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WHY I USE LINUX
By Sam Varghese (firstname.lastname@example.org)
At the outset let me make one thing clear: I am not a techie. I dislike people who use
complicated acronyms in order to appear more computer literate than their neighbours and
friends and, as a journalist, I am involved in a constant battle to translate
techno-babble into language that is understood by the common man.
I use Linux. In fact, I like it very much and am slowly migrating over from that horror
story called Windows. It takes time to find and install software that can take over all
the tasks that one was painfully carrying out under Windows, tasks that were interrupted a
dozen times in a day by that incomprehensible "fatal error" dialogue box. More
so when one has been chained to the most mediocre of operating systems for nearly four
Let me use a couple of simple analogies to explain the philosophy behind Linux. Think of a
person who has a recipe for a dish that tastes great. This person is more than willing to
reveal the recipe to all and sundry so that improvements can be made, no matter the
culture from which the improvements come. There is every chance that, given the input of a
dozen cultures or more, the recipe would be modified in such a way as to be much better
than the original. And everybody shares in the outcome, everybody is richer for the
experience. That's the Linux way.
Of course, nobody prevents a person from profiting from the recipe if they make some
constructive changes; the only condition is that the new recipe be released to everybody
for further modification if people are so inclined or for everybody to benefit from the
changes that have already been made.
On the other hand, think of a restaurant where they are secretive about their recipes. If
you question whether they can vary the taste of adish, they tell you that you can either
eat it the way they make it or else go away. You have to pay and also take the stuff they
dish out in the way they do it. Given these two choices, which one would you choose?
The first scenario is a difficult one for the ones who make modifications are not
guaranteed any profit. They often do it because the job is its own reward; nobody can
quantify the pleasure that producing a beautiful work of art brings. And they are more
than willing to share it around.
The other analogy I use is that of the old man who, while on his deathbed, called his sons
around and gave them a stick apiece. He asked them to try and break the sticks. Each boy
was able to do it with ease. Then he asked one boy to collect all the sticks and try to
break them together. The boy could not. The lesson was simple -- unity is strength. If you
have a problem with a commercial operating system and call the manufacturer, he or she is
not going to write a driver or modify anything to solve your problem. If it happens to be
a bug (and most of the time it is with Windows), then you have to wait until the next
release or service pack to get a fix. Linux works differently -- you ventilate your
problem on your user group's mailing list (there are mailing lists all over the world) and
somebody or the other always gives you a fix. You learn collectively. I've learnt a lot
Linux poses a challenge to me. I need to get a little closer to the guts of my computer to
get the maximum mileage out of it but the rewards are great: my machine rarely hangs, I
can start and restart individual processes without having to restart my computer, and I
can download and use software which was written for one reason -- to produce stuff that is
lean, mean and does the job well. How else can one account for Samba which is now a
standard package used for file and print sharing between a Linux box and Windows boxes?
Linux isn't difficult to use. But like any new operating system which one attempts to
learn, it takes time. Most people who migrate to Linux are impatient because they want to
it to work (?) the way Windows does. It is a mighty good thing that Linux works
differently, that's for sure! Nobody wants all the errors and mess that Windows creates,
the instability, the inability to run third-party applications as well (or badly) as
Microsoft products or the famous "fatal error" messages. Those are some of the
reasons for looking for an alternative. Indeed, I would ask these people -- did you know
how to use Windows right away? No, you had to learn, painfully. The learning process takes
time, no matter what the package.
Linux standards are slowly evolving. There are many different flavours of Linux -- Red
Hat, OpenLinux, SuSE, Debian, FreeBSD, Slackware, Linux Mandrake etc. There are common
elements to all distributions and the graphic user interfaces offered are a delight. One
can use this or that; some swear by Red Hat, others by Debian. And there are those who
will not touch anything other than Linux-Mandrake.
You can take your pick. I use Red Hat and find it more than adequate for my needs. I
particularly like the way software is managed by an installation manager called the Red
Hat Package Manager which installs programs, uninstalls (and does not leave any bits lying
around), and tracks all dependencies. It is a sobering thought that the one little CD
which I bought for 15 Australian dollars at a local newsagent contains all the software
that can run a whole network or an Internet service!
I like to work uninterrupted, switch between applications as I wish and sometimes forget
to off my computer and leave it on for days on end. Linux gives me the freedom to do all
this and more. It is not a hog on resources. Memory is managed efficiently. I do not have
to worry about upgrading my hardware; in fact, I can buy an old 386 and still run the same
operating system. Basically, it is a question of picking a good operating system which
allows me to do things my way (and will allow everybody who uses it to customise it their
way as well). As one would when trying to pick a winner in a race, one chooses the best
horse. One does not pick a donkey. I rest my case.
Note : Sam Verghese is a Journalist based in
Australia . He is a friend and a wellwisher of GoldenSun. He has agreed to
write for this page whenever he finds time .
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