Linux Desktop



Now that Dell is selling Linux, is it time to take advantage of Linux's superior qualities?

Linux mascot Tux

The advocates of Linux praise the virtues of Linux with religious zeal and, in truth, there are many fine qualities to Linux based systems.

Until now, Linux was somewhat of a niche player in terms of its penetration of the home user market but now that Dell has come out with version that it offers for public consumption, it may be time to reconsider it.


Advantages

People are interested in Linux for the following reasons:

  1. Security
  2. Technological excellence
  3. Long term usability (reduction in duplication and/or built in obsolescence)
  4. Economy

Security

Linux is much less subject to Virus and Trojan attacks than Windows. Spyware (software that spies on your system or displays unwanted ads) developers also do not target Linux systems. It is debatable whether this is due to Linux’s inherent superiority over Windows or simply due to the fact that hackers and virus writers are much less interested in Linux. Microsoft owns over 90% of the desktops in the world and Linux’s share is estimated at 2%. If a virus writer wants to make an impact, he will target windows.

Technological Excellence

Linux is based on a Unix legacy. Unix has been the basis for many of the most powerful and efficient systems in the computing world. It is also a very mature technology with many powerful innovations that have been developed for it. It is known to have a very stable and efficient core of software.

Linux is very stable and also has a very fast file system so that getting and processing data would be very fast.

The degree to which these factors affect the average user is debatable.

Long term usability (reduction in duplication and/or built in obsolescence

Open source software packaged with Linux usually lasts longer because repeated rollouts and "must have" updates are not part of the marketing model. However, it remains to be seen if this will continue if Linux begins to have a serious market impact and commercial software vendors supply software for it.

Economy

Operating system and office software can be obtained for free. It can run on less demanding and cheaper hardware.

Using older or cheaper hardware could subject users to the drawbacks and limitations these kinds of systems have. However, Linux may give new life to aging hardware.

Level of expertise and complexity

Anyone who does a Google search of Linux is bound to come across all sorts of arcane discussions and find a bewildering plethora of new acronyms and buzz words. It would seem that it requires someone to be somewhat of a computer expert or hacker to be able to install it and make it work properly.

There also seems to be a gazillion linux distros or versions and configurations around to choose from.


[Wikipedia states Linux distribution, commonly called a "distro", is a project that manages a remote collection of Linux-based software, and facilitates installation of a Linux operating system. Distributions are maintained by individuals, loose-knit teams, volunteer organizations, and commercial entities. They include system software and application_software in the form of packages, and distribution-specific software for initial system installation and configuration as well as later package upgrades and installs. A distribution is responsible for the default configuration of installed Linux systems, system security, and more generally integration of the different software packages into a coherent whole.]
Additionally, it appears that the average user will encounter issues that would require a higher level of expertise than expected from the average desktop user.

However, now that Dell has joined the fray, it is likely that they will insure that the system will work with less technical knowledge required. Their choice of the Ubuntu distro will also settle the selection process for most even though the most widely used distro right now is openSUSE.

There are many sources of support on the web and they should grow with the spread of the software.

Challenges and issues

As a general statement, the world moves with the idea or system with the most followers. This may have nothing to do with quality or value but is a simple fact of life. Since Windows has such a broad distribution, everyone tries to profit from it by producing their products for it and making sure they work with it.

Current sound support is limited. Dell has stated "At this time, we are not including any support for proprietary audio or video codecs that are not already distributed with Ubuntu 7.04. These include MPEG 1/2/3/4, WMA, WMV, DVD, Quicktime,, etc. We are evaluating options for providing this support in the future." At the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) Desktop Architects Meeting in Portland, Oregon everyone at the meeting was also concerned about the remarkably murky area of Linux audio support. To paraphrase an anonymous developer, "Audio on Linux is for the birds."

Linux also needs better hardware support. Any exotic hardware is not likely to be supported and even some of the more common brands of hardware may not support it. Laptop users may find this a particular problem since they tend to use many proprietary devices.

Linux is not a popular gaming operating system. Although companies such as TransGaming Technologies with Cedega 6.0 bring many popular Windows games to Linux, relatively few users, it would seem, take advantage of such gaming platform programs.

(See www.desktoplinux.com for details of some of the aforementioned issues.)

Finding and installing applications may present a problem in some cases.

Networking with Windows computers works better on some distros than others.

Summary

Linux can provide a full-fledged and powerful desktop system which is more than adequate for many users. For those that are willing to buck the trend and are not concerned about the current problems and limitations, Linux is a good choice. However, as the old adage used to go “no one ever got fired for recommending IBM”, there is safety in numbers for those that stay within the Windows family.

Return from Linux Desktop to Ask the Computer Doc home.

5/21/2009



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