Thursday, January 12, 2006

25 reasons to switch to Linux

I found this list out on the interweb. It mainly applies to organisations, educational and government groups.

This should get rid of the cat...
(1) Because it is licensed under a free software license, Linux (as well as other free software) is available at no cost. It can be downloaded from the Internet for free, and it can be purchased in disk or box form at trivial cost. One copy can be used on as many computers as desired with no restrictions. This is in sharp contrast to Microsoft Windows, which can easily cost US$100 or more per computer.

When you are talking about 1,000+ licences of Windows this can begin to make some sense until you take into account the training required to take people away from what they find familiar. The social aspect of the Windows OS is quite pervasive and you could meet with some hesitation from Joe User. And usually, if a large organisation intends switching to Windows, Microsoft will offer some pretty good incentives like free training, updates and possibly even hardware to sweeten the deal.

(2) Because it is free software, Linux is also free in the sense that anybody is permitted to modify it, including its source code, in any way desired. If modified versions are not redistributed (i.e., given away or sold outside of an organization), they can be kept secret. This is also in sharp contrast to Microsoft Windows, for which modification of the software is generally not permitted. Source code is the original version of a program as it is written by a programmer using a programming language and before being converted by a compiler into a form such that its instructions can be understood directly by a computer's CPU (central processing unit); it is generally necessary to have the source code in order to be able to make changes to a program. This ability to freely experiment with and modify the source code, and to do so without disclosing the modifications to outsiders, has been a very important consideration for a number of large organizations.

Having coders on board with the necessary skills to modify an operating system is a costly proposition. OS coders don't come cheap. Does the custom functionality you intend to add really need to be added to the OS? Why can't you make smaller client apps that would be cheaper to produce (less testing, etc.) and easier to support?

(3) High quality support for Linux is available for free on the Internet, including in newsgroups and other forums. Some people claim that this support is at least as good as that provided for proprietary (i.e., commercial) operating systems for a fee. Linux support can also be purchased on a commercial basis if desired. Among the types of support that can be required for operating systems are help with customization, assistance in installing new programs, patches to cope with new security threats and patches to fix newly discovered bugs (i.e., defects). Fortunately, the need for the last two types is relatively infrequent for Linux.

As opposed to windows where installing new programs and customising the interface is a relatively trivial task and doesn't require any outside assistance. And with WindowsUpdate, the ease of patching a windows box is much much easier.

(4) There is little possibility that support for Linux will be discontinued at some future date due to planned obsolescence or for any other reason. This is because the source code will always be available to anyone who wants it, including individuals who provide support for free over the Internet and businesses which provide it for a fee. In contrast, with Microsoft Windows and other proprietary software for which the source code is usually kept secret, obtaining support becomes difficult (from both a technical and a legal point of view) if the developer decides to withdraw it (for example in order to try to force users to pay for upgrades to newer versions).

I have to say that I take exception to this one. It is very hard to discontinue support when there isn't much official support to begin with. Because Linux works as a community based project, kind of like those Tidy Street and Clean Up Australia Day campaigns, support will only be there when other people still care. Once the world moves on, you will be on your own.

(5) There is little or no fear of major obsolescence, planned or otherwise, with Linux. This is because the UNIX architecture on which it is based has been exhaustively tested and refined for more than 35 years and has proven to be extremely efficient, robust and secure. Improvements continue at a rapid pace, but new versions remain basically compatible with the underlying UNIX architecture.

Rephrased the following entry could be a positive for Windows and it's more modern technology, not being hampered by 35 years of legacy systems.. Is it really a good thing to have an OS that goes back 35 years to the time when a single computer filled an entire room and punchcards were the order of the day? Sure you know that some bits are going to last forever, but with the changing role of computers and their continued integration into everything, can the UNIX architecture keep up?

(6) There are no forced upgrades for Linux users. This because older versions continue to be supported (e.g., with the development of new security patches and device drivers) and because newer versions, if desired, are available for free (as is all free software) and are typically highly compatible with older versions. The developers of proprietary software, however, have strong financial incentives to engage in planned obsolescence, namely, in order to induce users of earlier versions to spend money to buy or lease new versions.

There are no forced upgrades for any other OS either. Even now I still see people using Windows 98 (sometimes even Windows 95 *shudder*) and they are quite happy with their old versions of Word and Excel.

(7) Should a user decide to upgrade to a newer version of Linux, there are no licensing fees or other software costs if the user selects a free distribution (i.e., version). Moreover, the training, program modification/conversion, hardware acquisition and other costs associated with upgrading to a new version are also relatively low due to the compatibility with earlier versions.

Notice the key phrase 'if the user selects a free distribution'... Most organisations will use a commercial Linux distribution because they can package in some form of support arrangement. If we use Red Hat as an example, admittedly the costs are lower than Windows for a large purchase, but not by much.

(8) Linux has no onerous requirements for keeping track of licenses. In a company with hundreds or thousands of computers, a number of full time personnel can be required just to make sure that all of the computers in use are in compliance with the complex licensing terms of the EULAs (end user license agreements) for Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and other proprietary software. And for Linux users there is no fear of surprise audits by the BSA (Business Software Alliance), with possible severe penalties for minor license violations.

