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Linux -- And Why I Use It

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I Use Linux Because ...

It's Free

That's right. One of the reasons I use open source Linux is because there are free versions of it. As the humorous Smart Linux User mug design says, using Linux with all of it's thousands of packages, can make you smarter.

Of course I realize that if Linux was a really poor operating system, then being free wouldn't suddenly make it a good operating system.

But -- Linux is a good operating system. It just happens to be also available in free versions. It's part of the open source concept.





It Uses Less Resource

Less resources than what? Well, less than the other popular operating system out there, Windows. I'm running a 3/4 megabyte, 1 GHZ computer with a recent Linux operating system (Puppy Linux it's called), and I couldn't even consider running the latest Windows with that old architecture. Not and get decent performance.

I 'm also running Puppy Linux an old 166 MHz laptop. That laptop was made in the Windows 95 days, and in no way was going to run a modern Windows system.

But with all of the configuration choices available in Linux, I was able to run the old laptop with good performance on a modern Linux system.

On my bigger, dual processor system I simply scale up and run a Debian operating system. The range of sizes of Linux operating systems is easily as large as the range of PC computers out there.



Linux is a Multi-tasking, Multi-user System

Be aware that Linux isn't a simplistic operating system, like a bigger version of DOS.

Linux is a full multi-tasking system, with preemptive scheduling. Linux allows different priorities to be assigned to tasks, and it handles large task loads well.

The modern kernels also support the new 64 bit processors, and multi-processor computer systems.

In addition, Linux is a multi-user system. Multiple users can log on via terminals plugged into serial ports or via a lan port. A computer running Linux is essentially a mainframe.


Linux Survey


Linux Is Very Robust

I mean Linux is really robust. There are some Linux systems managing networks that have literally been running continuously -- for years.

Linux uses a disk system that has some safeguards built in. I've use OS/2, Windows, and Linux. I've had to completely re-install OS/2 after a disk crash. More than once.

I've had the same experience with Windows. Where I was last employed, the standard fix for a sick Windows system was a re-install.

I've never had to re-install Linux to recover from a disk crash. It is incredibly resilient.





Linux Uses The X-Windows Standard

Linux uses the MIT designed X-Windows system for windowing and GUI handling. From my perspective, X-Windows is vastly superior to the Microsoft Windows system. Why? I'll endeavor to make a few points.

For one, the multi-tasking, task swapping, multi-user smarts of Linux doesn't lie in the windowing part. Even if one configures their system for a small resource requirement and completely leaves out the windowing capability, they will still have full multi-tasking capability and multi-user capability. Even my little 166 MHZ 83 MB laptop is a multi-tasking, multi-user computer.

For another, there are many window managers that handle the X-windows system in Linux. This gives the user enormous control over the kind of functionality that is involved in the windowing system (and the amount of resource used by the windowing system).

How many window managers? Over 50, and each of those has considerable tuning available to the user. The range in size from around 2 megabytes to over 80 megabytes. Talk about a selection to choose from.

The X-windows system uses a client/server arrangement. Each task created to run with windowing support has these two components.

What that means is that with the X-windows system, you can run a process on one computer in a network, and have the display show up on your local system. It doesn't matter what operating the remote system is running as long as it supports X-windows.

I've networked with DEC computers and been able to run the DEC software so that the display and interaction occurred on my Linux system.



Linux Is Loaded with Software

I used to use an older version of Debian named Woody. Woody came on 7 CD's, and was said to have over 11,000 packages. It satisfied both my personal and work related requirements for over 3 years.

Many of those packages were libraries and system tools, but thousands were user programs, programming languages, etc.

The Etch version that I use now comes on 11 CD's full of software. I'll never use even a significant fraction of all those utilities, languages, and programming tools. Can you imagine all that for free? An embarrassing cache of riches.

I particularly use many of the languages, being a computer scientist by trade. Listing only a few, Debian includes C, C++, Java, FORTRAN, forth, basic, smalltalk, Ruby, Python, perl, Awk, Gawk, Tk, Tcl, Yorick, Tela, R, PDL, and the list goes on.

There are compilers, scripting languages, text manipulation languages, math languages, and GUI oriented languages. Enough to keep me entertained (and educated) for years.

There are office suites, editors, graphics packages, graphics programs, document mark up languages, and Internet utilities.

A former associate of mine used to be a dedicated Windows user, and when I introduced him to Linux, he tore in with abandon. Once he got the hang of it, he became an advocate, and also had little need to purchase software since.

As for me, I haven't had to buy software for a few years, and yet I have more software available than I can likely ever experience.



Installing Linux Software is Easy

I particularly use Debian for a number of reasons. Since about anything under the GNU license is contained in Debian, it is likely the distribution with the largest inventory of software.

As it happens, Debian also has one of the best software management and installation tools. It uses a product called dpkg (for Debian package), and numerous front-ends are available to make interfacing with dpkg easy.

When you run across a utility that seems to be just what you want through one of the interfaces, just select install. Whatever supporting software and libraries are needed are automatically installed, and the product is also automatically configured.

And here's pleasant news for you Windows users: rarely is a reboot needed after installing a software package. Just install it, and use it.

Remarkably, this is even true of drivers. You can set up scripts that load a seldom used driver, run the software that needs it, and remove the driver when the software is finished running. Is that neat or what?

Removing software is just as easy, with no complex registry maneuvers necessary to get rid of an unused package.



Derivatives of Debian Offer Many Choices

Because Debian is so complete and has such a nifty installer, many derivative distributions of Debian are available. The Derivatives are usually targeted so that the targeted users have an easy and complete install.

Many of the derivatives are available on runnable CD distributions. So you can boot and run the distro from a CD and see if you like it before you decide to install it.

Some of the more popular derivatives are:

  • Knoppix - An office oriented CD distro from Germany

  • DamnSmall - A very small distro derived from Knoppix

  • Ubuntu - A neatly packaged Office oriented distro

  • Xandros

  • MEPIS - Another CD distro oriented to office and multi-media

  • Progeny - A next generation version of Debian

  • Linspire - Designed to be an easy transition for the Windows User

  • Puppy Linux - Not Based On Debian, But Able To Use Ubuntu Packages

  • A good place to check out distros is Distrowatch.com.