retail....
  • Still need Vbox now and then

    I run Linux on several desktops at work, but still require XP under Vbox pretty often (it's part of our SOE now). Things like Solidworks (CAD drawing) Altium (PCB and circuit design) are now industry standards whether we like it or not, and there's simply not the market for a linux version of such software. Until that changes, I'll be forced to continue running XP under a VM, but would love to turf Windows entirely one day...
  • heh

    With so much to dislike why would one bother with Linux? If these people who are likely to be well-versed with computer security can't make a Windows box secure enough for most tasks then it makes me wonder if they are qualified to even write an article like this, as generalised as it is.
  • Why not linux

    @mel: That isn't the point. The architecture of Linux is completely different to windows. Applications in windows even in the new vista and 7 require more privledges than they should. Linux applications in the most part are happy running as a non-root user.
    I have to run windows for work at the moment, and I tried running as a non-admin, plugins and even microsoft apps stopped working, or were so much slower than when I was admin. I tried running microsofts own droprights, same thing. So now I run a software restrcition policy, and ipsec filter to drop sus traffic and stop exe's from running where I don't want them to.
    But this security comes at the cost of administration, the same setup in linux doesn't effect the user, eg mounting tmp or home as non-executable fixes the malware/drive by same as my software restriction policy. But try it on windows 90% of apps run exe updates in the user profile or temp.
    Windows is broken by design, they need to scrap their current model and start again.

    Windows a single user system in multi-user world. Linux a server class massively multi-user system in a multi-user world. I know which I would chose if I had the choice.
  • Linux Graphics

    Try the UbuntuStudio Linux distribution. It has an entire suite of graphics and layout packages, including (of course) GIMP which can do quite a few things that Photoshop can't do. A version of GIMP for Film, called FilmGIMP, was used on the Lord of the Rings movies. Excellent for detailed effects.

    Commercial packages for Linux include Maya which is used by Weta Digital for many CGI special effects shots. If that and Blender don't do what you want I'd be real surprised.

    Bit of a learning curve though!
  • Why not learn how to use a computer

    The applications you are using must be very specialised Morgan. I run a Windows computer at work in the non-Admin level at all times and I have no trouble running Office, Win2PDF, building management software, security camera software and much more - all on a single computer and without Admin privileges. The only time Admin privileges were ever required was for software installation.

    Congratulations on your off-topic rant. I don't know what you wanted to achieve by it but it looks like it didn't work. let's get back to a discussion about Linux on desktops, not whether Windows is multi-user or not or whether Linux can run as a server or not.
  • Off topic

    Talking about off topic rants Mel, the answer to your question was of course - Malcolm Turnbull.
  • Microsoft suffers and the Fanbois attack Linux again

    Isn't funny how every time some news comes out that is negative to Microsoft, their hoard of munchkins jump up and start attacking Linux.

    The common attack vector is that Linux is not suitable for day to day work. The truth is that it is just as good as OSX and massively better than Windows.

    The only problem that most people have with Linux is that it is different from Windows. They should realize that in this case, Different is better.
  • heh

    The ONLY way to effectively secure a home user's windows box is to pull the power plug.
  • Warrrrt?

    Where does Mr Turnbull fit into this Jason? I've read both my previous comments about ten times each and just can't see it.

    And before you suggest that I like the bloke, I don't - he's a republican.
  • Why I Love Linux (and hate it at times)

    I like anti-aliased fonts, the ability to configure the desktop to look and work the way I want.

    I like that it installs and runs, without hours finding disks with drivers for printers, graphics, sound, network cards, etc.

    I like that it comes on one CD with almost all the software I want, and can be run live before installation.

    I like the reliability and security and no anti-virus software needed.

    I DONT like the need to run a Virtual Machine for the CD printing software for my cannon printer, Philips Cordless Skype phone and E-Tax software.

    I am currently typing this from Windows 7 Beta in a Virtual Box VM on Ubuntu, and I can say it is very nice, has anti-aliased fonts and uses many UI features taken from Gnome. It will not replace Ubuntu in my heart, but I think it will become the standard for the next 5 years because Microsoft will always have the edge in drivers.

    To quote the American Secretary of State during the Vietnam war "When you've got them by the balls, their minds and hearts will follow..." Ultimately he was wrong, but it has worked for Microsoft for a long time, and manufacturers and software developers will give Windows the most attention.

    And most mums and dads just don't know there is an alternative. But I will always be a GEEK, and a FLOSS lover!
  • Don't be shy, Mel

    Hi Mel, how have you been? It's been a while!

    I"ve missed our "play time", as neither of us tends to frequent here all that often any more!

    Anyway, to the topic of off topic - we were talking about off topic comments weren"t we? So that's what I presented. Still can't see the question, which I gave you the answer to though?

    Admittedly, it is somewhat facetious and a little cheeky, but you will recall a particular Liberal die hard, who apparently doesn't even like his leader, who has his own biased website which promotes odd, right winged ideologies (a site where everything ultra conservative is perceived as always right and anything from the centre to left, always wrong, regardless of the facts) asking "who will be the first casualty of ute gate". Roflmfao.

    The answer of course... drum roll please... Malcolm Turnbulls*it

    Jumped in a little typically, prematurely there good man, much like "your unliked (your not alone there) leader did" hey? I see after the facts became clearer, you then did a turn around and said Turnbull did the right thing, blah, blah, to vainly attempt to save face for yourself and your beloved Liberal cronies, lol.

    Let's be fair now, no mention of Rudd/Swan being innocent? No retraction from you for your own "non credible" accusations? No mention of Rudd/Swan simply being the victims of a "totally fabricated, dirty conservative, mud-slinging exercise, which backfired horrendously and most amusingly", rofl! Typical Mel!

    I guess I can look forward to more vain bs excuses in reply too, lmao!

    Come on Mel, if they were guilty you'd be all over them like a cheap suit and they'd deserve it. But as they aren't (shhh)...

    So go on; show you can be fair minded just once and admit they were the innocent victims of cheap gutter politics from your Liberals, just for me for old time's sake! I won't hold my breath though!

    But I think it was an inside job anyway, maybe for the exact reason you don't like him whaddyareckon? I reckon Hockey!!!!

    Have a nice day.
  • linux :)

    well its just simpler and easier to use then windows. :) ... No viruses, no malware. I can install it for a friend and come back 6 months later and it will not be any worse off then i left it :)

    + best of all "it just works tm".