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1.4. Properties of Linux

1.4.1. Linux Pros

A lot of the advantages of Linux are a consequence of Linux' origins, deeply rooted in UNIX, except for the first advantage, of course:

  • Linux is free:

    As in free beer, they say. If you want to spend absolutely nothing, you don't even have to pay the price of a CD. Linux can be downloaded in its entirety from the Internet completely for free. No registration fees, no costs per user, free updates, and freely available source code in case you want to change the behavior of your system.

    Most of all, Linux is free as in free speech:

    The license commonly used is the GNU Public License (GPL). The license says that anybody who may want to do so, has the right to change Linux and eventually to redistribute a changed version, on the one condition that the code is still available after redistribution. In practice, you are free to grab a kernel image, for instance to add support for teletransportation machines or time travel and sell your new code, as long as your customers can still have a copy of that code.

  • Linux is portable to any hardware platform:

    A vendor who wants to sell a new type of computer and who doesn't know what kind of OS his new machine will run (say the CPU in your car or washing machine), can take a Linux kernel and make it work on his hardware, because documentation related to this activity is freely available.

  • Linux was made to keep on running:

    As with UNIX, a Linux system expects to run without rebooting all the time. That is why a lot of tasks are being executed at night or scheduled automatically for other calm moments, resulting in higher availability during busier periods and a more balanced use of the hardware. This property allows for Linux to be applicable also in environments where people don't have the time or the possibility to control their systems night and day.

  • Linux is secure and versatile:

    The security model used in Linux is based on the UNIX idea of security, which is known to be robust and of proven quality. But Linux is not only fit for use as a fort against enemy attacks from the Internet: it will adapt equally to other situations, utilizing the same high standards for security. Your development machine or control station will be as secure as your firewall.

  • Linux is scalable:

    From a Palmtop with 2 MB of memory to a petabyte storage cluster with hundreds of nodes: add or remove the appropriate packages and Linux fits all. You don't need a supercomputer anymore, because you can use Linux to do big things using the building blocks provided with the system. If you want to do little things, such as making an operating system for an embedded processor or just recycling your old 486, Linux will do that as well.

  • The Linux OS and most Linux applications have very short debug-times:

    Because Linux has been developed and tested by thousands of people, both errors and people to fix them are usually found rather quickly. It sometimes happens that there are only a couple of hours between discovery and fixing of a bug.

1.4.2. Linux Cons

  • There are far too many different distributions:

    "Quot capites, tot rationes", as the Romans already said: the more people, the more opinions. At first glance, the amount of Linux distributions can be frightening, or ridiculous, depending on your point of view. But it also means that everyone will find what he or she needs. You don't need to be an expert to find a suitable release.

    When asked, generally every Linux user will say that the best distribution is the specific version he is using. So which one should you choose? Don't worry too much about that: all releases contain more or less the same set of basic packages. On top of the basics, special third party software is added making, for example, TurboLinux more suitable for the small and medium enterprise, RedHat for servers and SuSE for workstations. However, the differences are likely to be very superficial. The best strategy is to test a couple of distributions; unfortunately not everybody has the time for this. Luckily, there is plenty of advice on the subject of choosing your Linux. A quick search on Google, using the keywords "choosing your distribution" brings up tens of links to good advise. The Installation HOWTO also discusses choosing your distribution.

  • Linux is not very user friendly and confusing for beginners:

    It must be said that Linux, at least the core system, is less userfriendly to use than MS Windows and certainly more difficult than MacOS, but... In light of its popularity, considerable effort has been made to make Linux even easier to use, especially for new users. More information is being released daily, such as this guide, to help fill the gap for documentation available to users at all levels.

  • Is an Open Source product trustworthy?

    How can something that is free also be reliable? Linux users have the choice whether to use Linux or not, which gives them an enormous advantage compared to users of proprietary software, who don't have that kind of freedom. After long periods of testing, most Linux users come to the conclusion that Linux is not only as good, but in many cases better and faster that the traditional solutions. If Linux were not trustworthy, it would have been long gone, never knowing the popularity it has now, with millions of users. Now users can influence their systems and share their remarks with the community, so the system gets better and better every day. It is a project that is never finished, that is true, but in an ever changing environment, Linux is also a project that continues to strive for perfection.