Why I Chose Linux

There are many jokes among some people why I chose Linux.  I’ll work backwards from least to most familiar.

I decided against Mac mostly based on price.  The second issue was hardware tinkerability (which has improved since their move to the Intel hardware).  The third issue was software tinkerability (I know there are ways to do some of what I want, but certainly not to the extent that I want).  Maybe somewhere in a distant fourth was the ability to emulate some of the Windows games I wanted to run (but I think Parallels can address that now, even down to the DirectX and 3GL rendering).  At the end of the day, if I wanted a computer that “just worked”  I would chose a Mac; it was first on the list for my wife to look at when we replaced her Windows laptop for that very reason.

I decided to abandon Microsoft because of reasons that are probably too volatile to express here.  (I’ve already made the mistake of going contrary to that intention).  I think the least volatile is cost — I didn’t like the accumulating price tag for running the OS.  Ultimately, a “Windows machine” would have kept me compatible with what appears to be the mainstream.  I did have to give up some games (which I no longer really have time for), and a few other trivial pieces of software that I can no longer remember.

I decided against *the system* I really wanted because of cost alone:  a Solaris workstation.  They are nice, but they are priced for companies, not “normal people”.  In my continuing theme of “in the final evaluation” … there is _no_ practical use for me to own a Solaris system.  I just have a lingering soft-spot in my heart for SUN workstations.

My foremost decision on Linux was … can you see the theme … it is free.  Yes, my altruistic step was selfishly financial.  Now, that was my foremost reason.  I do like the fact that I can easily choose the window manager independent of the OS.  I can’t help it, that is something I believe should be separable in an OS because the window manager is not the OS.  But I risk tangenting here, so I’ll stop there.  Probably my dead last reason was the open source factor.  It is neat; but I honestly have never directly interacted with that facet of my decision.  I have compiled a few pieces of software, but have yet to compile a kernel or a window manager.  I could compile software on Mac or Windows if I wanted to so I don’t really see that act as delving into the “open source aspect”.

One of the things I have found very nice is the support and community around the specific distribution I chose.  That was a criteria I shopped around for… so maybe that really should be my second reason.  Yes, believe it or not community support for a “free” operating system exists, and works.  I have been very impressed with the bugs I have filed and the responses I have received in addition to the questions I have posed on the forums or existing answers I have found for my questions.  I know I like to have insight into any given process, and this “feels better” than the “black box bug filing” against other operating systems.  (Aside:  I have heard good stories about Apple and Microsoft support, I have just personally never experienced the same level of quality.  As the saying goes “your mileage may vary”.)

So there it is spelled out in black-and-white for the very first time.  Cost, support, configurability, customizability, tinkerability, and open source (with “open standards” where possible).

That being said, I have run into several pitfalls with Linux; though none yet insurmountable. I’ll leave those to subjects of future posts.


About John

I write about technology interests, cooking, and my own writing (sci-fi and fantasy... sometimes both). I try to keep things light, but sometimes I get side-tracked on an issue that I feel strongly about. No offense is meant, I'm just like any other person who feels strongly about something when I write. View all posts by John

4 responses to “Why I Chose Linux

  • Sarah

    What is really holding me back from Linux, at the moment, is that it doesn’t work with my printer.
    I also need something that works with Rosetta Stone, since we’ve made that investment. I don’t yet know if Linux would do that.

    • John

      Those sorts of things can be issues and it is good to do that research. I did that research before “the final leap” to make sure I wasn’t losing what I did on a daily basis, including important hardware like my printer.

      A quick search shows that it might be possible to get Rosetta Stone to work. However, I am familiar with the steps and it is a nuisance. It does not appear impossible, but not, as a co-worker says, as simple as “c:\install.exe”.

  • jhimm

    I’m curious if you could expand on what you said about open source not being a big factor since you mentioned a lack of software tinkerability as a reason for avoiding a Mac.

    I’d also suggest that your switch to Linux being fueled by selfish personal gain (it is free) is the whole point and why it works. It isn’t supposed to be altruistic as far as I know.

    • John

      I can expand and explain.

      I think I first need to clarify what I mean by the open source aspect. By that, I mean actually being able to touch what would ordinarily be considered the proprietary parts of a piece of software (e.g., the code). For example, I have another entry about compiling Amarok. If iTunes or Windows Media Player didn’t play a certain format, I would most likely be out of luck unless it was a supported feature to build plug-ins for that particular format for that particular software. If, for some reason, I wanted to build into Amarok the ability to play sound files from a C64, I could (making the gross assumption I could get the right codec…).

      That is the aspect I meant as what was ultimately my last in priority. I would not describe it as “not being a big factor”; it might have been negotiable for the right OS, but there would have needed to be outstanding trade-offs. It was, in retrospect, lower on my priority list than I started out thinking it was. I know I wanted to have the option, but if what I found in the OSS or F/OSS market was junk at best, I would have changed my priorities based upon more concrete information.

      That is also the aspect I interact with the least directly. I haven’t written code for it. I haven’t written documentation. I haven’t done translations. I have done some bug testing, but not in any outstanding capacity — mostly through daily use. The fact that the OS happens to be open source remains incidental until I decide to engage one of those aspects more regularly.

      The difference between Linux, Mac, Windows, and Solaris is that I have the option with Linux. I can tinker with the kernel, window manager, word processor, music player or many other things that would otherwise be considered proprietary. I can’t with the other three. I can’t necessarily make the code exactly my way, but I could become a part of the process in my free time.

      As for the altruism, that depends on the Linux distribution and the mentality of the community. There are some that are much more fanatical about being purely F/OSS than others; it has a sense more like utopian socialism to it. Those, to me, appear to have altruistic intentions or want to be altruistic despite the challenge of adapting altruism to the real world.

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