07 October 2008

Linux is free but why aren't we using it?

For the very first time, at this blog, I’m pleased to introduce to you my friend & a guest writer – Hasitha Ariyaratne. I first came across Hasitha shortly after I arrived in Japan during April 2006. A computer Engineer by profession, Hasitha is, originally, from the beautiful city of Colombo in Sri Lanka. He is Master of Science in Information Engineering, and among some of the most interesting persons that I happened to meet here in Japan, during my stay of over two years. His opinion pieces are great. With these few words of introduction, I am tossing the keys of this blog over to Hasitha to write the first post under “The guest’s column” of this blog. I hope you’ll all welcome him and encourage him as he writes his first post here...

When Deependra asked me to post something related to computers on his blog that would spark some interesting discussions, the first thing that came to my mind was the highly debatable topic of Windows Vs Linux.

As most of you out there, I am myself, primarily, a Windows user. However I've been using Linux on and off for some years now. Most of the time, I had some sort of a Linux distribution on my computer, running alongside Windows, but after the initial excitement wears off, I always end up switching to windows full time. So here are some of my opinions on why Linux failed to win me and the other 96% of the world who use Windows (according to the latest statistics listed on Wikipedia about 96% use Windows while only 0.04% use Linux).
When talking about Linux, probably the most attractive feature is that it is free; "or so everyone says". But when you really dig deep down, you'll realize that using Linux is really not that cheap. For individual home users it is free; but things get little bit different when it comes to commercial use, where stability and support aspects are important. Commercial variants of Linux i.e.: Redhat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise by Novell, etc. costs money just like Windows. So it goes without saying "nothing good is free". Let me take another example: If you look at some of the major PC vendors like DELL (one of the few to support Linux), you'll see that buying a Linux computer is not always cheap. Go to www.dell.com/linux/ and configure a computer with Linux, then configure the same computer with Windows Vista, you'll see that Vista computer is in fact cheaper! This is mostly due to all the bloatware (trial and adware programs) DELL installs on their Windows computers. The commission DELL receives for installing these programs helps them to reduce the cost of the operating system almost to the point of being free. However, at the end there isn't really that much of a difference. When you also take in to account all the hassle and the time you have to spend in learning and trouble shooting Linux, do you still think Linux is really FREE?

When talking about usability, I think even the most hardcore Linux gurus will agree that Windows is undoubtedly the more user friendly OS. Don't confuse the term user-friendliness with graphical user interface, because when I bring up this topic, more often than not it ends up at discussing how wonderful the Linux GUI compared to Windows. Sure, with modern window managers like Compiz Fusion, Linux GUI makes Windows Vista look like 10 years old. But that is beside the point. I also agree that recent release of Ubuntu, Fedora Core and OpenSuse has given a lot of emphasis to the usability aspect of the OS, but still Linux has a long way to go before becoming a viable alternative to Windows. I think the recent findings by MSI computer corporation that Linux netbooks are returned 4x more than Windows based version is a good indication to support this argument. A netbook is sort of a smaller low power version of a notebook, primarily designed for basic mobile computing needs (i.e Browsing, multimedia and light word processing). Linux is ideal for this type of computers, because it is light weight and manufacturers can customize it exactly to fit their device. But it turns out that slower and less esthetically appealing Windows XP is still the first choice of the end user.

My current Linux distribution is OpenSUSE 11.0. Personally I think OpenSuse is the nicest looking and most user friendly Linux distribution out there (but many will say Ubuntu is better, I guess it all depends on your personal preference). The installation wizard was straight forward and almost as easy as Windows, therefore anyone who knows how to install Windows should have no trouble installing it. But getting everything to work after logging in, is a different story. Out of the box I had trouble connecting to my wireless network, but after a bit of googleing I managed to get it fixed with a software update. Then I had numerous problems getting the microphone to work. I ended up spending several days, and numerous fixes to finally get it working, which to me was totally unacceptable. I mean C'mon, Wireless and Sound are two of the most basic components, if they cant get them right then no point in talking about other things. This is just my latest experience, I don't want to talk about all the problems I've had with my earlier experiences. I'd be surprised to find anyone who had zero trouble getting everything to work out of the box like in Windows.

I think the biggest problem of Linux is that there are simply too many options. Starting from choosing a distribution , package management system, desktop manager, driver model all the way down to selecting your own customizable Windows manager. There are too many options, available but none of them really work that well. If the whole Linux community concentrated their efforts on making a one perfect product instead of making 10,000 variations of the same thing their own way, Linux would have overtaken Windows a long time ago. Some call this freedom but I think its only adds to the confusion.

