Why Linux?

I use Ubuntu as my flavor of Linux. I started with Red Hat 5 and quickly moved along to Ubuntu Hoary Hedgehog (v5.04). I’d been, up to that point, strictly a Windows user. So why Linux?

For one, the professor I was working for at the time had as little to do with Microsoft products as she possibly could. She required me to use the Red Hat that she provided. After becoming victim to a rootkit (I knew little about keeping Red Hat up-to-date) we switched to Ubuntu and I’ve loved every minute of it. For the record, I dabbled a little in OpenSuse but I felt it never had the ease of use or the community that Ubuntu did.

If you’re reading this, I presume you are a student. As a student you’re supposed to stereotypically be short on cash. I know, you’ve probably never bought Windows or Office in your life. If you own a computer, you’re probably wrong. The laptop you bought, if it wasn’t already running Mac or Linux, was shipped with Windows pre-installed. The high price you paid? That went toward the Microsoft licenses so you could use Windows on the laptop.

Linux is free. It’s free in more ways than one. Not only are you free to use the software without paying a cent but the philosophy behind the operating system is that the source code is free, too. It’s not hidden behind layers of obscurity but instead the stuff that makes the program work is made available for you, as a student, to learn from. You can see what another developer did to make the software do what it’s doing. It’s no wonder colleges and universities teach computer science on the Gnu/Linux platform in the first place.

Being a computer science student this operating system is tailor made for you. I didn’t think so when I first started the degree. I was all Windows and anything I could do on the Unix terminals in the computer science lab there was the same thing I could do on Windows. I was misguided.

While it’s possible to perform the same actions on either platform, the Linux side promotes the sharing of knowledge. There is a global community of people (LinuxQuestions, UbuntuForums, etc) so help is always close at hand. Monthly meetings are held close by in the form of Linux Users Groups. And when something works, it most often just works (without that blue screen of death).

If you’re concerned about games, in the very least dual boot a WinXP/*nix PC. Wine is getting better (and in fact version 1 is coming soon). Wine is a virtual machine that allows programs compiled for Windows to run within Linux. Best of all, there is a growing market of commercial (and free) PC games for Linux as well (Frictional Games, iD Software, BioWare, Introversion, and the new Penny Arcade game…)

Linux is everywhere, right under your nose. It can be found on cell phones, mp3 players. I even have a version of uClinux running on my Nintendo DS. So isn’t it about time you give it a try? The only thing you should be afraid of is really enjoying the experience. It’ll suck away your free time because you won’t want to leave.

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