A positive for Linux I suppose, with getting better with every release there is no real need to have any Microsoft Office products on a users machine. Except that if the company/university/government department want some support for the product, then they will generally pay for the commercial version, StarOffice, which has its own license restrictions.

(9) Linux features superior security, including a very low rate of infection by viruses, trojans, worms, spyware and other malware. This is because UNIX and all of its descendants (including Linux) been designed from the ground up with security in mind, rather than having attempts at security tacked on as an afterthought. For example, users do not routinely use the system as the root (i.e., administrative) user, thereby protecting key system files even in the event of a break-in by a malicious intruder. Also, a robust firewall is included in major distributions and it is enabled by default. Another important factor is the free availability of the source code, which allows thousands of people around the globe to search for security vulnerabilities in it.

Linux doesn't have a spyware/malware/virus problem because it is not popular enough. That and most Linux users these days are a bunch militant psychos. So if someone ever did write some spyware for Linux, they would be hunted down and tortured for sure.

(10) Linux is highly resistant to system crashes and rarely needs rebooting (i.e., restarting). This can be very important for large organizations for which even a few minutes of down time can result in a substantial cost. The reason is that Linux has been designed from the ground up to be an extremely stable and robust operating system, incorporating all that has been learned about attaining these goals from the more than 35 years of history of Unix-like operating systems.

Complete crap, we have Windows based database and web servers that have had uptimes of months and are only restarted to apply patches. You don't have to restart a Linux box to apply patches but you still have to reload the kernel and drivers into memory which still causes downtime. And if you are in such a critical situation where even a minutes downtime is a bad thing, you would have a farm of servers to spread the load over anyway.

(11) An extensive selection of high quality application programs is available for use with Linux, most of which are also free software (including nearly all of the most popular ones). Many of them have features and performance equal or superior to those of comparable applications for use with Microsoft Windows. In fact, users often find that all the applications that they want are available freely on the Internet and that it is no longer necessary to purchase any commercial software.

This may be true but the free stuff just doesnt have the quality that the commercial products do. If you compare GIMP and Photoshop, you will quickly find that Photoshop is a kick arse product that has so many features you will never test its limits, GIMP on the other hand is a poor copy which is good for simple stuff and can be forced into doing complex stuff. Photoshop just works.

(12) There is a choice of numerous distributions (several hundred) of Linux, each with its own unique set of characteristics but all basically compatible with each other. This allows users to select the versions which best meet their specific requirements. It also means that if one provider of Linux were to go out of business, there would still be many others from which to choose. Moreover, it fosters a healthy competition among them, thereby contributing to the continuous improvements in Linux's quality and performance. If the choice seems overwhelming, it is usually difficult to make a mistake by selecting one of the most popular distributions, such as Red Hat or SuSE.

Most of the distributions are made by people customising it for their own particular world. Some are extremely hardware specific to contain the size of the distribution. Add to it that getting drivers for a lot of hardware devices in Linux is very hard or just plain impossible. Being forced to purchase specific hardware to meet a distributions needs is a painful task and ties you to specific hardware vendors that could go out of business. Six of one...

(13) Linux features a high degree of flexibility of configuration, and a great deal of customization can be accomplished very easily and without having to modify the source code. For example, it is a simple matter to configure Linux during installation so that it will be optimized for use as a workstation, desktop computer, notebook computer, web server, database server or a router. Likewise, the appearance and behavior of the desktop, including icons and menus, can be configured in an almost infinite number of ways, according to user tastes or requirements. They can even be made to resemble Microsoft Windows. Should this not be enough, the ability to freely access, revise and recompile the source code allows virtually unlimited flexibility of configuration.

Except for the bit about modifying source code, you can do the same in Windows.

(14) Linux and other free software uses open format file formats. These are formats for word processing, spreadsheet and other file types that conform to industry-wide standards and which can be used by any developer of software to create compatible programs, in contrast to the closed formats commonly used by some proprietary software. This eliminates the problem of lock-in to proprietary standards, with the consequent difficulty and expense of switching to other software in the future. It allows the user to have complete control of its data, particularly in the event that at some future date the developer who originally created the software goes out of business or stops supporting its earlier software.

What? You mean the open file formats that still don't have the full functionality that proprietary formats do? Also, increasingly commercial products are supporting the use of XML based file formats which allows anyone and everyone to get to their raw data if they so choose.

(15) Linux is generally faster for a given set of hardware specifications. This is due to greater optimization of the source code, including far less code bloat.

All this means is that you can use those P200 desktops for another few years before being forced to upgrade. Perfect for those schools who don't have enough funding.

(16) Linux features a high degree of compatibility with other operating systems. For example, it can read, write, copy, erase and otherwise manipulate data that resides on Microsoft Windows partitions on the same hard disk drive (HDD), act as a Windows server for a network containing Windows clients, format disks for use with Windows, and even run Windows programs directly if necessary. In contrast, the Microsoft Windows operating systems cannot access HDD partitions that contain other operating systems, cannot format disks for other operating systems, etc.