I really admire the Linux design concepts; on paper perhaps it may be the perfect operating system, but sadly it is not the ideal operating system in reality. This is my view of things, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

updated on October 9, 2008

After reading some comments, I thought I should add few more lines to clarify things a little bit. Since this is not exactly a technical forum, I wrote this post mainly focusing on the usability aspect, not the technical or implementation side of Linux. Technically, Linux is superior to Windows in many aspects like security, stability, resource consumption etc. But for most of the people who just want to use a computer simply as a tool to get their work done, or for entertainment purposes (multimedia and Games), does all that technical stuff really matter ? if they cant really use it without learning everything from A to Z ?? A good analogy is not coming to my mind right now, but just imagine you are looking for a used car, and you have two options : a slightly over priced sedan with all the features you need in a car, however it consumes slightly more fuel but runs very well and has a maintenance warranty so you don't have to worry about anything; the other option is a very reasonably priced fast, flashy high performance sports car that requires some tuning up and repairs to get it up and running at full potential; if you can fix it then it will run faster with less fuel, in addition it will also have plenty of aftermarket upgrades and customizable parts so you can modify it any way you like, BUT you'll have do everything by yourself !. Which one will you pick? If you are a mechanic and love fixing and maintaining cars the second option would be more appealing, but for an ordinary person who just wants a car to go from point A to B the first option is better. Linux to me is that flashy sports car that needs fixing ;-).

Please don't let this post stop you from experiencing Linux, try it and decide for your self. A good safe place to start is with a Live DVD (which is basically a fully functional Linux installation you can boot off a DVD without installing anything on the hard disk, running Linux like this will be slow and you won't be able to save any configuration settings because everything is on a read only DVD, but this is the best way to experience Linux without any hassle or risks).

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Lukmanul Hakim said...

Nice post, and I am pretty sure that I am in line with your opinion. I am a windows user for sure in my personal computer but when it comes to those internet servers in my university, we utilize FreeBSD instead of Linux. Perhaps some day you could also post something on other unix variants.
Keep up the good work!

Basanta Gautam on October 7, 2008 at 10:23 AM said...

Thank you for this information. I am an Windows user. Don't know much about Linux. But I was also having some thoughts on the 'free' aspect of Linux and wanted to try it. After reading your post, I don't want to try, at least in the near future.

Hacker Forums on October 7, 2008 at 6:30 PM said...

I agree with most of your article as well but lets also look at the other side of things. Linux is mainly an operating system for hobbiests. There are versions of Linux that are ubber easy to use, such as Ubuntu. I am a windows user, only because I do play the occasional games that aren't available on Linux.

If you don't play any kind of games, Linux could be a good choice for you, it just depends what your interests are.

In the end, it's a matter of opinion and experience.

Hacker Forums

AP said...

Dear Author,
I am trying to outline few advantages that Linux can offer:
a) The most obvious advantage of using Linux is the fact that it is free to obtain, while Microsoft products are available for a hefty and sometimes recurring fee. Microsoft licenses typically are only allowed to be installed on a single computer, whereas a Linux distribution can be installed on any number of computers, without paying a single dime.
b) Security - In line with the costs, the security aspect of Linux is much stronger than that of Windows. Why should you have to spend extra money for virus protection software? The Linux operating system has been around since the early nineties and has managed to stay secure in the realm of widespread viruses, spyware and adware for all these years. Sure, the argument of the Linux desktop not being as widely used is a factor as to why there are no viruses.
c) Choice - The power of choice is a great Linux advantage. With Linux, you have the power to control just about every aspect of the operating system.
d) Software - There are so many software choices when it comes to doing any specific task. You could search for a text editor on Freshmeat and yield hundreds, if not thousands of results.
e) Hardware - Linux is perfect for those old computers with barely any processing power or memory you have sitting in your garage or basement collecting dust. Install Linux and use it as a firewall, a file server, or a backup server. There are endless possibilities.

I think, Windows can be a great tool for the lazy and incompetent, but it takes a true scholar and one who wants to learn to run a robust operating system like Linux. However, I agree that there are some issues related to compatibility, understanding and finding 'alternative programs' for Linux.

Blogger Dai on October 8, 2008 at 6:31 PM said...

really nice article!

I have been using ubuntu for about an year by now. My story is different in terms of the fact that I installed it, (and of course had a big wrestle to get the wireless straight), and after I started using it working in vista feels like working in windows98. I have stopped using vista and the funny side is that once I log into vista it becomes crazy... it starts to download all sorts of updates(making me more angry and never wanna to come back to vista).
Anyways, I agree that linux sys has to go long way before it can be used by general public.
So, for now microsoft os will help people to learn how to use pc.
not bad!

Alok said...

Probably you are right. Though, I am a windows user and somehow satisfied with it. Thanks for this informative article. I would love to see your articles about other IT related stuffs in future too. cheers!

Mukesh Jha on October 12, 2008 at 2:54 AM said...

