Sunday, September 30, 2007

Five Common Misconceptions About Linux


1. Linux is Behind the Times

One comment heard often is “Linux was five years behind XP, and it's 10 years behind Vista!” Well, here are some facts:

  • Windows began separating the basic user from the administrator account by default in Vista, over 15 years behind Linux.
  • Windows added a firewall in 2001, over seven years behind Linux's 1994 addition of ipchains.
  • Linux was the first operating system with x86_64 support, beating Windows XP Pro x64 by two years.
  • Windows added an attractive 3D accelerated graphical interface in Vista, a full year behind Linux's XGL.
  • Linux's package management system can install, uninstall, and update software from one interface. Everything installed from Apache to OpenOffice and Quake 4 may be updated with one press. Windows has nothing like this on the road map.

And Linux isn't slowing down. The Xen project has added an incredible level of virtualization to Linux, with more work going into the kernels development to add enterprise ready virtualization built-in [4]. Microsoft promised built-in Xen-like virtualization in Windows Server 2008 next year, but has announced that feature has been delayed and should be available sometime after launch [1], possibly in SP1, meaning Linux will lead with built-in virtualization by at least a couple of years before Windows catches up.

2. Linux is Hard to Use

Many have never realized they were using Linux, and haven't used it on a desktop. More troubling is the fact that lots of technically inclined persons tried Linux during the hype of the dot-com bubble, wrote it off and never revisited it. These along with other factors have left many thinking Linux is hard to use.

Well, enter the modern Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu. Ubuntu has an easy to use graphical interface that'll remind Macintosh fans of OS X. Optionally many other interfaces are available ranging from Windows XP duplicates to interfaces focused on certain areas, such as low system requirements or high-end graphical effects. Beyond this many common tasks and features, ranging from system updating to system wide indexing, are all handled automatically by default.

This all extends to every level of Linux use. Novell's Yast for example provides an easy to use GUI for everything from installing and updating software to managing DNS, email, and web servers, and basically anything else an administrator could think of. No command line or configuration files, unless desired.

To top it all off the installation is world class. The Ubuntu installation is done from within a fully functioning environment allowing web browsing, game playing, or or even the writing of a report all as the installation wizard ensures the install goes off not just without a hitch, but in a manor where the user doesn't need to know anything beyond how to click next, unless they want to.

3. Linux isn't Compatible with Anything

Everything from Maya and Oracle [7] to Firefox run on Linux natively. Games ranging from the Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament series to smaller gems like Darwinia all run native on Linux as well [8].

Beyond native applications free (non)emulation software called WINE, as well as commercially supported options like CrossOver and VMWare, allow users to run everything from iTunes to MS Office and Photoshop, and the $5 a month Cedega lets gamers play hundreds of Windows only titles, from Battlefield 2042 to World of Warcraft.

Finally alternatives to Windows only software can replace current systems with little to no extra work. Apache can run ASP code [13], OpenOffice can read and save Microsoft formats, and every major distribution can join a domain, or just browse Windows file and printer shares, with ease.

Hardware support is equally incredible, in fact Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system. From hand-helds to mainframes and everything in between, including equipment considered legacy and no longer supported by Windows, the chances are if connected to a Linux box it'll just work. Despite popular belief this does include a vast majority of consumer equipment as well, from digital cameras to iPods and 3D accelerators to wireless cards.

4. Linux isn't Enterprise Ready / No One Uses Linux
Amazon and Google [15] would disagree as they've built their technology off Linux. PSA Peugeot Citroen, the second largest car manufacturer in Europe, also announced earlier this year they'll be moving not only their 2,500 servers over to Linux, but also their 20,000 desktops [16]. Other companies like IBM and Novell have reinvented themselves using Linux as the base, and government deployments from Brazil [19] and India [20] to China and others promise to add tens of millions of new users to the Linux community.

This isn't even including the countless smaller government deployments like the city of Munich [22], the Indiana school system [23], or the U.S. Army's Land Warrior program. Paired with millions of users via the One Laptop per Child initiative and massive academic deployments, this means that outside of the United States the world is positioning Linux to be the foundation of computing for their children.

Of course Linux works fine outside of the enterprise. Whether it's browsing a website, chatting on a cellphone, checking email, getting cash from an ATM, or even just kicking some anti-lock brakes into action, there's a fair chance Linux is in control.

Then again Linux also accounts for an estimated 70% of the super computing market [25]. That means Linux has huge footholds in the embedded, server, and high-end market, leaving the desktop arena clearly in its sights.

5. Linux isn't Professionally Developed or Supported

It's true Linux started at the hands of a single college student, but that's not true today. Linux is now a multi-billion dollar global technology. The vast majority of code is now contributed by professional programmers [26]. Over the last year major code modifications have been submitted by IBM, Intel, Novell, VMware, and countless other big tech players. Beyond actively developing code others, such as Dell, have begun pushing vendors to develop higher quality Linux software [27]. And this isn't even going into the academic or government development, such as the security patch set developed and deployed by the U.S. National Security Agency for internal use, but available to anyone who wishes to use it, SELinux.

Support has taken on the same level of professionalism. Countless forums, IRC channels, and wikis are of course still available. But beyond that help can be sought from one of many books, certifications, or by contacting any one of the major players from IBM and Oracle [29] to Novell and Red Hat. If 24/7 global support in a dozen different languages is needed, it's just as available as free community support.

That about covers it. There are many other areas of interest, but those listed above are certainly some of the biggest misconceptions heard about Linux on a regular basis. Overall it just comes down to ignorance, be it having never used Linux, or having not used it in the past few years of heavy evolution. Of course Linux isn't without its faults, just like all software, but that's for another article. What it really boils down to is a responsible administrator has to do what's best for the company cutting the checks, and that includes keeping an open mind and evaluating all options, even open source ones.


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