If everyone uses the industry standard NTFS then there shouldn't be a problem... You can't spout industry standards as being a plus and then turn around and say Linux supports non standard stuff, Windows doesn't.

(17) Very high ethical standards are maintained for Linux and other free software, in large part due to the very openness of their development process and the free availability of the source code. Linux has never been convicted in a Federal court of violation of U.S. antitrust laws or other crimes, nor has it had to pay penalties for the unauthorized copying of technology developed by other companies.

Linux as a whole is not a business, it is a community. A business is there to make money, giving incentives to hardware manufacturers to use an OS is only illegal when the competing OSes aren't good enough.

(18) Linux reduces the need to upgrade or replace hardware when upgrading to newer versions. This is because its code is very efficient and compact, thus allowing it to work effectively on older computers that are not suitable for the newest versions of Microsoft Windows.

(19) Linux is capable of operating on a wide variety of platforms (i.e., processor and system types), rather than just being limited to Intel-compatible processors and computers. It scales well and is well suited for use on a diverse array of equipment ranging from supercomputers to industrial robots to electronic medical equipment to cell phones (and can even run on a wristwatch).

Yay, that 1983 DEC machine can be dragged out of the cupboard for another run... oh wait, who the fuck cares. Consumer PCs these days are so cheap that buying exotic hardware just because you can put Linux on it is a bit silly.

(20) Linux is a superior choice for use in academic institutions for a number of reasons. Among them is the fact that there are no secrets (in sharp contrast to proprietary software), thereby providing students the opportunity to study how computers really work rather than to just learn how to use them. Many educators are convinced that it is far more important for students to study computer science fundamentals than to practice specific applications (such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint). One reason is that computer science fundamentals will still be valid many years from now, whereas the specific application programs, especially the proprietary ones that do not conform to industry-wide standards, are constantly changing and those currently in use will likely become obsolete in a few years.

If a 'computer science' course is teaching the use of Word and Powerpoint, I think the course name should be changed to 'IT'. If you are teaching computer science fundamentals, teach the theory behind it all. Sure you can teach students what the code for dealing with TCP/IP looks like, but knowing the protocol is a much better way of learning. That way the student can write their own TCP/IP application and learn something properly.

(21) For governmental agencies, Linux and other free software allows for transparency of data because it stores the data in formats consistent with industry-wide standards. This is in contrast to the proprietary, closed formats characteristic of commercial software. Such transparency is important for maintaining an effective democracy. Keeping non-secret data in standards-compliant formats allows anyone to access it without having to purchase expensive proprietary software. Also, storing secret data in standards-compliant formats is widely regarding as being more secure than keeping it in proprietary formats.

See point 14.

(22) With Linux and other free software there is little reason to fear the existence of backdoors, in large part because all of the source code is available for inspection. A backdoor is a secret method for obtaining remote access to a computer. There is a (not unjustified) concern by many foreign governments and corporations that back doors have been covertly inserted into proprietary software that could allow the software developer and agencies of other governments to snoop into their most confidential data.

With the current scrutiny on all OSes, in particular Windows, any existence of a backdoor is going to be found quickly and patched rapidly. ANd if your data is that secret that you don't want other people to see it, pull the network cable out of the wall.

(23) Using and advocating Linux helps foster a healthy diversity and increased competition throughout the software industry. Such competition can promote technological advance, improve performance and lower costs for open source software and proprietary software alike. Both economic theory and hundreds of years of real-world experience clearly show that monopolies have little incentive to innovate, tend to produce shoddy products, charge inflated prices and tend to corrupt the political system.

Increased competition in areas where there is no cost, therefore forcing commercial entities out of business, creating more havoc. If the Linux 'mob' put their heads together they could produce a real world OS that could compete with Windows, box it and put on shelves for half the price of Windows and it would sell. The common perception of free goods is that you get what you pay for and Linux is suffering because of it. Actually having some income to go into improving Linux will only help Linux take more market share.

(24) Linux and other free software have not only caught up with, or some cases surpassed, their proprietary counterparts, but they are also developing at a faster pace. This trend will accelerate as demand for such software continues to grow and more and more individuals and organizations become actively involved it its development.

See point 25.

(25) Linux and other free software provide the opportunity for users to contribute to the advance of software technology because the source code is freely available to study, improve, extend and redistribute. This has been fairly common, and the most notable corporate example has been IBM. In addition to giving back to the software community and being a virtue in itself, such contributions can have great public relations value.

I see that the head of IBM wasn't named as Time's Person of the Year... Bill Gates donating money to all sorts of good causes has PR value outside of the nerd community and thus much better public relations value than some big company doing development on the new Linux kernel. Software developers rarely get to choose where a copmpany's money gets spent and have to roll with the decisions made by people higher up the chain, helping out some developers is a nice thing to do but it isn't going to sway a managers decision when it comes down to cost and incentives.

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