Talking about "Linux is free but why aren't we using it?", after reading this article on my brother's blog even the article was written by a third person. I can't stop myself writing this comment.
Here I have provided some solid reasons why people can't use Linux.
Here are some examples:
1. Let's take an example of country like USA, India...these are the major countries in the world can use more computers but for what purpose? i bet it is mainly for internet,email,word processing & some of them for prestigious use. But no one from them knows about any other languages like C,C+,C++, JAVA,RED HAT,LINUX,UNIX etc.. So how can we say that Linux is not in comparison of Windows or Mac.
2. As we all know Linux is based out for technical use, its being used by programmers, administrators, engineers etc..
3. I was kind a disappointed after reading the guest blogger because he has mentioned that he is Computer engineer, then how come he never studied about Linux/Unix in his study period. It's fairly simple to install the Linux & much quicker than windows.
4. Now talking about Windows Vista, even Microsoft is not sure about people will use it for sure. That's why they are still providing the downgrade license of Windows XP because most people buy computers, laptops, it comes up with Vista OS loaded and later I have seen many people downgrading back to XP.
5. As an Administrator I deal with this issue on daily basis.
At the last but not least, I would like to recommend people use Linux because it will make people learn something new, its not like baby operating the windows machines. My opinion about windows is just like "If you know A,B,C,D...Z" then you can pretty much operate it without any trouble.
Linux/Unix is developed for developer's use. Its way easier & convenient for developer to develop & maintain their application in linux/unix platform.Its just not about listening a song & using the microphone with the windows machines.

I hope you guys like these general comments, if not then please don't take it personally. This is only for informative purpose.
Mukesh Jha

Hasitha on October 13, 2008 at 8:57 AM said...

Thank you all for the comments, as I anticipated there are people who agree and disagree with me, that was one of the main reasons for choosing this topic.

For the record, I am using Linux, and even though I don’t consider my self as a Linux expert, I do believe that I’m an average or slightly above average Linux user, as I said in my post I always have a Linux distribution on my computer. And closely follow the OpenSUSE project, I’ve also tried several other distributions like Ubuntu, Redhat/Fedora, Mandrake, Linspire etc.. Therefore I didn’t write this post without having any clue to what Linux is...

However I don’t use Linux in my day to day computing, mostly because I’m involved in .Net programming, even for other languages like C++ I’m more comfortable with Visual Studio development environment, furthermore there are so many helper programs (code refactoring tools, debugging , version controlling, etc.) for Windows than for Linux. Secondly, Linux doesn’t offer much for other things I do either, like multimedia (I listen to lot of online radio stations, but only a couple of them can be heard from Linux, has very poor sound quality because of poor driver support for high end cards like Creative X-Fi and the lack of good audio players with DSP capabilities or decent equalizers), no support for Gaming, and less attractive packages for word processing (open Office is quite alright for as a free product, but lets face it, it is not the same as MS Office).

As I said repeatedly I’m not talking about the technical aspects of Linux. I wrote this article to express why I think Linux is not used by many people even though it is free. Few years back comparing Linux to Windows in terms of user friendliness would have been like comparing Apples to oranges, because Linux back then wasn’t really meant for the average end user, but now it is promoted as a user friendly simple OS (with Netbooks, and Ubuntu project, etc..).However one key aspect many hardcore Linux users and the Linux community fail to understand is that not everyone is a computer professional, and that they simply might not be interested to learn about computers inside out just to use it for basic stuff.

Quote "I think, Windows can be a great tool for the lazy and incompetent, but it takes a true scholar and one who wants to learn to run a robust operating system like Linux." Is that a good thing? Forget about the lazy, incompetent people, what about those who simply didn’t had the chance, opportunity or the interest to learn about computers? What about a busy medical doctor, a brilliant author or a talented musician?? Do they have to learn from A to Z just to be able to use a computer as a tool?

However , I think now the Linux community has realized the importance of usability of an operating system, and they are slowly working their way towards making it accessible for everyone. I sincerely hope Linux will soon be a worthy opponent to Windows. Even though it has its share of problems no one should disregard it without first giving a try. Thank you again for all your comments and reading this long reply...

आकार on October 15, 2008 at 11:33 PM said...

Oh ! so much debt on this topic......
well, i'vent use linux till date... but i'm planning to install it, very soon....

:O said...

"I think the biggest problem of Linux is that there are simply too many options. Starting from choosing a distribution , package management system, desktop manager, driver model all the way down to selecting your own customizable Windows manager."

The biggest problem of GNU/Linux is its essence itself!!!

Nabin said...

Reason I speak for Windows and against Mac and Linux is that children in my country gets vaccinated because Bill Gates is helping WHO. .

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing a lot for us and I respect that even if there may be hundreds of faults in Windows and Mac and Linux may be better. May be this is the only way I can express my gratitude to them.


Anonymous said...

nice discussion- carry on folks!

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The views expressed by the guest authors as well as commentators on this blog do not necessarily reflect my views and of those who link to this blog. The comments on this blog are the sole responsibility of their writers who will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that result from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The accuracy, completeness, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed.

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